It is already Friday of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. This year, I have a blog. I have a small number of followers who hear what I have to say. I’ve spent most of the week deciding how I want to use this small voice I have, and today I made a decision.
I want to thank you, and I want to ask for a favor.
The first part is easier. The thanking part. I have a big long list of people to thank, not Oscar-speech style, but true bottom-of-my-heart thanks to articulate. My thanks go out to you – all of you – in a way heavier than I can articulate. The gravity of living with an eating disorder extends beyond gratitude for support, and to gratitude for survival.
Thank you to you reading this, above all, for providing me and people like me with a voice. However small it may be, it is a voice we too often thought was gone forever, or a voice we never had at all. I have a blog, sure, but the “you” I’m thanking here is not just readers, but anyone and everyone who has ever listened to someone who needs to speak.
Thank you to my family, who can be a real bunch of unhelpful and frustrating nut-jobs, just like every other family ever. My family is real and human and imperfect, and each person in it has helped define who I am today. A person in recovery from an eating disorder. A person learning to love herself and the imperfect people who love her.
Thank you to my boyfriend, my partner, my friend, my companion, who never fails to show me love and acceptance in a way I never understood to be an option, who offers me the kind of support in recovery and day-to-day existence that I had heard rumors about and never knew was something I could find. You showed me that I have the capacity to trust.
Thank you to my friends, for choosing to stand by me at my best and at my worst. For taking care of me, for making me smile, for letting me be a part of your lives. You are the people who have to do the most work separating what parts of me are disease and disorder and what parts of me are identity and me, since you typically see me at extremes and not in the flux. Yet you choose to stand with me of your own volition.
Thank you to the adults who care for me, since I didn’t really get what I needed from grown-ups when I needed it most. Now I am an adult, or pretty close, and I crave guidance and acceptance from adults who turn out to very often be my peers, on in any case…not my parents, and somehow you offer it to me and I can breathe again.
Thank you to every professional who has ever listened to me, which is most but not all of the ones I’ve worked with, for letting me find my hope. My eating disorder has taken me through tumultuous times and brought me into contact with four private individual therapists, two private art therapists, three private nutritionists, five private psychiatrists, dozens of group therapists and counselors, and countless techs, RNs, MDs, and interns who work with the countless therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, and nutritionists at too many hospitals and partial hospitalization programs. Not every single person was helpful, and not every single person even tried to listen, but the ones who did – and most of them did – gave me light and hope and support in times that were so dark and hopeless and lonely that no one else – not my family, my friends, my boyfriends, or myself – could pull me through.
Thank you to every single person I ever met or will meet while facing recovery together, for helping me and for letting me help you. The relationships forged in recovery for eating disorders are unlike anything anyone else can hope to understand. They are not always life-long – often by mutual decision and relief – but I can never lose the memory of how deeply impacted I was by every single person I met in therapy groups and hospitals and treatment programs and online support groups. We know this fight in a way no one else can. We need other people, people who aren’t fighting, but we need each other too. I know that if ever I lose my voice, my family, my partner, my friends, my mentors, my treatment team…I will find support and life in you, even if you are only a memory or a person I haven’t yet met. I know you know I will be here for you too. We have so much love to share.
Thank you to those people I have loved and lost in this battle. Thank you for showing me, and showing the world, how very hard we can fight, even when we lose. Thank you for trying your hardest until you couldn’t try anymore. You are not remembered as losing a fight. You are remembered, every day, by the strength you fought with and the inspiration you offered to everyone you knew. You are still, even now, truly inspiring. You make me fight harder. Thank you so much for giving it all you had.
And the other part, the favor I’m asking of you, is a little harder. It always is for those of us in recovery from eating disorders, because we have been conditioned to believe we should take up as little space in the world as possible, both figuratively and literally.
But if you are here reading this, I have a big old favor to ask of you. Take twenty minutes of your time and read up on what eating disorders look like, because it might surprise you. Try ANAD and NEDA if you don’t know where to start.
Ask yourself very honestly if you know anyone, maybe even yourself, who might be hurting from disordered eating. Offer friendship and connections to professional support to anyone who might need it, especially if it means offering friendship and support to yourself.
I say that I don’t want to talk about it. Actually, I do…
And twenty minutes later, after you’ve learned a little something or you’ve wasted twenty minutes reading stuff you already knew, please ask someone else to do the same.
The internet is so incredibly powerful. It can spread messages nearly instantly. But so many of its messages have to do with perfect bodies and unrealistic expectations and cross-fit and fad diets. Minimizing and stigmatizing tragedy and disease.
Please, in the same strong voice that we all have to ask for acceptance of exactly who we are as people, ask for understanding and compassion for people dealing with the tragedy and stigma of anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, ED-NOS, and other disordered eating.
Whether it means sharing a link on your blog or facebook, talking with your son or daughter or brother or sister or loved one about compassion and safety, or finding a free clinic to get a screening for an eating disorder (or an online screening like this one)…
…let the message about eating disorders turn into one of hope and thanks and solidarity, and in whatever small or large way you choose, be a part of spreading that message.
Love every single part of your body.