“Prevention Works. Treatment is Effective. People Recover.“– National Recovery Month, SAMHSA
In honor of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) declaration of September as National Recovery Month, we are devoting this blog to a discussion of recovery and eating disorders. It is not enough to educate about the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders as a means of prevention- it is equally important to emphasize treatment and recovery as part of the healing process.
When we began the journey of creating the film “Someday Melissa, the story of an eating disorder, loss and hope,” we thought that it could be a powerful educational tool but had no idea about its potential as a component of treatment and recovery for eating disorders. Since the release of the film, we have been overwhelmed with support and praise from clinicians who have used Melissa’s story in treating patients struggling with eating disorders, as well as those who are in recovery.
Although Melissa’s life was cut short, her writings have become an inspiration for those who identify with her struggles in fighting an eating disorder and who are hoping for a brighter future. Many now in recovery have been encouraged by the film to reflect on what their own “somedays” were while still in ED’s grip, and how so many of those “somedays” have now come true.
Today we are thrilled to announce that we will be offering supplemental material for eating disorder professionals and clinicians who are using the film with their patients on the road to recovery. A new publication, titled “Guided Discussions for Recovery,” has been designed for professionals for use in conjunction with the film as an opportunity to utilize Melissa’s journal for helping them discuss eating disorders and the issues for those struggling. Using poetry and art as tools, this publication will allow patients to explore their thoughts and experiences about eating disorders using Melissa’s story. This is just one more way that Melissa, even in her absence, is making a difference in the prevention, treatment and recovery of eating disorders.
The “Guided Discussions for Recovery” publication will be presented at the upcoming screening and discussion at Linden Oaks at Edwards in Naperville, IL on September 28th; further details and registration information are available on our website. Judy Avrin will also be speaking on the role of the film in education, treatment and recovery from eating disorders.
Additional information on how to order the film with the “Guided Discussions for Recovery” will be posted to our website once it is available. If you have any questions please contact Beth-Ellen Keyes at email@example.com or (646) 246-1081
At Someday Melissa we are dedicated to raising awareness of eating disorders and having
open and honest discussions about ED and all that encompasses. Something we focus on a
lot is recovery. Recovery is possible! Although I’ve been in recovery for nearly 5 years now,
sometimes I wonder exactly what recovery is supposed to look like. Maybe you do too?
Lately I’ve found myself slipping a bit in my eating behaviors. I’ll admit to being a little
stressed lately because I work several jobs, am a writer and am in a play. There’s a lot going on
and it’s easy to feel a little out of control with it all. It started with simply being too busy and
forgetting to eat. I’d remedy that as soon as I realized I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. But in the
back of my mind was the little voice of ED asking, “Doesn’t it feel nice though that you didn’t
eat?” I hate that persistent voice.
I have a no weighing policy. Maybe you do too? I don’t own a scale and the only time I am
weighed is when I go to the doctor. For me, not knowing is best. I go by how I feel and how
my body is doing and I know when I feel great and I notice when things feel out of whack.
It’s a great way to really get in tune with yourself. My roommate brought home a scale a few
weeks ago. I took one look at the scale and heard ED again, “Lovely, isn’t it? Don’t you want to
know?” I asked her if she could hide the scale and never tell me where she put it and luckily for
me, I have a good roomie because she did. Extreme? Maybe to some, but not to me.
These are the things I have to do in order to remain healthy. Recovery is an ongoing process and
for me (this doesn’t apply to everybody out there at all), it will always be. So I do my best to
counteract ED. I eat when I don’t necessarily want to and nothing looks good. I keep with my
regular walking schedule and don’t try to increase it. I look for inspirational quotes. I browse
the Someday Melissa pages because you guys inspire me. Maybe you do too?
Recovery is different for all of us, but the one thing I always do my best to remember is how
much happier and healthier I am now. I won’t let ED take that away again.
