Teenager wants to help her anorexic and bulimic friend Part II: My Response
- Category: Friends and Family
Here is my response to Maggie and other teenagers struggling to help a friend with a secret eating disorder.
Maggie, yours is one of the most heartbreaking and challenging of all the requests I receive. Sadly, I receive many requests such as yours.The girl you call your best friend is pushing you to a new threshold of awareness, maturity, clarity and responsibility. You may or may not cross that threshold.
Maggie, please consider this:You call Lily your best friend. This girl you speak of is very ill. She suffers from anorexia which is an illness of mind, body and spirit. This distorts her view of others and especially of herself.
She doesn't know herself. Everything she sees, everything she experiences, every relationship she has, including the one she has with you, is distorted because of her illness. This means, you really don't know who or what you are dealing with. A person, out of concern for her own ego, illness, lifestyle, mind set, does not put her friend into an agonizing position as Maggie as done to you.
A friend does not ask a friend to keep impossible and dangerous secrets.
Lily's distorted view
Lily has her view of what her life must be. She doesn't want anything or anyone to interfere with her plans regardless of what stressful burden others may be forced to carry.If her parents have the power to prevent this young woman from going away to college, does that mean her parents are paying for everything related to college?
If the parents are paying for everything, don't you think it might be unfair and unethical to exploit the parents' resources by withholding vital health information?
Believing that everything will be fine because of a geographical move is a classic belief of addicts. Without treatment a change in geography changes nothing for the better. In fact, adding separation and a new environment is usually a major eating disorder trigger. Lily's anorexia and bulimia could well become worse.
Help is possible for MaggieMaggie, in terms of helping you, I invite you to think of yourself first.
Suppose a friend said to you,
"I plan to commit suicide on Thursday. Please don't tell anyone, especially my parents. Just come to the farewell party I'm giving myself on Wednesday night."
Would you agree to such a promise? Would you keep such a promise?
My hunch is that you might agree to keep it because you wouldn't want her to change her time frame. But you wouldn't keep that promise because you don't want her to die. You would tell someone who might be in a position to influence or take charge of your friend.
You don't want to carry such a burden for the rest of your life, always wondering what would have happened if you had said something.
Your young and conscientious sense of responsibility is causing you to take on more than is yours. You do not have the power to move your friend into recovery. You do not have the power to influence her parents' reactions, decisions or behaviors.
Some secrets are too heavy to carry
You do have both the power and responsibility to care for yourself well. You are carrying too much of an emotional burden. It's not yours to carry.
It's usually in the best interest of the secret carrier to give up the secret. School counselors, doctors, nurses, school psychologists, adult family friends and your own family can help you. You need adults who care about you to help you shed this burden.
I suggest you tell your mother, your teachers, your counselor or your coach. Let the adults who care about you help you and take whatever action they consider best for you and for Lily.
Lily may be furious. She may accuse you of betraying her trust in you. But it's not your fault she has an eating disorder.
If she wants to continue on the path of anorexia and bulimia then she cannot escape the harsh consequences: loss of weight, loss of health, loss of hair, loss of bone mass, loss of teeth, loss of opportunities, loss of clear thinking and common sense, loss of friends.Anorexia is about losing and not just losing weight.
A slim ray of hope does exist here for Lily. She told you her secret. In ways she may not understand consciously, she is struggling as she carries her illness alone. She wants help. She doesn't understand yet what real help is.
Once she learns that anorexia is her illness and that she can't share the burden of it with others, she may make an effort to go into recovery mode. I hope so.
But first she may be angry with you because you told her secret.Please don't let her anger hurt you. That anger comes from her illness. If she goes into recovery, you might get a chance to meet the real person.
Good luck, MaggieGood luck, Maggie. Realizing where your responsibility truly lies is a major step toward your becoming a strong, honorable and caring woman. Please take care of yourself. It's the loving thing to do, even for Lily.
*photo by Spoungeworthy
Last thought: Take care of yourself, Maggie, and be the best you you can be.