‘A friend of mine is anorexic. We’re reading the Bible together and I’m really worried about her, but I don’t know how to help. What should I say?’
1. There’s no simple answer. And
2. It’s definitely not you.
If you want to help your friend, then recognise what you can’t do.
You can’t take responsibility for her: and you can’t rescue her, especially as she’s an adult. I know you want to. But to help a drowning man (or woman), you have to stay on the bank.
This means you might need to think about:
– setting boundaries. Reassure your friend that she’s not a burden, (being human is having needs! It’s really ok). But equally set what you feel are appropriate limits: e.g; taking calls late at night or cancelling days off. There are times when this might be appropriate – but they shouldn’t be the norm.
– setting guidelines: for example; ‘if your weight drops and you’re in danger, I’ll have to talk to someone else’. This is not the same as managing recovery – it’s protecting you both. Ideally, she would be monitored by a GP and if she’s very unwell, this is something to gently suggest. But don’t force it. I’ve written some posts on what to expect if you get medical help
– getting others involved. Nothing heavy: just other people who can partner you in caring for her and who will also look out for you. If there’s a crisis or you can’t be somewhere it’s important others are able to step in. Plus, this can be a long process: and you don’t want to burn out.
– encourage her to come into community. EDs are very isolating and it’s easy to drawn into the world of a sufferer when instead you want to draw them out. She might feel threatened by meeting up with others, but invite her gently: maybe just a coffee with one other person or a movie where she doesn’t have to talk. It’s a reminder that’s there life beyond an ED and that she’s valuable and worth getting to know.
– reading the Bible is a great idea: especially as you work it through together – but if she’s at a low weight she might not have great concentration, so keep it short. Grace is so vital – emphasise that she is loved and valued, by you and the Lord: as she is. Focus on relationship instead of rules – the person of Jesus, not moralism. Think through the implications of what you read for your life, not just hers. No-one wants to feel like a project!
– be a friend. Encourage her to talk. Ask questions. Do fun things that aren’t focused on food or the body. Movies, little walks, coffee dates. This made a massive difference to me; partly because it reminded of who I was and of a life that was bigger than food. Don’t focus on weight and try not to draw attention to her appearance. Model this by being accepting of your own body. Emphasise that you are interested in all of her, not just her physical health.
– hope for your friend and paint a picture for them of who you they are – and who they can be. Encourage her to set little goals: maybe some drawing (easier than talking and gets you in touch with your feelings), journalling or taking up a new skill, (helps build sense of identity and achievement). Celebrate these and remind her of what she’s achieving.
– be patient. Recovery can take a long time and it comes in little steps. Don’t be floored by relapse: focus on the process and ask: what have you learned? What can you do differently?
– He’s a God of miracles. So don’t give up.