When I count my treatment blessings, I don’t tend to include family support groups. While I don’t want to discredit the importance of family involvement in the eating disorder treatment process as it is crucial, a group of strangers with complicated interpersonal relationships and various stages of recovery can be tedious. I have sat in my fair share of these gatherings, and while I am in no way claiming to have seen it all, they just aren’t the parts of my week I tend to look forward to.
A few months ago however, I stumbled upon one that stayed with me. It began routinely enough, a safe space for families with similar concerns to ask questions and receive support. But after having listened very carefully to the discussion for the majority of the group, a mother of one of the girls broke her silence and began to cry.
“I tend to think in metaphors,” she said softly, her voice breaking in a way that made my own throat ache. “I just can’t stop thinking about The Little Mermaid.”
She went on to recall the scene where Ariel signs her voice over to Ursula in exchange for three days on land. While in the end, Ariel meets the happy ending she always wanted, the act of having to surrender one of the most beautiful parts of herself nearly leads her to a terrible fate.
“I feel like your eating disorder took away your voice,” the mom said to her daughter, her hand trembling as she tearfully reached out to touch her hand.
“I just want you to get your voice back.”
If you are reading this, you could probably use a reminder about how much you missed your own voice before the agony of searching for it began. If you feel like you are betraying your eating disorder by reading this, I will begin with giving it the credit and respect it deserves.
It takes an achingly lonely person to produce a whirlpool as destructive as this type of illness. Your eating disorder saved your life in many ways because it helped you get through the unspeakable. It helped you deal with life’s curveballs and kept you company when you couldn’t trust anyone else. In your eating disorder’s current absence, you might feel lonelier than ever. That is okay. With that being said, the comfort your eating disorder gave you came at a heavy price. You were more isolated than you ever have been because it wasn’t safe to let anyone close. You were so hungry and weak that you were counting down the minutes until your day would be over. You couldn’t focus. How could you? You were starving your body. Every waking moment was about food. Every morning was about the scale, the laxatives, the coffee, and the diet coke. Darling, that is no way for anyone to live. Remember how frantic it felt? Remember when you wished the pain of it all would finally stop your heart in your sleep? Or when you wished you would be the victim of some freak accident? Anything that would put an end to your life so you wouldn’t have to do it at your own hands and cause your loved ones even more pain. All they ever wanted was for you to be happy and it was the one thing you weren’t able to be. I am not bringing up all of these memories to upset you. I am bringing them up because I know things feel impossible right now, and I want to remind you that you deserve a life that is so much more any of this darkness.
You deserve more than dedicating your life’s work to losing weight. You deserve more than hiding your scale under your mattress, lying about how many miles you ran, and repeating you were fine so many times that it didn’t even sound like a word anymore. You deserve a future that is every bit as filled with the light and potential everyone around you believed you would have. Not because you are required to meet anyone else’s expectations, but because happiness was something you once wanted, too. You deserve more than having to be in treatment centers and family support groups year after year. You deserve gadgets and gizmos a plenty, whozits and whatzits galore.
We most likely haven’t met, but I know that girl with natural talent and big dreams of the shore above is still in you. These are not the kind of gifts that diminish, no matter how small you ever attempted to make yourself. The ways you chose to cope with what happened to you do not make you a bad person, and your heartbeat makes this universe more beautiful. It is okay if you don’t believe any of this right now. All I know is that running back to what broke you apart isn’t the answer. Flipping those fins only got you so far. Despite the purpose your disorder once served, you need to keep swimming upwards. I know each stroke is exhausting, but I promise I will continue in that direction, too. I know in my heart there is something better up where they walk, run, and stay all day in the sun, wandering free. You have more than three days, and your sun hasn’t set. Don’t for one second forget you deserve to be part of that world.