Dear 19 Year Old Self
Dear 19-year-old self,
I remember your thin, bony frame. Trying to cover it up with baggy clothes. The way you watched other women, longing to attain their carefree joy. The ache in your soul, wishing you could let down your guard, too afraid to let people in. Slipping away when it was time to eat.
You used to be a confident, happy-go-lucky child. But somewhere along the way, you believed the lies of this world that you needed to be prettier and skinnier to be loved. So you skipped a few meals here and there, counted calories, and eventually started to weigh yourself obsessively. People began noticing your weight loss, and in that you heard a clarion message: Keep going. Because you were doing the right thing, right? Earning love and acceptance with every pound lost.
In college, no one could tell you what to eat, how much to eat. You exercised whenever you wanted. You thought you had found freedom.
But social gatherings stressed you out. You avoided them at all costs whenever possible. And when you had to go, you faked it so no one would notice. The anxiety and panic you felt were unexplainable. And when the event was over, you exercised for hours, calculating calories and shaming yourself for the mess you had become.
You’d taken a few steps forward, but, inevitably, went backwards, too. So you acquiesced: You were stuck, you feared, in this destructive cycle forever. Your eating disorder defined you. It was your master; you, its slave. You were unable to notice the qualities that used to define you, because when you looked in the mirror, all you could see was Fat. Ruined. Failure. Ugly. Unworthy.
Nineteen year old self, if I could give you words of hope back then, I would tell you this: I know you feel like you’re stuck in this forever. And you think there’s no way out. But there is. You will relapse, but keep going. Focus on this forward motion, not on your setbacks. Give yourself grace and permission to grow and heal.
In a few years, you will get married. You will be on your way to healing and recovery, and you will have to let your husband in on this part of your life. You will need to accept his love and acceptance to help you love and accept yourself. Recovery will look more like a process than a destination.
Soon, you will learn that freedom is not found in shaming your body, picking apart every single feature that you hate. Freedom is not found in comparing yourself to every other woman in your view. Freedom is found in seeing the unique gifts only you were made to bring to this world. Even though it’s hard to believe, you will one day help others find food freedom with your story.
You are beautiful and worthy of love, just as you are. Capable of health and healing and recovery. You have so much potential. There is a way out of this. You are not defined by your eating disorder. And you are certainly not defined by a number. It’ll evaporate like rain against the windshield of your heart until you believe it to be true. People will tell you this throughout the journey, and they’ll believe it about you; but none of that will make a difference until you believe it about yourself.
This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. My heart goes out to everyone who struggles with an eating disorder. This post contains snippets of my story–one of many. For those in the thick of an eating disorder, or on the way to recovery, my heart is to offer hope from someone who can say, “me too.”
I'm Ali. I write about my journey of living a full and healthy life with food allergies, overcoming the comparison trap, and cultivating authenticity.