I am so happy to share a special guest post from my dear friend and long-time collaborator and colleague Dr. June Alexander!
For those of you who remember MentorCONNECT, you may have met June already either virtually or in person – she was one of our first and most beloved volunteer mentors!
If you are an avid reader, you may know of June through her many wonderful books, which offer valuable insights and practical tools for making progress in eating disorders recovery and life.
And if you are an aspiring writer and haven’t yet met June, you will want to – she is an accomplished writing mentor and coach through her Life Stories Mentor program (more news about this PLUS an invitation to connect with June directly at the end of this guest post).
Write to Heal: Making the Hard Work of Eating Disorder Recovery Easier by June Alexander
Recovery from an eating disorder is hard work. The good news is that the skills developed during the recovery process can be very useful in meeting other challenges that arise in the mainstream of everyday life.
The following excerpt from my own personal diary gives you just a glimpse of the power of diary writing!
From my diary: March 16, 2019
I am at JFK Airport, 6pm, to start the long homeward journey from the AED ICED in New York. Have managed to circumvent a hurdle. There was a St Patrick’s Day march in Central Park and many roads were blocked, police/police cars everywhere, and the journey from the hotel on 75thAvenue to the airport took 2.5 hours instead of the usual one hour. The cab driver was apologetic, but the constant braking and accelerating (one car space at a time for more than an hour), left me feeling very nauseous (due to the missing vertebrae/discs in my cervical spine). I inadvertently mentioned this when loading my suitcase on to the conveyor belt — and the staff swung into procedure mode, immediately calling for advice … then they said: “You will not be able to fly today, you need to see a doctor and get a medical clearance. You will have to stay overnight and return tomorrow if you have a certificate to say you are fit to travel.”
Thoughts began to rush into my brain, all panic-driven, all in flight mode.
However, self-help skills acquired in many years of eating disorder recovery work enabled an appearance of outward calm, at least.
I tried to explain, “I’m fine now — it was only the braking and accelerating in the cab for several hours that made me feel ill”.
They rang a nurse in Arizona who persisted in stipulating “no travel”.
They had no available nurse or doctor in the Airport.
I did not like to think of the consequences.
The last thing I wanted to do was to go out of the airport, 10,000 miles from home.
So I started to think of Solution A, B, C….
Focusing on what I had control over helped to quell the urge to panic, and to behave in a polite, rational and dignified way.
I went next door to the American Airlines counter to ask if they had a ticket to LA, today, but they only had one ticket, First Class, for more than $4000.
I returned to the Qantas counter and asked to speak to the next person up the ladder in Authority.
A tall slender man called Jim, wearing a nice bow-tie, came along.
He asked for my passport, listened to my story, and got on the phone to Arizona.
He paced up and down, talking on the phone for at least 30 minutes.
During this time I prayed a lot to the Lord (please dear Father, have that nurse in Arizona, who does not know me at all, say ‘yes’ that I can fly today).
I smiled at Jim every time I caught his eye. I walked close by to show definitely no dizziness or nausea, (except for the anxiety of trying not to think how to cope if unable to board the plane).
Making conversation and building a personal dialogue can be helpful.
It turned out that Jim has relatives in Melbourne.
Perhaps this strengthened our connection.
Jim was persuasive.
He got approval for me to board the flight to LA this evening and onwards to Melbourne this evening.
Praise the Lord.
I asked Jim if I could hug him. Yes, he said, ‘you are welcome to give me a hug’ (we had several – I was feeling very relieved).
The Qantas team then proceeded to offer tip top care — provided a better seat for the long flight LA to Melbourne, an express lane to go through the baggage scans, and fast track boarding.
Lesson for today: Stay calm when things go awry; staying calm enabled me to convince the staff that I truly am OK.
Over and out for now.
That was a close call. My years of recovery work enabled me to stay calm while trying to convince others that I was okay. If my negative (ED) voice had taken hold, anxiety would have led to irrational and unreasonable behavior, and a high possibility of admission to hospital for all sorts of tests – the situation could quickly have escalated from nothing wrong to a lot wrong.
