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There’s a Lutheran Church that I often drive by on my way to Trader Joe’s. Out front, they have a number of banners. The one that caught my eye was a banner that reads, “Relentless Compassion.”* Maybe it’s because I’m often on my way to Trader Joe’s after an appointment at my treatment center, but when I first saw that phrase – relentless compassion – I instantly associated it with my team.

And let me tell you, they are relentless. My RD has actually said to me, “I know that it’s hard for you to hear good things about yourself right now. AND, I think it’s important to really acknowledge and highlight the amazing work that you’re doing and the progress that you’re making.” My team *always* meets me with compassion and kindness, even when Ed has caused me to lash out at them, even when I’ve had major slips or setbacks, even when I’ve tried my best to convince them they *shouldn’t* be kind to me because I haven’t “earned it;” I’m not the good person that they think I am. Try as I (or Ed) might to convince them that I didn’t deserve that kind of care, they were relentless. I was forced to resign myself to it. I realized that these people were going to be nice to me, and there was nothing I – or, more accurately, Ed – could do about it!

Now don’t get me wrong, I have had numerous other treatment providers who’ve been wonderful, and kind, and consistently supportive. But, I have never experienced it like this. In the past, even the kindest of treatment providers (with a couple of exceptions), have become overwhelmed by my symptoms at times. My old RD, for example, was one of the kindest, most compassionate people that I’ve ever met. Yet, there were days when I left her office feeling overwhelmed or like I had let her down because we spent the entire appointment focusing on what I still needed to work on, or what had gone awry since the last time I saw her. Obviously the goal was not to make me feel overwhelmed. I doubt that she was actually disappointed. And, I understand that eating disorders are dangerous, so in the name of my health, she wanted to focus on progress, on what I still needed to do. And though this came from a very obvious place of care and support, Ed could still wrestle it from me and turn it into, “Look how you’ve screwed up. Again. You still have so far to go.”

With my current team, dare I say something like, “I’m sorry I fucked up again,” or, “I should be recovering faster; I still have so far to go,” it is always met with, “And what progress have you made this week?”, or “What’s one thing you have done to care for yourself this week?” or “And how does now compare to when you first started coming here?” A big part of this is the practice of dialectical thinking. My treatment center uses a lot of DBT. So, when I go all black-and-white in my thinking – when I start belittling myself for not doing well, for not being perfect in recovery – I am encouraged to think of the ways that I am progressing. That way, we can acknowledge and legitimate everything. I can be struggling, AND I can still be working toward recovery. I can want recovery AND I can be scared of it. I can slip AND I can get back on track.

But, the relentless compassion and kindness extends beyond the use of dialectics.. I learned early on that there was nothing I could do that would make these people give up on me. There was nothing I could do that would cause them to write me off as “chronic,” as others have occasionally done. And, though Ed made me try many, many times, there was nothing I could do to convince them that I don’t deserve treatment, that I’m hopeless, that I’m wasting their time, that I’m not the good person that they think I am, that I don’t deserve the credit they give me.

This is a big shift for me. Having lived with my e.d. for so long, the messages that I get from Ed now extend FAR beyond food. In fact, Ed’s favorite tactic is telling me that I don’t deserve, well, anything. Ed tells me that thinking that I deserve something is equivalent to taking things for granted, and I have no right to deserve things or take things for granted when others in the world are denied or do not have access. Obviously Ed tells me this applies to food. But, it also applies to compassion, care, and, yes, treatment. The message goes something like this, “You don’t deserve (insert food here). Other people in the world don’t get it, what makes you think you have a right?” Or, “You don’t deserve this level of care. You don’t deserve this level of kindness. You’ve done nothing to earn it.” From my conversations with other eating disordered people, I know that many of the same people are getting the same messages (lies) from Ed.

My team seems to understand this. So now, I am met with constant (relentless) reassurances that not only do I deserve to take in the nourishment that my body needs, but I am also deserving of treatment, I am deserving of self-care, I deserve to do things because I *want* to, I am deserving of a team that “isn’t going anywhere,” I am deserving of health, I am deserving of treatment even in the face of insurance denial, and I deserve to hear positive things about myself and my recovery, even if it makes me uncomfortable, even if Ed makes me try to convince them I’m wrong.

