Contributed by a Reasons Alumni
We are grateful for the contributions and courage of our alumni to share his perspective on the 2019 National Eating Disorder Awareness Week theme “Come As You Are”. We want to highlight the importance of validating stories that may not fit the stereotype of who has an eating disorder. We hope that as you read this, you will be encouraged and find hope. Perhaps it is time for you to share your story or seek treatment, or connect more deeply with others – whatever it is, we hope that you take a step toward connection, hope, and healing.
What does it mean to you to Come As You Are?
Despite my past stints in treatment and my ability to confidently recite the main pillars of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, sometimes I can go from zero to one hundred REAL FAST. Most days, I find myself oscillating through the emotional spectrum so often I’m never quite sure where I’m at internally. Knowing that, and accepting it makes it real easy to embrace the concept of “Come as you are.” There is a real comfort in knowing, despite the fluctuations to my mood and motivation for recovery, I can always show up for myself in any capacity. My recovery is anything but a linear process, in fact, it’s messy, confusing and full of “I don’t know’s.” However, on any day, be it the worst or the best, I am able to have a level of transparency with myself and acknowledge where I’m at. It’s very freeing being able to just be me, as I am, as opposed to what I feel I SHOULD be.
What has it been like for you to be someone who perhaps does not fit the stereotype of someone who struggles with an eating disorder?
We’ve all heard of the tired myth that of eating disorders preying on affluent, young Caucasians, and I can assure you that I am far from all of that. I am male, Latino, Gay, and thirty, and last I checked, there isn’t a trust fund with my name on it. Slowly but surely, a lot of the generalized stereotypes that are associated with Eating Disorders are waning due to exponentially more exposure and education. However, despite the progress, I often feel like I’m living in the liminal space. My eating disordered thoughts and behaviors were horrifically insidious and finely tuned to have me feeling dejected and isolated, so I often found my negative thoughts capitalizing on the fact that I felt disenfranchised. I’ve found that a lot of recovery-related reading I’ve read are strewn with female pronouns with stories that I couldn’t relate to, which reinforced my feelings of sticking out like a sore thumb.
How are mental health/eating disorder issues treated in your community?
Good mental health was never a guiding principal in my family growing up. There was always an intellectual understanding of your usual suspects like anxiety, depression and substance abuse, however, intellectually is as far as it went. Mental illness was always something to just “get over” and move on. Which I’m sure you could imagine how helpful it was to receive help for something as misunderstood as an eating disorder. Apart from family, there was the West Hollywood gay subculture I had to also contend with. A lot of my earlier influences came from the glamorization of eating disorders and being thin as a measure of your worth and desirability. Furthermore, the rhetoric involved with mental illness is constantly used in a mocking way, I probably hear “that hurts my OCD” or “he’s so schizophrenic” ten times a week. It can become really discouraging when people treat mental health as the root of a joke.
What would you like people (friends, family, or treatment providers) to know about identity and eating disorder recovery?
I consider myself to be incredibly lucky with the treatment I received at Reasons. My treatment was completely individualized and I was treated as a person as opposed to a case. This does not mean that I’ve not had my fair share of run-ins with people who have absolutely no idea as to what is going on in my head. Ultimately, like any illness, eating disorders can infiltrate the lives of ANYONE. Nobody is exempt. We don’t all have the same story and we should be treated as such by practitioners. We’re not just neurotic perfectionists or quietly wasting away in the corner. We have many facets and our treatment should reflect that. We’re not all dying to be thin, or incapable of controlling our impulse to eat. That’s just the symptom. It’s important to remember, food is just a small part in a giant web of feelings that need to be untangled.