Leslie Benson is a 2011 MSW Candidate at the NYU Silver School of Social Work. She is also a tireless volunteer for eating disorders conferences such as NEDA and Renfrew, and for MentorCONNECT as a volunteer mentor, support group leader, and research assistant. Leslie's experiences with mentoring, combined with her clinical training and education, has produced a voice of wisdom, compassion, and expertise far beyond her years. We are honored to host her here on "Mentoring & Recovery" to share her mentoring experiences! Tell us about your own experiences being mentored and how it helped you in your recovery. My mentor came to me very unexpectedly, but in retrospect, it was exactly what I needed to get over a big hump in my recovery. At the time I was struggling with discovering who I was without ED. My mentor's confidence in me helped me build confidence in myself, which until then I didn't have. Slowly, with constant encouragement and positive reinforcement from my mentor, I was able to rebuild my sense of self, rediscover my strengths and interests, and use them to build a life without ED.
Recently I read a great article on a site called SelfMatters.org. The site and its programs are run by two inspiring women, Jane Shure, PhD. and Beth Weinstock, PhD. These two thought leaders believe that we can learn how to "turn down" the voice of what they call our "inner critic," and learn to "turn up" the voice of what they call our "inner coach." I absolutely LOVE this concept...for obvious reasons. So I thought I would share their list of ideas for strengthening the voice of the inner coach, or mentor, with you here:
My friend and colleague Dr. Carolyn Becker is one of the most inspiring women I know. She is the co-author of Reflections: Body Image, an evidence-based curriculum which scientifically proves that when women come together to support one another in attaining and maintaining healthy body image, we can break through the culture bias against curves and learn to embrace, talk, and walk a body-love counter culture. Given my own work with MentorCONNECT, it is easy to see why Dr. Becker is one of my personal heroes! Reflections birthed a movement called "Fat Talk Free Week" that urges all women everywhere to just say "no" to "fat talk" and "yes" to their slogan in action "Helping Women Achieve Healthy Body, Mind, & Spirit." Sounds great to me!
Survivor, author, and mentor Andrea Roe was kind enough to stop by "Mentoring and Recovery" to share her insights about the power of mentoring from both the mentee's and the mentor's point of view. Andrea is the author of the great two-volume series "You Are Not Alone: the book of companionship for women with eating disorders" and the editor of the monthly Support Letter e-newsletter, which has the largest subscriber base of any similar publication in Canada. (psss...read on below for how you can WIN a FREE COPY of You Are Not Alone Vol 2)* Andrea is also a long-time valued board member with MentorCONNECT, a pending 501(c)3 non-profit organization that is dedicated to promoting no-fee access to mentoring for any individual who is personally affected by an eating disorder. Andrea's own recovery journey has been a rich adventure in seeking and finding nurturing, empowering, encouraging pro-recovery mentoring relationships. Thank you so much Andrea for sharing your experiences with us! 1. You have mentioned that online recovery communities and mentoring were important in your own recovery from anorexia and bulimia because of all the support you found there. Tell us about your own experiences. Being in touch with others who were also in recovery or already recovered was an essential part of my own recovery. It made me feel understood, less alone and gave me hope that all this hard work was really worth it. I really got that if they could overcome their struggles, I COULD TOO!
Jen, you are a true inspiration to me, and have been a voice of wisdom and a mentor to me in many ways ever since we first met. Today you are the National Training Manager for the Renfrew Center, and have the awesome challenge and opportunity to mentor women all over the country coordinating Renfrew’s Alumni program. You also do a lot of work teaching other women to step into mentoring shoes as they transition through treatment. We are also grateful at MentorCONNECT to have you as an expert resource on our Advisory Board. Can you tell us about a few of your own mentors who have helped you along the way, and share some of the wisdom they have passed along to you that you now enjoy passing on to others? I do two things. My actual title is the National Training Manager for The Renfrew Center. This means, I go around the country and I speak to professionals about treating eating disorders. I am also the coordinator of our alumni programs and services at Renfrew (this is not an official title but I am the head person for this).
Well, the strange structure that I wrote about in Mentoring as a Structure and Theme for Recovery is not gone - but it certainly is changing right before our eyes! Here is what it looked like two weeks ago when I first asked you what the heck you thought it was. Guesses included "shower," "closet," "outhouse" (that was my unhappy guess), and "greenhouse," among others. I returned home just a day or so ago after having been gone for a couple of weeks. I casually wandered out onto my deck (having totally forgotten that the strange structure was even there!) to behold this: I am now realizing that even our most creative guesses couldn't visualize on our own what its creator always envisioned - what appears to be a "hunting blind". No way would I have seen that in the August version of our small wooden mystery. Would you? This is a perfect example of how powerful mentoring can be.
When I go to get my bird, Pearl, out of her cage, she always comes willingly. No matter where we are – at the vet, at the boarder’s, in the car, or at home, she hops right on my finger and allows me to lift her out of the safety of her cage. Why does she do this? Because she trusts me. A mentoring relationship is a relationship like any other, and relationships at their essence are all about trust. Whether it is a relationship with our pet, our parents, our spouse, our friend, our sibling, our teacher, our boss, our colleague, or any other, if we don’t have trust, we don’t have much. But once we have trust, establishing the relationship from that point on is all about purpose and content – as in, “what is the purpose for spending time together”, and “what is the outcome we both are aiming for”? So how do we establish trust?
In a previous post we talked about the important characteristics that you should look for in a mentor. The definition of a mentor, as you may recall, is “a trusted guide who has knowledge and experience in a certain area, and is willing and able to share it.” So it then follows that the definition of a mentee should be “a person in need of guidance and instruction, and is willing to receive it.” But how do you know you are ready to be mentored?
This past Sunday I was casually thumbing through a section of the local paper. I happened upon the personal finance pages, a section that usually makes about as much sense to me as watching a foreign language movie with no subtitles. But then I saw a headline: “Your Money or Your Life?”* I could relate to that feeling – in our challenging economic times, juggling the requirements of earning a living versus doing the kind of work I am passionate about sometimes makes me feel like I have to choose. As I thought more about it, I also realized I have often fielded similar questions over the years about this same topic in a different setting, when mentees come to me asking how they can find the motivation to choose between their eating disorder and their life.
A few days ago I got this email from one of my mentees – If I had a dollar for every time over the past few days I have heard [my eating disorder voice say to me], "You're not sick enough. . . .you don't need recovery. . . .stop trying, it won't work, I am the only thing that works. . . .don't waste time you could use for doing homework on such meaningless tasks as going to see a dietitian. . . ." and so on, and so forth, the list continues. Just really trying to cope with all of this in a healthy way, you know?? It is so tempting to just cave and listen to ED and do what he tells me to do. Yes it is. Which is why those of us who have suffered with an eating disorder can relate so well to the struggle she describes. The “Ed voice,” as we call it, talks and talks, and we listen. The more we listen, the more it replaces any other voice we might give airtime and consideration to. At some point, it becomes our mentor. Oops.