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Beating Ana: The Long-Awaited Review

Posted Apr 05 2009 11:18pm

mail A while ago, I was asked to review the new book, Beating Ana, by Shannon Cutts. This weekend, I finally had a chance to read her work.

Though I personally have never experienced anorexia or bulimia — both of which she successfully recovered from — I really liked the easy flow of her writing, and the positive tone she carries throughout the book.

(Disclaimer: I’ve never read a recovery book, so I honestly didn’t know what to expect).

But even as someone who never dealt with the severe mental illnesses she did, I can still relate on my own level. I’d recommend this book to anyone ready to take that step.

I liked how she makes the connection that, in recovery, relationships replace eating disorders.

She emphasizes continuing the circle of, if you’ve been helped, to help someone else, and so on, to keep the human chain connected. Kind of like the national United Way’s LIVE UNITED campaign which poses, “When you reach out a hand to one, we influence the condition of all.”

She recommends finding mentors, and trusting in others as opposed to going it alone. This is important; many people suffering from EDs prefer solitude because they can deal (or not deal) on their own. She encourages just the opposite — seeking out help, others who understand.

This is not easy to do, especially for people who truly believe they don’t need anyone else.

Shanno also talks in the beginning of her book about the importance of the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step program, most notably Step One:

I admit I am powerless over (insert challenge) “my eating disorder” — that my life has become unmanagable.

And that within the word powerless resides the word “power;” I liked that notion a lot. I also liked the notion of The H.O.W. of recovery: Honesty. Openness. Willingness. I think these three tenets are hugely important. I know without being willing to be open and admit I had a problem, there was no way I could

1) help myself
2) help others

I also appreciated her admission that for many people who have compulsive behavior, they might recover from their ED, but experience what is called “addiction transferece,” where the addictive behavior is transferred from, say, an ED … to alcoholism or gambling.

On a smaller scale, I can personally relate to this. Even the past three weeks where I’ve been free from chewing/spitting (yea!!), I’ve been admittedly eating more calories than usual (mostly in the form of the candy I usually would c/s; the next step will be not buying it at all)…. and have been over-exercising.

Certainly not to the alarming point of obsession it was a couple years ago. But reading this reaffirmed that the addictive behavior is still there for me if I am not careful to stop it.

Shannon acknowledges — like most people who have recovered from an ED — that it’s not like the thoughts disappear completely. Rather, she channels genius mathematician and paranoid schizophrenic John Nash of A Beautiful Mind.

“Near the end of the film, after he has made significant progress in his recovery, Dr. John Nash is asked by a colleague what the current state of his mental health is and how he maintains it. He replies, ‘I still see things that are not there. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind — I choose not to indulge certain appetites, like my appetite for patterns.’ In approaching the management of his disease from this aspect, he refers to all that he stands to lose–his life, his wife, his family, his career–if he at any point weakens his hold on his life in favor of the disease.”

In other words, we DO have a choice; to continue the path of self-destruction (whatever that may be) or not to. I am so glad I can finally see it. Really, truly and clearly.

Shannon ends the book with a helpful Mentoring 101 guide, offering resources about MentorCONNECT, a community she founded that connects mentors and mentees, as well as Key to Life, an organization that offers events, workshops, concerts and products and services to facilitate recovery from eating and related disorders.

It was a quick read for me because I didn’t take the time to complete each of the exercises, but I did think they’d be very valuable in conjunction with various forms of professional support.

Her book isn’t intended to replace professional help, but rather to complement it. I think for anyone “on the brink,” this could be a good resource — although it might be a bit too upbeat for someone who is really struggling.

Above all, the most important message I got from her book (besides the “relationships replace eating disorders” notion) was this: recovery IS possible … there really is no other option, except death. Literally. Anxiety and depression are bad, and oftentimes unbearable … but controllable, fixable, workable.

But death … death is final. And she doesn’t mince words about that reality.

I sometimes wonder if I’m optimistic to a fault, but I do know that if you don’t believe in yourself, and don’t believe you’re capable of recovery, it won’t happen.

But if you believe you can find “power” in being “powerless” … then I believe, like Shannon, that anything is possible. Even recovery.

How about you? Have you read this book yet, and if not, do you recommend other recovery books? Do you believe recovery is possible?

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