What does recovery from an eating disorder actually involve? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as recovering from a physical illness, where the doctors can prescribe you a course of medicine, or you can go for an operation and come out cured. With mental illness, recovery is a process of personal struggle against an internal invader. First, you have to identify the threat: the illness often feels comfortable, familiar, safe, but this is a lie. Then, you have to actively want to change: recovery is not something that can be done for or to you, you have to want to do it for yourself, to let go. And then you have to commit to fighting every part of the illness. Each stage is painfully difficult, but I promise, it is worth it.
During recovery, we were asked to write a letter to our eating disorder to say goodbye. I found this exercise extremely emotional, but helpful. Seeing the eating disorder as an Other allowed me to separate it from me and what I want from life, to argue against it. I hope it can demonstrate how blinding and controlling the illness can be, and what it takes to begin to recover.
It’s time for you to go. For too long have you kept me in the shadows, living a half-life. For too long have you controlled me, abused me, and manipulated me into a person I no longer recognise, a person I don’t want to be. You have stolen so much from me, and given little back in return, despite your promises. You have not only stolen time, you’ve stolen my friends, my family; you’ve turned me against them, isolated me from them to keep me all to your selfish self. You’ve stolen the joy from life, the spontaneous smiles, those unexpected moments of happiness and love and laughter. For so long, you didn’t let me laugh, you didn’t let me sing or chat with a friend or enjoy those little things in life. But now that I have let myself feel those things again, allowed myself to laugh and to sing and to chat and to see the beauty in the world, I understand just how much you sucked out of my life, and I don’t want to go back there. Not ever.
I would be lying if I said that there is not a part of me that still clings on to you and the supposed safety, familiarity, protection and control that you offered. But I now know that the part of me that feels that way is ill: you made it ill. You lied to it and manipulated it. You made me feel worthless without you, but in actual fact, I’m worthless with you. The only familiarity you offered was a familiarity of numbness, deaf and blind to the spectrum of emotion and beauty. The only protection you offered was from the abuse you would give me if I were to let you go. You lied to me. The control you promised was a myth: I was spiralling out of control. Now, I can start to reclaim it. I can take control of myself, my life, my destiny, and direct them towards a fuller life, a happier life. I’m not naïve enough to think that life without you will be easy, or that the road will be smooth. But I do believe that a tough life without you is infinitely better than a life with you. I can see that now. Your power over me is waning. I’m taking back control.
And yes, sometimes I do fall once again for your tricks, your little whispers in my ear, telling me that I’m worthless, that I’m a failure, that I will always be alone, ashamed, rejected, lost without you. But believe me, the day will come when your evil whispers will fall on deaf ears. I want that day to come. I’ll live the life that I want, do the things that I want to do – not what you want. Because what you want, is my self-destruction. I can see that now.
I don’t need you anymore. You fooled me into thinking that myself alone would never be good enough, never be accepted, never be loved. But for too long have you allowed me to keep the real me locked in a cage in the abyss. For too long have you made me to deny my identity, to strive to be someone I am not, someone who could never offer me true fulfilment, true happiness. You made me think that I had to change to be accepted, to lie to others and myself. You made me believe that the unknown is something to be afraid of, something to fear above all else. But now I am beginning to explore the dark spaces of the map. And rather than finding monsters , I am discovering a whole new world of opportunity and adventure.
Yes, it is still scary not knowing what lies around the next corner, what might be waiting at the top of the next mountain or in the shadows of the ravine up ahead. But I’ll never know if I don’t take those first steps to explore, experience and reflect on these new landscapes and what they offer. It might be that what lies ahead is not what I expected, not what I planned, not what I wanted, but no longer will I allow you to stop me from taking the plunge and delving into the mist, because what lies there may actually be far better than where I came from. In fact, it can only be better than the dungeon in which you had me live for far too long.
But more than any of that, my family are the most important things in the world to me. And you have taken them away from me. More than that, you have hurt them, you have brought sadness and fear to their lives and I cannot allow that to continue. You’ve done enough damage. It’s time for you to go.
I don’t write this letter with any regret. A few months ago, I may have. But now that the blindfold you had me wear has been lifted, I no longer feel anything towards you but hate. And I’d rather not live a life of hate. I’d rather you just leave.
If you or someone you know may be suffering with an eating disorder, here are some links to find out more information about the illness and treatment. Please don’t think you’re not ‘ill enough’: if you need help, ask for it...