By Gail Schoenbach, EDC Advocate and Board Member
from New Jersey
I was bulimic for 23 years. I started treatment at 40 years old. I came home after a 6 week inpatient stay on my 41st birthday and 2 weeks later decided to go to Washington DC and lobby for the passage of mental health parity with the Eating Disorders Coalition. I really had no idea what that meant, but what I did know was that with treatment, I was recovering. Members of Congress and insurance companies needed to hear this and I wanted them to make sure that other people suffering from eating disorders would have access to the treatment they needed.
Lobbying with the EDC, meeting the wonderful people that are all part of this organization and informing Members of Congress about eating disorders continues to amaze and impress me. I remember that first time I went to lobby day thinking that I didn’t even know people could enter these historic buildings and go to the offices of our legislators, and actually meet them in person on occasion. It was at that point, that I began to comprehend exactly what we were doing and that we were being heard and helping to influence decisions that ultimately could make changes.
The first time I went lobbying was most amazing, since I had no idea whatsoever what it meant to go and lobby. Not being particularly politically knowledgeable, I went into really clueless. It was two weeks after I got out of inpatient treatment and my husband came with me to DC. As I recall, it was the second lobby event for the EDC. The night before the lobby day was a reception where we were introduced to so many people and big time legislators were honored at the event that night. Hillary Clinton was there and Paul Wellstone, and it was quite a thrill for me to be a part of the beginning of helping to introduce mental health parity. I had a story to tell and experience with insurance company issues and the next day at lobby training, I started to learn how the lobbying procedure works and how my part would fit in.
It was very exciting, a little scary and intimidating but the experience was so good for me and really allowed me to speak out for myself and the cause. I was hooked and knew this would be the first of many more for me. I have been lobbying for 8 years now.
Each time after that first experience, I gained more confident and got more and more familiar with the ins and outs of what you do when you lobby; making appointments, meeting with legislative aides and sometimes the legislator themselves. At the end of the day, I always get such a feeling of excitement and purpose.
I developed a relationship with one of the representatives from my district in NJ, and on several occasions I met with him in my home town as well as in DC when we lobbyied. He was very supportive of the EDC and when the FREED Act first came on the scene, he had agreed to be one of our lead sponsors of the bill.
That particular lobby day when the Congressman agreed he would sponsor the FREED Act for us was so exciting as I experienced first hand how those relationships and persistence with the offices can really pay off. Like anything else, I have learned it is often timing and luck, but then I remember that these people would not know about any of this, if we didn’t show up to tell them about it. That’s how they learn about eating disorders and the need for federal policy, when we tell them about it.
The Eating Disorders Coalition has given eating disorders and everyone affected by them in some way, purpose, meaning and hope. I know how to use my voice now. Every single person who has suffered has something important to say and that the words do get heard. The results from lobbying can take awhile to happen, but the process is rewarding, just like recovery.
This experience continues to amaze me. I get something new from it every time I go to Washington. Every time I meet someone new, every time I talk to someone, every time I continue to be a part of this group and movement that is making a difference gives my eating disorder’s history value and meaning. Sharing my recovery and telling the representatives of our government what we need them to do benefits everyone. Our information is invaluable and we have to be the ones that tell them, so they can make the changes that we need.
I invite you to join us on our next lobby day September 29th and 30th. We need your voice and you will love it!