My Challenge for Anyone Living With an Eating Disorder

Take a deep breath for me. What I’m about to say might make you uncomfortable. That’s because I’m about to say some nice things about you, and if you’re anything like me, getting compliments is one of the least pleasant experiences in your life.

But I’m going to do it anyway — you need to hear it and I need to say it.

You, my friends, are awesome. I don’t mean that in the overused way we mean “awesome” today, but in the classic sense: you make me feel awe. Every day you get up and survive a kind of pain most people can’t comprehend. You convince your body to do things that are considered torture by civilized countries. You have expectations that would make an old school nun intimidated. You are astoundingly tough people.

So, what I’m about to ask you to do is going to be hard. I’m going to ask you to be gentle.

You are good at being cruel to yourself, and so am I. So let’s make a pact today. Just for a little bit. Maybe for a few hours or maybe for a few days or maybe for a few weeks.

Every time you say something cruel to yourself, I want you to imagine you’re saying it to me.

Every time you hurt yourself or starve yourself, I want you to imagine you’re doing it to me, and when I start treating myself cruelly, I like to imagine that I’m you. Maybe not you in particular, but one of the other countless women out there who treat themselves the way I treat myself. I imagine that instead of telling myself I’m fat and ugly and worthless and awful, I’m yelling it at one of you.

This has helped me realize that, despite my conviction I deserve all these things, I truly believe no one deserves them. Including me. I hope maybe this method can help you, too.

I want you to take a second to imagine all the rest of us, and pretend you are saying all those things to us. Pretend we are you and you are us and imagine how you would treat yourself. I know that none of you would ever treat others the way you treat yourselves. Some of you have best friends struggling right alongside you, and I have seen the way you pick each other up, or stay up hour after hour to listen to him cry, or hold her hand in the hospital. You are generous and giving people. When you find yourself in treatment groups and hospitals, you band together and form tribes to remind each other: stay alive.

I love you. You are good enough.

And so I challenge you all today to turn that generosity on yourself. Some of you might be able to do it for just a moment before it’s too scary or hard or uncomfortable. That’s OK. Every moment counts. Why do I want to challenge you to be kind? Because if I know one thing about those of us who hurt ourselves, it’s that through our kindness we are powerful. I have seen it. I have seen the incredible bonds you form with each other, and how it saves lives.

So I challenge you: can you have that bond with yourself? I’ll try if you do.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Eating Disorders

10 Important Lessons From Eating Disorder Treatment

I’ve never been admitted to a psychiatric ward, but I experienced something quite similar: I spent 10 days inpatient, and a total of roughly three months outpatient, in a hospital unit dedicated solely to patients with eating disorders and their co-morbid problems. Here’s what I learned during that time, a little over a year ago: 1. [...]

To the Person With an Eating Disorder Who’s Worried About Never Being ‘Fixed’

Some people can recall the moment with acute vividness, and some have no bloody idea how or when it started. But from the moment an eating disorder sneaks its way into your brain, you feel its touch. Whether its insidious and pervasive, or a delicate breeze upon the nape of your neck. To borrow the language of addiction, I believe we [...]

The Little Thing That Helped Me Let Love In

Five years ago, my nutritionist, Marci, started writing notes to me in my journal. The notes started out as a sort of transitional object, something concrete I could hold onto in between sessions. I needed these notes as hard evidence that I was not worthless, that I was cared about, that I was not so [...]

To Mary Lambert, Who Changed My Life With A Single Song

The day I met you was easily the best day of my life. It was Boston Pride 2015, and I had honestly volunteered partly because I thought I might have a chance to meet you. I spent the morning talking to the person who seemed to be single-handedly running the festival about how much you [...]