Guest Post – Finding friendship and courage in Verona

Published: December 10, 2010 | Last Updated: December 11, 2010 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading

by Maria Rainier

 

Since developing anorexia and bulimia as a freshman in college, I’ve found it very difficult to make, never mind maintain, close friendships with women. I began recovering from my disorders halfway through college, literally two months before I was scheduled to study abroad for a semester. I should have gone into a treatment center, but instead, despite doubts in both myself and from parents, I went to Europe. One person among the dozen other students I traveled with knew of my condition, but as time passed I realized she and I shared little in common. I wound up traveling through Italy mostly alone not only to see the sights as I claimed, but to avoid socializing with a group I feared would find out about my disorders and judge me unkindly.


Sometime in October, I was on my way back from Naples to our host family in northern Italy. It was a rainy, miserably cold day outside the Verona train station, which proved to be no warmer or less miserable than it was outside. Laborers had declared a strike and nobody was leaving the station for another five hours. Out of habit, I’d eaten nothing but a croissant and a cappuccino in 24 hours. This probably didn’t help my body temperature, and I was thrilled when I found a heated room with just one empty seat next to an elderly American couple.


I don’t remember how we got to talking or even what her name was, but when the elderly woman’s husband left to check if the train schedule had changed, she confessed to me that this would be her last time in Europe. She had cancer and would die in three months’ time, and her husband had decided to fulfill her dying wishes to see Italy.


Until the onset of my eating disorder, I’d never once cried in daylight and never, ever in public. I had long prided myself on inner strength and felt it all come crumbling down in the middle of the Verona train station in front of a woman I’d only known for fifteen minutes. I cried for her and for her husband, but I also cried in shame.


What I had done to my body and my mind, although not a conscious decision, was irreversible and altogether stupid. I’d already talked to a therapist and explored what had led to the disorders and realized that food (or lack, thereof) had temporarily filled a gap of insecurity and loneliness in me I had been unable to.


The reasons for the disorder were not stupid-I had left my home in Japan for a campus in a country I’d never been to and on which I had neither friends nor anything in common with my peers. Of course I was insecure. Still, that I had tormented and hated myself for over two years to the point that I had literally tried to make my body disappear was a point of shame in the shadow of a woman who probably would have given anything to live just another year.


I confessed to her things I had not confessed to any of my friends. I didn’t expect her to say much; she was of another generation, one that had faced the Depression and likely found the idea of insecurity and anorexia laughable, even disgraceful. She said, however, with genuine compassion, "That must be very hard. Nobody deserves that. I’m sorry."


She was sorry. A woman who had three months to live was sorry for me. She shamed me. Her husband returned and saw the tears in our eyes and joined us in hanging our heads.


While I had whittled my body away pound by pound over my first two years in college, I had unconsciously been whittling away my friends, as well. What few meaningful friends I had managed to make had, by the time I left for Europe, grown tired of my obsession with the gym, with my studies, and weekends spent in my own room with no confidence in myself. They had grown tired of telling me I looked fine, rail-thin in fact, and that I had nothing to be self-conscious about. They had grown tired of being unable to rely on me for social outings. When they had learned of my disorder, they had made cooing sounds or sat in an awkward silence. They had tired of me and floated away.


I returned wearily from Verona to the host family’s house in northern Italy the following morning. As I collapsed into my bed to sleep, I thought of her. I thought of how easily my confession had slipped from my lips and how she had accepted me nonetheless. I thought of the others in my group whom I’d been avoiding to evade judgment and shame. As if on cue, another student knocked on my door and sat next to me. Perhaps it was the elderly woman in my memory that coaxed me to take a risk: I spent the rest of my day with this student and began to eat with the others over time, even join them on their trips to Florence, Athens, Santorini, and Rome. Some of them found out of my disorders. Few of them cared.


The friendship I treasure most was not made over the course of years on campus, but rather in two hours in a warm room in the Verona train station to a woman who is likely now gone. She-one of the few women in those four years of my life who did not judge me-I would be happy to call a friend first. Hers was the friendship that taught me that life is too short; stop being afraid. Hers was the friendship that allowed me to make more.


Admittedly, it’s not as if I am fearless today and do not at times fear judgment. Still, when I do, I remember her, and I remember that the friendships that matter most do not pass judgment. They only pass on love.

 

Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education, researching various online degree programs and blogging about student life. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

 

Other posts on The Friendship Blog that touch on eating disorders:

Friendship: The importance of showing up

Making friends: When should I disclose my emotional baggage

Contending with the food police

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  1. Anonymous says:

    “Friendships that matter most do not pass judgment.” Indeed, very true.

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