By Shannon Cutts, USA
35 years ago, I developed anorexia nervosa.
I was 11.
Today, at age 45, I have more than 20 years of recovery work under my belt, and every day there is still something new to learn – some new way I can make progress on the recovery path and fulfill my highest potential.
Still, I have to admit – today marks the start of an event I honestly never thought I would see in my lifetime – the inauguration of World Eating Disorders Action Day (WeDoAct).
This first year, the social media-fueled campaign aims to get the word out through #WeDoAct, blogging and social shares.
In future years – well, who knows what may become possible as even more activists and organizations jump on board!
Personally, a big part of my recovery journey has revolved around sharing the gift of recovery mentoring with others.
In each and every year of my life to date, my mentors have continually encouraged and supported me to keep struggling and striving, to stay hopeful and open, to visualize and then work to create a personally meaningful life that includes but does not revolve around my experience of having had an eating disorder.
This, as you might imagine, has never been an easy balance to achieve, but it has shown itself to be worth every bit of the extra effort it has required.
In talking with thousands of people around the world over the years, I have also realized that no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter what the name of your challenge may be (an eating disorder or something else entirely), the basic mechanics to learn and grow through that challenge often look roughly the same.
What matters most – out of all this – is that the person who is experiencing the challenge NEVER GIVES UP.
Some people have lots of money, lots of resources for treatment and support, lots of loved ones around them, lots of, well, everything that could ever be wanted or needed for recovery to be successful.
Other people have fewer of these things.
Some people have almost no assistance at all. This is how it was when I first addressed my challenge by name as an “eating disorder” and began working to learn its lessons and move forward to realize my full potential in life.
In 2009, out of that struggle I was able to found an international eating disorders mentoring nonprofit organization called MentorCONNECT.
Today, we serve members in 43 countries. We match recovered people (mentors) with recovering people (mentees) in non-medical, peer-based supportive recovery partnerships so no one ever has to feel totally alone in their journey to heal.
In 2009 I published Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back. In this book, I share my own experiences of being mentored and then of mentoring others in turn, and how beneficial the experience has been for all of us.
In 2015 I published Love & Feathers: What a Palm-Sized Parrot Has Taught Me About Life, Love, and Healthy Self-Esteem. In this latest book I share how essential pets have been as mentors, best friends and companions in recovery and life.
I guess I highlight these accomplishments because, as my dear friend and colleague (and World Eating Disorders Day Steering Committee Member) June Alexander often shares in her own talks and books, there is so much LIFE to be lived, and this makes the journey of recovery SO worth it, no matter how long it takes or how hard the work itself becomes!
The thing is, each person who struggles now and every person who has ever struggled or will ever struggle has these dreams – these snapshots of what life could be like if only…when the day comes…as soon as the eating disorder is no longer….
These snapshots, the dreams, they are real.
They are more real than anything else.
They are constant, ephemeral yet oh-so concrete reminders of the rewards that come from accepting the challenges, learning the lessons, embracing the temporary limitations of the challenge itself in exchange for the much greater expansion of potential, possibility and reality still to come.
On the first-ever World Eating Disorders Action Day, my hope, wish and vision for each of us and for us all is to create a world where each person’s snapshots and every person’s dreams receive the chance to become REAL.
May we, each individually and as a community, do our part to create a world where each of us has that precious chance to live to our highest and fullest potential.
And may we each accept our challenges, whatever and wherever they may be, as the mentors and teachers that they are in our lives. May we humble ourselves to learn at their feet, growing strong and wise from the lessons they have to teach us, and may we then step forward to serve as mentors in our own right, paying it forward and for789ward and forward, for as long as there is the need.
Shannon Cutts is a proud recover-ee from anorexia and bulimia. She is an even prouder parrot and tortoise mama. Shannon lives in Houston, Texas, in the United States. [Pearl is the very feathery one perched on her hat.]
Join Shannon in supporting World Eating Disorders Action Day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @WorldEDDay and hashtag #WeDoAct, #WorldEDActionDay, @WorldEatingDisordersAction on Instagram and World Eating Disorders Action Day on Facebook.