5. Finding My True Friends

5. Finding My True Friends

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Finding My True Friends

We have to learn to be our own best friends because we fall too easily into the trap of being our own worst enemies.

~Roderick Thorp

“One more pushup, one more crunch. One less snack, one skipped lunch.” I sat on the floor locked in my room, typing away furiously at my computer to distract myself from my growling stomach. Writing poems was highly therapeutic to me, and it also helped me to brainstorm simple ways to shed even more body fat. Already at sixteen percent body fat, I was entirely committed to reaching zero. My malnourished brain could no longer think rationally; I could not see how emaciated I had already become.

My hunger-inspired poem was a perfect representation of how I slipped into the darkness of anorexia. As a freshman in college, I was painfully lonely. With my best friends at different colleges, I was determined to make new best friends at school. But my acquaintances just weren’t evolving into “BFFs” as quickly as I wanted them to. To add to my frustration, it seemed like everyone else had already found their cohort of best friends. The perceived rejection took an immense toll on my well-being. I felt unworthy of friendship and began to hate myself.

“Ugh, I’m so fat,” I thought as I entered the dining hall. “And fat people certainly don’t need to eat.” Succumbing to the negative thoughts in my head, I decided to cut my lunch in half. No big deal, I reasoned. But to my surprise, my increased self-control sparked a huge adrenaline rush. It was a sickly-sweet pleasure that distracted me from my intense loneliness. Feeling lonely every single day was unbearable. So I began finding sneaky ways to feel that instant high again. If that meant cutting my meals in half or skipping them altogether, so be it.

Losing weight became a game to me, and each day provided a brand new challenge to see how little I could eat. My hunger would be so extreme that even a bowl of plain lettuce tasted like a delicious, heavenly meal.

Weeks passed, and my weight plummeted. My peers grew increasingly concerned. As my track teammate and I were walking back to our dorm rooms, she softly inquired, “Zoe, is everything okay? You’ve lost a lot of weight.” I fought back a proud smile. It was exhilarating to know that people were noticing my weight loss. Finally, I was getting the attention I so desperately craved.

“Yeah, everything’s completely fine,” I told her, avoiding eye contact. I feared that my sad eyes were open doorways exposing my inner demons. One glance and she would have understood the profound pain I was in. She gave me a concerned look, making it evident that she didn’t believe a word of my lie.

Rumors started flying around about me, and I loved every single minute of it. The attention was addicting, and the more of it I received, the less I ate. Anorexia had me in its death grip.

Six months passed, and by then I had lost twenty-five pounds. “Please eat this,” my teammate begged as she handed me a PowerBar.

“I’m not hungry,” I lied. I glared at her. She just didn’t get it. Snacks were strictly forbidden. They were a sign of weakness and poor self-control. How could she not see how unreasonable she was being?

But deep down I knew I was the one being unreasonable. We were on the bus traveling back from a track meet and I had conveniently forgotten to replenish myself after my grueling race. I was so ravenous that I thought I would pass out at any moment. Here I was, severely underweight and too hungry to function, and all I could think about was getting back to my room to do more pushups.

For the first time in six months, I admitted to myself that I was in trouble. I needed help.

•  •  •

“Alright, let’s all check in,” said Mindy, the group leader. Four of us sat in a circle in folding chairs. I had been searching for an eating disorder support group and found one that held weekly meetings in the basement of a church.

“Checking in” meant saying your name and how you were doing with eating. Oh, and you had to share your feelings. I despised that part. “I’m feeling fat,” I’d declare, hoping to avoid sharing anything too personal about my life.

But over time, I grew to be great friends with the girls in the group. It was unbelievable to me that they could know the worst parts about me and still love me unconditionally. As I gained their trust, I began to share more and more about myself. Saying things aloud to them helped me to clearly see just how distorted my thoughts had become.

The group kept me honest. But most importantly, they challenged me to get better.

“That’s your eating disorder telling you that you’re fat,” Mindy explained at one of our meetings. “You need to tell anorexia to shut up.” Her blunt comments made me realize that I had become a prisoner in my own mind. Anorexia was stubborn; she took up far too much of my energy to allow me to be friends with anyone else. I vowed to get better; I had suffered for too long and no longer wanted to feel this way.

It was now or never. Anorexia needed to go. So one night after my meeting I sketched a tombstone in my journal. “Today, I need to say goodbye to anorexia,” I wrote. “For a while, she was my very best friend. May she rest in peace.”

Through countless hours of therapy and my incredible support group, I slowly recovered. As I began to remove anorexia from my life, I was finally able to make room for people who loved me.

Getting better was a turbulent journey filled with setbacks. But my support system grew so strong that it became impossible to be discouraged. They would help me find my way back to the road to recovery every single time.

The defining moment in which I knew I had “made it” was when I was at a restaurant with one of my best friends. As we were eating, she looked at me and smiled. “You know, Zoe, you’ve changed so much throughout college,” she said. “You are truly becoming beautiful on both the inside and outside.”

She could not have possibly known how much her comment meant to me. It was at that moment I knew I never needed to starve myself again. Anorexia was never a friend to me; she was just an evil disease lurking inside my mind. Letting go of her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But once I did, I could finally love myself, and ultimately find my true friends.

~Zoe Knightly

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