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Posted Jan 19 2010 7:19am

My friend, Rebecca Stead, just won the Newbery Award for her fabulous book, When You Reach Me. I was at a poetry retreat the beginning of this month with Rebecca. Many great writers were there. We were all trying to hone our craft and reconnect in a business that can be very isolating.

How does this relate to recovery? Many principles that Rebecca had to follow apply to recovery and to, really, any challenging task that we take on. To write a book—Rebecca had to sit and put word after word, page after page. As I writer, I know the challenge. There are days when the words don’t feel like they’ll come. Days when words have come, but you look at them a few days later and realize they weren’t the right words. So what does a writer do? Starts a new draft and tries again. So it is with recovery. Stay with the present moment, put moment after moment of being symptom free. Those moments will turn into minutes, then days, then weeks, and so on. If a slip happens, start a new draft—try again.

Once a draft of a book is completed, it takes revision. It takes staying with a project, bringing in new tools, and new ways of looking at the manuscript to make it better and better. So it is with recovery. In the beginning, it may be breaking the cycle of symptom use. But then one needs to bring in tools to start crafting life without the eating disorder. Life cannot just be what you’re not doing. It has to also be what you are doing. Look at making recovery more than not using symptoms. What do you want to include in your life? What are you passionate about? What do you love?

Writing includes a team and support. For most books—critique groups and editors have been involved in the process—making the story better and better. Recovery does not have to happen alone. Use a team of experts. Let them act like the book’s editor who brings experience and wisdom to the process. The treatment team can help provide guidance and tools for your recovery. Friends can add support during a lonely time. But writers need to be smart about their critique group. Each of us needs a group of fellow writers who believe in us and really want to help make our stories better. Some writers can be jealous and actually sabotage another’s creative project. It is important to find supports that help you grow as a writer and grow in recovery. If you realize someone is making you doubt yourself or feel badly about yourself, then he/she is not someone that you should turn to or rely on.

Writing is a process that requires determination and patience. It does not happen overnight. Neither will recovery. But the Newbery for Rebecca was well worth the effort! Even without such a prestigious award, I can say that part of the pleasure of writing is actually the challenge itself. It is knowing at the end of a draft that as a writer I stuck with the project word after word. Page after page. So it can be with recovery. Moment by moment. Day by day.


·         Journal inspirations to yourself to help you stick with it. It helps to know that others have been down this road. When I get discouraged, I will remind myself about Rebecca’s fabulous book, not to compete, but to remember what is possible. Look to others in recovery. Jenni Schaefer is one great role model. Her writings can help inspire you. Create a journal to craft your own reflections about recovery, life, and your own self-discovery.

·         Can you journal or find characters in the fiction that you love? In Rebecca’s story, Miranda brings great strength and determination to her journey. She puzzles through questions and puts clues together. You may need to journal to puzzle through pieces of your story or recovery where you are feeling confused. Start with the line—I don’t understand…. Journal so that you can discover understanding. Stuck—try again, start again with What I don’t understand….

·         Create your own character in recovery and follow her travels in your journal. The character that I see is a young warrior, ready to battle monsters. She heads off to defend her honor, with her dog frolicking at her side. I see her as brave—which means willing to tackle challenges even whe n she feels scared. I see her finding help when she gets to a mountainside village whose crops have been burned by a fire-breathing dragon. She does not need to slay the dragon, but instead can back it into a cave and trigger an avalanche so that it is locked inside. It may still be there, but it will be unable to harm others or her. Locked away in that cave, it will eventually wither away. In the meantime, my heroine will be living her life and finding new adventures!

Go, Write On!

Martha Peaslee Levine, MD

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