Dear Eating Disorder,
I miss you.
Which is terrible to say. So much so that I would never allow those words to fall from my lips as they so easily fall from my fingertips.
And that’s not fair.
None of it is.
But then again, I was the one who raised you. I didn’t know it at the time, I was just a child. And a child shouldn’t try to foster anyone. It’s backwards. I couldn’t see it was wrong back then. You were just as innocent as I was and we kept each other company. You were someone I could turn to and I was someone you could trust to keep you a secret; locked away in a dark, warm place.
But then I grew up, and you grew malicious.
I’ll never forget the days you tested your newfound voice. You were speaking for yourself, and I was too stunned to fight back.
So I gave in.
You had never let me down before, maybe you knew what you were doing.
You take the lead, I’m right behind you.
Our early teens were when your tone began to change. It was so sudden I barely knew what to think. You jumped on the opportunity. I couldn’t sort my own thoughts so you threw your words in and tried to convince me they were my own.
You never used to talk to me like that.
What did I do wrong?
But I continued to shelter you; providing you with everything you needed, at whatever cost.
Little did I know I was helping to build your strength.
And before I could realize my mistake (not that you would let me), you took your first steps.
You were never meant to stand on your own, that was never the plan. When did you start making plans without me? When did you start keeping secrets?
I thought we were in this together…
By our late teens you had me in chains so tight I couldn’t blink without your permission.
You prevented me from making friends, and keeping the few I managed to sneak in while you were sleeping. You created a wedge between me and my family. You stole my last years at home. I lay in bed at 16, wishing my mother would come sing to me like I was six. You let me be happy when we were six. Let’s go back. I’ll put on a Disney movie and curl up in my old fraying baby blanket. We’ll close our eyes and go back.
No, you said, you should be ashamed of yourself, grow up.
17 years old. I’m awake thinking of how my sisters and I used to run around our huge fenced-in backyard. We’d roller skate around the garage, because the floor was so smooth. We’d get in our dad’s way and he’d pretend to be annoyed. Hey Amanda, remember when we’d sit on the deck and watch The Land Before Time when Mom was at work? And how we’d never miss an episode of Full House?
ED let me love you then.
But then he stole me from you.
I turned cold and shut my door. Years I spent locked up in my room, giving off the distinct impression that nobody, blood related or not, was worth the light of day.
It wasn’t true.
I wish I could see that then.
18 years old. My peers walked off the field at graduation and bravely took the plunge into the real world. They were starting their lives, some on their way to the Ivy Leagues, others leading the race to rule our generation.
I just went home.
You didn’t let me dream of the life I could have, so I was forced to dream of the life I had… before you changed.
Fairytales, string lights, once upon a time.
That’s all you let me keep.
So I brought it with me to college. Turns out I needed more than pixie dust to pass chemistry.
You stripped me of everything I needed to make it on my own, and then chastised me for falling on my face.
19 years old. I called my parents crying. I don’t belong here, I said, I can’t handle it. My grades suck and I don’t have any friends. My mom choked back tears, who wouldn’t want to be friends with such a wonderful, beautiful girl?
You didn’t believe she existed though, did you?
You kept her hidden away; a personalized dorm room prison. Built and locked by you.
Even my roommate couldn’t see through the bars; one of the kindest people I’ve ever met but you made me turn my back to her and stare at the wall.
Don’t open your mouth, you told me, eventually she’ll stop trying to speak to us and we can focus on more important things. Shit, how has this bed not collapsed under the weight of you yet?
19 1/2 years old. You had a momentary lapse of purpose. You let me crawl onto a limb and fall into what I should have had all along: a life. I joined a sorority and met some of the most incredible girls I will probably ever have the pleasure of meeting. They became my best friends, my reason to be brave. You let me focus on school. My GPA went from a 2.4 to a 3.5. You let me be passionate. About my writing, about my studies. You let me see a future. Grad school? A family? A career?
20 years old. You snapped back to reality, or at least your version of reality. You had a lot of time to make up for and you let me know it. I started to withdraw from the life I had built the previous semester because you had a lot of work to do, and you couldn’t do it if I was distracted. You took old habits that I tried to bury and made me amplify them; making them bigger and better. You made me do things that I’ll never forgive you for. Mostly because I almost didn’t live long enough to make the decision not to forgive you.
