People ask me this sometimes when they’re worried about loved ones.
They’ve lost or gained lots of weight. You’ve spotted empty wrappers, personality changes, an obsession with exercise.
Or maybe it’s not food. Maybe it’s booze. A bad relationship. Or something else.
‘Have you got an eating disorder?’
‘Are you drinking again?’
‘Is there something happening that you want to tell me?’
These are scary questions. Big questions. Questions we’d cross continents to avoid. So how do you ask them without causing offence and maybe even risking your friendship?
Answer: you can’t.
If you love someone, then you say the hard thing. And sometimes, there’s no way of making the hard thing soft.
I received an email today from someone who’s staring down the barrel of just such a conversation. She writes this:
‘I know that at least for the moment she’s going to really hate me for whatever I do, I’m prepared for that and willing to take it. I have known her for too long and love her too much to do nothing.’
This – the hard thing – is friendship.
Not keeping the peace.
Not pretending it will all go away.
Not ignoring it or settling for excuses neither of you believe.
Not threatening and then withdrawing.
Not pleading and then retreating.
Saying: ‘I can see what’s happening. I love you too much to pretend that it’s all ok. I’m committed to you: and that means I’m willing to challenge the behaviours that you think are you, but are taking you away.
Even if it costs us this friendship. Even if you’re angry and hate me and cut me off. I love you and I’ll help you get help. But I won’t watch you kill yourself without saying anything.’