Read an Excerpt
Welcome to Our World
Making the transition from being one of the many who suffers from an eating disorder (ED) to becoming one of the few who triumphs over your eating disorder is as rocky as any I can think of. Quite possibly, the only experience tougher on a human body, mind, heart, and spirit than falling ill is getting better.
It gets unnecessarily tougher, however, when we assume that we will have to heal the same way we got sick—alone. We don't. In fact, I couldn't. My loneliness and isolation were precisely the reasons why recovery felt so difficult—impossible, really. So here, in this first section, I will introduce you to a whole new approach to eating disorders recovery—an approach that worked for me when I had literally lost all hope of surviving my eating disorder in any other way—an approach that has the very same power to renew your hope and transform your experience of recovery.
So what are we waiting for? Let's get started!
It is our Tuesday evening support group. On tiptoes, speaking in hushed whispers, they sidle forward, eyes groundward, chests barely rising and falling, curling up into the depths or balancing on the edges of their chosen seats. . . . They are afraid to breathe too loudly for fear someone will notice.
It is scary to be noticed when you don't like what you've become. It is scarier still to be noticed when you don't know who you are. And when the little you do know of yourself consists of the constant competition, comparison, and criticism of an eating disorder in your head, at first it can be very scary to be noticed keeping company with others like you . . . to realize that you, and your eating disorder, are not alone.
But eventually, if you want to heal, if you want to live, you adjust. You get used to two things—one, being noticed, and two, not being the only one with an eating disorder. You also get used to not being the only one with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, low self-esteem, self-harm, promiscuity or sexual anorexia, substance abuse, alcoholism, borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, bottomless fear, uncontrollable anger, and endless aching loneliness . . . and you get used to sharing the burden of guilt generated by being willing, for quite some time now, to do just about anything and everything to ease the void within, even if what you are driven to do drags you down, and then drags everyone else down with you. In fact, oddly enough, this sense of collective ownership is eventually part of what gives you some small, and, in time, much greater relief.
This process—of harnessing the transformative, healing, relieving power of naming, owning, and then sharing both the pain and the promise of recovery with at least one other person who has been there, understands, and is willing and able to help—is called mentoring. Mentoring neatly circumvents the isolation in which an eating disorder flourishes by putting us in direct connection with each other—heart to heart, mind to mind, spirit to spirit. Mentoring has become a virtually lost art in this isolating age of eating disorders. Yet I have spent the past twenty years of my life putting into daily practice, and the last five years compiling, the material you hold in your hands now, because mentoring saved my life. I have seen it save the lives of many of my mentees, and I believe it has the same power to save your life as well.
It is also worth mentioning that many different names exist for what I call mentoring. For instance, we will discuss a bit later how the success of the worldwide fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous is structured around the art and discipline of sponsorship. Similarly, many outreach organizations offer the chance to seek out a 'Big Brother' or 'Big Sister' to share life's challenges and victories. It is often possible to form similar bonds within the context of an ongoing therapeutic relationship as well. Here, I introduce my own highly successful experiences of first being mentored, and now mentoring others, through what I call 'The Mentor Model.' This model, which we will explore in much greater depth shortly, will serve as our guide as we unfold the full potential and promise that a mentoring relationship holds for you in your journey to meet—and even exceed!—your recovery goals.
Why have I dedicated countless hours of my personal time to serve as a mentor and five years of my life to write this book? For one simple reason—because mentoring takes us back to the heart of what it means to be human, which is that we need each other or we will not, cannot, survive. My own battle to survive my eating disorder took an undeniable, almost unbelievable turn for the better with the appearance of one single, willing, able human being—my own mentor. She was all I had—the only source of help and support I had access to when I was ill and trying to get better—and mysteriously, miraculously, it was enough.
