Someone once told me to expect that any and all relationships I had prior to entering recovery would change dramtically should I continue working a recovery program. In fact, recovery and working the steps can set the foundation for being able to find something that had evaded not just me, but most of us, namely a healthy, loving, and lasting relationship. Here's what I learned along the way - The 4 A's of what most of us are looking for.
As said, for most of us, the challenge of recovery from an eating disorder, or any addiction for that matter, is also one of learning to “navigate” through our relationships with family, friends, and co-workers. One certainty that exists for people regarding their ongoing relationships prior to entering recovery is that no relationship will really be the same once they begin and maintain their recovery. It’s not unusual for people who care about us to want our addiction to end but are not necessarily prepared for the other changes that usual follow. These can include becoming more independent, and therefore less dependent on those who took on responsibilities for us, gaining a “voice” in decision making when we may have been inclined to let others make decisions for us, and setting new boundaries and limits on how people are treating us. These may be a few of the more obvious changes but there are many subtle “shifts” in our personalities as we emerge from the ashes of self-hate and isolation. Sometimes in a family system or social network we can find that “any act of independence (e.g. independent thinking) can be looked upon as an act of betrayal” and experience resistance to some of these changes as we begin to become our real selves. In effect, it’s important to anticipate that many of our relationships will go through “growing pains” with the result being either a permanent parting of the ways or a temporary parting with a coming back together with a newly defined relationship(s). Either way, our relationships will be stressed and tested in the short run but, in the long run, more healthy and satisfying.
Still, for some of us, we begin to “dip our toes” into the arena of finding or cultivating a new “love interest.” In a similar fashion, we find ourselves with a new set of emotions, confusion, and revised thinking about what we’re looking for. Maybe we can say with greater certainly what we’re not looking for than knowing what to look for in another person. Perhaps we’ve come to a place where attraction is not enough.
Although no one is really the ultimate authority or expert on relationships, I would offer some suggested guidelines as to what elements need to exist for a relationship to be reasonably “healthy”… I like to refer to these as “the 4 A’s” The 4 A’s are the following criteria to be tested: 1. Attraction, 2. Affluence, 3. Availability, and 4. Appropriateness. Attraction refers to either the physical and/or personality aspects of a person. What is it that makes us attracted to this person, their character, their personality, their appearance, etc. Affluence not only refers to their “wealth” but, more importantly, their ability to be self supporting or self sufficient. Being affluent has to do with wanting to be with someone rather than “needing” to be with someone. Availability is about being both physically present as well as emotionally present. Someone who is physically there but emotionally distant is not an example of someone who is available. People who are “active” with an addiction or eating disorder tend to be “unavailable” compared to people who are in recovery. Appropriateness is about exhibiting acceptable behaviors in the context of any situation. What may be appropriate behavior or language in the locker room may not be appropriate for the dinner table, etc. Being appropriate is about exercising sound social judgment. In asking yourself if someone is appropriate you might consider whether you are proud to be with this person in all circumstances (e.g. with family, friends, co-workers).
When examining our existing relationships, we might consider whether the person or persons who are important to us exhibit these 4 A’s. If not, which are missing? Whether we would like to admit it or not, most relationships that fall short of any one of these elements are likely to not work well for us. Sometimes we find that the problem exists with someone in our family, perhaps a parent. In such instances we are bound to experience the stress involved with “re-formulating” and redefining the relationship from our end. Key to this remains our accepting that we are not likely to change others as much as we have the power to change ourselves. This brings us to the concluding point, namely that it is no so much about finding a person who has the 4 A’s but rather becoming the 4 A’s ourselves. Recovering from an eating disorder is the beginning.