One Family: Learning from the Substance Use Disorder Community

I would not be alive today if I hadn’t found peer support for both my eating disorder as well as PTSD. – 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 and that we should watch out for these aggressive, Texas-sized creatures. 

The threat of rain and bug bites didn’t bother us. We were there celebrating recovery, 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 substance use disorders 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 struggled with an addiction, they fully accepted me as a member of the family. 

Recovered from anorexia nervosa, I left that event with hope that one day, people touched by eating disorders might experience this same sense of worldwide — yet intimate —community. 

A decade later, in my second recovery- from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD – I have this same hope for those who have endured trauma.

In my hometown of Austin, Texas, someone struggling with an addiction or alcoholism can find a twelve-step meeting at almost any hour of the day, every day of the week. Unfortunately, in the same town, there is only one twelve-step meeting each week for people struggling with anorexia and related disorders. Ironically, Austin is luckier than most. In the United States, most cities don’t even have one such meeting. There isn’t a single twelve-step meeting for PTSD in Austin, nor all of Texas that I know about. When people with an eating disorder, PTSD, or possibly both feel hopeless and lost, they can’t just “get to a meeting,” as I hear my friends in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) say a lot. We lack an immediate way to connect face-to-face with others who get it, who understand.

I would not be alive today if I hadn’t found peer support for both my eating disorder as well as PTSD. I credit the individuals in those groups for showing up and giving me hope—the believable, authentic kind—when I needed it most. In eating disorder recovery, I was able to attend a weekly Monday night therapy group. For PTSD, I couldn’t find any peer support in my city, so I traveled all the way to Wisconsin to go to treatment. I often wonder what my recovery might have looked like had there been an Alcoholics Anonymous-level of support available when I needed it most.  Let’s just say that I needed support on days other than Monday, and I don’t live in Wisconsin. 

I challenge those of us who are recovered from eating disorders as well as trauma to reach out to those who still need help. We can share our stories one-on-one with fellow sufferers, encourage people to seek professional help, and even start twelve-step meetings in our communities. We can join together, gather our strength, and we can make a difference.  

I know, because we already are making a difference. Today, ten years after I stood in that Texas field, Eating Disorders Anonymous has grown substantially and has even released its own Big Book, following in the footsteps of Alcoholics Anonymous. (To start an Eating Disorders Anonymous meeting, click here.) Not to mention, World Eating Disorders Action Day (#WeDoAct) exists! Back then, I could not have even imagined such a day—where countries come together. Many of us with eating disorders also know PTSD, so we can help to build a trauma community as well. 

In the end, we are all one family anyway.

Let’s keep building, keep following the lead of the substance use disorder community. With dedication, patience, and hard work, we can create a worldwide community of support and in-person connection for those battling eating disorders as well as PTSD. Someday, we might even find ourselves hanging out with hundreds of friends in an open field, sharing our stories of recovery. We won’t mind the fire ants, and after Ed and PTSD, bring on the rain. 

We might even invite some of our friends in the addiction community to the celebration. Thank you for teaching me what a community can look like, and thank you for always welcoming me as one of your own. 

Let’s do this. As the #WeDoAct theme affirms this year, truly, we can’t afford to wait. 

About World Eating Disorders Action Day 2019

This year grassroots activists, volunteers, and over 250 organizations in 40+ countries are calling for caregivers to receive support, health care workers to be properly trained, and access to immediate, evidence-based treatment.

Why We Can’t Afford to Wait

  • Worldwide over 70 million people are estimated to be affected by an eating disorder,
  • Eating disorders have the HIGHEST MORTALITY RATE of any psychiatric illness
  • Eating disorders affect people of all genders, sexual orientations, ages, socioeconomic class, abilities, races, and ethnic backgrounds. It is time to take action.
  • Good news! When treated EARLY and correctly, eating disorders have the highest and fastest recovery rate!   

How to support World Eating Disorders Action Day, June 2, 2019

  1. Join the movement, show your purple on social media! Use hashtag #ShowUsYourPurple
  1. Follow conversation on social media. Use hashtags #ShowUsYourPurple #WeDoActNow
  1. Host or attend an event. See  http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/2019-events-2/
  1. Donate. To support the work see http://www.worldeatingdisordersday.org/get-involved/participating-organisations/.
  1. Discuss eating disorders. Through open, supportive dialogue, we can create change.

E-book release: Come as you are, eating disorders can’t wait

 

As a Participating Organisation supporting 2019 World Eating Disorder Action Day, The Diary Healerhas released  a new ebook, Come as you are, eating disorders can’t wait. Stories from around the world illustrate that recovery from an eating disorder IS possible, at every age. The first step, is to seek help. Click here to purchase a copy for $9.97 (AUD) – all profits support eating disorder services.

 

About Jenni Schaefer

On May 29, join Jenni Schaefer for a Facebook Live, “We Can’t Afford to Wait,” as she talks with Jean Collins, Executive Director of the Rio Retreat Center at The Meadows. You can even learn about an upcoming Life Without Ed retreat in July! For details about the Live at 6 pm Central (US time), click here.

A Senior Fellow with The Meadows and an advocate for its specialty eating disorders program, The Meadows Ranch, Jenni Schaefer is the author of Life Without EdAlmost Anorexic, and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me (now available in audio!). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will release Jenni’s next book, which is about fighting through posttraumatic stress disorder, PTSD. For more information: https://jennischaefer.com/

All articles by Jenni Schaefer

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