By Emily Rutherford, Guest Contributor
This is goodbye. I’m done with you. For so long, you consumed me. My life revolved around restricting, calorie counting, purging, isolating, working out, perfectionism, body checking, cutting, suicide letters, and hating every inch of myself. I was in so much pain and my life felt so shattered that the only thing I felt in control of was what went into my body. But really, I was the farthest thing from in control. You were controlling me.
My first memory of hating my body was when I was 6 years old. A 6-year-old girl should not be having judgments about her body. She should be out playing on the playground, making friends, and discovering her interests. Not feeling self-conscious that she was bigger or taller than her peers. A 6-year-old girl should be carefree, not careful - about what she wore, about what she looked like, about her body.
When high school came around and my depression developed I didn’t know who or what to turn to. My parents’ marriage turned into a messy divorce, and I felt so much internal pain but didn’t know how to express it. Growing up, no one in my family expressed emotions, especially not “bad” ones. If you cried, you were made fun of. If you were sad, you should suck it up and be happy. So, I would cry in my room alone. I would journal about my sadness and pain instead of expressing it, and I kept so many secrets from everyone I knew.
Throughout high school and my freshman year of college, you were looming in the background, coming more into the foreground when life got tough. In high school, I would try random cleanses and crash diets, but they never did much. In college I explored purging, self-harm, and challenged myself to not eat all day. My sophomore year of college was when you stormed in and took everything away from me, though. It seems fitting that I’m writing this at the start of the new year, because that’s when your involvement washed over me.
At first, I just thought I was just being healthy for as my New Year's Resolution. I cut out desserts, started going to the gym more, and calorie counted what I was eating. From then on, it kept spiraling downward. I started self-harming again, went vegan, stopped going out with friends because liquid calories were “bad” and scheduled my school classes around when I went to the gym. I calorie counted so intensely that I only allowed myself a couple hundred a day. I was a mess. I was lonely, tired, weak, and in denial that I was doing anything wrong. My best friend at the time, who was in recovery herself, would point out how significantly my weight had dropped, and every time it turned it into a fight. I got angry that she thought I had a problem, but at the same time you got secretly happy that my weight loss was that noticeable.
I thought you were helping me. Although I wasn’t sleeping and my depression was getting bad and resulted in suicide attempts, my emotions were numbed out because of how malnourished I was, and that was relieving. Looking back, though, that person wasn’t me. I looked so sick. I avoided my friends because I didn’t want to eat with them, and walking up 3 flights of stairs to my apartment made me tired. But even that didn’t stop me from exercising. I was living life in accordance to your values – perfectionism, self-punishment, control, shame, rigidity, lying, and repeatedly telling myself I wasn’t good enough and that the world would be better off without me.
At this point, I entered residential treatment and was there for 2 months. And although it saved my life, I still denied that I had an eating disorder. You told me I wasn’t sick enough, that I was a failure at my eating disorder for not being the skinniest person there, and that I should just work on my depression, because if that got better you’d magically go away. It’s funny how false that is.
Now, one and a half years later, after being in treatment the entire time and stepping up and down repeatedly through partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programming, I’m proudly in recovery. I’ve been outpatient for 3 months, I’m fighting you, I’m angry with you, and I’m over you.
You’ve cost me so much – school, my apartment, friends, my passion for studying film, everything. All that was taken away while I fought so hard to let you go, but you still controlled me so intensely through this recovery process. Although I’m weight restored, slowly learning how to exercise healthily, and working my hardest to follow my meal plan, you still control my horrific body image, and scream at me when I eat a fear food and convince me to compensate later. You tell me I’m overweight when I’m not. You tell me if I let you back in, I won’t be in so much pain from my depression. And you tell me I’m not good enough and never will be.
The difference now, though, is that I can hear those demands from you, but that doesn’t mean I have to act on them. When it’s a friends birthday and you tell me I can’t have cake, I fight back saying yes I can, one piece of cake won’t cause me to gain weight, and I mindfully enjoy that dessert I deprived myself of for so long.
So many people don’t understand how you work. Even I don’t sometimes, but the best way I can explain it is having a battle in your mind every second of everyday. You are a separate entity, Ed. I used to think we were one, fused together, and that’s why I abided by you for so long, but you are a voice in my head, and I also have my own voice. A healthy voice, a hopeful voice, and an assertive voice.
When I sit down in front of a meal you say added fats, starches, and proteins are bad, so I should only eat the fruits and vegetables on my plate. At first I listened to you and ate only that. Later on in my recovery I acknowledged that was disordered, but stared at my food debating what to do and you ultimately won and convinced me to restrict. Now, I hear what you say, I debate it, I defuse from the thought, and then I argue back saying that food is fuel, that fats, starches, and proteins keep my body working properly, and that they’re on my meal plan for a reason: to keep me nourished and alive. Of course sometimes I slip up or cut corners, but your control over my life is so much weaker than before.
So, Ed, this is goodbye. You hurt me for too long, and I’m ready to start my life. A life without you, a life without losing sight of the real me, and a life without immediately turning to suicide when I face a roadblock, slip up, or bad day. Some days are still so hard, I feel so hopeless and scared for the unknowns in my future, and at times ambivalent about recovery, but that’s not an excuse to turn back to you. I want to live my life in accordance to my values, not yours, because my values of passion, connection, trust, balance, hope, learning, and self-acceptance mean so much more to me now. The one I’m fighting the hardest for right now is hope. But that’s what my treatment team, friends, and family are for. They carry me through life and hold the hope for me when I can’t myself. They keep my head above water when I feel like I’m drowning and should just give up.
A few months ago my therapist in treatment asked me “what’s the worst that could happen when you’re fighting for your life?” I acknowledged that I had two choices for my future, and I no longer wanted to follow your path towards death. Instead, I want to fight, and as long as I’m fighting and have hope, nothing as bad as being controlled by you will happen. Even through my hardest, most hopeless days, and even when I give into you sometimes still, there’s no longer pure darkness ahead of me. There’s darkness, and there’s a little glimmer of light, of hope, even if it’s barely visible. And that makes life worth living.
Goodbye forever, Ed.
Emily Rutherford is a journalism and psychology student at DePaul University. She grew up taking drawing and painting classes, assisting photographers, and studying and creating films. Throughout her journey, her recovery has inspired her to express her experience through watercolor and calligraphy, her two favorite mediums. Today she relies heavily on writing, art and yoga to maintain her recovery, and is inspired by poets and writers such as Rupi Kaur, Robert Drake, and Brene Brown, whom she often quotes in her work.