If there is one thing I can say about Dr. Julie O’Toole’s new book, “Give Food a Chance”, it is that it should be required reading for every medical student, treating professional and parent/loved one.
Written in challenging yet concise, definitive language, “Give Food a Chance” earns its endorsement from Laura Collins Lyster Mensh, founder of FEAST-ED.org, author of “Eating with your Anorexic”, parent of an anorexia survivor, and longtime advocate of family-based treatment: “There are books one recommends to strangers, and those one presses on friends. I will be showing ‘Give Food a Chance’ to my friends and enemies alike, and I look forward to the discussion it will initiate. O’Toole presents a conflict for all of us: We can either remain stuck in old and ineffective ideas or have the courage to reject them.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Laura, who also just happens to be one of my longtime writing mentors and a personal hero.
When I first received “Give Food a Chance”, the title tugged at my heartstrings. I remembered that when I was in the midst of my own recovery journey, I wanted more than anything to give food a chance…but I just couldn’t.
When we struggle with an eating disorder, we struggle with worry.
However, if there is one thing I have learned throughout my years of recovering from an eating disorder, it is this:
Very little of what we worry about from day to day is actually worth worrying about….with one exception.
Ed IS worth worrying about. Because out of all those piles of worries, all those emotions and opinions and thoughts and ideas that our brain spends most of its waking (and much of its sleeping) hours worrying through, the eating disorder is the only one that will kill us if we do not worry about it!
We should be worried about a disease that is considered to be the deadliest amongst all psychiatrically-based disorders.
We should worry when we catch ourselves saying things to ourselves or others like, “I’m in no immediate danger”, or “I’m just not quite ready to give up my eating disordered thoughts and behaviors yet” (to my horror, these are both statements I have heard relatively recently from MentorCONNECT members).
In my mentoring work over the past several years, I have fielded an increasingly large number of inquiries from individuals who are still in the middle or even at the beginning of their own recovery progress, but who are already experiencing the longing to help others.
This is natural.
Human beings are communal. We belong together – we need each other. Or, to share a quote from one of my all-time favorite movies, “Contact” (more on this in Beating Ana), “in all this time, the only thing that we have found that makes the loneliness bearable is each other.”
This is true as well.
However, helping, as in healing, requires not only willingness but also ability to be effective.
One of my favorite quotes is from Saint Francis, who when asked by a disciple how to evangelize to others, responded, “Preach the gospel ceaselessly. If necessary, use words.”
This is advice that translates equally well in a mentoring context.
In two words – “boundaries matter”.
Boundaries are what give the word “relationship” its power.
Without boundaries, we don’t know how to relate to each other, why extending our trust is worth the risks, and what value interacting relationally holds.
Boundaries are like safety cones around common relational units such as bosses and employees, therapists and clients, significant others and their respective close friends, parents and children, teachers and students.
With mentors and mentees especially, boundaries lend substance and certainty to this newer form of teaching partnership.
And when a mentoring partnership forms in a recovery setting, boundaries become critical. With boundaries comes the ability to clearly delineate important distinguishing characteristics that set a mentor’s role apart from that of a clinician, peer, or friend.
I read an interesting article the other day that supposedly had nothing to do with mentoring.
Only to me, it did.
This particular post was about marketing to customers, and how important it is in the making of happy customers to be able to tell the difference between what we think the customer needs versus what the customer is demanding.
Upon first read, I found myself scratching my head and thinking, “huh?”
But then, as I read through it again and tried to apply it to what I have learned as first a mentee, and later a mentor as well, it began to click.
As I share in my book, Beating Ana, over the years mentees have often written to me, begging to know the “secret” for achieving recovery.
Mentoring, like life, happens one moment at a time.
Sounds like a cliche, right?
That, as I am finding out, is exactly the problem.
I live in a world surrounded by technology I barely understand, that moves much faster than I do, and never sleeps (which basically amounts to the ultimate “hmmm”, considering I now serve as Executive Director for a web-based mentoring community!)
The fact is that technology, unlike human beings, doesn’t take one step at a time, it takes many steps. Technology doesn’t happen one moment at a time, it lumps many moments into one.
Which I think is why, with more ways to stay connected than ever before, there are many days that the opportunity for connection can start to feel almost intrusive rather than nurturing.
About six weeks ago I had abdominal surgery. I have always been fairly healthy up until this point (if we aren’t counting the fifteen long years I battled against anorexia and bulimia) and so having to undergo major surgery was both a brand-new experience and understandably a source of anxiety for me.
My mother, on the other hand, being a veteran of five abdominal surgeries, and my experienced and enthusiastic Patch Adams-esque surgeon who was a veteran of several thousand more, wasted no time speeding through the pre-operative prep to the “virgin stomach” jokes … until I felt like I was a paying extra on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.
It probably is worth mentioning that I haven’t been much of a Grey’s fan thus far this season.
However, I have yet to experience a more healing, transformative lesson in mentoring than the one my own abdomen has taught me in the last several weeks.
Leslie Benson is a 2011 MSW Candidate at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. She is also a tireless volunteer for eating disorders conferences such as NEDA and Renfrew, and for MentorCONNECT as a volunteer mentor, support group leader, and research assistant.
Leslie’s experiences with mentoring, combined with her clinical training and education, has produced a voice of wisdom, compassion, and expertise far beyond her years. We are honored to host her here on “Mentoring & Recovery” to share her mentoring experiences!
Tell us about your own experiences being mentored and how it helped you in your recovery.
My mentor came to me very unexpectedly, but in retrospect, it was exactly what I needed to get over a big hump in my recovery. At the time I was struggling with discovering who I was without ED. My mentor’s confidence in me helped me build confidence in myself, which until then I didn’t have. Slowly, with constant encouragement and positive reinforcement from my mentor, I was able to rebuild my sense of self, rediscover my strengths and interests, and use them to build a life without ED.