Not About Smarts

A little crossover with my other blog, The West Wing in Real Life

In the third season episode “Bartlet for America”, Leo, President Bartlet’s Chief of Staff and a recovering alcoholic, is telling his lawyer, Jordan, about a time he took a drink post-rehab. After he tells her about his slip, she says “I don’t understand how you could have a drink. I don’t understand how, after everything you worked for, how on that day of all days you could be so stupid.”

Leo responds with one of my favorite, and most often cited quotes, of all time: “That’s because you think it has something to do with smart and stupid. Do you have any idea how many alcoholics are in Mensa? You think it’s a lack of willpower? That’s like thinking somebody with anorexia nervosa has an overdeveloped sense of vanity.”

There is the obvious eating disorder reference in the last part of the quote, but I actually most often quote the first part when talking about my eating disorder.  As mentioned in a previous post, people often feel the need to ask me how I reconcile my medical knowledge with my eating disorder behaviors.  In response, I pretty much just always say “it’s not about being smart or being stupid.”  Most of the people I have met in treatment are super smart and well aware of how unhealthy eating disorder behaviors are…it’s not like it takes a genius to figure out that making yourself throw up after eating is unnatural.

Furthermore, Leo’s question about willpower is also very applicable to eating disorders.  While in partial a few months ago, I told my therapist that I worry my treatment providers see me as weak or a hypochondriac.  She responded that she actually thinks no one with an eating disorder could ever be thought of as weak because engaging in behaviors requires the ability to tolerate an incredible amount of pain.  In other words, engaging in behaviors requires a tremendous amount of willpower, rather than demonstrating a lack of it.  At the same time, it also requires a tremendous amount of willpower to push through the uncomfortable feelings (physical and mental) associated with recovery.  Either way, willpower is key and it is not about being smart or being stupid.


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