Friday, August 29, 2014

Who My Daughters Will Become: Reflections on Lobby Day, Advocacy, and Motherhood

Liz and her daughter Genevieve 
by Liz Neaton

Though I had spent several years working in politics in Washington, D.C., the first day I walked into the office of Representative Keith Ellison (D-Minn) for The Eating Disorder Coalition’s (EDC) Lobby Day, I felt like I truly had the ability to make a difference.

I started participating in Lobby Day in 2009. At that time, I never knew just how much it would change me. That year, I heard compelling stories of both recovery and loss with eating disorders.

Loss… that resonated with me.

I had never met anyone who had lost someone to an eating disorder. Here I was, just starting out in my own journey of recovery from the monsters of Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa that had plagued me for the past fourteen years. This was exactly what I needed to hear and it was exactly the moment I needed to hear it.

That first Lobby Day renewed my dedication to recovery. I didn’t want to be another name that was lost to an eating disorder. I didn’t want my parents standing at the podium during a congressional briefing telling my story with tear-filled eyes.

After that year, Lobby Day was like a magnet that sucked me in. Each time, I heard compelling stories of individual trials and tribulations with one common theme: eating disorders lack proper funding, education and access to treatment. A fire was lit underneath me at Lobby Day. I started speaking about my own journey to recovery at high schools, colleges and civic groups. I started contacting my legislative officials on at the local, state and federal level to inform them of the lack of proper funding, education and treatment of eating disorders.

Then, in 2011, I had a daughter of my own – Genevieve. As a single mother, I knew that I needed a safety net if anything should ever happen to me. So, I attempted to get life insurance. I was denied seven times. I’ve kept every denial letter and they all say the same thing: “denial based on history of depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.” Even though I was in a strong recovery program, my past eating disorder was following me. Now it was not just affecting me; it was affecting my daughter. When my daughter was six months old, I brought her with me to Lobby Day. I thought that I should start her advocacy career young. To this day l believe she is the youngest to advocate for the Federal Response to Eliminate Eating Disorders (FREED) Act and eating disorder legislation with the EDC.

Since 2011, I’ve had another daughter. That’s why this upcoming Lobby Day and the March Against Eating Disorders are both so important. 

When I look at my daughters, I see their beauty and potential.
I think about who they will become.
I encourage them and remind them that they can do anything.

Most importantly, I tell them they are beautiful every day. I write it on the mirror so it is the first thing they see in the morning. The last thing I want is for my daughters to endure the struggle I had endured for fourteen years. I want them to love their bodies and realize how perfectly created they are. I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t say for sure that one of my daughters won’t develop an eating disorder. I can’t say for sure they will love their bodies. In fact, the statistics are against me. But I can show them through my tireless advocacy and, most importantly, by my example that their beauty and worth does not come from anything outside of themselves. Their beauty is from the simple fact that they are alive. They are present and they are able to live their lives. I will continue to come to Lobby Days until we never have to hear the words “eating disorder.” Until no more lives are lost to this terrible disease. Until proper treatment, funding and education are implemented.

I hope you’ll join me in September!
The EDC's youngest advocate joins EDC staff
in the House of Representatives.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I will be at my first Lobby Day this year.

I will lobby because I believe this disease is largely about biology and predisposition and in no other disease are people asked to figure out the "underlying cause" before they get medical treatment. My daughter did feel beautiful and loved and she still developed anorexia. I am grateful for the immediate, top-notch treatment she received at UCSD.

All those stricken by EDs deserve the chance to recover. And so we march and lobby!