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How To Overcome Eating Disorder Imposed Isolation

I hear this statement in my counselling office all the time “I spend a lot of my time in isolation because of my eating disorder. My goal for myself is to try to spend a bit more time with those I love but whenever I get asked I automatically want to say no. How can I challenge myself to spend more time with my friends while still feeling safe?”

We know that eating disorders thrive in isolation and the more time you spend with your eating disorder, the less time you have to authentically connect with those who lift your spirits. It

typically doesn’t feel easy stepping outside of our routines and doing something different. My natural inclination a lot of times is to say no to unexpected invites because I am both a creature of habit and a creature of comfort. What I have realized however, is that almost every time I say yes, I am grateful for it and typically have a better time than I expected. As we enter into Fall and the beginning of the slower months, now is a great time to reflect on the types of connections that make us feel fulfilled and then look at how to create more space for them in our lives. We know that recovery doesn’t happen if we don’t make a concerted effort. What effort do you feel you need to make to enhance the connections you have with the people you love?

There are lots of different ways that you can do this on your own terms. For example, you mention that it is always your friends asking you to join them on their planned activities. Maybe instead of waiting to be invited, you could be the person to invite them to do something that falls within your comfort zone. Another option would be to create some awareness around the activities that feel manageable for you, like going for tea or hanging out at peoples’ homes. Or alternatively, if going out to eat is one of your goals, pick a meal and a friend that will be supportive of your recovery. Saying yes to the things you know underneath you want to do will make you feel more confident about choosing to say yes to certain invites. Finding your own balance is important because it allows you to maintain a focus on recovery without feeling so overwhelmed that recovery doesn’t feel worth it.

I think one of the beautiful but also challenging parts of recovery is learning to step outside of your comfort zone into things that you know are good for you. In my practice, I always tell my clients that it is important that they challenge themselves to do things that are uncomfortable but not intolerable. As with most things in recovery, what is uncomfortable for some is intolerable for others and vice versa. The journey to wellness is going to be uncomfortable – in many ways it has to be if we want to make a significant and permanent change. I think what is important is that you look at how you can be uncomfortable and safe at the same time. Your friends love you and want to help you live a happy, fulfilling life. Spending time with them, while different, will likely make you feel more motivated to have a life outside of your eating disorder. Sometimes we need recovery reminders when we are struggling because otherwise, left alone with our disorder, we simply focus on the reasons why recovery is hard instead of reasons why it’s worth it.

Take some time and see what goals you really want to set and follow through on with regards to connecting with loved ones. Know that its normal and okay to be overwhelmed but challenge yourself to get out of that place and act on your healthy hopes and longings.

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