BENJAMIN O’KEEFE is an actor, activist, and writer. Besides working as a performer, Ben has been an emerging leader in activism work focused on LGBT rights, Youth Rights, and Body Image. In this role, Ben has been responsible for creating many major movements of change – most notably, an International movement against size discrimination by Abercrombie & Fitch. Benjamin will speak about his recovery from an eating disorder at a free event on February 22 in Baltimore where he will also co-facilitate a workshop looking at how individual and collective cultural experiences shape the treatment and recovery process.
Today on the blog, Ben shared with us his answers to some of our questions about the recovery journey so that we could share them with you. Please feel free to leave a comment here on the blog or head over to our Facebook page to thank Ben for his inspiring responses.
* * *
Q & A with Benajamin O’Keefe
Q: What is one fact about eating disorders that you think is most important for people to know and understand?
Ben: I think the most important thing to know about eating disorders is that they affect no two people the same. They don’t discriminate–even though many people’s opinions on them do. I think that the way we discuss eating disorders needs to fundamentally change. We need to break down the taboo around eating disorders, and start talking about the ways that these disorders affect people from all walks of life and of all cultural make up.
Q: What is one thing you learned about yourself during your experience with an eating disorder and/or the recovery process?
Ben: I learned that I could make it through it anything. Back when I was sick, I never thought that I would make it out of the dark hole that was my disorder. And I certainly never thought that I would make it out to become a person who loves himself so thoroughly–and helps encourage others to do the same.
I learned that, not only am I good enough, but I am great just the way I am.
I learned to surround myself with love, whether that be in the people I spend time with or the environments in which I put myself.
I learned to love my reflection, but more importantly to love what that mirror can’t show me. I am more than a number on a scale, I am a person that deserves love and happiness.
Q: Did you face any specific challenge during the recovery process and what helped you overcome it?
Ben: The road to recovery is so different for every person, but one thing that I think everyone can relate to is the isolation that comes with an eating disorder. It’s so easy to feel like we are alone, in fact it’s exactly what the eating disorder wants you to feel, but it’s just simply not the case. There are people that love you, people you don’t even know.
For me, finding a community of people; whether it be people currently struggling, recovered, or just allies, helped me to see that I truly wasn’t alone in my fight, and that we could get through it together.
Q: What are some day-to-day differences between life with an eating disorder and living life in recovery/recovered from an eating disorder?
Ben: I think the biggest difference is my relationship with food. It’s no longer an enemy. I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full. If I feel like having a cookie, then I eat a cookie. It’s seems simple, but for someone who is struggling with an eating disorder, it’s not.
For me, I now know that food gives life, and that I shouldn’t fear it, but enjoy it. I make healthy choices, and exercise regularly, but it’s no longer about a number on scale, but instead about being the healthiest person that I can be.
Q: What feedback would you give to the support people – friends and family – of individuals struggling with eating disorders? How can they best help to aid in the recovery process?
Ben: First of all I say THANK YOU. This is a journey for you too, and sometimes we don’t think to say thank you to the people supporting us.
Second, I think that my feedback would be to find patience. It’s easy for support people to become frustrated when they see their loved ones taking actions that don’t make sense to them, but it’s important to remember that this is a mental disorder. It’s not a choice.
With patience, love, and support your loved one can make it through. They need you—and your strength and love.
Q: Everyone defines recovery differently. What does recovery mean to you?
Ben: Recovery to me means regaining my reason to smile. When I struggled with anorexia I felt like I was never happy. No matter what I did, how thin I got, what compliment I received on my appearance, it was never enough.
Now, it’s hard to find me without a smile on my face. I love life, and I do my best to take whatever comes my way—good or bad—with a smile on my face. To me that is the biggest indication of my recovery.
You can find Ben smiling over on Twitter @benjaminokeefe.