The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Using the Internet for Recovery Support
MentorCONNECT, the eating disorders mentoring community that I work with, is a global online-based mentoring charity.
Our founding board knew even before we launched MentorCONNECT that sparks were nearly guaranteed to fly once we commenced to combine two loaded words – “recovery” and “internet.”
But we did it anyway. Why?
This brings us to what is possibly the single most explosive, and at times corrosive, “elephant in the room” question that mentoring for eating disorders recovery can generate – “Is the internet a safe place to find recovery support?
The answer (or at least my answer, from my own personal experience with MentorCONNECT) is, under the right set of circumstances, YES.
The truth is, the internet is where many of us spend much of our time each and every day. The internet brings people together in ways that are literally not otherwise possible.
The internet can reach into the homes and hearts of people who feel so isolated it is hard to breathe, let alone hope.
And that is the precise reason why we chose the internet as the vehicle through which to launch MentorCONNECT.
Have you heard the statistic that if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country on the planet?
Or how about this – according to Oxygen Media and Lightspeed Research, nearly one-third of college-aged women check Facebook every morning before they visit the bathroom. Just over 20 percent of this same population checks Facebook in the middle of the night.
Many of us are afraid to admit to our best friend that we feel lonely sometimes, or ask our significant other for a back rub, but we will not think twice before logging in to our online account when we need a hit of social connection and support.
The one and single ONLY facet that differentiates our personalities online and offline is that online, there is much more openness, and it is quite simply easier to ask for support.
It is also less confrontational, more anonymous, and much easier to discover and discuss everyone’s private opinions about public things.
The trouble with the internet – until now at least – has been that there simply weren’t a lot of options for finding support for eating disorders recovery.
But this is not because there are zillions of sickos stalking the internet, trying to turn the minds of innocent youngsters over to the dark side of “addiction as lifestyle”.
At least not in my personal opinion.
Rather, and not unlike the situation that might arise were one of those youngsters (or more age-mature folk for that matter) to walk into a local support group meeting where the recovering presence was high and the recovered presence was low, the reason that most internet communities are not “pro-recovery” is because the people who frequent and run them are still, whether they realize it or not, struggling mightily themselves!
It seems so simple. It IS so simple. We make it complicated because of our fear. The people who go on the internet are us, and all of our friends and acquaintances and the strangers we pass by on the street every day.
The internet itself is not more nor less dangerous than the other realms in which we live and move in our everyday lives.
It is just more visible, more searchable, more concentrated, and in some odd fashion that is no doubt enhanced by the still somewhat “anonymous” quality of building an online presence, often more vividly alive.
So it makes natural sense that people who are struggling with a disorder for which much stigma and misunderstanding yet remains might venture online, looking for support.
When all they can find is a pro-eating disorders website community (a place online where eating disorders are promoted as a “choice” or a “lifestyle” rather than a brain-based disorder) they will often join it.
Some understanding is better than none at all. Some community is better than total isolation.
But what if they had another option?
Those of us who helped to found and now run MentorCONNECT can explain our rapid and continued growth in no other way. When options exist, those folks who turn to the internet in search of support may surprise us by….
Today’s Takeaway: It is so tempting to listen to all the horror stories about use, misuse, and abuse of the internet as a gateway drug to getting sicker rather than a beacon of hope for getting better. I don’t know who coined the phrase, “don’t knock it til you try it”, but I know from watching MentorCONNECT’s membership numbers grow that they have a point. So here, instead of letting fear keep you on the sidelines of resources that might prove helpful, try giving yourself permission to join in, see how you feel, and, as they often say in the Twelve Step communities, “take it one day at a time”.
Photo by Saufnix, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.
Cutts, S. (2013). The Mentoring Elephant in the Room: Using the Internet for Recovery Support. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2011/08/the-mentoring-elephant-in-the-room-using-the-internet-for-recovery-support/