Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Never Say Never … Just Keep Steppin’

This past Sunday morning I did something I never, and I mean never, would have allowed myself to dream possible.

I celebrated my 5th anniversary of being free from an eating disorder with hundreds of people, many of whom I’d never met yet know better than most. Day by day, in some cases minute by minute, they fight the battle against unhealthy eating behaviors that for so long had been so familiar. These are the recovery warriors who continue trying to relinquish their desperate need to control body weight, shape and size.

These are the people who know exactly the kind of hard work necessary to reach a recovery milestone like the one I have. They found out the hard way, just as I did, that the manner in which they were solving life’s problems was actually at the root of all their problems.

Bravely they walk the same recovery path I do which is why we flocked to Chicago’s lakefront on Sunday. Over 370 of us gathered to participate in the 2013 Chicago NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Walk which to date has raised over $45,000, helping to bring awareness around the fight against eating disorders and to make a positive change.

As the featured speaker, I didn’t get much sleep the night before. Even though I’ve done a lot of public speaking in and out of the rooms of recovery, this time was different because I never thought I’d be able to string together this many days of “one-day-at-a-time.” So while I feel comfortable sharing my story with those who “get” me and those who don’t, I was anxious for this one.

When I got to the event site at the pre-determined time, I began making my way to the main table in search of the event coordinator.  Before I knew what was happening, a woman grabbed my hands saying she immediately recognized me and with tears in her eyes acknowledged my recovery story and how she understood the path I’d been forging. In that instant, I felt at ease. All I needed was for one person to say, without saying the words, this group needs to hear your message.

Turns out, this messenger of much-needed fear dismissal was none other than Rina Ranalli, co-chair of Maudsley Parents (, an organization focused on family-based treatment for eating disorders.  I’ve long admired the work they do to raise awareness of the difficult battle our younger victims of this insidious disease face every day.  Although controversial, I salute any parent who will go to any lengths to help save their child while at the same time go to any lengths to help the parents of those equally stricken.

Moving closer to the registration table I met Susie Roman, Director of Programs at NEDA (  After having had previous interactions by phone and email, this was the first time we’d met in person.  I took the opportunity to shake her hand and express my gratitude for all she has done in support of MentorCONNECT (, an organization dear to my heart.  This nonprofit is the first global online eating disorders mentoring community which I am proud to serve in several capacities.

As the crowd grew, the atmosphere became increasingly enthusiastic.  By the time everyone found a spot on the grass to await the opening comments officially starting the event, I literally felt the energy and excitement.  Awards were given to those who had raised the most money; the highlight being the achievement of one brave young woman who raised over $11,000 on her own.  I came to find out she did so in honor of her mother who entered treatment at the age of 50.  Yet again, I’m not alone.

When I was so generously introduced, I breathed in all that energy and excitement.  I stepped to the microphone clutching the piece of paper holding my remarks.  Yet as I gazed out to the hundreds of women and men of all ages, those in recovery as well as those still not sure, and the many who love them regardless, I realized they didn’t need the words written on a piece of paper all they needed were the words in my heart.

Speaking at NEDA Walk 9.22.13

After sharing a message of hope that recovery is possible at any age, I proudly carried the event banner alongside Susie Roman to lead the crowd on the mile walk along the lakefront.

NEDA Walk with sign

As we wrapped up the celebration, I felt privileged to speak with several people who connected to my story of recovery; those who shared similar experiences and those who wanted to.

When I think of where I was five years ago today, sitting in a wheelchair crying through each bite of food I asked to eat while at an eating disorder treatment center, I’m breathless.

No matter how bad you may think things are, please try to avoid slipping into hopelessness.  I did that.  I was certain there was no hope for me and my life was over.

When I stood in that bright sunshine talking about the very thing I swore I’d never speak about, I was profoundly reminded my life is far from over.

That’s why the NEDA Walks are so important.  Just a simple reminder to keep steppin.

My words for Walk Means to Me Sign

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2 thoughts on “Never Say Never … Just Keep Steppin’

  1. Claudia Donohue on said:

    I have tears in my eyes, wishing so that I could have been there to support & celebrate you & all you’ve become. Hugs.

  2. Amazing story of hope! I am honored to know you as a friend but more importantly as an inspiration.

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