My younger years felt chaotic and often full of angst and sadness. I was spilt between two parents: one that I desperately sought approval from, and one that I knew loved me unconditionally, but was trying to navigate her own grief and anguish. I didn’t enjoy school or college, and had a sister who was seven years older than me, battling her own demons. The only place where I found any real sanctuary was with my horse. At the stables, I was free and at peace with the world for the short periods of time I managed to escape there.
So, when I was asked by a friend recently, “who inspires you, and who was your role model growing up?” – I drew a blank. Being a shy and placid girl, I wondered if and how this had affected me as I moved into adulthood. I was surrounded by a dominant sister, a stepfather who I adored (but was strict) and a mum who was kind and nurturing. I saw my real father every other week for a bite to eat, and I know for sure that his absence contributed to my low self-worth.
When we are young, we look to others to for guidance. We are constantly soaking up cues from the people around us; from the way we walk, talk, eat and think, we figure out how to do things for ourselves. We decide what we do and don’t like based on the circles we mix in. We are by very nature sculpted by our surroundings and the people we meet along the way.
As I have grown in my recovery, I have developed a much greater sense of self, and with that has come a deeper understanding of who I am, and who I want to associate myself with. The idea of who a positive role model is has been muddled with the rise of social media. Young people are now surrounded by people who have been thrown into the spotlight, for doing nothing more than appearing on some superficial reality TV series. They aspire to look like their idols who appear to be aesthetically pleasing, yet these “idols” offer very little else to community. More and more of these “celebs” are calling themselves “influencers”, and whilst they are definitely having an impact, are they all working for the greater good?
Young people look up to someone they respect, regardless of whether that person is a good influence, which is why I feel so strongly that meaningful role models are vital for a young persons’ self-worth.
What children really need and want – even if they don’t always know it – is someone to pay attention to them. They want to know that they matter to someone, and if this is not provided by family at home, then they seek out alternatives who they relate to. It’s not about showering a child in gifts, but turning up to their first sports day, teaching them to ride a bike, or sitting down with them to read a book together. It’s about having someone to turn to for advice, a shoulder to lean on, but most of all someone who listens to you – I mean actually listens. These are the kind of people who I value in my life, and what I craved when I was growing up.
It also works both ways. When I was deep in my eating disorder, I had very little to offer the world. I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sick. I had nothing of myself to give. Recovery has enabled me to have space – not physically space, but space in myself to think of others. Space to be a friend, sister, daughter and girlfriend. My world is bigger than I am, and I hope that I am now able to be a valuable member of society. Sure, I still get things wrong, but my morals and principles are cemented in my core. I do my best to live with integrity, optimism, hope, determination, and compassion. I am inspired and motivated by those closet to me, my mum being my biggest hero. She has been through more than most, yet is still the most selfless person I know. Recovery has allowed me to nurture relationships that are meaningful and are built on mutual trust and understanding. My world is now a lot less about me and a lot more about what I can give back to those I cross paths with.
I guess my message to you is take a step back and think about the “make-up” of your world. Look for the characteristics in others that you embody yourself. It’s OK to walk away from people if they are no longer demonstrating the qualities you value. Don’t be afraid to stand out from the crowd and go your own way; you don’t need to be a ‘sheep.’ Find your own hero, and then in turn make room to be a hero to others. Share your stories and experiences in life with others. No matter how insignificant you may deem them, be proud of what you have achieved. It’s not about striving to be the world’s next Bill Gates. We can all have a positive impact in our own communities, regardless of how big they are. I know for sure that the people who inspire, motivate and influence me positively, are not the ones with biggest bank balances, but the ones with the biggest hearts.