“You’re not as alone as you think you are.
It’s going to be ok.”
After turning over a dozen, different, possible responses in my head and rejecting them each, these were the words upon which I finally settled.
“I want to believe you,” replied Vivienne.
“I know that you do,” I sighed.
Following my first week with the eating disorder process group that is now part of my maintenance lifestyle, Vivienne emailed our therapist to express how excited she was to meet me, someone with whom she felt like she could relate. I was a bit hesitant to jump into a friendship with someone I didn’t know who, like me, suffered from an eating disorder and concomitant mental illness. Yet, over the past many months, I have come to know Vivienne as a brilliant, witty, hysterically funny, generous, and selfless person.
We exchange text messages and occasionally invite our demons out for coffee at the local bookstore or café, spending hours spilling the stuff we wouldn’t share with just anybody. The stuff that makes us vulnerable. The stuff that keeps us stuck in our own heads, in our old fears, in our rigid patterns. We share much in common, despite our many differences, but there is one, quite painful difference, and it lies between us like a chasm. My eating disorder and depression are in remission, and Vivienne’s eating disorder, depression, and borderline personality disorder are not. Yet.
I try to help her focus on that word, “YET.” I try to help her understand that recovery evolves organically. It doesn’t just happen like flipping on a light switch, or at least it didn’t for me. “Try to think of it like starting an old car on a cold day,” I once said. “You turn the key and turn the key, but nothing happens. Then you hear a few clicks, and you may think, this is it! But again, nothing happens. You may need to turn the key and turn the key and rev the engine over and over, but eventually, something catches!” I try to help her remember that we are both works in progress, just different stages of progress. I tell her that we are both on our own journey, and while our paths may look the same in places, no two journeys are exactly alike. I try to convince her not to compare herself to me or to anybody else. I tell her that I will tell her as many times as she needs to hear it that she is worthy, she is beautiful, she is not fat, she is smart, she is kind, she is capable, she is strong, she is more than her diagnoses, she is more than her past. I try to show her how she is already succeeding. I tell her that every day that she wakes up and fights again is a success. I tell her that not quitting is a victory. I tell her that she is in a battle for her mind and her soul, and she will win in the end by her sheer tenacity. “Inch by inch,” I tell her. “Bit by bit.” I try to help her to see the ways in which she is already changing.
She amazes me with her intelligence, her waggishness, and her courage. In the face of unimaginable circumstances this past summer, largely beyond her control, she struggled on day after day, week after week. It was enough to crush most healthy people, but she came through it. I list out all the obstacles she already overcame. “You’re right!” she agrees, and I see a glimmer of hope in her face. But her demons return with fangs and claws bared. She asks me questions that I cannot answer. “Why does it hurt? Why is this happening? What am I doing wrong? Why is it so hard?” She can’t see me crying for her. She can’t see my heart breaking. I remember being in a similar place and asking these questions, and I know that nothing I say can take away her pain.
“You’re not as alone as you think you are. It’s going to be ok,” I tap the letters into my phone and send off the text message.
“I keep re-reading these words,” she writes back. “I want to believe you so badly!”
“Good!” I tell her. “Keep re-reading it. Keep saying it to yourself. Even if you don’t believe it now. Because it is true. One day, once you’ve repeated it enough, you will believe it.”
“We are not alone as we think we are. It’s going to be ok.”