To think about our relationship almost draws me to tears. Even today, after all these years, our dream is not only to be in each other's lives but to work together despite having very different professions (I am a veterinarian and she is an attorney).
Yesterday, Aniela and I were reflecting on our relationship and she said "you know, you should blog about real friendship some time. I bet a lot of people with eating disorders have a hard time having friends. But even one is enough." She is right. When you are lost and consumed by an eating disorder, or anything for that matter, sometimes all you need is one person to pull you through.
I asked her to write this blog. This is what she wrote...
I met our faithful author about 20 years ago. We were so different. I arrived to college as a 17 year-old mess. I think I had unintentional dreadlocks and I only had two river bags stuffed with dirty laundry because I needed to get in one final rock climbing trip before preseason volleyball. Then enters Berger (I know she has a first name, Emi, but in the college sports' locker room world we disposed of first names so she will always be Berger to me) onto the volleyball court as an unexpected teammate. She was brilliant, beautiful, stylish, artistic, popular and CONFIDENT, at least that is what I saw. It took me a while to figure out her hidden demons, maybe a year or two, because I was young and naïve. No one from my hometown had ever had an eating disorder so I just couldn't understand, even though I lived with Berger and spent all of my time with her. When I finally took off my blinders to Berger's problem, I did nothing. NOTHING. Great friend huh? Let me repeat. I did nothing, not a damn thing. It's one of the biggest regrets of my life.
Fast forward to the amazing time I found out Berger was moving to Denver. After living in Africa I missed my friend dearly so I internet stalked her and, in 2011, found her blog on biking across America. She was biking across America in the name of a hidden disease: eating disorders. She came out, so-to-speak. I cried with relief. I yearned for her companionship and she welcomed me back with open arms. Berger was in a veterinary conference in Denver and we met up for the first time in almost 13 years....and time never stopped. The rest is history.
When she first moved to Denver, Berger needed recovery support so I made some phone calls. The next thing I know, I was talking to a potential therapist and bawling my face off about my failure as a friend 20 years ago ... to the point where this poor therapist on the phone wanted ME to see her, not Berger. At this point in the blog, you're thinking "what does this have to do with me and the journey to Ironman?" Be patient.
Berger has forgiven me. She turned my cowardliness into a positive. She says she needed to want to help herself in order to recover. Guess what? Berger forgives me for everything. Wait ... she never really gets upset at me for longer than 10 minutes because when she is upset, she tells me and it's over. She expects one thing from me. I am to be me. That's the only rule between us. We get to be. Just be. That's friendship folks, and no matter your struggle or your best moment, if you can find just one person with whom you can ultimately just be raw, you're a lucky being. We need one person in the universe who will answer your wolf call with a wolf call, even if just to respond "I'm out here and I understand you."
If I look back at our communication in person, email, text - the gamut - I see things that are hilarious, touching, painful. I see gut wrenching struggles two friends can share with each other. I see questions and brutally honest answers. I see two people with athletic pursuits figuring out how to be the most supportive each one can be to the other, even when it's the middle of the day and Berger is in surgery and I am arguing with an assclown German lawyer (I am an attorney by the way). But what I truly see is Berger and me ... able to be raw with each other and never expect anything from the other except support and love. We never disappoint each other because our expectations are only that we can both be ourselves.
I told Berger she should blog about friendship because I could only imagine that individuals with eating disorders (or any secretive behavior for that matter) may not understand how much true friendship mattered or even what it felt like. I'll tell you. It feels like you are never, ever, ever alone - regardless of circumstance or occurrence - you are never alone. Trust me, that has gotten me though many a sleepless night.
I have to stop now because I don't want to ruin my computer with my tears as I write this blog. It was an honor to do so. Berger, I will always love and accept you unconditionally for exactly who you are, just as you do me. I hope your readers can have or find the same thing. This friendship is the thing in life that makes me know I am living. You're a Healer through and through.
Thank you Aniela Swider for your eloquent and candid expression of our friendship. It brought me to tears.