Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center
International Eating Disorder Referral Organization
One Family: Learning from alcoholics and addicts
by Jenni Schaefer
Light from a bonfire broke through the dark of night. Thunder loomed in the distance as a young man approached a microphone standing in an open Texas field where hundreds of people gathered. He warned us that fire ants had been spotted in the field and that we should watch out for these aggressive, little creatures.
The threat of rain and bug bites did not bother us. We were there celebrating La Hacienda Treatment Center’s Annual Alumni Reunion --- to hear stories of triumph over addiction --- and nothing was going to stop us. One by one, brave souls from all over the world walked to the microphone and shared inspirational words. Echoed in the night were words like: gratitude, faith, serenity, happiness, higher power, and God.
The connection between the people on the field --- both those recovered from addictions and those still struggling --- took my breath away. And I was taken aback by the way that I was drawn into the group. Even though my “drug of choice” was food and I had never battled a chemical addiction, I was fully accepted as a member of the family.
Recovered from anorexia and bulimia, I left the event with true hope that one day people touched by eating disorders would experience this same sense of worldwide --- yet intimate --- community.
During my years of intensive treatment for my eating disorder, I am grateful that I was able to connect in some ways with others who were also recovering from food and body image issues. Years ago, I had felt a deep bond with people in a weekly eating disorder therapy group. But I no longer go to this weekly therapy group for eating disorders. Sometimes I had also felt close with people in a 12-step group that I occasionally attended. I now know that my only occasional feeling of connectedness had something to do with my only occasional attendance. I have learned from my friends in the addiction community that building a family takes persistence, hard work, and time.
In my hometown, someone struggling with an addiction can find a twelve-step meeting at almost any hour of the day, every day of the week. Unfortunately, in the same town, there are only two twelve-step meetings per week for people struggling with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Due to lack of awareness, most people in the community do not even know that these meetings exist. Ironically, my town is luckier than most. In America, most states do not even have one such meeting for people battling anorexia and bulimia. When someone with an eating disorder feels hopeless and lost, he or she most often sits in isolation --- lacking an immediate way to connect with other people in recovery for support and fellowship.
Many of us are ashamed to connect with others. We feel disgusting for having an eating disorder. In my early recovery, I did not want to tell anyone about my problem. One by one, I let people in and told them I was battling an eating disorder. Support from family members and friends felt good. To my surprise, no one looked down on me for having an eating disorder but instead admired me for facing my demons head on. When I finally connected with other women who had eating disorders, I gained strength in realizing that I was not alone. As I write this article, I am sitting in one of the largest airports in the world wearing a t-shirt that has one word printed across the front in bold, black letters: “Recovered.” I am happy if people notice my t-shirt today, and I don’t mind if they ask me about it.
Many of us are afraid. We have been told that connecting with other people in recovery from eating disorders is dangerous. We will learn tips and tricks. We will get worse if we talk with one another. The truth is that we will actually get better if we focus on the solution instead of the problem. We will get better if recovered individuals maintain a strong presence within the community. And we will get better if we organize and attend twelve-step meetings, which are available to everyone free of charge --- for a lifetime. Of course, these meetings need to focus on balance rather than abstinence. One cannot abstain from food like an alcoholic gives up drinking. Eating disorder recovery is about finding balance with food and in life.
I challenge those of us who are recovered to reach out to those who still need help. We can gather the strength to share our stories one-on-one with a fellow sufferer, encourage people to seek help from health care professionals who specialize in eating disorders, or even start 12-step meetings in our communities. We can join together and make a difference.
We can follow the footsteps of the alcoholics and drug addicts. I never thought I would encourage people to follow the footsteps of a drug addict, but I stand behind these words with all of my heart. With dedication, patience, and hard work, we will create a worldwide community of love and support for eating disorders.
Someday we, too, will hang out in an open field, fight fire ants, and share our stories of recovery as a family. We might even invite some of our friends in the addiction community to the celebration.
After all, we are all one family.
Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and the author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill). She is a consultant and spokesperson with Center for Change in Orem, Utah. For more information, visit www.jennischaefer.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly those of the author and are presented without editing. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of EDReferral.com, and no official endorsement by EDReferral.com of the opinions expressed herein should be inferred.
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