Paying It Forward in Mentoring
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 am. That, to me, is a bona fide miracle.
If everyone who joins MentorCONNECT has the opportunity to meet a Lynn, then that will be my dreams for the community fulfilled.
NTS: What have you learned from being a mentor and from your mentees?
SC: I have learned that being invited to serve as someone’s mentor is the greatest and most humbling gift a person can receive. It is truly amazing. To know that my life inspires someone – that they see something in me that they hope to experience in their own life one day – that they entrust bits and pieces of their private behind-the-scenes reality with me – it inspires me to continue giving my best every day and working on my own evolution as well so I can be a better servant, mentor, friend, and human being.
Being a mentor – “paying it forward” – is also an essential part of maintaining my own recovery progress. In the Alcoholics Anonymous communities, it is required to take a “sponsee” if you want to “graduate” from the Twelve Steps. This is because the sponsee will never really own what they have achieved if they do not have the chance to teach someone else what they have learned.
We have many mentors on MentorCONNECT who tell us that serving as a mentor is a great reminder of why they want to dedicate themselves fully to maintaining their own recovery. One of our mentors allows us to use her quote to answer questions like these: “I can say that so far being a mentor is an insurance policy in the fact that I wouldn’t even think about relapsing…reason being…….hearing their pain and suffering as they deal with ED. It reminds me what I left behind and saddens me because I want to make it better quick but I can’t; it’s a process. It’s a lot of work but I love it so far. It’s a great addition to my recovery.”
NTS: How do you know when you’re ready to assist others in their journeys?
SC: On MentorCONNECT, we have a policy that before a person can serve as a mentor, they must have experienced twelve consecutive months in sustained recovery, which we define as “largely free from eating disordered thoughts and coping behaviors.”
It is very important for a mentor to be significantly recovered in this way because serving as a mentor can otherwise be triggering and can produce a relapse if the mentor is not ready.
Of course I did not have this policy as a guide when I first began serving as a mentor, but I did have a full commitment to maintaining my own recovery. I had seen how devastating an eating disorder could be and after working so hard to recover, I was not only committed to staying in recovery myself, but to helping others survive the hell that is an eating disorder without having to do it virtually alone like I did.
NTS: How might someone handle a situation in which they thought they could be a support to someone else but then feel overwhelmed or unprepared?
SC: That is such a great question – and it happens sometimes. The best way to handle a situation such as you describe is always to reach out for help. On MentorCONNECT, we have so much support for all of our members. Fully 10% of MentorCONNECT’s membership is significantly or fully recovered. We have a large Leadership Team and each one of us is available to offer insight, guidance, and personal support to our mentors and the membership.
We also encourage our mentor members to enter their volunteer service with outside sources of support already in place. A person who does not have support themselves is rarely in a good position to support others. So ideally, they would be able to reach out for support from their own team. From there, honesty is always the best policy. It is perfectly okay to say to someone you have been supporting, “I did not expect this, but I am struggling again. I would not be doing you or me a service to continue supporting you without taking care of my own recovery needs first. I care about you and I care about me, which is why, for now, I am going to encourage you to seek support elsewhere.”
On MentorCONNECT, should this situation ever arise, our more experienced mentors are prepared to help and guide the mentee to make a new mentoring match, and help the mentor as well to reframe their membership from the perspective of someone who joins primarily in search of support versus someone who joins primarily to offer their support.
Photo by “midiman,” available under a Creative Commons license.
Cutts, S. (2013). Paying It Forward in Mentoring. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 5, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2011/01/paying-it-forward-in-mentoring/