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Deer in the Headlights

By Judy Krasna, F.E.A.S.T. Executive Director

Last week, we held our first F.E.A.S.T. volunteer “meet and greet” on Zoom. It was a wonderful opportunity for our volunteers to get to know each other, to put names to faces, and to connect.

Even though many of the volunteers were complete strangers to each other who have never intersected through their roles at F.E.A.S.T., there was an underlying feeling of camaraderie—an esprit de corps–which I find to be so prevalent in our community.

I was thinking that our volunteer meeting was a microcosm of F.E.A.S.T. It was a group of parents from different parts of the world, sporting a range of accents, representing multiple cultures, of varying ages and backgrounds, with nothing at all in common other than the shared experience of being caregivers of people with eating disorders. Not surprisingly, that one piece of common ground is everything; it’s what makes a group of people into a community.

As part of strategy meetings with F.E.A.S.T.’s Board of Directors and planning meetings for our upcoming end of year fundraising campaign, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about what we do at F.E.A.S.T. and what F.E.A.S.T. means to the people in our community. Listening to our volunteers talk about where F.E.A.S.T. met them along their journey and why they decided to give back to F.E.A.S.T highlighted a few things for me.

There is not one parent out there who has taken this journey without making any mistakes. We all make mistakes, and we all have regrets about things that we could have done better had we only known better. One of the primary goals of F.E.A.S.T. is to make sure that parents do know better. And one of the recurring themes that came up during our “meet and greet” is that F.E.A.S.T. parent support volunteers take on their roles because they want other families to do better than they did, to avoid the pitfalls and errors in judgement that hindered their child’s recovery, to find the quickest and least painful path, and to feel as supported as possible during the course of their journey. At F.E.A.S.T., we know the darkness that parents live in when they are facing the challenge of their child’s eating disorder, the feeling of total isolation, the inability to connect with the “outside world” which suddenly feels so foreign, the “deer in the headlights” feeling when parents are too paralyzed, too stunned, too anxious, too terrified, too panicked, and too disoriented by their child’s eating disorder to act. Our peer support volunteers have all been in that place before, which allows them to connect so authentically to those who come to F.E.A.S.T. for help, and to offer the resources that can potentially push other families out of harm’s way, break the spell of fear, clear the confusion, and offer a plan of action.

Thanks to the dedicated work of our volunteers, F.E.A.S.T. is able to walk alongside thousands of families across the globe and serve as the port in the storm and the light that shines through the darkness.

Some of our volunteers have children who are fully recovered and thriving. Others have children who are taking the “scenic route” to recovery. And then there are volunteers who have lost a child to an eating disorder, as I have. Given that I think our volunteer team is indeed a microcosm of F.E.A.S.T., this diversity seems particularly appropriate. There is a seat at our table for every caregiver.

I remember being that deer in the headlights when my daughter was diagnosed with anorexia. I am a person of action, but I felt rooted in place, staring at extreme danger without knowing how to react. I found F.E.A.S.T. online while desperately searching for information about eating disorder treatment and I joined the Around the Dinner Table forum.

It wasn’t just having access to the collective wisdom of parents who had been in my situation that helped me, it was feeling connected with a community who could understand me when the community that I had always relied upon could not.

That was 15 years ago, and I am in awe of the fact that while so much has changed over the past 15 years, the core values of F.E.A.S.T. have not. One of those values is “pay it forward”—those who were helped by F.E.A.S.T. then go on to help others. It is the foundation of our volunteer work and the cornerstone of F.E.A.S.T. It’s what makes us so unique, so effective, and so authentic.

I think it’s also what makes F.E.A.S.T. such a “safe space” for parents and caregivers. There are things that parents say aloud within the space of F.E.A.S.T. that they would only share with people who have been in their shoes and who can relate to what they are thinking and feeling. Sometimes we need to be in a place with depth, where complexity is understood, and where we can truly feel comfortable unloading it all, because it’s all just so very heavy, and it’s such a relief to have others help you carry it, even for just a minute.

As we focus on direction for the future, we are closely examining the present, and it’s a great opportunity to fully recognize the invaluable work done by all our volunteers. However, it’s not just our volunteers who transform F.E.A.S.T. from an organization into a vital community, it’s all of you who contribute in one way or another by helping other parents. Let’s keep growing F.E.A.S.T. together, so we can help move all of those deer in the headlights to safety.

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