A Letter to My Eating Disorder, From a Healthier Me
By: Etta Eckerstrom Dear ED,
It’s hard to know where to begin with this one. It feels as though I am writing a letter to a person I once loved. Maybe because at one point, I did love you. Or at least believed you were more important than everyone and everything that deserved my love. You and the time I devoted to you kept me from my friends, family, and passions. I believed that as long as I had you, everything would be okay. I would be okay.
It’s been over a year now of fighting your voice. Over a year of actively working to slowly unthread you from my thoughts and day to day habits that you so expertly wove yourself into. To relearn how to live in a world separate from the one of numbers and calories and emptiness that you crafted for me. Over a year of watching my body change, and fighting the way you tell me that I am unworthy because of these shifts. Because you only see the changes in that meaningless number, how I have more curves in places that used to be skin and bones. You can’t see how I can think clearly again. You can’t see how I am no longer always the one shivering in 50 degree weather. You can’t see how far I have come in rebuilding relationships and the life that you stole from me for far too long.
And yet despite these things, I am grateful for you in a lot of ways. Without you, I would not have found my passion and purpose in life. I would not have met some of the strongest, kindest people, who I am proud to call my friends and inspirations. Through recovery, I have learned to stand up to my biggest enemy: myself. Myself, and the doubts and fears that so often cloud my vision and keep me from jumping head first into the ups and downs that come with living a full life. Pushing back against you leads me to push back against all the ways I feel as though I am not enough. You made me feel weak, physically, mentally, and emotionally, for so long. But thanks to you, I now feel stronger than ever.
I wish I could say that you are no longer a presence in my life, that one day it all clicked, and I threw you overboard and let you sink. But sometimes a storm comes, and suddenly you rise to the surface again, hovering nearby, and riding the waves right along with me. You were my life raft for so long, the one thing I could cling to to combat every other way I felt as though I didn’t measure up, every other way I felt helpless in my own life. Missing all of the ones I have lost? Uncertain about my future? He didn’t see me the way I hoped he would? That was all manageable, as long as I could channel that anxiety and pain into you. You brought order for a while, with your rules and guidelines and routine. It was a great paradox, however: the one thing I clung to to save me also left me feeling like I was drowning. And sometimes, even now, you become that life raft for a moment, float over to me when I myself am thrown overboard. But I have learned to swim on my own, to tread water and keep my head afloat. And when the temptation to let myself cling to you, to collapse back into your prison, and let you hold me is high, I reach for my other life rafts. The community I work to surround myself with. The reminders of where I am now. The providers who helped bring life back to me. And when the storm ends, as it inevitably does, you have once again floated away, and I am left standing. So take your empty promises, the whispers that tell me that going back to you will make me worthy, and loved, and beautiful. That you can solve all my problems. That you alone are worthy of my devotion. You were a temporary solution to my inability to see my own worth. But only temporary. Because with you I am a ghost, a shell, a prisoner. And without you, so much more.
About the Author: Etta resides in Nashville, TN. She is earning a degree in public health and psychology from Vanderbilt University. At Project Heal, Etta is dedicated to having a positive impact, directly or indirectly, on those who are in recovery. She is passionate about empowering others and educating people on eating disorders. She can often be found studying at coffee shops around Nashville, going for a run, and spending time with friends. Etta's favorite ice cream flavor is anything with chocolate.