I have never done a straight-up book review/recommendation on this blog. Last week I came across a book Be-lieve-a-rex-ic by J.J. Johnson at the Peachtree Press exhibit at the National Council of Social Studies meetings in New Orleans. The book is a more-or-less autobiographical account of Ms. Johnson’s two month in-patient treatment for her eating disorder some 25 years ago. On the book’s website the author includes her journal from the hospitalization. The website also has a set of resources for addressing eating disorders, along with affirmations, her own in-patient treatment plan, and a bunch of other related materials.
The author defines believearexia as “a pervasive alternation between craving for and aversion to belief in one’s self.” That definition leads to a story of which I can relate from the adage of being an “egomaniac with an inferiority complex” as a practicing addict and ultimately leading to a search for true self in recovery.
The first 50 pages of the book set-up the inpatient treatment – a very real experience of a fifteen year-old fighting the demons of bulimia with parents who are in denial that anything is wrong other than their daughter’s craving for attention.
I found the opening sequence particularly powerful:
Who is the girl with the eating disorder
if she doesn’t have an eating disorder?
I related strongly to the lead character’s complete consumption and self-identification through their addiction.
Besides being just a good read, I found the book very helpful on a couple of levels. First, Ms. Johnson paints a vivid picture of the manifestations of an eating disorder and the treatment process. Second, the book reinforced for me that in many ways addiction is addiction is addiction. Her story of in-patient treatment for her eating disorder mirrored my in-patient treatment for alcoholism – from the Code Blue emergencies, interactions with staff, rebellion against rules and the workarounds created by patients, the period of self-discovery, and the regimentation and discipline of the experience – to the ultimate recovery road.
I also related to Ms. Johnson’s committing herself to the in-patient program in a sense of desperation and then “drinking the kool-aid” of recovery pretty early in the treatment when others in her cohort continued to fight the process.
For an addict, particularly with eating disorders, reading Believarexic is much like looking into a mirror.
I also enjoyed that the book is written by someone who has come out the other side – has met their demons and is now living into their true self. In recovery, in addition to having a family, Ms. Johnson has received graduate degrees in education, worked as a counselor to at risk youth, and now the author of multiple young adult novels translated into six languages. The book’s website also has candid updates on Ms. Johnson’s recovery over the past twenty-five years that includes some relapses. The book is a real life story of addiction and the ongoing process of recovery, reminiscent of Nicole John’s book Purge.
I should add that the title is listed as a “Young Adult” book but will be of value to anyone who suffers from or knows someone who suffers from an eating disorder – or any other addiction disorder.
An excellent read.