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November 28, 2022

The Power of Peer Support: Alyssa’s Story

"The programs at Looking Glass help break through that sense of isolation and provide services that remind participants that we are not broken, we are not damaged, and that we are not alone."

The Looking Glass Foundation

November 28, 2022

By Alyssa*

     I have been a participant in the Hand in Hand program at Looking Glass since 2019.  As for many, my shift into disordered eating was a gradual one. I don’t remember a specific point that I decided to begin restricting. I don’t remember when the one hour a day at the gym turned into three or when I could account for every calorie that passed my lips. By the time COVID hit my doctor had scheduled me for biweekly ECGs because of my dangerously low pulse My doctor gave me two options: involving Looking Glass: I could sign up for one of the peer support programs offered by Looking Glass Foundation or she would begin the paperwork to have me admitted me into their residential care program. I begrudgingly filled out my application to the Hand in Hand program and was quickly matched with my incredible peer mentor.

     The relationship with a peer mentor in particular is unique because it provides a sense of openness and connection, without having to be guarded against the potential emotional reactions that can occur with friends or family members. There are many of us who have not felt safe or comfortable being open about our challenges with eating with our loved ones. With a peer mentor there is liberation in the fact that from the very beginning, everything is laid bare. A peer mentor provides an opportunity to openly discuss experiences, without hesitation or judgement.

     Such a relationship, once developed, is hard to replicate. I recognize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been able to continue working with Looking Glass for so long. The main reason that this has been possible is that their services are completely free to participants – had this not been the case, I would never have been able to consider it. The second is the incredible flexibility of the programs – once the pandemic hit, program coordinators were able to quickly move things online, which allowed services to continue uninterrupted and not be dependent on volunteers and participants being in the same city. This has afforded individuals from across the province the ability to access high-quality services, and make connections that would not have otherwise been possible. Finally,  unlike almost most other programs, there is no limit on the number of sessions. The peer mentoring relationship can continue as long as it is needed. Given that recovery from eating disorders can be a lifelong process, to be secure in the knowledge that there is ongoing support is an inexpressible relief. 

I can’t talk about my recovery without talking about my peer mentor. Time and time again, she has gone above and beyond what could ever have been asked or expected of her: she has provided comfort, compassion, and a sense of true connection that has been both unique and unmatched with any other person in my life. She has endless patience and has never once doubted me. As I move through recovery, she has been my tireless supporter: celebrating my accomplishments and helping me push forward through my setbacks. My peer mentor has helped me understand so many of the elements of recovery that have brought me to the place I am now. I can truly say that I would not be where I am today without her continued and unfaltering support. 

     Something unexpected that has come from my experience with Looking Glass is the ability to pass on some of the knowledge and support I have received. Earlier this year I recommended the Hand in Hand Program to my mother who has always struggled with food and body image. The morning she was scheduled to have her first meeting with her volunteer, she called me in tears – she was so frightened and ashamed at the thought of discussing her struggles with food. After the meeting, she called me back, again in tears – but this time from the relief of having been able to unburden herself to someone who had shared so many of her thoughts and experiences.  

     It is not an exaggeration to say that Looking Glass can be the difference between life and death for some participants. Disordered eating remains minimized, sidelined, and denigrated, sometimes even by those we love. The programs at Looking Glass help break through that sense of isolation and provide services that remind participants that we are not broken, we are not damaged, and that we are not alone.   

*Name has been changed. Images are stock photos.

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