Dear Mom and Dad,
Thank you. Thank you for driving three hours to visit me in the hospital. Thank you for bringing Christmas to my little room on the third floor. Thank you for cooking all my meals and weighing me each morning when I got home. Thank you for trusting that I was ready to go back to college. Thank you for biting your tongue when all you wanted to do was ask if I was sticking to my meal plan.
Thank you for believing in me. For crying with me. For celebrating each small victory. For never, ever giving up.
But here’s what I want you to know, once and for all: No matter how hard you try, if you’ve never been in the stranglehold of an eating disorder, you’ll never understand.
If you’ve never lain in bed planning every bite of food that would pass your lips the next day, you’ll never understand. If the hollow feeling inside you has never felt like an accomplishment, you’ll never understand. If the whispering voice of anorexia has never increased in volume until you could think of nothing else, you’ll never understand. If you’ve never dreamed of going to sleep and not waking up just to escape it, you’ll never understand.
And it’s okay to stop trying.
You might not know this, but I know how hard you tried.
I’ve seen all the books about anorexia on the shelf, evidence that you read every single one you could get your hands on.
I watched you barely keep it together in family therapy, saw you trying to stay strong when all you wanted was to fall apart.
I saw you try to hide the pain on your face when I angrily accused you of putting more than the “nutritionist-required” amount of butter on my toast.
I know how much it hurt to see your only child sob before each meal, how much it stung that the food you’d just spent an hour carefully measuring and weighing and preparing was cold by the time it entered my mouth.
I know how hard you tried. How my recovery was almost as exhausting and difficult for you as it was for me.
And I love you for it. More than you will ever know.
And although it would’ve made those first months of recovery indescribably easier, I’m so glad you didn’t understand.
It means you’ve never experienced the agony that comes from literally watching yourself disappear before your eyes. It means you’ve never experienced the crippling desire for control that is, in reality, sucking the life from you bit by bit.
I waited to die while my organs shut down and your body slowly slipped into a kind of hibernation, my deluded, malnourished brain actually believing that it was still in control. That my friends’ worries were unwarranted. That the uneasy looks on professors’ faces were a figment of my imagination, not an expression of the very real fear that I was going to stop breathing in the middle of class.
I’m so happy you can’t relate. I know it sounds cliché but I promise, I mean it from the very bottom of my heart. My heart that now keeps a strong, steady beat, pumping blood through my healthy body.
I’ve waited so long to be able to say that. And it’s largely thanks to your support and love that I can say it now. It’s because of your constant reminders of my strength that you can talk to me by simply picking up the phone instead of visiting a cemetery.
And while I’m an eating disorder survivor, that’s not all I am. You reminded me of that along the way, too. While others treated me like I was fragile or like eating disorders were contagious, you kept your eyes fixed on the girl I once was. And you walked with me (often one step forward, two steps back) until I was that girl again.
Remembering who I was before I got sick was a difficult, and incredibly important, part of my recovery. And each time I got a little piece of myself back, I thought about you both.
You made me who I am and I believed – and still do– that it was a victory for all of us when I wrestled even a miniscule part of that girl back from the disease that tried its best to kill me.
But please never forget this: you don’t have to understand my past to share in my journey. Let’s look forward together. I’m planning a future full of laughter and joy and knock-your-socks-off accomplishments.
And yes, life.