Back in January I was cleaning out my emails. You know, the hundreds of unread ones that have been there for an eternity? It was time for them to go. Then, in between the “Today Only Sale” and “Free Shipping” headlines, I recognized an email from NEDA. “Hey – I read these!”, I told myself. It was an invite to join NEDA’s 1st In-District Advocacy Day during NEDAwareness Week. This would be my fourth NEDAwareness Week and I would typically recognize that week by spreading education, awareness, body positive messages, and anti-diet culture information through social media. Nothing extraordinary, I thought at the time, but I was simply expressing my passions to the digital world.
But to step foot in a Congress member’s office and speak face-to-face about eating disorder related issues in our country? Nope! Never done that one before!
I felt like I wouldn’t even be qualified to participate in something like this. However, a simple sentence from the email sparked my curiosity:
“Your desire to help end the suffering of those with eating disorders is all you need to be successful on this important day!”.
So essentially, I would educate, bring awareness, request support, and use my voice to speak out for those who cannot? Wasn’t I doing that already through my social media posts? If I can do that, I most certainly can do this.
As someone who has battled eating disorders for almost 14 years, I can confidently say that I understand first-hand the turmoil of how eating disorders can affect someone’s life and how unaware our world is of these issues. In my journey for recovery, a fire began to ignite within my heart. I needed to take action in the fight against eating disorders. This fire is inside many of those who are connected to eating disorders, however many do not know what to do with this burning flame. I found my passion through advocacy.
Understanding current policies and the funding statistics was a lot easier than I anticipated. I think it’s easy to feel intimidated by going up against something big like policy change, especially when you are the lead advocate for your district. However, NEDA’s educational tools made it very easy to master. They provided a packet to review, a free webinar training, a step-by-step guide on the advocacy day, and even infographics to provide at the meeting. This comprehensive training could help anyone new to eating disorder advocacy seem like a professional.
After the training, NEDA provided me the name of the Congressman whom I was to visit. When it was time for me to set up the meeting, NEDA had created a sample template about what to say, which helped significantly. The meeting was scheduled and that’s when I knew that there was no going back – I was actually very excited! I tried to spread the word of my advocacy to my family and peers asking for anyone to join me. I was thrilled to have one of my graduate school colleagues commit to joining me on that Friday, and I knew the two of us would make a fantastic pair for this meeting.
After a successful NEDAwareness Week, it was time for my last mission: The In-District Advocacy Day. I made sure that I had the afternoon off for my visit to my local Congressman Jared Golden’s office. I’ll admit I was pretty nervous.
Do I really know what I am talking about? Will I be able to deliver the message responsibly? Am I really competent to be doing something like this?
I spent many years combating self-doubt and perfectionists thoughts, so I told myself: Hey Alicia, be still, you can do this.
I sat down at a long table with two individuals representing Representative Golden’s office, along with a companion of mine who also possesses a flame in her heart. I took out the documents provided from NEDA and then I began the meeting. I told them about the eating disorder community, statistics, the lack of funding, how schools need more prevention strategies, my personal story, and most importantly, how we needed their help. I saw their faces during my presentation. It was clear as day – they had no idea the severity of eating disorders in the country. I counted their jaws dropping at least three times and their own curiosities began to come alive. After I was finished, the formalities were put aside in that moment and we started to have an open discussion about eating disorders. I immediately relaxed and spoke from the heart and from what I know. The conversation was real and they truly listened to everything that we had to say. This was the moment where everyone in that room was connected to this important cause, and that’s when I knew that I did my job.
I had no idea that my visit to the representative’s office would pave a way for the eating disorder community. I was just a girl from Maine – what kind of power could I possibly have?
I was in the middle of eating my dinner when I got another email from Kerry Donohue with NEDA’s policy team requesting my help with getting more Mainers to advocate for the same message I’d advocated for during NEDAwareness Week. I dropped everything I was doing and started calling, texting, and posting on every platform I could think of. I just wanted to get the word out that we were so close to gaining support members of the Maine congressional delegation. We only needed a few more people to reach out to them. I didn’t know if my efforts helped or not. Well, I gave it my best shot. That’s all that matters.
I eventually found out that it was enough to help get support from Maine’s Senator Susan Collins. I felt a thrill of rejoice and utter gratitude after hearing the news. It made me proud to be a Maine citizen and very proud to be an eating disorder advocate. Thousands of Mainers will benefit from this kind of support and to have my home state’s Senator be part of this fight is an honor.
To anyone out there who is wondering what they can do with the fire in their hearts: the courage, bravery, and fearlessness that made your recovery possible can bring you the same empowerment in participating in advocacy. If you think a single voice cannot be heard… it can.
Alicia Abdulrazzaq is an eating disorder survivor and advocate residing in the state of Maine. She began small scale advocating in 2016 where she spreads awareness, prevention, and early interventions to her community. She has participated in five NEDAWalks and is a proud NEDA supporter. Alicia is a graduate of University of Maine in Food Science and Human Nutrition and received her Masters in School Counseling from Husson University. Today, she is a nationally certified counselor where she works in the domain of career counseling.