Peer Support- Yay or Nay?

 

I am an addict.

There are many things you may think of when you hear that word.

The old man on an old stool, bent over the pint of money his family will never see. The housewife, who knows it’s only an issue if you drink before the children are asleep.

The gambler. The old woman at the corner shop counter, discarding scratch card after scratch card. The young man in a tailored suit, well-earned, affording him the appearance of wealth necessary to secure his place at the felt table, with the big boys and their Rolexes.

The woman who loves her husband, but, every week while she is away for work, her bed is warmed by a different man every night. The teenage boy that is so desensitised to pornography from hours of nightly viewing, he can’t get it up when his first teenage love is right in front of him.

The congregation of an entire generation that bow only to the altar of technology.  Likes are sustenance; validation of your place in this world of Botox and Photoshop. The ones who’s phones are an extension of their hand and the ones who sit behind their PlayStations; their only friends those they have met online.

The smoker; 50 a day and always, always, a spare pack in the pocket- just in case.

Victims in the wake of some, many, all, or, maybe, just one drug. That beautiful high behind their dead eyes, filthy sleeping bags draped around their shoulders., waiting for their next fix and their next descent into mindless bliss.

Compulsive liars, compulsive cleaners, compulsive consumers, compulsively Keeping Up With the Kardashians, compulsively exercising, compulsively hand-washing.

Compulsive eating. Compulsive exercising. Compulsive under-eating. Impulsive eating. Compulsive purging. Restrict- feel the high! Binge or break your diet- feel the shame.

For an addict, there is no in-between. An alcoholic cannot have an occasional drink, just as someone with an eating disorder cannot choose to hold on to some of their eating disordered behaviours. An addict only has one choice, and if they aren’t choosing recovery then they are choosing their disease.

 

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For alcoholics, there is alcoholics anonymous, or, AA.

For drug addicts, there is narcotics anonymous, or, NA.

Gambling addicts in Ireland have a 24 hour online support service and a confidential phone counselling support service.

Sex Addicts anonymous has an expansive American-based website, open for people all around the world to join. The UK also has a massive website, complete with phone, online and face-to-face support, with meeting taking place all around the United Kingdom, including Belfast.

 

The efficacy, or, how effective peer support groups are as a form of support and treatment, is undisputed. There are countless studies published in medical journals throughout the world on the benefits of peer support and peer advocacy in the process of recovery from addiction, and there are a further number talking specifically about attending a peer support group while in recovery from an eating disorder. Some of the main points in favour of peer support include;

 

·        be perceived as a credible source of help;

·        empower participants to help themselves;

·        provide a means of transferring knowledge;

·        be a decreased level of threat since they are strengths-based, non-judgemental and anonymous

·        reframe negative perceptions;

·        be cost-effective.

 

I’ve been promising myself, my doctor and support team and the family dog that I’m going to attend a peer support group since I was discharged from in-patient treatment in January (9 months ago – FYI). Well, I finally made the jump. In the interest of maintaining total anonymity for the other attendees, I’m not even going to name the group or tell you where it meets. All I would advise you to do is to search for what is available in your area- help is out there.

There are lots of small reasons as to why it took me so long to walk through that door. I was afraid of who I would see- I don’t mean real people, with personalities and lives, I mean bodies; would everyone be very skinny? Would the room be full of pouting, starving, match-stick models? Would I look huge? Am I huge? Would people think I was overweight? Was I going to be triggered rather than helped to progress? Will there be, like, homework and stuff? Would someone recognise me? How anonymous is anonymous? (This is Ireland, in fairness.) Does the time suit me? I’m too busy. I don’t need peer support. I’m doing fine on my own. I don’t want to be told what to do.

The one, over-arching, actual, real, non-bullshit reason?

I had enough of being judged. Not only had I had enough of it, I felt that I couldn’t possibly take it from even one more source. I felt certain that I would be entering an arena in which, I would be judged. That if I didn’t look like I needed to be there (whatever that means), I would be asked to leave.

 

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When it came to my first meeting, I actually found myself wanting to restrict my intake, to sabotage my meal plan. I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t walk in and be laughed at. Imagine being kicked out of the only club you’ve ever been successful in? It sounds ridiculous. But, I was great at having an eating disorder and it was a long term hobby, I’d learnt all the tricks, I had it down to an art- until I couldn’t be in the club anymore. I’m staying steady at a BMI of 16 (as always, not going to give an exact number) and I’m looking pretty healthy. Definitely not a club member anymore; not that club anyway.

 I’m in a whole new club, it’s the In-Between Club, we are a motley bunch and we are not all recovering anorexics. We are recovering and struggling anorexics, bulimics, orthorexics, binge eaters, men and women, young and old, and we are all sick. People are at different stages of recovery, but the bodies I was so afraid of seeing become invisible so quickly. That was the thing that, in retrospect, I found the most amazing. I’ve been to two groups now and there were totally different people at each of the groups, but each time was an experience in compassion, support- and I mean that, real, genuine support- it’s palpable in the room when someone is speaking, and a desire to be heard. After the initial meeting, I didn’t look at people’s bodies. I saw them as mirrors of myself; people a little bit broken and a little bit lost. I saw them as real life people with families, jobs, college courses, children, pets, bills to pay, social situations to navigate, family meals to struggle through, work do’s that aren’t as optional as they say they are and the dreaded weekly shop. At the absolute kernel of every person there, there was someone that had become belittled by an eating disorder and was at the feet of a disease that kept beating them down. Every person there wanted something more. Hope was the flame that lit the group. With very few words, there was understanding. Barely into a sentence, heads would nod around the room. Everyone understands, in their own way. Suffering is suffering, there’s no two ways about it. There’s a phrase in Irish that we don’t have an exact version of in English, “aithníonn ciarróg ciarróg eile”, which literally means “one beetle recognises another beetle”! I guess “it takes one to know one” is the best approximation. It’s accurate anyway, that’s for sure. When someone spoke, you just knew, wholly, what they were saying. You felt it. It resonated in that part of you that the eating disorder owns.

The meetings are about an hour and a half and the time flies. Sometimes there is silence for a while. Sometimes people might not talk for the whole group, and that’s ok. At the beginning, we each say our name, and at the end we just say if there is any last thing we would like to add, or if we are happy for the group to end. There are two facilitators, but they don’t intervene much. There are a list of group guidelines, but that is for another day, I think, where I’ll go more into detail about the formatting of the group.

For now, all I will say is that on both occasions, leaving the group I felt lighter than I remember feeling in a long time. I didn’t say much, and when I did my awkward tendency to mask feelings with humour resulted in me only partially getting my point across, but that was ok. You can go in and recite the alphabet, that’s ok. I said I would go to two groups and then decide if I would give it a real go, and I will be going to a third group. After that, who knows? I’m living meal to meal and group to group and that’s how I’m handling this right now.

I’m always saying this to my students;

 

Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift- that’s why they call it the PRESENT

 

 

My Yogilateral Warriors, all you beautiful people who support me and read this and share it with others, thank you. You are angels and I feel the love from the support of each and every one of you.

As always, to all you ED Warriors, comment, e-mail me, I will reply to you and I will help you to the very best of my ability. Likewise, friends, parents, partners, family members of someone you think or know to be suffering, you can reach out to me. Or you can comment in the thread below, this is a safe space.

Namasté,

Grá,

Clo x x x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clodagh Ní Fhaoláin

Yogipreneur - proud mama to Yogilateral

Hard lover, deep thinker, heavy lifter

Empath

INFJ 

 

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