It’s Time to Leave the Canyon

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Dear Shannon,

Thanks so much for sharing your story. I’m anorexic and I want to ask for help, but I’m so ashamed and frightened. I’m in college and I don’t want to have to leave school to be hospitalized or put into treatment. I want to just get better on my own. But last night, to make a long story short, I scared myself. I know I need help. But how do you cultivate the courage to actually find it?

Love,

Scared


Dear Scared,

Last night, I saw a story on the news about a couple whose home was broken into on Halloween. Their two beloved dogs, Coco (Husky) and Zoey (Pit Bull) got out during the break in, and they have been missing ever since.

But miraculously, Zoey was recently spotted on a video camera hidden in a canyon here in San Diego. In the footage, she looked unrecognizable from the dog she once was. Zoey appeared to have a broken back—her legs dragging behind her like dead weight.

Since she couldn’t move far, volunteers figured they could successfully trap her. But Zoey outsmarted them all. “She is faster than you’d expect and petrified,” one rescuer said. “She is in an area full of predators, she’s petrified of people, and as of now, after two full days, she has not been successfully trapped.”

In the end, animal-lovers, Humane Officers, and Animal Rescue volunteers in my community came together to scour the canyon for Zoey just before a big rain storm hit. Everyone seemed to understand why Zoey was hiding. Perhaps all of us had, at one point or another, hidden from the help we so desperately needed.

Asking for help requires a level of discomfort and vulnerability that I never wanted to feel during the eight years I suffered from bulimia.

And yet, one day, I made the most frightening call of my life…to the admissions number for Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders. A man on the other line posed a series of detailed and graphic questions to determine which level of care I needed, and

I can’t tell you how many times during that conversation I considered hanging up. I didn’t want to be talking to a stranger, especially a man, about these things. In fact, I didn’t want to talk to anyone.

But I didn’t hang up. The truth had become stronger than my ego, stronger than my fear, stronger than the eating disorder itself. And for once, I could clearly see that if I kept on the way I was going, I was going to die. Perhaps first emotionally and spiritually. And then physically.

I’d been running from this devastating truth for years. But once I stopped and felt the depths of my suffering, my hands picked up the phone, trembling as I dialed Rosewood Center for Eating Disorders.

It was the beginning of my rescue, and soon I’d discover that there were meals to be had without terror and punishment…truths to be told without shame and remorse… safe people and places to turn to when I struggled.

Scared, I think that the only way to cultivate courage is to continue to do exactly what you are doing, which is to feel and express your truth. In the brave letter you wrote me, you said that you “know you need help.” Lean closer into that knowing. Try to slow down and take a clear look around.

Look at the predators surrounding you in this lonely canyon. Acknowledge that the nights have become too long and dark and cold.

And then, I think, you will begin to make your way out.

Your hands, even as they tremble, might pick up the phone and call for help (The National Eating Disorders Help Hotline is 1-800-931-2237).

Let this be the beginning of your beautiful rescue.

I believe it’s time.

Love,

Shannon

P.S. Brave Zoey found her way out of the canyon, thanks to dozens upon dozens of rescuers. She’s now safe at home with her loving family.

Zoey reunited with her owner at the rescue site
Zoey safe at home after her rescue
Zoey safe at home after her rescue
Zoey safely at the vet after her rescue
Zoey safely at the vet after her rescue

 


 

Do you have a question on eating disorder recovery? Write Shannon here: http://shannonkopp.com/ask-shannon/, and she will answer back in a blog post on her site!

About the Author:

Shannon Kopp is an eating disorder survivor, animal welfare advocate, and the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to Life (HarperCollins Publishers). She is also the founder of SoulPaws Recovery Project, offering free animal therapy and healing resources to those suffering from eating disorders. Shannon’s writing has been featured on CNN, Fox News, Huffington Post, Salon, NPR, Good Housekeeping, Dogster, Maria Shriver, and more. She also regularly posts recovery-related poetry on Instagram! www.shannonkopp.com

 

 

 

Recovery Puppies: The Healing Power of Dogs

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I open the door after a long day of work and peer into my apartment. It is dark and quiet. One might even call it gloomy to come home to after a tiresome day. I sigh and throw my keys onto the table. What a lonely feeling. Except- I flick on the lights and-wait for it- there is the faintest sound of jingling from the next room. Then he appears. Or more aptly, he all out sprints towards me, a ball of warm fluff and legs and happiness. He barrels into me and just about knocks me over, and begins the daily ritual of attempting to lick me from head to toe. No, I am not talking about a boyfriend or a husband (are you relieved?) I am talking about my dog Ollie.

 

Dogs are good for the soul. I maintain that they can be one of the most healing pieces of recovery. In essence, they are better than human beings for a few key reasons. For one thing, they don’t care about appearance. Weight, bed head, zits- whatever you are feeling insecure about, you can rest easy that your dog truly, truly doesn’t care about any of it. They will love you the same whether you roll out of bed and spend the day in old sweats or dress up in your highest stilettos and get a professional blowout. It doesn’t matter to them. Additionally- they don’t care about your standards of perfection. In fact they will probably challenge them daily, without tying to or realizing this. For example, when I got Ollie, I had to, shall we say, let go, of my obsessional need for a pristine white bedspread that you could bounce a dime off of in the morning. Ollie didn’t care about my compulsion to keep my bed wrinkle/stain-free. He proved this very well when he would take running leaps onto the bed, complete with hysterical digging/thrashing around, seconds after I finished making it each day. Thirdly, dogs are one of the greatest examples of vulnerability that human begins can take on. They will likely pass away before us, yet we willingly jump into relationships with them and make them our family members anyway. Most of us dog owners are fiercely devoted to our buddies, and develop an intense love and protectiveness for them that rivals that for our children/spouses. The same can be said of how our dogs feel about us. They love us. And I mean love us, love us. Love in the most unbridled sense of the word. They gaze at us adoringly, follow us from room to room, cuddle up in our laps long after they are far too big to do so, all because they just think we are the greatest thing since sliced bread. They are also great at showing us what unconditional positive regard really means. They don’t hold grudges. Ever stepped on your dog’s tail? Ollie will let out a little yelp and then turn around and start voraciously licking me as I start to apologize as if to say, “I get it, you didn’t mean to!” Finally, they teach us about what it means to have an open heart. I often watch Ollie with other dogs and even with other humans. He approaches everyone in exactly the same way- extreme friendliness, enthusiasm, and the assumption that you are all-around absolutely awesome. I have thought about what the world would be like if we all approached each other with the same open mindset and extreme levels of gregariousness (*Sees person on other side of the street. Runs over to them smiling widely. Extends hand to offer hand shake then immediately pulls person in for a hug* “Hi! So nice to meet you! You look like you would be so much fun to hang out with, lets be bff’s!”)

It is for all of these reasons and more that I believe in the power of recovery dogs/puppies. Taking care of, say a puppy, can become an excellent model of how to take care of yourself. For example, your puppy will need to eat three times a day, every day. No exceptions. This mirrors how you should be treating yourself! She will also need lots of patience from you during the housebreaking and training period. You will learn patience for her, which will in turn, show you how to be patient with yourself. There will be ups and downs during her training, much like there will be ups and downs during recovery. She may make you feel hopeless some days, when she has four accidents in a row, then other days she will have little breakthroughs that show you the sun may just be peeking through the clouds. All in all, the whole experience can be extremely healing, and an excellent metaphor for recovery.

In conclusion, consider the idea of a recovery dog. We can learn a thing or two from these animals- Patience and self-love being two of the most important lessons!

 

-C