Communication as a Bridge to Understanding
When Jenn asked me if I wanted to write a guest post on her blog, the first thought that came to my mind was, “I’m honored to be asked, but…I have no experience with eating disorders”. After seeking some ideas from Jenn about the direction in which I could potentially take my guest blog, she quickly reminded me of our days together in high school. I was (and still am) one of Jenn’s good friends that never gave up on her when she had trouble talking about what she was going through. I remained open and willing to listen whenever Jenn needed a friendly ear—or if she just needed someone to walk next to her in silence—keeping that love and openness always at the ready.
Today, I still value the power of what being loving, open, and willing to listen can do for those who might have trouble communicating the struggles they are going through. I own a business dedicated to helping people learn how to strengthen their communication skills & relationships, manage conflict, create positive and peaceful home & work environments, and anything else related to interpersonal communication that clients are seeking to utilize in their lives. I understand what can happen when communication between people becomes ineffective and/or nonexistent, and I try to help people bridge the communication gaps between each other as a means of understanding, as well as building stronger, more loving relationships.
In relation to eating disorders, Jenn has made it very clear in her blog that open and honest communication is critical to recovery, and I wholeheartedly agree. I believe that the lines of communication must not only be open between the person in recovery and helping professionals, family, friends, etc. I also believe that the person in recovery must be able to communicate with oneself: to be able to look within and seek whatever it is that she (or he) wants from recovery. Doing this undoubtedly involves also asking oneself what the eating disorder was truly providing in the first place (power, control, attention, escape, etc.). This is my opinion, and my intent is only to shed a bit more light on the situation from a communicative perspective—not to diagnose or advise on ED recovery, as that is not my area of expertise.
Speaking from the perspective of a friend to someone going through the recovery process, I find it important never to make any judgments about what it is like to live and deal with an eating disorder. I approach everyone I counsel with the same nonjudgmental stance. I remember doing my best to support Jenn back in high school—being her friend no matter what was going on. Knowing something was wrong but waiting for Jenn to reveal it to me in her own time was difficult. I trusted that, as long as she continued to make it to school each day that she was still making an effort to be around others and to keep herself alive. Of course, she eventually told me what was going on. I didn’t jump to immediate conclusions or rush to judgment, and I believe that Jenn appreciated that.
I relied on Jenn to keep me updated on her experience once I knew (I tried my best to keep looking out for her in my own way), and she wrote me notes and letters when she couldn’t say the words out loud. We kept regular communication going, and I’m guessing it was a bit therapeutic for Jenn to write her thoughts and feelings down. Perhaps this “therapy” continues as she writes her blog today—I hope so.
Eventually, our communication subsided as we graduated from high school and went our separate ways in life. In the age before Facebook, staying in touch took much more effort. I remember thinking of Jenn a lot, as I navigated college and my adult life; however, I didn’t know how much the eating disorder issues progressed in her life until years later when we reconnected. I wish we had kept our lines of communication open; however, I am grateful that we have reestablished them over the past few years. While I do not believe that I ever had the power to force Jenn to recover (only Jenn could do that), I like to think that all the listening and sharing that comprised our teen friendship helped her to keep moving forward at the time.
Today, I tend to think of eating disorders differently than I did in the past. Although my graduate school counseling training did not include instruction on how to treat people with EDs (in the state of CA it requires additional specialized training), I have learned that what we think of ourselves is largely influenced by outside sources (family, friends, culture, media, etc.). In more recent years, I have also learned how to see myself in a less materialistic and more spiritual light. My goal when helping people work through a situation in which they believe themselves to be “defective”, “disordered”, or “broken” is to remind them that their spirit cannot be any of those things. I also remind them that they do not necessarily have to identify with an ED in order to help their bodies and minds heal. This usually involves changing language and externalizing the issue: for example, rather than saying “my bulimia” or “I have depression”, I encourage people to change their talk to “the bulimia” or “I’m battling depressive thoughts”. This has proven helpful for me in dealing with my own issues, as well as for other friends of mine. I provide it here only as an example of another way to look at one’s circumstances.
As a communication counselor, my main duty (in my opinion) is to help people look at old issues through a new perspective. This is what I love to do—being a kaleidoscope of sorts—and working with folks to shift focus a bit here and there to find different, more effective solutions to utilize in their lives as a force for good. I want to thank Jenn for the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic of communication as it relates to ED recovery. I hope everyone who reads this is able to pull something useful out of these words for your own journey towards health and healing.
Communication as Counselor & Healer