I met Sara at the first NEDA walk in New York City two and a half years ago and we have remained in touch. After ten years of living a healthy, ED-free life, she looked back at her experience with bulimia and realized how lucky she had been to make a full recovery after suffering for 6 years. She decided to get involved helping others and went back to school for her Masters in Mental Health. This guest blog is a retrospective of how she traveled from then to now. ~ Judy
Fake It Till You Make It
The other day, my younger sister sent me a text asking how my fiancé had done on his first semester of law school finals. All three of us are in school working on Master’s right now, in a variety of subjects, having returned to school after years in the work place. I responded that he’d done well (my opinion) – he’d gotten a B and a B+ so far, however he thought the outcome was so-so, and was being a bit hard on himself as a result. I condensed this information into a text response, to which my sister replied that she understood his position, she too is similarly hard on herself. Playing into my typical role in our family, I messaged her back, “You two should both be more like me – I think I’m amazing!”
I’ve come a long way from the days when my thoughts were quite the opposite. When I was growing up, I was very, very hard on myself. Similar to many who have struggled with ED, almost like clockwork, I developed bulimia at age 12, right around the onset of adolescence. Regardless of the strong set of supports that I had in place through out my life, I fell into a spiral of self-loathing and angst. Everything seemed difficult. Years passed and the feelings and the ED behavior continued.
As my freshman year of college closed out, an especially rough one on my poor body, a real sense of my own mortality rose within in me, and I went from feeling invincible to be concerned for my health. I realized that, for all the love and support we might have in the world, we are ultimately responsible for the outcome and direction of our lives. No one can give us happiness or fulfillment. The realization of being alone in this regard wasn’t lonely, it was empowering. No relationship with a friend or a guy was going to make me feel whole, because nothing external was going to. All of the ability to feel the way that I wanted to lay square within me. And I was ready to take that responsibility and make a change.
So I started giving myself the pat on the back that previously, I had expected and desperately needed everyone else to give me constantly for so long. I reminded myself that getting healthy was going to be hard and uncomfortable at times, but it had to be the priority, and I was going to fake it till I made it. It was not going to feel natural or authentic to start, but I needed to practice living like a healthy, confident person with good sense of self and esteem, in order to become one.
I sought the help of a number of therapists at different points during the years of my illness. While I know that they helped in a variety of ways, it wasn’t until I had a modicum of commitment to getting better that I was able to make inroads into the roots of it. This therapist was a woman that I began seeing when I was eighteen. She described the mind and decision-making part of us as the “adult-self,” and the vulnerable, emotional part as the “inner-child.” It was the adult’s responsibility to take care of the child by making good, healthy decisions to keep the child safe. With this in mind, I started to make decisions by checking in with my inner-child. “Does this feel safe? Is this going to be the best decision in the long run?” I stopped acting tough, and I started being real. I reminded myself that I was lucky to be alive, to have a life, to have a family and friends, despite any difficulties I had experienced. I wasn’t perfect, and I was never going to be – nobody is! But I had to take care of myself, because there was only one me. And I began to nourish myself, with healthy food, and sometimes less healthy food, and visits to the gym. I didn’t lose weight, and I didn’t expect to and I didn’t need to. But I felt a whole lot better about myself. I started taking Pilates, and found that connecting to my core muscles gave me a sense of inner strength. Slowly but surely, I began to love myself. As my confidence increased and I set boundaries in my life, the way others related to me changed as well. I was teaching other people how to treat me, based on the way I treated myself. Slowly, all of my relationships began to improve.
My un-wavering commitment to myself manifested into an ED free me, and the empowerment I experienced in getting over that major hurdle in myself carries through into the work I do with people today. I am utterly fulfilled by my life. ~ Sara
This afternoon I received an email from a young woman who wrote to tell me that Melissa’s story inspired her to reach for her own “Someday..”. I was so moved by her words that I asked if she would be willing to write a guest blog post. Thank you Lindsay for sharing your story. ~ Judy
Changing Lives Together
The first time I read about Melissa’s story, something rang out inside of me. Our stories were similar. I knew the phrase “Someday…” so well. My journal had pages of my own personal “Someday” goals and aspirations. The most recent “Someday” I had written in my journal was: “Someday, I’ll be a survivor. Someday, I’ll overcome.”