Like I said, it only took a couple of appointments before I realized that these people were NOT going to stop. They were going to be kind to me whether I liked it or not. They were going to point out positive things about me. They were going to remain absolutely convinced that I deserve treatment. It was out of my hands. This was one area where I had no control. And the kindness was going to start from the very moment I checked in with the receptionist at the front desk, through my appointment, and until the moment I left.

I was skeptical at first. I thought that it was cute, what they were doing. It was a sweet tactic, but it would never take hold. At the very least, I was determined to remain convinced that I am undeserving – a safeguard against taking things for granted. I thought it was nice that they wanted to show me kindness, but it was naive. It would never take hold. At first, when they complimented me, or told me I was deserving, or rerouted negative thoughts to positive thoughts, I (Ed) would try my hardest to combat them, to convince them they were wrong. When that tactic failed, I decided they could say all of the nice things they wanted, but I wouldn’t listen and I would just remain silent and internally combat them.

Then, something happened. I was in my RD’s office one day and she was once again relentlessly referencing my progress and – I smiled. I couldn’t help myself! I knew she saw it, and I tried to repress it, but then she said something else about my progress, and I did it again! And then, later that week, I did it in my therapy appointment! I was actually having moments where it felt good, where it made me happy to hear someone being kind and compassionate rather than placing blame or focusing on the negative, or even just focusing solely on the work to be done.

The next step was that I found myself using their kindness to combat Ed. This is still often a tactic of mine. Ed will be giving me a negative message and I’ll think, “But my team has been so nice to me, and so committed, and I’m not going to listen to you because I don’t want to wast their time.” Or I’ll think, “But, my team says I DO deserve to eat protein and feel well, and they’ve been right about everything else, so . . .”

And, suddenly, this kindness is getting out of control! There are moments now where I – *gasp* – actually think that maybe I deserve to have people treat me this way. There are moments where I will give myself permission to not engage in a behavior because I deserve better. I want to feel better. I deserve to be kind to myself. These moments are still fleeting, and sometimes far between, but they are there. And they are increasing. Ed and the kindness that I’ve received from my team can’t coexist. And my team is proving to be just as relentless as Ed (well, actually, more relentless, it seems), and gradually, the kindness and compassion seem to be pushing Ed out. They’re literally killing Ed through kindness. And I seem to be jumping on the bandwagon, intentionally or not! Kindness is catching, it seems.

And don’t get me wrong, though this relentless compassion and kindness has been incredibly healing for me, I remain committed to my stance that successful treatment must employ multiple tactics. This kindness and compassion works, I think, because it is paired with *very* clear boundaries, skill development, therapy and trauma work, nutrition, etc. For example, regardless of how nice she might be, my RD will not compromise on my weight or my meal plan. My therapist may show me relentless compassion when I’ve been upset about exercise restrictions, but she will not change them. I’ve actually come to see this as a function of care. They care enough about me to *not* compromise in these ways; it is a way of keeping me safe. It is a way of being kind. It is “tough love,” as they’ve stated.

The kindness and compassion that my team shows me has truly fostered an environment of honesty. I know that I can be honest about my struggles, I can be honest about behaviors, and I will never be made to feel guilty or “bad.” The struggles will be honored and worked with, safeguards and boundaries will be put into place, AND my team will be kind and compassionate and positive through the ups and the downs.

There’s nothing I can do about. They’re relentless. And it seems to be rubbing off.

What are your thoughts about this (yes – YOU!)? Is a viable treatment option? Is it “too nice?” Have any of you had similar treatment experiences? Have they been helpful? Unhelpful!

* This phrase is actually borrowed from a UCC church called The Cathedral of Hope. “The Mission of the Cathedral of Hope is to reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.” This is exciting for me because, though I am personally a Quaker, my father is a UCC Pastor. Yay!