The Fight for Freedom: Christie Bettwy’s Journey From Eating Disorder to Executive Director
By: Laura Guo and Isabella Wu
"We try to control what we can control. That might be fear, that might be exercise, that might be our grades, it might be something else. Life is hard, and we all are looking for things to help make it easier and help us to get through the hard times, but… what we want to do is reach out to people who love us and who we love for support, and reach out to people who can help us make choices that are healthier for us" - Christie Bettwy
When many people hear the words “eating disorder,” they cringe and become hesitant. There’s a social stigma around the phrase that makes people uncomfortable to address the topic. But Christie Bettwy and Rock Recovery, a nonprofit dedicated to bridging the gap in eating disorder treatment and support, are trying to change that.
As someone who previously struggled with an eating disorder, Bettwy knows the importance of clinical treatment and support from others. However, not every patient has such a privilege. When she found Rock Recovery online, she immediately related to its mission: “to bring people from darkness into light, from depression to joy, from anxiety to peace, from hopelessness to hope, from confusion to clarity, from isolation to community, from misinformed to educated, from being overwhelmed to being equipped, and from the lies of captivity into the truth of lasting freedom.”
“When I met [Carylynn Larson, the founder of Rock Recovery] and the organization, I just fell in love with it. I volunteered for four years, and then I came on staff seven years ago as the first paid employee. And now we're a staff of three full-time employees, so it's been exciting… I just loved Rock… I've recovered from an eating disorder, which is why I felt so passionate about the work. I struggled from ages 13 to 23. I've now been better for almost 15 years.”
Eating disorders have been a topic that people tip-toe around and avoid discussing for a long time. Bettwy hopes that because of the recent rising concern regarding mental health, people will be more aware of eating disorders and realize that anyone can have one. Many people might believe that it only affects teenagers or women, but it’s much more complicated than that. Rock Recovery is trying to help people understand that anyone, even friends or family who might look or seem fine, can have a negative relationship with food.
“You see how our world kind of idolizes being thin and puts a lot of pressure on people to look a certain way, and that pressure can be tough… We believe that health is the most important thing, not looking a certain way. And because of that, disordered eating can take a lot of different forms… There's a lot of gray, and there's a lot of different ways that we can all be kinder to ourselves and be healthier with how we handle food and exercise.”
To accommodate each person’s differences, Rock Recovery offers a wide range of programs and support services. “Some programs that Rock provides are what people uniquely need to get better. We do a lot of group treatments to help people break isolation and get support from people who understand what they're going through, but the majority of our programs are led by clinicians, trained experts in eating disorders, so that you have the shoulder to shoulder peer support, but you also have the expert who can help [you] navigate what's going on.”
Bettwy and her team also focus on community education and events to help get the community talking about mental health and the stigma of eating disorders.
“We think there's no shame in cycling and people need to remove the shame so they can get the help they need or help their loved ones.”
At Rock Recovery, all of the services are sliding scales - the service cost is adapted based on a client’s ability to pay - so that cost is never a barrier for people.
“It’s challenging to provide good quality clinical care, and to make it affordable for people,” Bettwy admits. As a result, financial sustainability has been one of Rock Recovery’s most significant barriers. They have to bridge the gap in cost with fundraising.
Nonetheless, even COVID-19 couldn’t stop their passion. Amid the pandemic, Bettwy and her team quickly adapted to virtual working and moved all of their programs online. She was pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of their virtual programs.
“Our clients still feel connected, even over a screen, and are also connected to getting the help that they need.” Virtual programs remove some barriers regarding transportation to facilities, so Bettwy plans on continuing their online programs even after the pandemic subsides.
For those who may be struggling with an eating disorder themselves, Bettwy offers some parting advice: “We try to control what we can control. That might be fear, that might be exercise, that might be our grades, it might be something else. Life is hard, and we all are looking for things to help make it easier and help us to get through the hard times, but… what we want to do is reach out to people who love us and who we love for support, and reach out to people who can help us make choices that are healthier for us… I'd say again, you're not alone in your struggle and don’t give up on hope… You don't have to wait for things to get worse to get help either; it's never too early or too late to get help for free.”
To learn more about their programs and services or donate to Rock Recovery, visit their website: https://rockrecoveryed.org/