When trust is shattered in childhood: A message about the healing power of friendship

 

The following story by Karyn Rose Braveheart is the third in a series of Dear Diary posts focusing on relationships and partnerships to commemorate World Eating Disorder Day, June 2, 2017 #WeDoActTogether.

Relationships can either tear you apart or turn you into something awesome. They are all based around trust. Healthy relationship trust is a “must,” but complications arise when trust is broken. For some, an eating disorder (ED) develops as a way of coping with this betrayal, but it is like being in an ocean where you can see nothing but water and if you don’t reach out for help, the illness can swallow you. Much courage is required to grab a lifeline and allow oneself to be guided from ED’s clutches to safety on the shore. The challenge is to believe that the lifeline will be strong enough and the shore sturdy enough to give you the safety you need to start letting go of the eating disorder. This is why a solid foundation of trust is essential.

When trust is shattered in childhood

Relationships and friendships both sail on the waters of life; when trust endures they can withstand storms and endure tidal waves. You can ride the waves together and come up holding hands after you have been dunked. As a little girl, trust was my innocence; it was a little pink sailing boat that held my hopes and my dreams for when I grew up. I wanted to be an acrobat, l wanted to be a flying trapeze artist, l wanted to be in the movies and dancing on stage as freely as my little boat floated down the stream where l could dream. However, childhood events turned trust into my enemy and anorexia developed. I learned that if l trusted anybody l would, or could, be in grave danger. When l dared to trust, it was soon broken. Broken, and I could not fix it. Shattered trust in my father, along with eating disordered thoughts, led me to believe I had flaws. I lost my voice and confidence, and my boat of dreams was destroyed.

Hope and love are beacons in the deepest waters

Somehow, hope kept me afloat. Even in the darkest, deepest waters, when drowning was a real risk, I learned there was a life-raft with my name on it; it was always there and all I had to do was look for it, grab hold, and hold on tightly. Even so, I was lost for a long time. Relationships did not work for me. My father was the first male I knew and his actions in my childhood affected me deeply. I avoided men until, as a young woman, l fell in love with love. Seeking everything that had been denied of me in childhood, my warped sense of reality took me down a rapid river, which eventually ended in betrayal. My first and only love sailed away with my best friend on their own luxury cruiser and happy ever-after.

Lost at sea, not knowing ‘me’

For a long time l was lost at sea, on my life-raft, drifting from one place to another. I would have surely died, and l did inside, if not for my three sons that l loved with all my heart. They never gave up hope on me despite having to bear the brunt of the cruel eating disorder that convinced me that it was keeping me alive when l was actually being slowly murdered.

In the relationship with my eating disorder, my father’s voice had the upper hand. In its clutches, I kept trying to win his approval even after his death. To me, he was very much alive and was still trying to hurt and destroy me. To break free of the negative, soul-crushing hold of my father and the eating disorder, and to rebuild trust and faith in myself and in people who have my best interests at heart, has involved a long, painful journey. But my love for my sons, and determination to keep searching for answers and direction, helped steer me along the way.

A life-raft in the form of a friend

After many admissions to hospitals in three different states, a new life-raft appeared and saved me. I had the chance to attend an intensive day program, which also required the selection of a sole carer. My closest friend offered to take on the responsibility. Even though l knew it was a miracle to have this opportunity to get better, l was worried about her being my carer because our friendship was so special. I told her that my anorexia would make her hate me. That it was not a pretty sight, it was not fun and games. I knew and feared she would see the ugliness in me, stripped raw of all ways to hide, and she would see nothing but damaged goods, full of guilt and shame. The day I was honest with her about why l didn’t want to accept her offer she said, “But I love you enough to hate you, if that is what it takes to get you better.” This was my greatest challenge: l had to truly trust my friend over the power of my eating disorder, and I did. She became my life-saver, in an unconditional act of love.

Developing a bond of trust

My friend soon found out what I meant. I followed the program intensely and all she did was love me, but we had a lot of fights and a lot of tears. Her tears were of empathy but also frustration. Many times, she could have been tempted to jump overboard and leave me to sink, and l would not have blamed her, but she had her own life-raft and her own faith.  Most of all she was full of love for me. When l thought that I had tested her trust in me too far, that l had really pushed the limits, she would do the smallest thing that would speak volumes. It would release my stuck tears that had been suppressed for years, too afraid and too fearful to show any emotion. This friend showed me the meaning of a true trusting relationship. She learned to separate my anorexia nervosa from the real me, and l am forever grateful. The openness, honesty and trust made our friendship so strong that nothing to this day could break the bond between us. She taught me true love and showed me what it was like to be loved, no matter what.

Trust is an all-weather anchor

Eventually my friend left my boat of life. However, before she disembarked, she made sure everything was in place for me to be okay and to be able to continue my cruise. I am a grandmother now, and through all these years I have learned that relationships and friendships have two sides. I have learned that the only way to get anywhere in life is to practice trust, explore trust, accept trust and humbly give my trust. Never give up on the relationships that sail with you and help you navigate the ocean between life and death. Allowing guidance to safety and loved back to life on solid ground builds and creates strong foundations for relationships that last forever.

Thank you for coming aboard with me.

Love from Karyn Rose Braveheart

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Artwork by Karyn Rose Braveheart

June Alexander

About June Alexander

I have written nine books about eating disorders since my recovery (my “reconnection with true self”) from anorexia nervosa and other long term mental health challenges in 2006. In 2017, I graduated as a Doctor of Philosophy (Creative Writing). My contribution to the eating disorder field was recognised at the 2016 Academy for Eating Disorders International Conference in San Francisco where I was awarded the Meehan/Hartley Award for Public Service and Advocacy. I am currently a co-chair of the NEDC Steering Committee Evidence of Experience Group, a foundation steering committee member of the annual World Eating Disorders Action Day, and an Advisory Panel member for F.E.A.S.T.

All articles by June Alexander

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