To all eating disorder survivors,
The physical pain is over. The days, months, or years of torment and mutilation you put your body through are over. Your strength was more powerful than your fears and you fought a fight so scary, it almost seems impossible to win. You did it, but that doesn't mean there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Though your physical state might be intact, your mental and emotional state may never be the same. There are certain aspects of your life that your eating disorder has changed forever and you might not know what those are, how they'll make you feel, or how you'll react to them. This letter is to recognize what some of those changes are, but more importantly, how they do not have to undermine the progress you have made.
*Disclosure: Not all of these are guaranteed. Some people might face all of them, some might face none, and some might face some not listed. None of this is scientific research, but based on my personal experience*
You might never forget how many calories, carbs, or fat are in certain foods, because you've memorized menus, recipes, and ingredient's nutritional information.
Your teeth might be stained slightly from the torture you put yourself through. Whenever you see your smile, it acts as a reminder of what you did to yourself, and there aren't enough whitening kits or filters in the world to change that.
You might not be able to step on a scale or use anything that associates weight with numbers. You might have to turn away and ask your doctor to not read the numbers out loud during annual visits.
You notice things in pictures that other people don't realize. When your Instagram feed floods with endearing comments from family and friends, you can't help but question if the picture was worth posting, or see the tiniest imperfection too small for anyone else to notice.
You might be embarrassed to admit you're still in therapy. Though you might not be physically harming yourself anymore, the emotional and mental toll the disease took on you in still relevant and you need that extra support… but you don’t want anyone to know.
You could have a difficult time accepting the weight you might have recently gained. The weight seemed like it took forever to come off, but is coming back quicker than expected… and that terrifies you.
Depending how long you've been a survivor, you might be scared to diet again. A lot of eating disorders start by attempting to better yourself, before it took a drastic turn. Gaining weight was scary, but losing weight could be even scarier.
There might be some foods you can't eat anymore because the taste of it reminds you of being sick.
You might associate memories with the damage your disease brought on or have flashbacks on certain holidays to the times you were sick and couldn’t enjoy those occasions.
All of these things are very possible, I know this because I face them, but this letter is to tell you that you are not alone.
I will always know that there are 150 calories in a bowl of Vanilla Almond Special K. My teeth are a tinted slightly yellow no matter how much I've tried to whiten them, and I hate having to defend why my teeth are my biggest insecurity. I have no idea what my weight is because I haven't been able to step on a scale since 2014, and I do ask my doctors to keep that information to themselves. I always criticize my photos before and after posting them. It's not that I don't like what I see entirely, it's that I see how round my face can look at my jaw line, or how my jeans hug my hips differently than they do to other girls. It's still difficult for me to talk about my days in therapy, but I know if I didn't have that support or gain the self-confidence therapy brought on I wouldn't be able to be so vocal about my story. When I first got better I was terrified at how quickly I was able to gain weight, but now 4 years into being a survivor I get scared to when I try to lose it. I cannot eat or even smell apple cider vinegar without being uncomfortable because it reminds me of when I used to take multiple shots of it daily because I read it could burn fat off faster. Every Easter is a reminder of the year I missed half of dinner because I locked myself in my aunt's bathroom, and every time I see a picture from my junior prom I remember my mom having to tape my dress to my body because I was too frail to support it.
Every survivor out there has a different story, but your story is important. It does not define you, but it did help shape you into who you are today. It does not make you weak, or fragile, and it does not have to fit into a mold of what society recognizes as an eating disorder. Whatever your struggles were and whatever they still could be you are not alone in this journey. If you share your story that's fine, if you prefer to keep it yourself that's fine. However you need to heal, you have to power to choose and control how that happens. So many eating disorders occur because we feel as though we've lost control of our lives in some dramatic way, but we can control the pain we inflict on ourselves and what we eat (or don't eat). But once you've beaten it, you'll realize that you are in control of your own destiny, and your life is one worth living.
I just hope that my story acts as a reminder that even though we might still have ghosts that haunt us, all eating disorder survivors are strong, are powerful, and are beautiful.
With all my love and support,
A bulimia survivor since 2014