Lately I’ve been thinking about the makeup of intense treatment communities and the importance of mentoring. not just mentoring by psychologists / dietitians (although that’s most important), but mentoring from other patients… both during treatment and after discharge. this leads me to divide an ED community (and I assume rehabs?) into several patient populations:
- People you don’t like
I know the last one is harsh, but I don’t have a better way of putting it. the groups are unique to each individual — someone’s peer might be another one’s mentor. Interestingly enough, I think that these roles are more common in an intense treatment environment than outside… and maybe that makes a big difference in being able to maintain recovery and move on with your life. There’s that connection in treatment, when you are most vulnerable and need to rely on others… as well as the closeness with others who you want to take care of.
I think that whole idea of the “self-made man/woman” is BS, and that maturing and recovering requires time and many different kinds of relationships.
I’m going to break this subject into a few posts, because I have a lot to say about it (and you probably don’t want to read something 7 pages long!) So, today is mentors.
Qualities of a Mentor:
I’ve always been able to find at least a few people in the community who are further along in their recovery and are inspiring. They aren’t necessarily the ones closest to their goal weight or who have been there the longest, but they have a contagious attitude that makes you WANT to do better. I describe their attitude as “yay recovery,” because you can tell that they really WANT it… and they want it for others, too.
Often these individuals have gone through difficult things and worked through them in therapy. They are also aware of others’ experience and life stages, which lends them the ability to ask questions, offer experiences, counsel and encourage. It makes them a trouble-shooter and go-to person when you’re having a hard time or need advice.
I think a lot of mentoring is just about spending time together… being there when you need them — and when you aren’t having a crisis and don’t need them. Just having a mentor in the community changes the vibe and can make or break a group. Having them there to hold your hand through the recovery process makes all the difference.
Not a guru:
I don’t think mentoring is about having the answers. In fact, I don’t think they often have “solutions” at all… but they can give you tactile advice that comes from their own experience to bring you to your own conclusions and decisions. I think it’s different from the therapy “leading you to the answer of a question” though, because it’s giving advice that maybe you can use yourself to make it through a difficult patch.
Still learning / recovering:
When I say “mentor,” I don’t mean someone who is super-far along in their recovery and not struggling at all… I just mean someone one step ahead of you who can relate and help you through something. They’re just a little further along down the path. They are investing in you — impacting you — while they are working on their own recovery. And I think that having the opportunity to do this strengthens their own recovery, for a few reasons:
- It feels good to give back or to “pay it forward”
- Often you need to see others struggle to better understand your own situation
- It’s a reminder of things you need to keep working on
- You’re acknowledging your own hard work and progress
One last thing about mentoring — I think a lot of us are screaming for a mentor. We’re saying “help, lead me, support me, be there for me.” And, when we find someone who can be that support and help to take us to the next level, we need to hold onto that person and not let the go. It’s hard and risky to stay connected to others when you’re out of treatment, but personally there are some individuals who I still turn to and rely on for advice and support… who I can see them doing well and being happy and want that for myself. When I’m having a tough time and want to throw in the towel, they can remind me of why I wanted this is the first place. I can see them have a life and be okay. They’re not okay 100% of the time, but they are living life without solely relying on the ED to cope — and that’s what I need. I need to see that you can live life without falling back on the eating disorder, and that I have the love and support for others to hold my hand and help me down the path through all of it.