The passage of the 21st Century Cures Act was a big victory for Rosewood Centers for Eating Disorders alumni, who know from experience the importance of being able to access the right level of care.
“Every day spent within treatment increases the success rate of long-term recovery,” said Dena Larsen-Gazeley, a teacher and mother of four who went to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and educate them about the law that mandates better insurance coverage for residential eating disorders treatment. “The law gives hope to our families, hope for change and hope for a new life.”
The entire Rosewood team is so grateful to our alumni who are courageously speaking out and working to ensure those who are struggling with eating disorders get the lifesaving treatments to help them recover. To mark this momentous occasion, we asked three of our alumni advocates – Larsen-Gazeley, Winter Groeschl and JC Dines – what drives them to share their stories, and what the passage of the law means to them.
Q. How is the new law important to people with eating disorders and their families?
Dena: This law has opened conversation and increased awareness. It has lessened the stigma of eating disorders and validated the severity of the disease. This law says that eating disorders should be treated with the same seriousness, care and compassion as any other illness.
JC: This law is so significant to people with eating disorders and their families because it finally gives them a voice! It’s legal recognition that those with eating disorders matter and deserve treatment.
Q. What impact to you think the legislation will have?
JC: I hope that the law will result in many more people getting access to treatment, and for more appropriate lengths of time. I hope that the increased education about eating disorders will lead to prevention and earlier identification, which will improve recovery rates. This law can literally save the lives of so many and spare loved ones a great deal of emotional and financial stress.
Winter: The law is also important in that it calls for better education of healthcare professionals. If more knew the signs and symptoms, they would be able to intervene sooner, which would prevent deaths and save lives.
Q. Eating disorders aren’t necessarily easy to talk about. What drives you to share your story with members of Congress and the community?
Dena: My advocacy efforts are interwoven into my daily life. I am honest and forthcoming about my 30 year journey living with an eating disorder, my commitment to treatment and the six years I have been in recovery. I actively return to Rosewood to share my story with current patients, offering insight and hope for change. I participate with the Rosewood Alumni program, Operation RecoverED, speaking to junior high and high school students about self-care, self-worth and positive body image. I have spoken to church congregations across the Phoenix Valley with Celebrate Recovery, giving my life story in order to share experience, strength and hope. I had the opportunity to share my recovery story with People magazine. I personally traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress in support of the Anna Westin Act. And as an educator, I have the opportunity daily to pull from my recovery experience and give back to my students, identifying with their life struggles, by letting them know that they are not alone and there is always hope for change.
Q. Other than going to Washington, D.C., are there other ways of getting the word out about the need for education and awareness about eating disorders?
JC: Definitely. I have emailed and tweeted members of Congress, posted on Facebook, signed petitions, and encouraged others to do the same! I have openly shared my own story on Facebook to help people understand eating disorders, the insurance difficulties and lack of understanding and recognition in the medical field, and the impact these have.
Winter: I’m a graduate student at Arizona State University working on my master’s degree in counseling. I also advocate on the ASU campus.
Q. How gratifying is it to know your efforts have paid off?
JC: It’s enormously satisfying to know that I was a part of getting this law passed – of creating change. I am so proud of myself and everyone who was a part of it and it gives me hope that I can be heard.
Winter: I cannot thank everyone who listened to my voice and the countless others who were instrumental in implementing this act. It means so much to me personally. I hope more can get the help they need and we can lower the deaths occurring everyday due to eating disorders.
Dena: It’s overwhelming to know that I was part of an effort that had such a significant impact on eating disorder treatment and mental health awareness. Having lived with my eating disorder for so long, my biggest regret is the years spent living in secret, accepting that I was flawed, alone and the only one struggling and suffering with the demons that are an eating disorder. My greatest triumph is the knowledge that my story had direct impact on those capable of making permanent change, not because my story was unique, but because it told the story of all those suffering from eating disorders. This law will guarantee that others know they are not alone, and there is hope for change. That is the most gratifying feeling I can imagine, that another is not living a life in isolation and unnecessary shame.