A treatment centre inspires change in a Capilano student

She timidly stepped into the bathroom at Capilano U, just like she did every day after her Philosophy class, ready to stare her biggest fears in the face. Yet today was not like every other day. Instead of seeing the reflection of herself in the mirror, one she was never satisfied with, she was faced with something even harder to deal with – the reflection of her disease. The mirrors were covered up with brown cardboard paper with harrowing statistics written across them, statistics that were all too real for this young woman –  “In B.C. alone, 60,000 females and 6,000 males suffer from eating disorders ... 1 out of 5 people who have an eating disorder will die from it, or from side effects ... DON’T WAIT TO GET HELP”. The reality of her situation bulldozed into her, breaking down the walls she had spent so long building up. I need help, she thought, tears filling her eyes.

For Alison Ensworth, a former student at Capilano, eating disorders aren’t something far off or unheard of, but rather a reality that she faced every day. Ensworth suffered from anorexia nervosa, and she recognizes that winning the battle against eating disorders goes far beyond finding a doctor to prescribe medicine.

Much of the battle is fought in the mind, something that the Looking Glass Foundation of BC helped her to realize. The Looking Glass is a local Vancouver treatment centre that provides counseling services, community programs, and summer camps to uplift and encourage youth suffering from eating disorders. According to Ensworth, the workers and volunteers at the Looking glass all have a direct connection with eating disorders, whether it is through friends, family, or their own personal experience, so they truly understand the difficulty in trying to overcome them. “Honestly, it’s more like a family than a treatment centre,” Ensworth said.

The Looking Glass made a huge impact on Ensworth’s life after she attended a summer camp in 2006. She said that unlike many treatment options, the camp was not institutional or impersonal, but instead, it helped her put her own life into perspective. “It gave me motivation to get better,” Ensworth said. “I didn’t have life or leisure before that camp, and I had lost a sense of a normal life.”

Although much of the camp is based on fun activities and leisure time to renew the campers love of life, there are also workshops every day to help them take the first steps to recovery. Physicians and nurses are present to ensure that campers are eating well and staying healthy, something that Ensworth said helped immensely. “It gave me a safe place to challenge myself, because I was surrounded with people I trusted.” The camps helped Ensworth immensely, and the bonds she created with other girls who were going through the same things grounded her. More than anything, the summer camp helped her feel good and not concentrate on her illness. “I experienced happiness again, and it gave me a positive attitude I’d been struggling to find for a long time,” Ensworth said.

The impact the Looking Glass is making does not stop at summer camps, though. They have just finished building a non-profit residence treatment centre that will be open all year round, offering a much more positive alternative than hospital care or expensive private facilities. Yet perhaps the most inspiring impact they have made is in the lives they have changed. Ensworth is now dedicated to volunteering with the Looking Glass, fundraising and helping in any way she can. “Service is a huge part of my own recovery,” Ensworth says, and it is clear that she speaks the truth. She is never seen without a glowing smile when she is helping others, whether through talking to people about her experience, or presenting with the Looking Glass about eating disorders, as she will be doing in March at Hansworth High School. Ensworth’s enthusiasm is contagious, and her positive attitude radiates through all she does – a sign that what we see happening through the Looking Glass is real, powerful change.

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// Krissi Bucholtz

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