The role of advocacy and story-sharing in recovery
During this episode, we were lucky enough to interview the lovely Amy Sullivan on her personal experiences with an eating disorder, and how her advocacy work has not only inspired and empowered others, but has also been a key turning point for her own recovery journey.
1. What is your body image story? Where have you been and where are you now?
I hated my body for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I was bigger than the other kids and was painfully aware of that fact. I was never bullied for it, but I did get comments both from peers, and adults. I remember going on a diet just like my mom when I was in elementary school. As I grew up and took up dance, I became more of an average size, but always saw myself as that overweight little girl. My senior year of high school I told my mom, “If I could just lose a few pounds I think I would be happier” and her responding something along the lines of, I think that’s a good idea. What I would do to go back in time and tell 17 year old me that she would not be more worthy or more loved just because she weighed a few pounds less.
As I lost weight, the compliments flooded in and I loved it, but then I had to lose more and look better. That diet, led to a six year battle with anorexia. For six years I viewed my body as fat, disgusting, and repulsive, even though the majority of that time I was underweight. Being “thin” was the most important thing in the world to me. During this time I saw dietitians, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and even took a semester off of college to enter more intensive treatment for my eating disorder.
In December of 2015 I was freaking miserable and realized there has to be more to life than counting calories and losing weight. I finally wanted to be happy more than I wanted to be thin. I entered treatment (again) and did the work to get to recovery. Treatment for me meant having to gain weight, which further destroyed my already poor body image. Thankfully, almost three years into recovery, I fully accept, and sometimes even like my body. I’ve finally realized that weight and body image are not linked; I’m at the highest weight ever, but also have the best body image I’ve ever had.
2. What role has advocacy played in your recovery journey?
Advocacy has played a huge role in my recovery journey, but I honestly never thought it would! When I was in treatment I didn’t believe that recovery was possible. Me being Type A, knew all of the statistics about medical complications, and suicide, and relapse; I never thought I would recover. I was so thankful that during this time I heard stories from women who were living, breathing proof that recovery was possible. I vowed that if I made it through the storm, I would give back and share my story like these brave women had done for me. In August of 2017, I wanted to start sharing my story but I didn’t know what that looked like. I was making earrings and loving it, so I thought, what if I sent these to eating disorder treatment centers? This simple idea sparked JOY’d, or Joy Over Your Destination (Link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/joydestination) ! JOY’d sends earrings along with encouragement cards to women in eating disorder treatment. Guys don’t get left out either, they recievee keychains. On the back of each card is the simple phrase, “Always remember that recovery is possible,” because that is what I want these brave men and women to believe more than anything else. JOY’d has already sent out over 800 pieces of jewelry to people across the U.S.
Through JOY’d, I have had some incredible opportunities to speak and share my story, most recently to 800 students entering various healthcare professions at Texas A&M. I never set out to share my story so publicly. For years my eating disorder was my deepest darkest secret, why would I want to share it with the world? It’s still sometimes funny to me because when I was struggling, I wouldn’t even “follow” anyone on Instagram who had an eating disorder because I didn’t want anyone to think I had one. I’m also so thankful to be able to advocate as Southern Smash’s Program Director (Link: https://www.southernsmash.org) . For me, advocacy has given me a purpose for the pain I went through.
3. Why is it important for us to play active roles in healing our relationships with our bodies, and to inspire others to do the same?
In my own journey, one of the most important motivations behind healing my relationship with my body was to be a good role model for my niece. As she grew up, I never wanted her to ask why I wasn’t eating her birthday cake. I never wanted her to ask why Auntie Amy was missing Christmas yet again to be in treatment. I never wanted her to know me in my eating disorder, and thanks to recovery, she never will. I love going out and getting ice cream with her and showing her that there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods.
As far as others engaging in advocacy efforts, if you feel called to share your story go for it! It was definitely a healing part in my journey to shed light on something that I kept silent about for far too long. You never know when your story, may change someone else’s. I had four incredible women whose stories inspired me to recover, and I will be forever thankful that they made the brave decision to speak up.