Written by: Mary Maxfield Brave
Most of you have probably heard the story of Scheherazade, the Persian queen who saves her life through storytelling. This may be strange, but when I consider the role “voice” has played in my recovery, it’s often Scheherazade’s image that comes to mind. Her story serves as a personal reminder — for me — of how crucial it is to keep telling our stories – to revise, reframe, and extend our narratives – in order to live and to thrive.
This value I place on storytelling relates strongly to my appreciation for the Voice in Recovery community. ViR is a place where the notion of speaking up for your reality is key, where — as Kendra so eloquently explains in her mission statement — we each provide one “VOICE but not the voice. [We are each] one of many.”
That notion of voices in community strays a bit from my Scheherazade model. After all, Scheherazade saves her life more or less singlehandedly, and she saves the life of her sister as well. Reality, for most of us, doesn’t work this way; in our everyday experience, interdependence is often key. I’m particularly aware of this now, given that it’s not — solely — my voice I’m discussing here. Rather, I’m writing today to draw attention to the voice of another member of our community, one whose story — in the past couple of weeks — has come to overlap and intertwine with mine. It’s the voice of Sofia Benbahmed.
Sofia is another voice in recovery, another individual struggling to survive the story of her eating disorder. She requires (and desperately wants to enter) residential treatment; yet she cannot currently afford that care. As she tells her story, I hear echoes of my own voice nine years ago, back when my recovery was just beginning. In the silent white spaces between Sofia’s words, I hear my own desperation and fear from that time. And yet, I also hear her doing what I often could not: I hear her asking for help. Asking for resources. Offering her experience to anyone and everyone who will listen, often at the expense of her own energy, privacy, and self-care.
Sharing – at the level Sofia is sharing – can be an exhausting task. (Scheherazade herself stayed up nights, lost sleep telling her stories.) I firmly believe we must voice our experiences to facilitate healing; yet, such stories are rarely easy to share. Out of her commitment to recovery, out of her fundamental desire to live, Sofia has taken on the extra burden of self-advocacy at a time when she is physically and mentally exhausted. She’s established a fundraiser to finance her care, while she battles the insurance company refusing her treatment. She’s working to gather the necessary resources to sustain herself through the legal and personal battles ahead. These donations will allow her to enter and stay in treatment while she takes her insurance company to court. If she wins, the funds will be re-allocated to relevant causes — likely NEDA or FREED. Donating, then, is an investment in Sofia’s personal struggle against an eating disorder, but it’s also an investment in the legal struggle so many of us are fighting, will fight, and have fought. It’s an investment in Sofia’s right to have another story to tell tomorrow night, next week, and next year.
In a just society, we would all have this right. Our health, our lives, and our stories would be protected. That is not the society we live in currently, and it’s not one that many of us — Sofia included — can afford to wait for. Treatment must come now. Sofia needs the tools to fight her personal battle against an eating disorder immediately, so that she remains among us, in the ongoing larger fight to eradicate this disease.
This brings me back to the ViR mission statement. Kendra’s founding hope for ViR is the notion that we might “find people here that can support [us], and […] feel like [we] are heard” so that we might “ultimately find and use” our own individual voices. She’s hit here upon something to which my Scheherazade image only alludes: the fundamental role of the listener. In the Arabian Nights, Scheherazade’s audience has the power; it’s the king — to whom she tells her story — who can choose to grant or end her life.
Now personally, I’d like to believe we all have a bit more power than that metaphor suggests. I’d like to trust that our individual choices to stay alive, to keep fighting matter most. But still, in a culture of voice, the listener matters. Those of us reading now, deciding how to hear Sofia’s story, whether to join her fight or walk away — we have power, too.
Maybe in recovery, the image of Scheherazade ceases to be just one person. Maybe Scheherazade becomes a community, like this one, in which a multitude of voices and stories exist together. Maybe she becomes the amplification of a single story, through its projection by a chorus of voices, the electrification of a single tune by the harmony of our approach. Maybe – to save our lives through storytelling – we require the tension of a choral countermelody, the simultaneous expression of different (but complementary) tunes.
Sofia’s voice is not the voice. Her story cannot replace any of ours; it cannot represent our experience. But it exists as one personal melody within our chorus. Her survival will not make more bearable our past and future losses of life. Yet, each of us in this struggle deserves to know that our life – too – is crucial. We each deserve the right to continue our story.
So, when I ask you to consider donating or raising awareness for Sofia’s cause, I don’t ask because I believe she matters more than the rest of us. I ask because I believe she matters as much. Because I believe we all deserve this, equally. We all deserve the support of a thousand-and-one other persons who will stand beside us, share the task of storytelling, and help us withstand the night.
As of this post, Sofia’s Fund for Eating Disorder Treatment has reached 11% of its goal. To donate, learn more, or share her cause with others, please visit her GiveForward page.