Communities of HEALing: My Exeperience

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By: Anonymous, 34 of Philadelphia 

Nine months ago, I stepped into a room knowing that for the first time, I was going to sit face to face with other people diagnosed with eating disorders. I knew that throughout my life I must have met many people struggling in the same ways as me, but it was never an acknowledged fact.  All I had ever heard about support groups or treatment facilities were how “triggering” they could be, so it was with great faith, and quite a great deal of fear, that I joined the Project HEAL program. I was also skeptical about the mentorship program. Having lived with a restrictive eating disorder for over 20 years, the thought of true recovery seemed altogether impossible.

I am elated to say that after only a week as a Project HEAL mentee, I knew that recovery was not only possible, but was inevitable for me.  My mentor, Jacqui, was an invaluable source of support, guidance and reassurance during the first few months of recovery. There was nothing I could say that she hadn’t heard, or felt herself. She introduced me to Carolyn Costin’s 8 Keys book and workbook, which is filled with countless stories of recovery, and a clear roadmap to follow. Setting weekly goals that I shared with my mentor for behavior change and self-care was so important at the start of recovery.

However, I quickly learned that healing from an eating disorder is so much more than learning new behaviors; it is learning how to live. I never realized how isolated I felt my entire teenage and adult life until meeting other girls who had the same thoughts and fears, and often, similar personal histories that led to their eating disorders. Project HEAL brought me out of isolation and into a community of others who not only understood me; they accepted me wholly, without reservation, or shame.

I have made friends for life through the Project HEAL group. Every time I felt overwhelmed by the path ahead of me, my mentor or the support group would inevitably pull me out of my tough spot and reignite my recovery fire. While everyone recovering from an eating disorder ultimately has to do the work for themselves, I believe that my mentor and friends I met through Project HEAL helped me finally believe that I was worth the struggle. My life is now so much more than the cage I had constructed.

I will never forget my time as a Project HEAL mentee. I am committed to staying involved in Project HEAL. My greatest wish is to become a mentor myself in the future. I would recommend Project HEAL without reservation to anyone who is ready to open their hearts and minds to the possibility of freedom from a life of being “less”.

What is Communities of HEALing?

Communities of HEALing is a brand new pilot program, launched by Project HEAL in 2017, and currently being studied in partnership with Columbia University, designed to explore the ways that peer support and mentorship can help individuals to fully recover from an eating disorder. The program includes several separate components: weekly support groups in local communities, possible 1:1 mentorship for those newly out of treatment, other facilitated experiences, and in some cases social support in the form of group outings like going to a movie together!

Am I eligible to be a mentee?

Study participants must meet a specific set of eligibility criteria in order to participate. Participants must be between the ages of 14 and 45, have been discharged from treatment for your eating disorder at a higher level of care (hospitalization, residential, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient) in the last 6 months. All participants must also have a current treatment team. If you are interested in participating, these and other criteria will be assessed during a series of screening calls with the research team.

If you do not meet the eligibility criteria, we still want you to be involved! You can learn more about our local support groups, which are open to anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder, here. Please also feel free to reach out to us to learn about other volunteer opportunities.

How do I join?

If you are still interested in receiving mentorship through Communities of HEALing, and in participating in the study, the next step is to call the team at Columbia. Their staff will be able to assess whether or not your are eligible to participate, and answer any questions you may have about participation.

To express interest in participating in the study and receiving mentorship in your recovery, please call (646) 774-8066 and indicate that you are interested in participating in the Communities of HEALing study.

Community Makes Recovery Possible

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By Grace Patterson, Director, Communities of HEALing

When I got to college for my fourth year, I dragged my bags into my dorm room expecting to find my new roommate, Sara. Instead, I found a tall brunette napping in one of the beds. When she woke up, she introduced herself as Nada, a “friend of Sara’s from a summer program.” Sara was out for the day, but Nada and I made friends, and she came along for all of the first day friend making between our suitemates.

As she did, I started to notice things. I saw her inexplicable exhaustion. I watched a flash of anxiety cross her eyes when we decided to go get dumplings nearby. I remembered the “summer program” where she met Sara, remembered how small Sara looked in her Facebook pictures and how thin Nada was. Something clicked in my mind and I really saw Nada, because I saw myself in her.

On the way back from the dumplings we walked a bit behind the rest, and I said something like “I kind of have issues with food. Something as stupid as dumplings can feel really hard, but they don’t for me today.” She looked relieved, and on the way back to the dorm we talked about this thing we have in common, about the different shapes it took for each of us. Later I’d learn that she texted Sara almost immediately: “Your new roommate is one of us.”

Over the course of that year, Sara and I became very close. We lovingly held each other accountable for nourishing ourselves emotionally and physically, and it felt like support rather than regulation. Today, Sara lives only a few blocks away from me, and though we’re both doing really well, we still keep each other in check with a delicate mix of humor and tough love. It’s a balance that only we can strike, having been where the other is. (And being the objectively hilarious humans that we are.)

Before Sara, my experience of other ana girls was on blogs and in between high school classes, where they motivated me to double down on my disorder rather than to heal.  Those girls, too, made me feel seen.

CommunityBeing in community with other people who struggle with eating disorders has tremendous power, to harm or to heal. I believe that we need more of these spaces that support our community to take care of ourselves and each other, and that’s why I am so invested in growing Communities of HEALing.

Through open support groups and 1:1 mentorship, Communities of HEALing (COH) connects folks in recovery to incredible support. COH mentors aren’t another person on your treatment team, and COH groups aren’t a replacement for therapy. They’re something else–an extra boost of support, a different kind of place to bring your experience, a community of people invested in recovery.

I know from experience that community can make all the difference in recovery, but Project HEAL isn’t taking my word for it. As we build this program, we are committed to rigorously evaluating it to make sure it makes a difference.

That’s why in this phase of the program, we’ve partnered with a team of researchers to conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) to help us learn whether different types of support are helpful to individuals seeking to recover from an eating disorder. All of the mentees in this phase will be participants in the study, sharing information with our research team to help us understand what works and what doesn’t.

We’re very excited about the potential of COH to make an impact on the way we understand and support eating disorder recovery, and my bet is you are too. To find out more about about the program and how you can be involved, click here. We’d love to have you as a part of our communities of healing.

Note: Names and details have been changed to protect individual’s privacy.

About the Author: Grace Patterson, Director, Communities of HEALing

GracePattersonPhotoSquareGrace Patterson is an accomplished trainer, organizer and strategist driven by a desire to help others to join, create, and act in service of a better world. To that end, she has supported hundreds of leaders in more than 15 countries, helping to develop their skills in intercultural engagement, strengthen their theories of impact, and effectively communicate their visions.

Grace’s background touches on interfaith engagement, conflict resolution, international development, and strategic communications. As the Director of Global Programs for World Faith, she supported religiously diverse teams of young people around the world who are working to end religious violence and global poverty. As the Director of Strategy for Mean Communications, she worked with social good startups to help craft and execute communications strategies. She has designed and facilitated workshops and trainings for adult learners on topics ranging from effective storytelling to religious literacy, to building effective community online. She has written about all this and more for and State of Formation.

Grace comes to Project HEAL excited to bring both her professional experience in program management and training, as well as her personal experience of the transformative power of being in community with those working toward active recovery from eating disorder.