2020 saw most organizations in the eating disorder community dive head first into political correctness to see which could virtue signal the loudest. Some chose to include pronouns after their names believing that illustrates how enlightened and inclusive they are. (Quite frankly, that messaging seems a bit contrived and perhaps reflects more a sense of self-importance.)
Some organizations publicized how they were going to expand their membership and committee involvement to include greater representation among African Americans, Hispanics, LBGTQ and other minorities. (I can’t help but wonder why it took a tragedy to spur these organizations into this type of action and, even still, if this “action” ignores the fundamental issue.)
Some treatment centers, in order to show their “commitment to wokeness,” chose to display “Black Lives Matter” signs and postings about how “All Persons are Accepted Here.” (Again, I can’t help but wonder if those signs should have read, “All Persons Who Can Pay Our Daily Rate of $3500 are Accepted Here” ?)
Some therapists, specifically those who identify politically with the very far left, fell on the, “self-loathing, white guilt, white privilege, the world’s problems are all caused by white cis, straight, conservative men” sword while self-flagellating with pleas of mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. These therapists want to bring this self-loathing and apologies for our forefathers’ lack of sensitivity and vision into the counseling room and in a prime example of countertransference, are asking the few African American patients in that room to give them lessons in how to treat black persons as human beings.
All words and promises. And yet, merely all words.
One year later where are we? Where is the white paper illustrating how pervasive racism is in the eating disorder industry, how and why it is perpetuated and what possible solutions must be explored? Where is the action? Now that over a year has elapsed, and US society is focused on the delta variant, the horrific scenes playing out in Afghanistan, a president whose fall into mental confusion appears to be escalating each day, trillions of dollars being proposed to be spent on anything and everything except for mental health, where is the hard, difficult action supporting those noble words and intentions expressed just one year ago?
How do we take action to support those noble words? What are the eating disorder organizations and foundations and treatment centers doing to insure that more black Americans receive the highest quality of care? Where is the action proposed by the ED Coalition on this issue? Where is the Residential Eating Disorder Consortium? Where is iaedp? Where is AED? Where is NEDA? Where are the treatment centers? Where are those individuals who stood up this past year and promised that things must change? Why is the silence on this issue so deafening? Who has any answers? For that matter, who even has a clue as to where the path begins to find possible answers?
As for that last question, perhaps the answer is found in the unlikeliest place, as it often is. In my journey the last 4 years, I have been so incredibly fortunate to have encountered people demonstrating the noble qualities of strength, inspiration, resolve and soulfulness in the least expected places. From a mother who sends me a message saying she believes I saved her child’s life. To young people who tell me that my daughter still inspires them. To sitting on the floor with young people in treatment and laughing with them, crying with them. To seeing the fear and exhaustion in a parent’s eyes and yet still seeing a fighting spirit. Seeing grace and strength when society and the eating disorder community has kicked our most vulnerable people when they have been down.
Often the path to enlightenment, the path which leads to answers lie in the unlikeliest of places. A few months ago, I was contacted by a patient who had just discharged from a treatment center. The story she told me seemed so fanciful that it could not possibly be true. And so, investigations began. Questions were asked. Sources were consulted. And the dominos began to fall. The Chief Clinical Officer resigned and is allegedly getting out of the eating disorder community. The Chief Operating Officer resigned. As questions continued to be asked, answers began to become in focus. And now, litigation is all but inevitable and looks to be filed in federal court in Los Angeles this week.
Litigation which has the potential to rock the eating disorder industry to its core. Litigation which will pull back the curtain of racism which has oppressed Black Americans and prevented them from receiving quality medical and mental health care. Litigation which will call into question the foundations of eating disorder organizations and treatment centers. Litigation which could lead to many, many more African Americans receiving life-saving treatment when the case reaches its inevitable and foregone conclusion.
Litigation which will happen because one person decided to stand up and be counted. One person who still suffers from her eating disorder. One person who found the courage within her to stand up and say, “Enough. No More. No More.”
This one person, this one incredible soul. This person is a forty-three (43) year old, single African American mother, who has two (2) children, who is classified as obese under the BMI, who has suffered from an eating disorder for over fifteen (15) years, who has a commission only paying job at which she excels when she is not in treatment, who is a lesbian. And the manner in which I just described this Soulful Warrior only describes her shell, her physical body, her corporeal existence, an existence which cannot possibly contain the incredible Heart of a Lioness and Soul of a Warrior which shines so brightly within her. This one incredible soul coming to me in an unlikely way and yet, who became a bright beacon and reminder of that which inspires me and keeps me on a path of helping the vulnerable.
And maybe, just maybe, this one incredible soul will be the catalyst for action which brings life and meaning to the empty platitudes from last year.
One incredible soul.