I am often asked to travel to colleges and share a program called “Beauty Undressed.” In this program, I speak about my experiences of eating disorders recovery.
Of course, whenever I am invited to speak, I automatically interpret that to mean that my audiences really want to learn about the power of mentoring in eating disorders recovery….because of course my personal recovery story is one of mentoring, and I credit the presence of a long line of mentors with helping me to choose recovery, do the hard work of recovery, and sustain my recovery over the long term.
While I believe it is very important for people to understand the specifics of what an eating disorder is, how it can develop (medically speaking), and the basic forms of treatment that are often necessary in order to facilitate healing, this is not what I speak about unless it is specifically requested.
A far greater barrier, in my personal experience, has been the inability to make the leap from “your issue” to “my issue.”
In other words, the very term “eating disorder” can be so intimidating, frightening, or simply off-putting as to create a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the person suffering and those positioned in a close enough emotional proximity to offer much-needed support.
So when I arrive at a campus or organization to speak, my intention is not to educate regarding the nature of suffering specific to the contraction of an eating disorder, but rather to educate regarding the nature of human suffering itself.
We may not be able to ever understand what it is like to have an eating disorder – even if we personally have or have had one! For instance, in looking back now as a recovered person with a good strong decade of recovery under my belt, I even sometimes have difficulty understanding how I could have ever engaged in the types of repetitive, deeply painful and (frankly) mystifying behaviors that signify a clinically diagnosable eating disorder.
But I have no trouble – to this day – identifying with what it feels like to suffer.
So when educating about eating disorders – or any other cause or source of human suffering – I deeply believe with all of my being that we must begin and end there, with understanding that one suffering person essentially needs the same basic types of support as another suffering person, and in this way, we can all be there for each other, mentoring one another through the ups and downs, the challenges and victories, of our shared journeys.
Today’s Takeaway: If you have been struggling to comprehend the nature of your own or a loved one’s issues, today consider that perhaps a focus on the specific “type” of issue may be the thing that is standing in your way! If you extend your struggle beyond the name to the nature of the issue, can you perhaps build a bridge of mutual understanding and support?
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Last reviewed: 10 May 2012