What is the one thing that seems to consistently cause the most trouble on the road to recovery?
How hard is this to do? Not very – in theory.
How hard is this to do in practice? VERY hard.
“Ed” (our eating disorder) does not want us to reach out. In our minds, we are worthless, helpless, hopeless, without.
In reality, we are priceless, courageous, trailblazers, warriors.
One of the elements of my longtime relationship with my own mentor, Lynn, that continues to surprise me the most is that my mentor also continues to have hardship in life – just like I do.
It is so tempting, in reading her reliably wise words to me, to brush aside the FACT that anyone – and I mean anyone – who is able to write such wise and comforting words must have experienced the personal life circumstances to form them.
Mentors do not become mentors in a vacuum, just like Olympic skaters do not get the Olympics by winning the skating lottery.
There are years of hard work, tears, trials, self-effort, mentoring, errors, mishaps, missteps, victories, setbacks, and continued determination and patience that form a mentor out of the malleable clay that is a human being.
Mentors are made, not born.
Mentors have been mentored.
Mentors are willing to serve because they once needed (and often still do need) their mentor just as much as we now need them.
Mentoring is a contact sport.
No question about it.
When it comes to inviting another person into our life to offer solicited feedback, advice, and guidance, we are guaranteed to feel some amount of discomfort – most likely in equal measure with any relief that is brought through the opportunity for a shared journey.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in “Letters to a Young Poet”, the book I would put forward if there were ever a nomination for the award of “all-time classic mentoring text”.
As we have been exploring some of the many nuggets of mentoring wisdom revered poet Rainer Maria Rilke offers to his young poet/mentee, Franz Kappus, in “Letters”, we have also repeatedly discovered that serving as a mentor is a task that is equally as difficult as being mentored.
This is because the mentor is often asked tough questions – questions which may not have an easy, or any, answer.
In “Letters to a Young Poet”, in what was only his third letter to the venerated poet Rainer Maria Rilke, the young poet Franz Kappus begins to delve into a depth and breadth of questioning that we can only guess at (since only Rilke’s replies and not Kappus’ original letters were published).
Kappus is quite obviously feeling very alone, regardless of the presence of those near and dear to him.
He is casting about for answers, for some place solid to stand on as his young life changes again and again.
This is an experience we can all relate to – whether our life is changing in relation to age, to marital status, to recovery progress, to career progression, or to other factors!
Life brings change, and change brings questions.
And questions bring about the insatiable desire for answers.
This month we have our long-awaited interview with recovery expert Jenni Schaefer.
Author of “Life Without Ed” and “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me”, Jenni is a much-beloved and sought-after speaker, author…and mentor. In this interview, she shares her insights about her own experiences of being mentored, mentoring others, and learning to fall in love with life. Thanks, Jenni, for visiting us here at “Mentoring and Recovery”.
1. In Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, there is an inspiring chapter called “My Mentee” where you describe being asked to be your nephew Aiden’s mentor for life. How cool! What are some of the wise messages your own mentors have taught you that you want to pass on to Aiden?
In recovery, my mentor, Emily, taught me not to be so hard on myself, that relapses were normal and okay. She also said that I didn’t always have to settle for relapsing. I could ultimately make the decision to get fully better. A key was to have patience and to never, never, never give up. I hope to pass this message of patience and persistence along to Aiden.
2. You mention in the chapter that you have mentors for many different areas of life. I can really relate to this – mentoring has such a wide application. What advice do you have for readers who are interested in finding a mentor for recovery or for other areas of life?
To find a recovery mentor, I, of course, recommend reading your book, Beating Ana, and joining MentorCONNECT! To find mentors in other areas, I encourage people to be open to learning and to ask questions. In my life, I have found that by being open, my mentors have actually found me. I love the old saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
3. One interesting point you bring up that I can really relate to is that some of your mentors may not even know that they are your mentors. Can you share more about this?
As I mentioned in my last post, Rainer Maria Rilke’s collection of correspondence with his mentee, “Letters to a Young Poet”, is my all-time favorite book on mentoring.
It is not fancy. It is not flashy.
But it is real, raw, honest, full of humility and wisdom.
Rilke, already a revered poet of his time, was 27 years old when the correspondence began. The young poet, Franz Kappus, was 19, about to enter military service, and full of questions about art, vocation, and the meaning of life.