Before we proceed further, I want to make it clear that, regardless of my particular circumstances during my recovery journey, I am not now, nor will I ever be, an advocate of choosing to 'go it alone'—even with your mentor by your side. Rather, our consistent focus here will be an exploration of the many reasons why it is of value to consider adding a mentor to any existing professional support network you have in place. However, over the years I continue to meet many people who, for one reason or another, are confronting the challenge of overcoming their eating disorder without having access to professional medical care, just as I experienced when I was sick. If you are one of these people, holding this book in your hands right now, and you are considering throwing in the towel, then know this—regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself, regardless of the level of care you currently have access to, regardless of what you think
your options are or your prognosis is or can be, you must simply set your mind and heart and spirit to do whatever it takes to get better and never ever give up.
Hopefully, even as you are reading this now, you have a full treatment team encircling you with all of the care, support, expertise, love, compassion, and guidance you could ever need to heal. But whether you do or do not, there is absolutely no reason to allow yourself to think that you cannot, somehow, some way, no matter what obstacles appear to stand between you and your recovery goals, get better—my own story is living proof of this! Against all odds, with the help of just one caring person who was willing to serve as my mentor when I needed her, I survived a devastating fifteen-year battle with anorexia and bulimia . . . and have been in sustained recovery for over a decade now!
Let me say this one more time, that in my own direct, personal experience, there is never, ever, ever any reason to give up hope. You can do better than that. You must do better than that. This world needs you. You are here for a reason. You matter. You were always meant to, designed to, and able to survive whatever life hands you and come out ahead, flying the flag of victory! No matter what your situation is, there is always something more you can do to save your own life. There is always more help available to you than first meets the eye. If I could do it—if I could find a way to heal, and stay healed, when absolutely no way seemed to exist in my life as I knew it in those days, then you can too.
Here is the secret to your success, the secret I learned during the years I spent working toward my own successful recovery, and the powerful secret I now pass along to you. Through the years when I was doing the bulk of my recovery work, and in the years since then, it has been and continues to be my experience today that even with all that we now know about eating disorders that we did not know then, and even with all of the resources we have now that I did not have when I first became ill, our most powerful resource for healing, survival, and revival of life continues to be each other. Today, even as the work I do at times takes me into some complicated territory, the credo I live by remains simple, direct, profound.
Relationships replace eating disorders. Period. The end.
This is my life's work. This is who I am. This is how I live—and stay alive.
And what a wonderful, worthwhile life it is! Today, post-recovery, I am privileged to spend my days working one-on-one with those in recovery from eating disorders and those who love them, speaking and singing across the country through my outreach organization Key to Life: unlocking the door to hope, writing this book and monthly columns for several recovery organizations, and recording music inspired by all of the courageous fighters I meet along the way. All of these endeavors are structured with mentoring in mind, and in such a way as to purposefully demystify what author Peggy Claude-Pierre terms 'the secret language of eating disorders,' so that those who have no voice can borrow mine until they reclaim their own, and those in a position to help can clearly hear and understand the unspoken and unspeakable need, and move quickly to lend their aid.
That is the purpose for this book—to give to you what I was given from my mentor—hope—and through this gift to awaken within you your own ability to fight for your life. That is the purpose of my life—to offer you living, breathing proof that recovery lies within your reach also, and to light the way so that you too can experience for yourself the incredible triumph of Beating ANA once and for all!
There is, quite simply, no better use of a life—at least not that I can think of. There is no other life that I would choose than this one—every single heart-wrenching, heart-warming day of it. I will admit I often wasn't sure at the time I was struggling to heal, but today I know that it was all worth it—the years of struggling, of not knowing, of feeling so scared, and then to see the sun begin to come up over the horizon and to realize that I am doing it . . . that thing I thought I could not do . . . and then realizing that if I could do it, then so can you . . . WOW.
Talk about a life worth living—a life worth saving, a life worth surviving for. Today, for me, that life that is so worth living, saving, and surviving for is mine—and your own.
©2009. Shannon Cutts. All rights reserved. Reprinted from Beating Ana. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442