Debriefing in my journal
As soon as I could, while waiting to board the plane at JFK, I opened my laptop and documented my thoughts and feelings about this experience. Writing in my online journal enabled a self-debrief and effectively dispersed and nullified residual feelings of anxiety due to the ‘close call’. As I wrote, I moved from being a participant of the potentially traumatic experience, to being an observer of the experience and its outcome. The writing process enabled feelings of calmness and peace to return, to place the experience in fresh perspective and context (it really was nothing serious when one thinks of all the things that can go wrong at airports) and once again all was well with the world.
In addition to the privacy of my personal journal as a safe debriefing outlet, I have learned through eating disorder recovery the benefits of sharing thoughts and feelings with trusted others when experiencing an anxious time. Therefore, besides my journal entry, I shared the JFK experience with friends online. Their support and encouragement was immediate and followed me all the way home to Australia.
How did I learn to do it (share my recovery story)?
My losses with my eating disorder, which consumed 44 years of my life, were such that when I emerged in the light of recovery at age 55, which is 13 years ago now, I had nothing more to lose by sharing my story.
In coming out and sharing, my self-belief was strengthened by others who heard my story, and I began to feel validated as a worthwhile human being. The process of healing was taken to an exciting new level, and this process continues today. Every day is full of purpose and positivity.
Preparing for the day when you will share your story
Perhaps you are among the many people in recovery who are keen for the day when they are no longer struggling so much and can then help others. Well, if you are feeling this way, I have good news – you can start today to prepare for this moment.
How can I do this, you may ask?
If not already doing so, I encourage you to start a journal today. All you need is a notebook and pen. All you need to do, to create a journal entry, is to write the date, and then add your thoughts and feelings for the day. Over time, your daily entries will build like a serial you might watch on TV – each entry documents and becomes part of the overall picture of your life. By preserving your thoughts and feelings in this way, you will have a repository of experiences to reflect on and share with others when the time is right. The benefits, for you and others, are many.
You may also keep a journal online, on your cell phone, tablet or laptop. Choose the most convenient option for you. I encourage pen and paper writing as it is more tangible, connecting your mind and body as one, but circumstances may mean that one of the online options is more suitable for you. The main thing is that you have quick access to your journal at every time of the day and that you can feel free to write honestly and openly in it, like you are confiding to a best friend.
Ready to share your story
One of the most powerful aspects of story-sharing when we have recovered our healthy self from the eating disorder illness, is the opportunity it provides to connect with others. When people who are experiencing eating disorder symptoms today, identify with parts of our story, they are able to gain fresh perspectives on their own situation, and gain courage and self-permission to reach out and do what is right for them.
You may even want to write your own memoir/help book to share your unique story – and if you do, I will be pleased to offer my story-mentoring service to help you achieve your dream. Contact me to schedule a conversation over email or phone, whichever medium you feel most comfortable with. You can also learn about The Diary Healer’s online writing Program here.
Email: june @ junealexander.com
Dr June Alexander is the author of numerous life-writing community works, 10 books on eating disorders, including her memoir, and has a PhD* in the therapeutic value of non-fiction writing in recovery. She runs workshops and works with groups and individuals through journaling and story-telling to a) assist self-healing and promote self-growth b) provide caregivers with narrative skills to improve their wellbeing and be more effective members of their loved one’s support team; and c) provide health professionals with narrative skills as an extra tool in overcoming difficult moments in their patients’ healing journey. June has two websites, on sharing life stories and on using the journal as The Diary Healer. Having healed in adulthood from long term anorexia, plus road trauma, comorbid chronic anxiety, PTSD and depression, June thrives in the joys of mainstream living and inspires hope at every age. She understands what it means to experience and heal from a severe and enduring mental health challenge as adolescent, adult and mother. Her story-telling work has achieved global recognition, winning the Academy for Eating Disorders’ 2016 Meehan-Hartley Advocacy Award for public service and advocacy in the eating disorder field. June is a foundation member of the National Eating Disorders’ Collaboration steering committee in Australia, and serves on national and international eating disorder advocacy organisations. June has clients under the NDIS, as a life skills and story-writing mentor.