Saturday, May 26, 2012

Day #26: ED Activist/Sufferer/Survivor Book Review

I'm going to completely blow you away with my book choice today.

I have never been one to throw myself into books by eating disorder activists, sufferers, or survivors. I have read my fair share, back in the days when I was struggling with my own eating disorder and I have written my fair share of self-help stuff as well. I remember playing the comparison game with certain books I read back in the day - mentally trying to assess if I was sicker than the person in the book or not. For me, it was difficult not to compare, not to judge myself. A lot of books I read, though they were written with heart and good intentions, still glamorized the disease. Like, "things were THIS bad" and the focus was so much more on the illness than the GETTING OUT OF IT.

That's why my blog is the way it is. It's to give tools and resources and advice and motivation for the getting OUT. The NOW. Not where I've been or how bad it was. That only serves a purpose for about 5 minutes. And then (I feel) it's important to move on. Because chances are, if you're reading self-help, you already KNOW how bad it is. You're living it. Or you have lived it.

It's that "message from the other side" that is so under-represented in books. I think it's important to show that real resilience and perseverance exist ... and that real recovery exists too. There are a handful of books that have shown this "other side"... but strangely, there is one book that has spoken to me on a level of resiliency, strength, and human spirit and it was NOT written by an eating disorder survivor.

The book is entitled All But My Life and it was written by a truly inspiring woman named Gerda Weissmann Klein. It's a true story, written about Gerda's experience during WWII and the Holocaust. (Don't write it off as the same as other books on the Holocaust you may have read. PLEASE.) She is a Holocaust survivor, not an eating disorder survivor - and I won't for one second try to insinuate that the two are the same. Surviving horrible atrocities and traumas inflicted upon you and others you love is different from surviving an eating disorder. ...BUT not wholly different. How many eating disorder survivors have survived traumas? How many have been inflicted with this horrible disease, not by choice, but by an uncontrollable turn of events, or by an inescapable mental health diagnosis? At some point, there is a choice to be made in recovery from an eating disorder... and if we're talking about surviving the Holocaust, well, that choice may be taken from you. And the magnitude of something as terrible as genocide is just not on the same spectrum as other traumas. So yes, these two things are very, very different. But similar enough that I KNOW the book will speak to your heart if you just pick it up and read it.

The book title refers to the fact that the infamous "they" had taken everything from Gerda... ALL BUT HER LIFE. And her mission became one of brutal simplicity: to survive. By surviving she could keep the one thing they had not yet taken. And how she did this is ASTOUNDING. I do not use the word astounding lightly.

There is so much I want to tell you about this book, but I don't want to ruin for you the beauty of the story. So read it for yourself. It's not long and you won't regret it. (You can find it for $10.85 or less right here on and let me tell you, EVERYWHERE this book is reviewed it gets no less than 5 stars.)

I came across this book at age 19. I will never forget it. It's part of the reason I think positivity and hope have such a place in my work and in my lifestyle. THIS WOMAN, mistreated, traumatized, and dying in more than one horrific concentration camp, organized her friends to PUT ON PLAYS in their barracks... to keep them sane, to spread the tiny drop of joy she knew still existed because she was still ALIVE, to give hope. And you know what? She wasn't even really quite a woman yet. She was 15...16...17...

This is Gerda. She's 88 and still alive. And if you read her book, All But My Life, you'll never forget her and her spirit. And it might just teach you a thing or two about surviving yourself. Because if SHE can do it, you totally can too.

By the way, she's more than just an author (as cool as being an author is!). She's also a humanitarian, a historian, and an inspirational speaker. According to Wikipedia, "her powerful message of hope, inspiration, love and humanity" has captivated people worldwide. That is obvious to me. She's a human rights activist, super charitable lady, and also won an Academy Award AND an Emmy for the documentary based on her book and her life.
This is a President Obama awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

So, I'll end this unorthodox post with 5 words:


Check it out.


Jenn said...

she sounds truly inspiring and I am gonna go pick up this book!!! thanks for sharing her with us and sharing her story ; )

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

I'm so glad! You won't regret it! :) Let me know what you think after you've read it.

Tracey said...

Lol you did what I did - I had no intention of reviewing an ed experience book either! I absolutely love that book. If you haven't read already read Corrie Ten Boom's book - awesome lady who also survived the holocaust and radiates love and forgiveness and strength and healing xxx

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

Tracey, why am I not surprised? Great minds think alike!! :-)

I will check out that book, love. Thank you.

Angela E. Gambrel said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I'm always looking for great non-fiction, memoir pieces; that's my favorite genre.

I wrote my thesis on anorexia, but I promise you it's not a typical ED book (for one thing, I developed anorexia at the age of 42.) I also read many non-fiction books, both for the literature review part of my thesis and to learn more. I'm kind of burned out on the typical ED texts, many which seem to support the stereotypes surrounding EDs and sufferers.

Interestingly, I did two in-depth research papers in high school on the Holocaust.

Arielle Bair (Becker) said...

Angela, you're going to love this memoir. I promise. And yes, I agree that your story, and I'm sure your thesis, are not typical. I'd love to know what you think of All But My Life if you read it. :-) I actually took a course back in college called Film and the Holocaust. It was very difficult emotionally but so amazing. It was an English course and we watched a bunch of films on the Holocaust that were based off of books. It was really interesting.