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September 22, 2010 / missmarymax

“Suddenly Doors Began to Appear”: Sofia’s Eating Disorder Treatment Fund

Sofia Benbahmed, back in the day.


Per the usual, I had a lot of stuff to say in this post.  But my (eventual) focus is this project, so if you have limited time, feel free to skip my rambling and go straight to the source.  On the other hand, readers who enjoy my babbling can read first and — fingers crossed — get involved second.  Please and thank you.

In December, I’ll graduate with one interdisciplinary major, two interdiscplinary minors (both of which explicitly study “culture”), and a final minor (for good measure) in sociology.  Suffice it to say: I have a love affair with the Big Picture.

I’m that girl in the coffee shop courting the overarching theme, flirting with intersections, and inviting a weathered copy of Illness as Metaphor back to her place.  That girl endlessly tying the mundane to the macro, waxing poetic about theory and systems and institutions, oh my.  Earning eyerolls from friends with her endless babble about policies, populations, and unintended consequences.

The more invested I grow in my Big Picture romance, the less comfortable I am with one-on-one service.  Sure, in the context of relationships, I’ll talk a friend off a ledge or otherwise offer my support.  (I’m pro-reciprocity, after all, and they would — and do — offer me the same.)  But when it comes to planning action — to my life as an activist, specifically — my interest in the individual tends to take a backseat.  My general response to interventions that focus on a single person tends to be “Yes, but.”

Yes, but — what about everyone else?

Mind you, I know where I’m coming from with this.  (Shocker: I tend to know myself.)   I’m coming from an awareness of the American tendency to over-emphasize the individual, at the expense of acknowledging systems of oppression — (racism, sexism, heterosexism, etc) — and institutions — (media, government, family, and so forth).  I’m coming from two years studying social work, learning that counseling and other direct service interventions depend upon macro-level changes.  And I’m coming from my own discomfort with the close-up, my totally valid need to hold — when possible — the world’s pain and injustice at bay.  My need to place a hearty academic distance between that devastation and myself. 

For the most part, this works for me.  I theorize, I write papers, I fight the system(s), and leave the bandaging of individuals to people more willing/ better equipped for that task. This works “well enough;” it works “more or less.”  It works “until.”  …Until I remember suddenly what my “overarching” focus effectively obscures:

The individual … matters.

The Big Picture — with all its beauty and contrast and confusion — is a mosaic of tiny, smaller pictures.  And the value system at the core of my activism is the notion that each of those tiny specks also matters — that, while I tend to think in generations and movements, in long-term change worth personal sacrifice — my desire for those changes and my belief in them depends upon my attachment to specific, individual folks.  When I cut to the core of things, I still must admit: the one, specific friend I lost to suicide causes me more pain than the fact that another life is lost (to suicide, in the US alone) every 17 minutes.  The personal matters.

Those lives matter; the big picture matters.  But I care (most) about the individual people that I’ve had the chance to know, to love, and to see — (how do I put this?) — close up. 

So, today, I’m cheating on my Big Picture Girlfriend to point to a very specific, very individual cause: the fund at GiveForward.Org raising money for Sofia Benbahmed to enter residential treatment for the eating disorder that has wrought havoc on her life. 

I’m just starting to know Sofia.  48 hours ago, before I’d learned about her cause, I honestly didn’t know she existed.  I would still probably struggle to pick her out of a line-up.  I barely know her, and yet — I’m absolutely sure she matters.  I’m sure she matters because — in my twenty-five, overly-idealistic years on this planet, I have yet to find someone who doesn’t.  

Sofia’s cause is personal; it’s the personal claim to her own life, which I know from experience is especially hard to make while living with a disease that thrives upon your so-called unworthiness to exist.  It’s personal because it’s about her, and it strikes a chord with me, personally, because nine years ago — when I did not believe I deserved to recover from my own eating disorder (or that I ever would) — I received residential treatment solely because of a fund like this.  I paid for the treatment that kickstarted my recovery with donations like these.  Those donations made possible everything I’ve had for the past nine years (of abstinence, recovery and life).  They made possible everything I will have for the next several decades.

…I remember that time nine years ago, when the genorosity poured in.  I was touched, but also terrified.  I was terrified of my own (supposed) inability to recover, to do what those making the donations “expected” of me.  I was terrified of that “inevitable” moment when my own undeservingness smashed into everyone else’s sense that I was worth saving. 

One reason I find Sofia amazing is that she’s managing to advocate for herself at a time in recovery when existing — simply existing — is difficult.  Part of why I want to aid her, in the burden of that advocacy, is because I remember my own version of her exhaustion.  Part of why I want to emphasize her deservingness is because I remember, on a very personal level, how difficult it was to believe in my own.

In December, I’ll graduate with three minors and a degree in Creative Social Change.  I’ll tuck into my belt of accomplishments another achievement I thought I’d never see.  I want the chance to see what Sofia will do with the rest of her life — not because I need her to prove she’s worth our investment but because I believe she’s been worth something all along.  I want to affirm the way that she has already mattered.   Already deserved life. 

I want to affirm that life isn’t something a person has to deserve.

So I’m posting this, along with 4 ways you can help in the effort.  Not because it’ll change the lack of coverage for mental health conditions in general (and eating disorders specifically), not because it will draw attention to the exorbitant rate of residential treatment, but because we are all worth our own health.  We are all worth each other’s genorosity.

Fundamentally — personally — I believe this.

To help Sofia in her quest to afford treatment you can –

  • Contribute to her fund.
  • Write a blog post for our Blog-Per-Day project, designed to draw new traffic to her fund each day for one month.
  • Donate a prize to a silent auction benefitting her treatment fund.
  • Spread the word about any and all of these projects.


Leave a Comment
  1. Sofia Benbahmed / Sep 22 2010 3:50 am

    WOW Mary, I just saw this – THANK YOU! I had no idea you’d been in a similar position with trying to gather funds for treatment. It’s so inspiring to know you’ve come out on the other side and I intend on doing the same – one way or another.

  2. Betherann / Sep 23 2010 2:36 am

    Awesome post, awesome cause, and awesome way to challenge yourself. Love it!

    • missmarymax / Sep 24 2010 2:45 am

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate the support.
      Not to be pushy (for serious) but I see you sometimes address EDs, etc, at your blog. Any chance you’d be interested in participating in this?


  1. Poetry and Other Bad Habits » Blog Archive » Blogging to save a life
  2. Sofia’s Fund « Finding Melissa
  3. Journey to the Past: On Learning to Live With The Girl I’ve Been. « Miss Mary Max

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