As the 35th anniversary of legendary singer and songwriter, Karen Carpenter’s, passing, came and went early last month, we can all take a moment and reflect upon what her existence means for us as a recovery community today. After spending her teenage years being called “chubby”, Carpenter resorted to an intense regimen of dieting. What started as seemingly harmless weight loss, evolved into an eating disorder of habitual restricting and vomit-inducing drug abuse that ultimately took her life at the young age of 32.
This world-renowned performer is considered to be the first celebrity to have their life taken by an eating disorder and in the wake of her death, a long overdue conversation began. A conversation that led to policy change and the eventual discontinuing of Ipecac- the vomiting inducing drug that exasperated the heart condition that led to Carpenter’s death. This conversation also, and in my opinion, most importantly, allowed the isolative and shameful nature of eating disorders to be brought out of hiding and into the public eye.
As we near the end of ANAD Week, I want to honor Karen Carpenter’s life and continue the conversation that her death evoked.
Sometimes all the world can seem so friendless
And the road ahead so endless
And the dream so far away
Sometimes when I’m almost to surrender
Then I stop and I remember
I have you to save my day
Released nearly 10 years before her passing, “I Have You” was one of the most well-known and impactful songs that the Carpenters released. Eating disorders have a way of making the world feel friendless, leading most to surrender to its tight grip. And in celebrating ANAD Week, I am reminded how far we have come, and how far we have left to go, as a society plagued by eating disorders. Eating disorders thrive on secrecy and silence. That voice in our heads tells us that we need nothing and nobody other than our disorder. We hide from friends and families and reside within a trap. But over the past 5 days, we have experienced an outpour of support, community, and hope as our newsfeeds were flooded by pictures, messages, retweets, and double taps for the wonder that is recovery.
Empathy is the ability to feel and share feelings with another being. It is the antidote of shame and secrecy. Empathy is what we, as a recovery community, have been harnessing throughout ANAD Week. Empathy is what connects our lives with the lives of others. It is what allows us to give and receive love and support freely. And it is the one thing that can keep an eating disorder from winning. It’s easy to let my mind wander and think, if Karen Carpenter had a community, a friend, or even a stranger that understood what she was going through, then maybe she’d still be with us today. But in light of her death, let us all remember the healing powers of empathy. So that one day we do not have to think “what if”, instead we can simply thank whoever was there to save our day.