Archives for September, 2011
Liberally sprinkled throughout my book on eating disorders and mentoring, Beating Ana, are quotes from my favor ite piece of all times (okay, it's a tie between "Letters to a Young Poet" and this one), "Rules for Being Human." Written by an unknown author, this piece speaks to me more clearly than anything else I have ever read about recovery, love, life, hope, and humanity. In the chapter entitled "Mentoring 101," I begin by quoting "Rules for Being Human" rule #8: What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. The choice is yours. Sounds a bit harsh at the outset, doesn't it? I found it daunting the first several hundred times I read it (the piece sits on my desk, so I see it every day). To be honest, I still find it daunting.....but now I find it so in a refreshingly honest, liberating way.
One of my favorite quotes comes from an anonymous author. The piece is entitled "Rules for Being Human," and it contains 10 short "rules" that are so dead-on accurate that it is little wonder the author chose to keep their identity from us. This is because, as history clearly shows us, anyone who figures all this out and is still breathing is a clear candidate for either deification or death, depending on society's general mood at the time. In my book about mentoring and eating disorders, Beating Ana, I end the book with one of my favorite of the "rules", #9: Your answers lie inside you. The answers to life's questions lie inside you. All you need to do is look, listen and trust. The 10th and final "rule", by the way, simply states: You will forget all this. And I do. Everyday.
My dear friend and colleague, Chevese Turner, is the founder and CEO of BEDA, the Binge Eating Disorder Association. BEDA is the first national organization dedicated to providing those who battle binge eating disorder with the support and resources they need and deserve, free from weight stigma and bias. Now, this week, from September 26-30, 2011, BEDA launches the first-ever Weight Stigma Awareness Week. According to BEDA's official press release, "the objectives of this event are to build awareness of what weight stigma is, the harmful effects weight stigma can have on people of all ages in all environments, and what can be done to stop it."
Part of the charm - and the challenge - of mentoring in nearly any context is to help your mentee make the leap from the known past or present into the unknown but hoped-for future. Mentees may say they want to make that leap. They may even say they are willing, ready, or able to make that leap. But it is a rare mentee who actually is any one or all of these things. Actually, this is not hard to understand. You can think into your own life experience, whether of being mentored or simply of life in general, to recall all the times that you have dreamed of a new way of being, a new achievement, or a new attitude, long before you were able to experience even a tiny fraction of what you were hoping for. This is why, oddly enough, the experience we are aiming for in our mentoring role is not necessarily to attain "that thing" - the goal the mentee has in mind when they begin the mentoring process - but rather to induce an experience of merciful amnesia that can allow the mentee for a moment to forget their checkered and (usually, to their minds) unsuccessful past and imagine-as-if. In his book "Stumbling on Happiness", author and researcher Daniel Gilbert states that "we know so little about the hearts and minds of the people we are about to become."
I always love to get requests from mentor volunteers to serve with MentorCONNECT. They are filled with gratitude and want to give back. Many have started projects of their own to share what they have learned about recovery, and these projects can include blogs, websites, books, ministries, non-profit organizations, and other activities designed to stay connected to the recovery community. What some of them haven't quite finished yet is their own recovery. It is a fine line to walk across - figuring out when is the exact right moment to transition from being a mentee to being a mentor. It is also not an exact science, and so sometimes a mentor will start a bit too early, or perhaps wait a bit too long, and in those qualitative judgments, relapses and other oopses can occur. The truth is (or at least my personal truth, from my personal experience from what I have seen in my own life and in the lives of those who serve as mentors with MentorCONNECT) is that it is easier to start a blog, website, or organization, write a book, or speak publicly about your story than it is to serve as a recovering person's mentor. It is also much less triggering, less intimate, and in some sense less impactful in that way.
This past week one of my mentees asked me to talk with her about emotions. Specifically, she wanted some insight into the process of learning how to identify, name, and feel emotions. This is a challenge I struggled with for years during my lengthy recovery battle from anorexia and bulimia. And I shared with her that sometimes I still struggle when a new and weighty challenge suddenly appears before me unannounced. So when this happens to me, I go back to basics. Lately I have had the good sense to hire a life coach, and she has given me a great visualization that I shared with my mentee this week, and now I want to share it with you as well. To Identify, Name, & Feel your Feelings:
Emotions. Boy is that a loaded word. Whether you are on the mentor or mentee side of the recovery fence, you are guaranteed to have them. As a mentor, you may catch yourself feeling frustrated, elated, frightened, or even hopeless while watching your mentee navigate the ups and downs you still remember all too well from your own recovery journey (and may still be navigating yourself in other parts of your life). As a mentee, you may watch your own emotions skyrocket or plummet, not yet even having descriptive names for some of the ones that feel (and sound!) like fearapathyrageresentmenthappinesspeaceloveangerRAGEregretgrief......
There are all kinds of mentors, in all walks of life. Some mentors focus on supporting their mentees as newlyweds. Others mentor their mentees throughout their career. Still other mentors will serve and support mentors in the recovery arena. Mentors like me, who have recovered from an eating disorder, spend our mentoring hours supporting mentees who are still struggling to recover from eating disorders. One of the most popular topics, if "popular" is the right word, in eating disorders mentoring is weight. Weight gain, weight loss, what contributes to one or both, how to avoid one and promote the other, what to do when you want to have your eating disorder (i.e. weight loss or weight gain) and recovery too...... This is why, at least in my mentoring work, I do not talk about weight loss or weight gain with my mentees.
Triggering. This is a word that continues to strike fear into the psyches of mentors, mentees, clinicians, family members, and pretty much everyone else who understands what the word "trigger" means. In case you are new to the term, here we are not talking about the trigger in terms of a physical weapon, but rather an emotional trigger that can get "pulled" and have a similar inner effect. Which is why today's "elephant in the room" question is - "What if the mentoring community is triggering?" Triggers are a hot button topic in that there seem to be two prevailing schools of thought - in the first, triggers are to be avoided, as they could promote a setback in a recovering person's efforts. In the second, triggers are to be welcomed, because they show the recovering person where dependency on a fixed set of thoughts and behaviors (those of the eating disorder) still impede that person's ability to fully engage with and live life in each moment. I am of a mind to join both camps, because I think each school of thought applies more readily in earlier and then later stages of recovery. However, the fact remains that triggers happen.