Archives for February, 2011
I used to think that my recovery story was fairly unique. This was back when I didn't know other people who were recovering from an eating disorder. I didn't have access to insurance for treatment. I didn't know anyone else who had an eating disorder - recovered or otherwise. At the time I was ill, I didn't have family or friends who understood my disease. For that matter, I didn't understand my disease. I didn't have any books to read to educate me about eating disorders...because there weren't any books available on a mass market basis about eating disorders recovery back in 1980 when I first developed anorexia. I recovered in a near-vacuum, with the support of my mentor, but otherwise, fairly much alone. After I recovered and starting mentoring others, I realized that my story was not unique. It still isn't.
This month we welcome what has become an empowering annual tradition courtesy of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA): National Eating Disorders Awareness Week This year's NEDAwareness Week happens from February 20-26, 2011 nationwide. This year, NEDA encourages all of us to do "just one thing" in support of what can be the most powerful week for advocacy, activism, education, awareness, intervention, change, and ultimately prevention of eating disorders. So our question to ourselves should be "What am I going to do?" What "one thing" can we all do to make this world a more accepting, nurturing, educated, proactive, and supportive place for individuals who are striving to recover from eating disorders? One thing we can all do is reach out to others - to take support if we need it, and to give support if we can offer it. More than anything else, what we each need, and what we can each do, to make a difference in the life of someone who is struggling to recover is to give of ourselves. In other words, what we most need to heal and be healed is each other.
Mentoring is a gift that gives in equal measure to both giver and receiver. By giving in small ways, each and every day, we give so much....and receive even more. This is why I love the message of this year's National Eating Disorders Awareness Week - that we can each do "just one thing" to raise awareness of eating disorders. This message recognizes that we have busy lives. It recognizes that we may already be doing many other things in other ways. It understands that we come from varying means, varying stages of recovery, varying degrees of help. This message reminds us that our "one things" really do count. It also encourages us that, for one special week each year, we can stretch just a little bit further and do just one MORE little thing that can have a huge impact in the lives of others who struggle with eating disorders. This message hits home with a particular importance for me today, because today marks the start of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2011. And this week, the nonprofit I run, MentorCONNECT, has decided that our "just one thing" is to partner with the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) to launch the first-ever "Virtual Walk" for eating disorders awareness.
For this post we welcome guest blogger Alison Smela. Alison and I met through a mutual friend and colleague. We share the same passion for mentoring and "paying it forward" to make a difference in the lives of those who struggle with eating disorders. She currently serves as a mentor with MentorCONNECT and is also the leader of our 40 Something! Group and our Public Relations Director. We are also fast friends. In many ways, Alison also serves as a mentor to me. As I shared in an earlier blog post, I just turned 40 this past December, and at 49, Alison is a living testament to the beauty, grace, and wisdom we gather as we proceed through what she calls the "seasoned" years. I love it! I hope to be Alison when I grow up! In celebration of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2011, I invite Alison to share about why she is so passionate about serving as a mentor to other women who are still striving to achieve sustained recovery. I know you will be inspired by her words, as I am daily!
Troy Roness is an inspiring role model for any person who is struggling to recover from an eating disorder. For that matter, he is equally inspiring for recovered persons as well. Since his own recovery from an eating disorder, Troy has maintained a ceaseless effort to support and encourage recovering persons, and to continually advocate for better treatment and care for all who struggle. Troy currently serves as the inaugural United States Male Junior Board Representative for the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Advisory Board Member and M.O.R.E. (Males Owning Recovery From Eating Disorders) Program Director with MentorCONNECT, and is active in promoting legislative changes in his home state of North Dakota to promote education and treatment of eating disorders. Troy is a busy guy! He is the epitome of what it means to "pay it forward," and it is my pleasure to feature Troy's words and work in "Mentoring and Recovery." Troy, thanks so much for being with us! Tell us a bit about your battle with an eating disorder and what motivated you to choose recovery. “I cannot specifically remember a day or ‘ah-ha’ event that I really wanted to choose life. There are specific moments I do recall, however, that really had me analyzing the direction I was headed. For one, physically I couldn’t function enough to perform daily tasks, let alone enjoy life. Aside from that and more importantly, I was emotionally, psychologically and spiritually drained; I was desperate and completely alone. It was, and still is sometimes, a daily task to choose healthy decisions verses unhealthy ones. I feel confident when I lay my head down each night knowing that I have done the best I can in my efforts to make myself healthier, happier and more in-tune with my feelings.”
Eating disorders are widely considered to be a female disease. Those of you who are reading this post and are knowledgeable about eating disorders are thinking, "oh, no they're not." But the vast majority of the population still regards eating disorders as a female disease. This includes many general medical practitioners. You might be surprised to learn how many males with eating disorder symptoms are told by their family doctor, "you can't have an eating disorder - that is a female disease." But it is an eating disorder. And they are male. They are a male with an eating disorder. It happens...and much more often than most of us may suspect.
Recently I was reading Alicia Sparks' excellent "Celebrity Psychings" blog and a post called "Be Respectful of the Absence: Lessons from Michelle Williams" caught my eye. As I read further, it struck me that Michelle has a powerful lesson to teach us about mentoring. Michelle, of course, lost not only her fiance but her daughter's father when Heath Ledger unexpectedly passed in 2008. While I can imagine how devastating such a loss might be, the closest I have personally come to that kind of impact was when my close friend and colleague David died in 2007. David walked with me through several very important steps on the road towards the eating disorder mentoring and outreach work I do today. I still feel his presence sometimes...still "hear" him encouraging me, telling me I can do it - that I am smart, I can figure it out and be successful. Two courageous women who are embracing the pain and the joy of life I still miss him. Sometimes a lot. Especially when I let myself think about him for more than a moment or two. But even that feeling can't hold a candle to what Michelle and her daughter must have faced and still be facing. However, there is one area where I can do more than just imagine that kind of heart-wrenching and deeply personal loss.
Along the path to self-transformation, self-evolution, or recovery (whichever name we prefer to use) we will encounter many feelings. Depending on our perspective, those feelings can look like sharp mountainous boulders, or glittering precious gems. Or we may choose to see only the "uplifting" feelings - like joy, happiness, love, comfort, peace - as gems, and the "depressing" feelings - sadness, grief, anger, fear, apathy - as boulders. The choice, as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us in his classic mentoring tome, "Letters to a Young Poet", is up to us. It truly is. We really do get to choose.