At the time I first read Melissa’s story, I was sitting in a residential treatment facility. I was being treated for co-occurring illnesses. I had been diagnosed with bulimia, depression and anxiety. All of which had become debilitating; All of which I had suffered with for years. It was on day 13 of my 28 day treatment stay that I stumbled upon the Someday Melissa website. I was so close to giving up treatment at this point, feeling like I was never going to get better. But then I read her story and my eyes filled with tears. I understood her. She understood me.
It was in that tear-filled moment that I realized I shared Melissa’s dreams. I, too, wanted to change lives. While not with movies, but with writing.
I had begun writing a book about my life, my struggles, trials, treatments and the hope that I had found through out the years of my seeking recovery. I had given up on the idea of ever being someone who could make a difference and had stopped writing- until that night. I realized that I had a chance to make a difference. Melissa’s story is changing lives, and mine could too.
I picked up and continued writing my book, which is entitled “The Girl Inside” (set to debut in late 2012). I determined that I would use my journey to recovery to reach out and touch other people’s lives. I have become an advocate for mental health awareness. I want people to know there is hope, healing and that they can become survivors.
Staring at Melissa’s picture that lonely night in my hospital room changed my life. It made me realize I have to make a difference. I have to help save other lives. I have to join the Someday Melissa team in the journey of advocating awareness. Melissa has inspired me to step up, have confidence in myself, continue on in my recovery and share my story.
Thank you, Melissa. Your story has both saved and changed my life. Hopefully we can change many more lives together.
“I think Melissa has an eating disorder,” the doctor said. I can still picture his office, diplomas and awards covering his walls, Melissa in the leather chair beside me. As I stared at him across the expanse of his desk Melissa’s eyes filled with tears and my reaction was immediate. I said he was wrong, that the little weight she had lost was from healthier eating and increased exercise. I didn’t believe him and we didn’t return for a follow-up visit.
The prior year, at the start of 8th grade, Melissa began struggling with severe constipation. Her pediatrician prescribed laxatives and later sent her for an ultrasound, then referred us to a gastroenterologist who prescribed different laxatives. The problems continued. What I didn’t know, and I suspect most parents don’t understand, is that if the food isn’t going in, or if it goes in and comes out, the digestive system can’t function normally. It seems so simple in retrospect, but I had much to learn.
Although I didn’t yet know it, Melissa had been actively bulimic for a long time. Never overweight, she had gained a few pounds the year before; the weight gain I later learned that is normal and necessary for healthy development of the reproductive system. She told me years later that it was at camp the summer she was 13 that she began struggling with body image issues as the girls changed clothes in front of each other, compared their bodies and talked about boys. She decided to lose a few pounds.
Having struggled with self esteem and body image issues my entire life, I had always been careful never to comment on her weight and was secretly pleased when she started exercising more and making healthier food choices. What started innocently, with Melissa’s desire to lose a few pounds, rapidly turned into an active eating disorder behind our backs.
It was a long time before the signs of Melissa’s eating disorder became impossible to explain away or ignore. Of course in retrospect, they seem more like flashing neon warning signs that should have set off alarms. But why didn’t they?
What makes it so difficult for us as parents to see what’s happening in front of our eyes?
Adolescence by its very nature is a time filled with change. Beginning stages of disordered eating can be confused with “normal” adolescent behavior and early symptoms are easily explained away. Doctors and pediatricians often overlook the signs as well. People with eating disorders become incredibly skilled at hiding the behaviors and lying about them.
What does someone with an eating disorder actually look like? To many people, the image of a person with an eating disorder is someone who appears dangerously anorexic. But eating disorders come in many forms, with many disguises, and I later learned that bulimics are often within normal weight ranges or may even be overweight. Melissa had bulimia.
Then there is the shame. Eating disorders are considered shameful and parents don’t want to believe their child has one. However, the longer eating disorder behaviors continue, the more entrenched those behaviors become. Early detection and treatment dramatically improve recovery rates.
Although we ultimately did everything we could to help Melissa beat ED, using all the information, understanding and resources available to us, I have to live every day with the knowledge that critical time was lost in getting her into treatment. I have made it my mission to speak out and help raise parental awareness so other families don’t have to endure the devastating loss of their child.
The National Eating Disorders Association has developed a wonderful Parent Toolkit that provides valuable information. Read it. Educate yourself. Don’t close your eyes. Yes, it CAN happen to your child.