Communities are not always as black and white as PBS Kids might have us believe.
Often times we are shown a simplified and idealized view of how communities work, and this
makes it hard to accept the reality of the communities in our own lives. Chapter two of the book
"Remix" by Catherine G. Latterell is appropriately entitled "Community". This chapter seeks to
investigate how communities really function—and how they serve us—in modern American life.
The first assumption is that communities, through establishing traditions and by-laws for
its members, provide us with a sense of stability. A limitation is that over-reliance and
dependence on these factors may also cost some their individuality. The second assumption is
that communities serve our needs, and help us meet our goals. When an individual’s goal causes
themselves harm, a limitation presents itself. The third assumption is that communities accept us
for who we are. A limitation to this assumption is that as people’s interests change they are likely
to move on and find new communities. There is not much stability, and if no one ever challenges
anyone else, the relationships formed will be shallow. I can relate best with the second
assumption. Today my community is a community of recovery. As with many in the recovery
community, it is preceded by a community of destruction. I bring to my current community my
experience, strength, and hope.
My community consists now of mostly women, but certainly there are men as well. Many
are from the Madison area, but some are from all over the country, even all over the world. We
were brought together at a treatment center in Oconomowoc. We saw the rawest parts of each
other. The most vulnerable, wounded, wrecked and ravaged parts. My treatment (that year) was
residential, three months. I am in recovery from, among a myriad of other exciting things, an
eating disorder. I now do an outpatient program three nights a week. My physical group today
consists of seven: myself, two other clients, two psychologists, a dietitian, and an
intern/woman/artist who is herself in recovery. My community consists of countless others. It
means everything to me, because I know from experience that without it, I wouldn’t be here. It’s
possible that my body would. Physically, at least after establishing sobriety, I was in “great
health” according to my nurse practitioner. But I really wasn’t there at all, because my mind was
completely consumed with my disorder and the subsequent anxieties and depressive thoughts.
An eating disorder, similar to many other addictions, is a disease of isolation. Yet that does not
mean that one will not seek out a community. They still wish to have their individual needs met.
There is a great example of this is in Mim Udovitch’s piece The Secret Society of the Starving. I
am very familiar with the “pro-ana” and “pro-mia” websites, or I suppose I was 10 years ago
when that was more of what my eating disorder looked like. What I bring to my community
today is my experience. I’ve been around the behavioral health block from a few different
approaches and I have a lot of knowledge that I can share. I can relay what has and has not
worked for me. I can share my story. Maybe someone is struggling. Maybe they are really
hurting and they are just sparring with themselves—they want to tell—the disorder says no—it’s
the right thing—says who?—it will make me better—it will make you weaker! If they can relate
to one thing in my story, if for one moment they know that they are not crazy and they are not
alone, then there is a chance to break that cycle.
My community is like many things in life: a cycle. Every single person feeds off of one
person and into another. Ann shares her experience. That gives Beth strength. Beth shares her strength. That gives Carrie hope. Ann and Beth and Carrie represent everyone in my community.
It is what we all bring. And this is what brings us recovery. So my community is providing me
with a bit of each of the three assumptions. It provides me with stability—I know the time, date,
and place. I know the rules for the program (I think I signed a contract after all) and I know the
expectations for the group—to follow our “healthy” voice (a.k.a. our best interests). Which leads
into the second assumption, that the community is serving my needs. And we most certainly
encourage individuality. All day. Every day. Always.