Between who you are and who you invent

I lost a friend recently and I need to talk about it.

We met when I was fairly young. I moved a lot as a kid, due to being the eldest daughter of a Navy electrician. Combine that with the fact that my memories of childhood are fuzzy at best, and my guess is I was about 10 or 11 when we met, right as we stopped moving so much.

I was always an awkward kid (now an awkward adult) and she was far cooler than me. A little older, a lot less socially inept, and she liked me. I didn’t know why – but perhaps she thought I needed her more than the other girls. I probably did. I had what we will call, “a rough childhood,” and I needed someone in my life I felt was on my side.

So, she was there for me. She was there when one of my best friends in high school exclaimed, “Teresa’s trying to be pretty!” at the bowling alley the night I tried wearing make-up. She was there when a teacher asked me in front of the entire AP English class if I had taken my ADHD medication. She was there when the boy I thought I’d marry got back together with his (older, prettier) girlfriend. She was there when a male classmate threatened to rape me and the school administrators ignored it.

She was there for the good stuff too, but seemed to have a thing for being needed. I didn’t need her as much when I did well – third place in a talent contest, top 2% on the ACT, 97% on my Algebra II final. Those moments were few, though, so I provided a steady stream of making her feel needed.

When I graduated from my small high school (we walked 48 kids at graduation) and moved two hours away to the huge state university, our dynamic changed a little bit. I had temporarily escaped a toxic home environment and was at a school where I knew no one (few of my high school classmates went away to college). I made the Dean’s List my first semester and she seemed to take it as a personal affront.

This is probably when I should have realized how unhealthy the relationship had become, but I didn’t, partly because I still needed someone in my corner. It’s amazing the flaws in a relationship we can ignore when we’re getting something we need.

Things continued in a back and forth manner till a few years later when my family back home started imploding and someone had to step in. I had also developed some health issues, so I left school with the intention of going back eventually. As you probably know, except for one semester a few years ago, I didn’t – though that’s the plan for 2016.

In the years since, we’ve kept in touch, usually daily, with it becoming an increasingly unhealthy relationship. I started seeing a therapist maybe three years ago for other reasons and even the therapist commented on it. The therapist ended up being a bad fit (to the degree I almost reported her) so I was able to ignore the advice I disagreed with. Fun.

When I got sick with the congestive heart failure in January of 2014, and I was so scared, and so angry, I started to realize that some of my relationships and attachments (mostly with men, honestly) were unhealthy. I was giving these men an awful lot of power over how I felt about myself. I realized that if I was going to survive the heart failure and not let it break me, I was going to have to make some changes. People were unfriended, texts were not returned, and some blunt conversations were held.

But she was still there. She was there when I ended up back in the hospital for my kidneys and later when my blood sugars started going crazy. At this point she was the only consistent, almost lifelong relationship that I had, as I’m not close with my family. She was there when I found out I was going to have to go on insulin four times a day and may never get off of it completely, also known as one of the most life-changing days I’ve ever had.

I don’t know why she was still there – why I allowed it. Why do we keep things and people around when their cost outweighs any benefit? I have people in my life that love me. I don’t need her, but I couldn’t let her go.

That changed this week. I went to the eye doctor and while confronting the idea that I might have started to develop diabetic retinopathy (vision loss that is usually not reversible) I broke. I couldn’t do it anymore, but I wasn’t sure how to end things with someone who was my biggest fan and my biggest enabler – that voice that let me justify anything,

That “friend” was, of course, my relationship with food. For almost my entire life, that has been the only consistent thing. It was there for everything. It could make anything better, or at least dull my senses till I could pretend it was better.

But, sitting there contemplating losing my vision, my stomach bruised from insulin shots, and with a heart that requires 5+ pills a day to keep going, I knew it had to stop. My weight and eating habits didn’t cause my heart to go on the fritz, but now that it has, my diet is incredibly important. I can’t stop eating entirely (obviously), but I have to discover, after almost 25 years, how to cope without using food.

I feel, as silly as it may sound, very alone. I feel like my best friend screwed the husband I don’t have. Food was supposed to be there for me! How could I not see what was happening and how dangerous and unhealthy the relationship had become? How am I supposed to deal with the mess I used food to create without having food as my support system?

I don’t have answers yet. I hope that I will eventually, but I think I’m finally asking the right questions.

Oh, and my eyes have no sign of diabetic retinopathy – now to make sure they stay that way.

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