Over the course of the next five years, the mentor-mentee pair discussed everything from finances to romance, sometimes touching on poetic art, but more often focusing on topics that outline the fundamentals of being human, learning to connect, and growing up.
So, given that “Letters to a Young Poet” was the book that inspired all of the mentoring work I do today, the MentorCONNECT community, and my own book on mentoring, “Beating Ana”, I thought we would spend a few posts examining some of Rilke’s profound and sage words to his mentee, the young aspiring poet.
In his very first letter, the young poet sends some of his poems to Rilke. The young poet asks Rilke, “are my poems any good?”
A successful mentoring partnership, like any successful relationship, must necessarily find its own rhythm and function over time. Some mentoring partnerships begin as linear connections for one specific purpose: “get a promotion at work”, “start a new business”, “strengthen our marriage”, “recover from my eating disorder”.
The goal – at first at least – is so clear. We want help to (fill in the blanks). We locate an individual who has successfully navigated the challenge yet before us (or they locate us as the case may be). We invite them to become our mentor in this one area. They accept. We set some meeting and communication basics – when we will meet, where we will meet, how often we will meet, what the format of our meetings will be.
We commence to begin.
But over time, a mentoring partnership, like any other partnership that yields success in one area, can transform itself again and again. Take, for instance, my own mentoring partnership with my longtime mentor, Lynn.
I will never forget the day I first encountered Lynn.
Here we continue the wonderful two-part Nourishing the Soul interview regarding my work in eating disorders mentoring. Special thanks to the blog publisher, Ashley Solomon, PsyD, for such a great resource!
Welcome back for Part II of this inspirational interview with author, advocate, and musician, Shannon Cutts. In Part I, Shannon shared how relationships replace eating disorders. In today’s post, she shares some of the lessons she has taken away from being both a mentee and mentor, as well as how to navigate the difficult but rewarding world of helping someone in recovery. You can also take a moment to watch Shannon in action spreading her message of hope through words and song.
NTS: What have you learned from your own mentor?
SC: She reached out to me and offered me her support, and that is why I am the person I am today. She would set down ground rules – but all of these rules were very life-affirming and loving towards ME, not the eating disorder. Over time, with that consistent support and love from her, and reassurance that YES, I could achieve my goal to not choose my eating disorder over my life anymore, and that YES, I was worth fighting and recovering for, I chose my relationship with her over my relationship with the eating disorder.
My current mentor, Lynn, has supported me for nearly a decade now, and also serves as Vice Chair on MentorCONNECT’s board. I always joke that she probably had no idea what she was getting into when she accepted me as a mentee! Because of my mentors, most especially Lynn, I have absolute faith that I can become a better me. I know I can slowly but surely transform into the me I have always dreamed of being. I have faith in humanity and in love, and in the givingness of others – and my own ability to give and to love as well. And I know that what I do and who I am are not the same – today, through my mentor Lynn’s guidance and support, I can even get angry at my actions and still unconditionally love who …
I recently enjoyed the chance to share more about my mentoring work with Ashley Solomon, PsyD, from the wonderful Nourishing the Soul blog. I thought I would reprint our two-part interview here as well. Thanks Ashley for such a great resource!
Nourishing the Soul, Part I – Relationships Replace Eating Disorders:
I’m thrilled to be able to share with all of you today my interview with Shannon Cutts, author of Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Backand creator of MentorCONNECT. If you’re not familiar with Shannon, you are truly missing out! She is a renowned speaker, intuitive writer, and award-winning musician. She is also someone who has struggled herself with eating disorders and has a beautiful message of hope that she shares through various media. In Part I of our interview, Shannon talks about her own recovery journey and why recovery isn’t optional.
NTS: You are a person in recovery, a speaker, author, songwriter, and advocate. What was instrumental for you in getting to be the person who you are today?
SC: Well, the first thing I can say is that who I am today continues to be a work-in-progress. When I first started my recovery journey I had no plans to do what I do today in terms of advocacy and outreach work for eating disorders recovery. Since I became ill at age 11 and progressed all the way through recovery before I ever met another person who had struggled with an eating disorder, I had little formal information about my disease and only the support of one person – my mentor – to figure out how to do the hard work of recovery.
So I emerged from my recovery journey understanding just how vital, how critical, the presence of even one caring, supportive, encouraging person can be in the life of someone who is struggling to recover.
NTS: You say frequently that “relationships replace eating disorders.” Explain what you mean.