Remember the nights we woke up freezing? We hopped out of bed to get another blanket, but the second we hit the floor we would black out. Remember the mornings we woke up not knowing how we got there? Remember the trips down the hallway where we needed the walls to hold us up?
Remember the trips to the dentist, terrified that he would say something to us about our see-through teeth? About our swollen cheeks?
Our grades went down again. We dropped a class we really liked because we needed more time to put the nails in our coffin. We stopped speaking to the friends we were lucky enough to find. We grew quiet, we disappeared.
20 1/2 years old. You really did it now. You were careless and reckless and you didn’t put enough effort into hiding. After all the trouble and pain I went through to keep you safe and out of sight, you were irresponsible enough to get caught. You got cocky and it screwed both of us.
The Renfrew Center- “clinical excellence within a nurturing environment”. God did that piss you off. We don’t belong in an eating disorder program, you’d scream, making me deaf to everything else, I can take care of you on my own, they’re going to try and get you to ignore me, and if you do, you won’t make it.
7 weeks in a room with purple couches and beautifully broken girls. 7 weeks of crying, panic attacks, medication, and wanting to hide under a rock and never come out. 7 weeks of listening to you tell me that death was better than treatment. Let’s go to Neverland, you’d say, there’s no pain there.
But I stayed.
I survived Renfrew and went back to school.
And for the first time I realized that living without you was possible. So I tried to. Then I realized something terrifying.
You defined me and now I was nothing.
You were me and I was you.
So how was I supposed to function on my own?
I felt empty and characterless. It was awful. The only thing I knew was my name and that meant nothing.
Because I didn’t feel like a person, I dug up my social life by the root and threw it in the trash. My own mind starting to sound like you to fill your void, no one wants to be friends with you, I’d say, trying to get my impression of you just right, you have nothing to offer. You’re just a body without a personality. A shallow, walking grave.
So I stopped talking to people. I went weeks at a time without reaching out to anyone. I was free of you, eating like a normal person, but at the cost of everything else.
Can food be worth losing everything I had?
Stop, 6-year-old me begged, don’t think that. Don’t go back. It’ll be okay.
The previous year my sorority had been my life. They were my best friends and they made me feel like I was worth it. Worth what? Everything. But when I got rid of you, I accidently got rid of them. I stopped hanging out with them. Stopped going out on the weekends. Stopped going to events and dinners and retreats. It wouldn’t surprise me if many of them forgot I existed. Our latest pledge class probably doesn’t even know I was ever one of them. You didn’t give them a chance.
Hey Epsilons, my name is Olivia and I’m really sorry.
September, October, November. I tried my best to live without you. My family and Renfrew friends were so proud of me. You kicked ED’s ass, they applauded. And I really felt like I did. But I also felt guilty. Because I didn’t get rid of you for me, I got rid of you for them.
Which is exactly why I invited you back.
December. Your grand arrival was highly anticipated and precisely what I wanted. Ah, I thought, this is why I loved you.
But the honeymoon phase quickly came to an end. I had forgotten the extent of your cruelness and how deep you sank your claws.
January. Wait, this isn’t what I wanted. I have you back at my side but where is everything else? I miss my friends, my hobbies, my ability to enjoy. I thought our deal was you’d bring them with you if I let you back in?
And now I’m even lower than I was when you were still at large. You're vengeful and spiteful and you’re not even pretending that you’re here for me. You were once someone who held my hand when I couldn’t sleep, but now you’re the enemy.
I’m ashamed to say that that didn’t deter me. I kept you. Just a little longer…maybe things will turn around…maybe you’ll change…
But you didn’t. You just got stronger and angrier.
I am now 3 weeks free from you again, and this time I don’t plan on going back.
These past 2 months I saw you for what you really are: evil.
…but I still miss you.
I miss who you used to be. Before things got dangerous and out of control. I miss the way you’d comfort me when I was still a kid and not old enough to know right from wrong. I miss knowing I had someone to fall back on. Someone to stand by me. I miss knowing who I was in your grasp.
During your latest stay you tried to convince me that without you my life was over. I was too old to redefine myself without you. I had blown my chance at independence. At being my own person.
And unfortunately, a big part of me believes you. Maybe that’s just old habit, or maybe it’s because you’re right.
But there’s also a tiny part of me believes that it’s not over. Next week I turn 21. I am still young. I can still become a real person.
I’m sorry you won’t get to see it.
Hoping you find peace on your own,