Catherine Brown & Christina Tinker, editors of Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders joined us for an interview on their book. What follows is our questions in italics, and their thoughtful responses designated with their initials.
Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders is a compilation of essays written by people who have been affected by eating disorders – some from those with an eating disorder, with co-morbidities, traumas, mothers, executives, a person in the military, a cancer survivor, and from people of all genders. What do you know about the power of the narrative?
The power of narrative is so profound. I built a career and life of purpose and courage based on its power. When someone bravely shares their story of struggle, perseverance, and healing it allows a person in the midst of their own battle to see themselves as not completely alone in their struggle – It opens the door to hope and recovery. History was built and passed down through narrative for generations because our personal stories are what connect us to each other as humans. The power of narrative is transformative. (CT)
I wholeheartedly agree with Christina. We can learn so much from stories—especially that we are not alone in our times of darkness. (CB)
Catherine, your own story of recovery is intimate. How do you feel sharing it?
As I mention in the book, I struggled to get my story on paper, even though I am a writer by profession. I hadn’t shared my eating disorder story with many people at all by that point, and I felt vulnerable revealing intimate feelings and experiences. I knew from experience, though, that eating disorders thrive in isolation, and I felt strongly that sharing my story could potentially help someone else feel less alone.
When we were collecting essays, I was struck by how deep and honest they were, and that gave me the confidence and motivation to move forward with sharing my own story.
I now co-host a podcast about eating disorders with one of the book contributors, Francis Iacobucci, and I have shared even more. It isn’t always easy to share my difficult experiences and feelings, but I push myself to do it because it might help others feel okay about their challenges. If all of us share only the picture-perfect version of our lives, we will all feel more isolation and self-hatred, and those are both factors that can contribute to or exacerbate an eating disorder. (CB)
Please tell us a bit about the often experienced, non-linear path to recovery.
When I’ve talked to people impacted by eating disorders, many of them say they expected recovery to be neatly packaged and tied up in a bow, a reward for hard work. Recovery rarely looks like that. For most of us, recovery is a complicated process that doesn’t follow a direct path.
Several of the essays beautifully represent the non-linearness of recovery. I’m thinking in particular of Krista’s essay near the end of the book. She moved towards recovery multiple times and then had really difficult setbacks. Although it seemed like she was taking one step forward and two steps back, she was making continual progress toward recovery and eventually was able to live free from her eating disorder.
People living with an eating disorder—and their loved ones—need to hear that recovery is not linear. They need to know that there might be setbacks but that recovery is absolutely still possible. (CB)
I think this is unique to each person’s journey, but some of the consistent threads are the cycles of progress and regression. Most people take two steps forward and three steps back over and over again. From my perspective, the consistent thing I see in the stories of people who find lasting recovery is a spiritual connection to a higher power and the development of a compassionate, supportive close network of friends and family. (CT)
A number of stories include the value of reaching out for support. How can this decision impact recovery and life afterward?
Not always, but often, people who struggle with an ED also struggle with perfectionism and/or social anxiety. In learning to reach out for support, I think the person sees that others want to help and, eventually, that is a huge relief to someone who feels the weight of perfectionism. (CT)
For me, connection is the most important theme in the book; it isn’t possible to overstate the value human connection provides. Many of the stories in the book emphasize the role of connection and support through family, friends, faith, and/or support groups.
My own eating disorder grew because I had disconnected myself from the people around me. Reestablishing relationships with my family and friends played a pivotal role in my initial recovery and continues to sustain my recovery even now. I make time each day to connect with the people in my life (going for walks with a friend, calling my sister while I clean the house, etc.). Maintaining connections is the most important act of self-care I engage in. (CB)
You cite the factors Deanna Linville, PhD, LMFT, an eating disorder treatment specialist, states “can facilitate a healthy recovery.” What are they?
As Linville says in that section of the book, the most important factor that leads to a healthy recovery is hope. Other factors that can facilitate a healthy recovery include social supports, motivation for recovery, the ability of the care system to join with the individual towards recovery, and access to quality care.
Recovery is definitely possible without those things in place, so people shouldn’t feel hopeless if they don’t have access to support and quality care. In her essay, Alison talks about finding recovery through books about mindfulness rather than through structured treatment. And others talk about how support groups provided the connection they needed.
I encourage anyone impacted by eating disorders to seek out support and care wherever they can. There are helpful support groups online that people can tap into. Reading this book or listening to a podcast or finding a virtual support group are all excellent steps to take toward putting in place elements that will facilitate a healthy recovery (CB).
Mark, one of your contributors describes his relationship with God as a major factor in his recovery. What struck you about his experience?
What strikes me most about Mark’s story is that finding God in his life gave him purpose. His relationship with God didn’t make everything perfect, but it gave him a sense that he had a place in the world. It reconnected him to parts of himself that had been lost, like his love for music. Mark’s faith connected him with his wife, church, and other vital support systems.
Several other contributors address the role faith and their relationship with God played in their recovery. Krista, for instance, addressed how, at one of her lowest points, she realized God was the only being who could fill the emptiness in her heart. The anonymous contributor of “Wanting Life” talks about how a friend in her treatment center introduced her to God and changed the course of her life. (CB)
What is the magic of hope?
Hope is what drives human development and perseverance. Struggle and pain are part of the human experience, and hope is what drives us to overcome the struggle and pain. (CT)
The magic of hope is that it can grow. It can start as a tiny seed, an inkling of an idea that things could get better, that there is a light there. As you lean into that hope, it gets bigger and can help fuel you to keep going.
In the podcast I co-host, Eating Disorders: Navigating Recovery, we had a conversation with a licensed counselor, Jess Sprengle. When we asked (as we typically do) what she would tell people who were struggling to find recovery, she said something that really resonated with me: “Even if you are a person who is going through an eating disorder and suffering through what comes with that, you do not always have to hold hope for yourself. You can let other people hold it for you.” I find that to be so powerful. Someone dealing with an eating disorder or other mental health challenge may not be able to hold hope for themselves, at least initially, but the hope someone else holds for them can be enough to start them on the pathway to recovery. (CB)
About the authors:
Catherine Brown is an award-winning editor and writer who focuses on the arts, parenting, and eating disorders and body image. She co-edited Hope for Recovery: Stories of Healing from Eating Disorders and is currently writing a book on body acceptance. Catherine is thrilled to co-host the podcast Eating Disorders: Navigating Recovery, where she has the opportunity to engage in deep and honest conversations with experts and people impacted by eating disorders and body image concerns. Catherine also works with scholars and businesses to help them develop and refine content.
Christina Tinker is a corporate story teller and courage cultivator for women leaders. She helps women reclaim their power through the stories they are telling. Transforming her own story of a twelve-year battle with anorexia and bulimia into a story of incredible courage and strength, Christina guides women leaders to become passionate courage cultivators and authentic storytellers who can create inclusive and innovative corporate cultures to drive incredible business results.