Community is a word that evokes so many different images for different people: large networks of extended family and friends, or a small sound group of select loved ones, being neighbourly and charitable, or people with questionable ideals or even ill intent.
Whatever community means to you, what we do know is that we are drawn to groups and hot wired to build a community (in whatever capacity) with the tools we have available to us at that time.
A need for community can lead us down a destructive path, as much as it can comfort and protect us. We see this often in our work at First Steps ED; sometimes service users have become embroiled in pro-ED sites or find themselves in a community of peers who glorify or even encourage destructive or dangerous behaviours. However, what we also see are the benefits of our own community, built courageously by those who chose (and continue to choose) recovery.
Take First Steps ED for example, a charity built by someone (our founder Cathy Cleary) who sought community through her own recovery. Not forgetting our many of our volunteers and staff team who have lived experience of eating disorders and disordered eating, and at the centre of it all are our incredible service users. We are proof of what the ED community can look like through recovery – a supportive environment which encourages the personal growth of all within.
Lived experience creates an opportunity to understand and help others. And so, we find that through recovery we are gifted with more than our own development – we become advocates for others too. That is certainly how our story started, and how yours can too.
So, what can you do today to become an advocate for others through recovery?
Perhaps a thought has popped to mind just now which will change someone’s life. Or you will catch yourself one day soon offering a kind word or time to listen, and you will see the mental health advocate within you growing. The journey is yours alone, but we wish you well in developing a wonderful community of your choosing. Know also, that you are always a welcome part of ours.
Living in recovery is different for everyone, and never straight forward. But you are not alone – you have something to give, as well as choices and a voice to be heard. And what’s more, you deserve support. So, over to you, go gather your people and love their socks off!
Here are some of our ideas for how you can become an advocate for others:
1. Take time to truly listen to someone’s worries or concerns. Giving someone space to talk can be the most valuable gift.
2. Become a guerrilla advocate – hide messages of positivity or inspirational quotes in places where a friend or loved one will find them; have some fun waiting for them to figure out that it’s you!
3. Pay someone a compliment. Notice their reaction as well as how it makes you feel.
4. Shut down negative body image talk whenever you hear it. Even if it is about a celebrity, or someone you dislike.
5. Tell your story! You have something important to say.
6. Remove stigmatising words from your vocabulary and don’t be afraid to educate others who use words or phrasing that can shame or trigger others.
7. Normalise prioritising mental health by reaching out for support when you need it.
8. Raise some money for a charity you support. Get your friends and family involved and do something fun for a good cause!
9. Be loud and proud. Let people know you’re an advocate for others in whatever way you can. Share messages of encouragement & hope on your social media platforms, or simply tell those around you that you will make time for them if they need it.
10. Be the change you want to see in the world.