Dear You: A Break-Up Letter to Anorexia
You were the first real relationship I ever had. You were fun, a talker, full of ideas. I sometimes wish we had spent more time together when we had the chance. It was while you were around I had my first kiss, graduated high school, went to formal and first tried alcohol. I shared my life with you while you tried so hard to take it away.
I am eldest girl in my family. The perfectionist. The worrier. The nail biter. From the very start I was the perfect target for you: fourteen-year-old, middle-class, white female whose parents hid a report card with one B+ to spare the inevitable meltdown. In short, if ever someone fit the stereotype for an eating disorder, it was me. And, despite being an over-achiever from way back, I’d never felt very good at anything. Until I learnt how to lose weight.
At first came the compliments, never from you but you gladly took the credit. You’ve lost so much weight! I wish I had your body. How do you do it? I want your self-control.
I wanted to scream at everyone who dared comment on my appearance; they wanted to be me, yet they couldn’t even see how much I was suffering. They kept you quiet, though. You didn’t yell, you just whispered not to listen.
It doesn’t matter what they say, you said, they’re wrong. They don’t love you like I do.
When my bones started showing, you were winning; when I ate less you were being fuelled; when I refused to talk because you were screaming, it only egged you on. You’d let me get to a point of semi-recovery and then pull the rug out from under me. I could bargain with you – gain five kilos and get out of hospital – but even I knew you’d make me lose 15 more to compensate.
The best doctor I ever had told me, while I squirmed and looked away from his sharp gaze, that I needed to look at you like an abusive relationship.
And that was when things changed.
I had gotten so comfortable with you that I was ready to live there forever. I was so used to the dynamic of our dysfunctional toxicity that I didn’t even think there could be a life without you. In the strange way that only an eating disorder can, you’d manipulated me so much that I couldn’t see how I was supposed to leave the quasi-comfort of everything I knew. In my disordered eating, I had an identity. I didn’t know how to be without you.
But once the word abusive got chucked into the mix, I knew I had to do something. So I stopped. I stopped hiding and I started speaking. I stopped saying no without thinking, and I stopped caring if I failed. For years, I believed the only thing I was good at was not eating, except that to truly be great at not eating, I was going to have to die.
So I stopped that, too.
I started to breathe again. My thoughts not cluttered by your rules and restrictions.
Then, I started to eat.
I ate because I could, because no one gives a fuck if you have a thigh gap, because my brother bought me ice cream. I ate because I needed to stop my family cringing when you let them hug me. I ate because I wanted to explore, because I wanted to swim, because I wanted to go back to school.
You turned me into a shell.
You stole me from my own life.
You tried to sabotage everything I knew.
But through everything, I kept eating: one tearful meal after another.
I watched as my thigh gap closed, my face gained its colour, and my armpits became full enough so that I could shave again. I watched all the things I had tried so desperately to alter finally occur. I cried about it, and then I kept eating. When I let people in on you, my dirty little secret, they always ask why.
Why did you get sick? Why aren’t you better yet? Why won’t you just eat, for fuck’s sake?
People get so wrapped up in knowing, that they forget the power of just being.
Why is not important, just like you are not important. Every time I eat a meal, I know I’m in control. Whenever I lay down and don’t feel my ribs dig into the mattress, I know I’ve gained a point. When I leave the country and don’t pack you in everything I bring, I know that I have levelled up. The scared little girl, the one you made so much smaller, is gone now. This year I’ll turn twenty and all the perfectionism and worry about getting shit wrong, it’s gone, too. You didn’t succeed.
I am okay now.
Cover by Septian Simon