By: Jen Foote, Bellwood Alumnus
One year ago, I was in a residential treatment program at Bellwood in Toronto. I have struggled with an eating disorder for my entire adult life and have been pretty much scraping the bottom the past few years. I came to realize that this was not something I was going to grow out of or overcome through willpower and determination.
I needed something else and with my local treatment team, it was decided that I would spend a few
months at Bellwood. At Bellwood, I was introduced to art therapy. I am sure the therapist’s ears are still ringing as I talked non-stop during our sessions, while my hands were busy creating.
Although I was making stuff, I did not consider it art, nor did I consider myself any sort of artist. Sure, I
have dabbled in all sorts of crafts over the years and love making things, but never professionally, and certainly not for public consumption. I was talking to a fellow client one day and he mentioned that he does pen and ink drawings. I said to him “how cool that you have a thing.” And he asked me, “what’s your thing?” I responded, “I don’t have a thing.” That rang true to an extent in terms of my feelings regarding my self-worth, but at the same time I knew that wasn’t my story.
I started to think about all the things I could do, and decided I was a “Jill of all Trades.” I could do a lot of things, and while I was not an expert in any of them, that didn’t lessen the importance of my ability to do them. So I started a list of all the things I could do. As I created this list, which included things like racing a dirt bike and doing electrical wiring, I started to envision an art-based project that would be a physical and visible reminder to myself that I have worth, that I have value, even if I don’t have a “thing” (I have yet to create this piece).
Bellwood also showed me that recovery is a team effort. I needed a team of professionals behind me to support me as I healed from the eating disorder. Once back at home in Ottawa, I started to establish my support network including social workers, doctors, a massage therapist, a fitness trainer, a nutritionist and a dietician. I signed up for support groups and mentoring. I got involved with my recovery and while these professionals were all busy doing their thing, I slowly discovered mine.
In the fall of 2012, through the magic of Google, I stumbled across an ad for a contest put on by the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (IAEDP) in the US (www.iaedp.com). I immediately had a vision of what I might do. And that vision kept growing and wouldn’t leave me alone, so I contacted IAEDP to see if they would accept an international applicant. It was a yes, so I started to put my plan into action. The contest was called “Imagine Me Beyond What You Can See” (www.iaedp.com/ImagineMe.htm) and involved the use of a mannequin to express the challenge of eating disorders and/or recovery. I started making my vision a reality with a trip to Montreal to buy my mannequin. “Billie” as I came to call her, moved in with me at the beginning of December. She scared me a few times…I would forget she was there and out of the corner of my eye I would see this 6’ naked mannequin and would think “OMG, there is someone in my house!”. We eventually got used to one another and I liked having her for a roommate.
I officially finished Billie over the Christmas period and submitted my application via email with photographs at the beginning of January.
All done, right!? Not even close! It turns out this was the beginning of something that has almost taken on a life of its own. I was itching to help out Hopewell (www.hopewell.ca) again after the success of their Christmas wrapping kiosk in the Place d’Orleans Mall so I got in touch with the Program Coordinator to see what might be a good fit for me. It turns out Hopewell hosts an art show every year in support of National Eating Disorder week. I quickly signed up to be the co-curator of the 2013 “Inner Beauty” show. I was asked to bring Billie to the vernissage as her message speaks to inner beauty. But I didn’t want to stop there. I wanted something that could hang in the show all month long. Initially my plan was to mount a photograph of Billie, but then I got another idea: create a wall-mounted version. So poor Billie was my model and I cast her torso, allowing me to make a paper-mache wall-mounted version. In a little over two months, I had created two significant pieces, entered an art contest, was going to have Billie at an art show opening and have another piece hang in the show itself. WOW!
I was contacted the third week of February and advised that I had won the iaedp art contest, but could I please keep it a secret. I was only advised in advance as they unveil the winner at a banquet during their annual symposium and Billie had to get to Las Vegas. I was stunned. I created a website to start to keep track of this journey. I made up business cards so I could share my art with others. As this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I travelled down to Vegas as well. I have friends that live in the area so I took advantage of the opportunity to spend time with them and see some of the sights. These women were so supportive, encouraging, loving and accepting. I was starting to see myself as others do, not through the distorted lens that I usually use. Not only did I win first prize for the overall contest, but I won the Professional’s Choice award as well. I got a chance to address the 300+ symposium participants who are all health care professionals working in the field of eating disorders.
It was such a powerful experience for all of us. At the end of the night, Billie was auctioned off and now lives in South Miami. The winning bidder offered to let me keep her, but I knew her story did not belong to me alone and that she needed to go. I currently have two other pieces in art shows in Ottawa and will be submitting a piece for another show. I have created one piece on commission and have orders for at least two more. I have an ever increasing
list of projects that I want to tackle and have carved out a small studio space in my home. My journeys of recovery and art have just begun, but I am happy to say that I have found my “thing”.
Please stop by to visit me at iseeiplayicreate.com, I would love to hear your story.