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Originally published June 4, 2015. Updated January 29, 2024.
Content Warning: eating disorders
For the last seven years, I have led an eating disorder support group in my community. Through the unique lens of a recovered individual turned mental health professional, I lead by example and with passion. Still, the group isn’t successful because I lead it. It’s successful for a number of reasons, and one of those reasons is accountability.
The Uniqueness of Eating Disorder Support Groups
An eating disorder support group can offer things that individual counselling and other forms of one-on-one support cannot.
My group members show up one by one, some timid and others almost bouncing with energy. I greet them individually, asking each of them how their week has been and mentally hoping it’s been better than the last.
Some of the answers I receive are just the kind I want to hear: “My week was great!” or “I’m in a good place.” Others are dim—“I’m okay”—but are more telling than pure honesty, and the rest are bold and angry: “My week was terrible. I don’t think more could have gone wrong!”
These group members, each so lovely and so determined, have been prisoners seeking freedom.
They keep coming back to my group because it means they are all in jail together, not in solitary confinement.
We don’t always talk about eating disorders in group.
The main reason to work toward freedom is to be able to enjoy life, so we talk about life. We talk about families, jobs, and pets. They vent about relationships and money. They share stories about their kids and their parents.
Of course, they also talk about food and therapy, clothes shopping, and scales. They mention hospital stays and exercise, and they can always relate to at least some of what they share.
They are all so different, yet so bonded. And despite all their setbacks, they never fail to give amazing advice to each other.
That is the beauty of the group. Sure, they need me sometimes to steer them in the right direction, be a guide, and make sure the meeting ends on a positive note, but they do a lot of the work themselves. The healing and helping happens in every individual in the room. I witness it with pride.
Some are farther along the path of recovery than others, but every one of them wants to be free.
They are from all walks of life; they hold various occupations, exhibit vast personalities, and range in age from late teens to late forties. They are a beautiful mosaic.
There has been divorce, pregnancy, and graduation. Life events happen and are shared, and I am never the only one offering suggestions. They can all learn something from each other, and they do.
Some talk about the future, some talk about the past.
They look to me for suggestions on how to cope, but more than that, they look to me as a role model of accountability. They are awed at times, shaking their heads in disbelief as they smile because I have achieved a “normal” life. Other times, they quiz me as if to see if I have really learned to be free of it.
Support groups are give-and-take.
If only for one night a week, no one is alone. The benefits carry over into the spaces between group nights.
They mourn each other’s losses and celebrate each other’s victories.
Their rough spots present them with opportunities, or at least that’s what I often try to explain.
No matter how heavy the discussions has been, I end every meeting with a final stroke of positivity.
“What’s your goal for the week?” I ask each member in turn when the time is almost up. I don’t let them off the hook if they can’t readily think of one, and most of the time, that doesn’t happen anyway because everyone else points out what a good goal might be if someone is at a loss.
Support groups hold each other accountable.
My group members hold each other accountable. Every. Single. Time. Because there is always a next time.
Next time – always a next time – they buoy each other up, gently push, and ask if goals were accomplished.
They are not alone, and so they are accountable.
They say their thoughts out loud, and so they are accountable. They are heard by many compassionate ears, and so they are accountable. They come back, and so they are accountable. Others are invested in them, and so they are accountable.
Week after week, month after month, year after year, I see accountability at its best, fully and beautifully, at work in the support group I lead.
There are AA meetings, and there are knitting circles. There are book clubs and parenting classes. The group, in its own way, is all of the above, a combination of the best parts of any assembly of people working toward something together.
Arielle is an MSW, LSW, writer, and blogger. She is a Hospice Social Worker, widow, stepmomma, and wife. She has professional experience with eating disorders, domestic violence, grief and loss. She loves her work, her family, her cats, and her dog! She most often writes about grief, loss, end of life issues, and suicide. Gratitude fuels her every move.
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