My Reflections After Watching 'To the Bone'
I eagerly anticipated the Netflix release of “To the Bone,” staring Lily Collins. One of the things I find a vast amount of comfort in is shared experiences and knowing I am not alone. Watching “To the Bone” reminded me of how unique each of us are as individuals and how differently every one of us responds to different ideas or treatments. What works for someone may not work for someone else.
I struggled with anorexia when I was 11, to the point of hospitalization because my body was shutting down. After this, I was in an 11-year cycle of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. I have seen countless therapists, Christian counselors and was admitted to two treatment programs. The first I was forced and the second I chose. I speak as someone who struggled intensely, and I had several thoughts that came across my mind as I watched “To the Bone” and read articles with various opinions about the film.
Here are my thoughts:
1. We can’t fit everyone with an eating disorder into the same tidy treatment box.
There is a great deal of comfort in assumptions, routine and similarity, but sometimes this comfort tends to overshadow the fact that not everyone will respond to traditional methods of treatment in the same way. Much like Ellen’s experience in the film, I went through traditional treatment as well as more unconventional treatment. What helped me the most was the unconventional, but I was also at a point where I wanted to recover. Some will respond well and find recovery through conventional methods, but I think it is important to be open to more unconventional ways to help those of us who struggle with mental illness.
My hospital treatment was conventional. I was video monitored 24/7, watched while I ate, withheld from going to the bathroom for an hour after eating, restricted exercise and every single motive, thought or movement was questioned to death. In honesty, I needed this at the time to save my life because I was so far deep. Yes, this treatment method helped stabilize my weight and saved my health, but I was still drowning in the mental abyss of my eating disorders. I had therapists, but the focus was on my external behaviors and how to change those, where emotions and body image were not fully addressed. I felt I was an eating disorder, rather than a person.
The other issue for me during this time was that I did not choose to recover. I did not want to recover. This treatment was necessary to save my life, but I did not truly experience recovery, until I chose recovery. Which leads me to…
2. True healing occurs when those afflicted with eating disorders choose recovery for themselves.
Similar to Ellen in the film, hitting rock bottom was a necessity for me to choose recovery. My rock bottom was a bit different, but it is what caused me to finally choose recovery. I found myself completely isolated with my eating disorder in college. I met a man whom I grew to love more than anything which caused me to question my love for my eating disorder. It was during this time that I realized I wanted more out of life than the one my eating disorder offered. I wanted to live, breath and feel all the joys I could possibly experience in this world, and I did not want to feel I was constantly drowning and fighting.
I also thought about my future more than I had previously. I hit the bottom when I realized how alone I actually was and how much time I was wasting with my eating disorder. My eating disorder physically and emotionally filled and emptied me all at once in the most volatile way, and I knew the only way out was to seek recovery.
My parents recognized this. As much as it hurt them to see me struggle so intensely for years, they knew they could never force me to recover. I had to choose it for myself for it to last and be meaningful. So, I had the most painful conversation I could have with my parents the summer in between my college sophomore and junior year and told them I needed to spend the summer at a treatment facility. I recognized I was in charge of my recovery. No one could save me, but I had the strength, resources and professional help to save myself. I also knew I wanted something less traditional, so I chose an out-patient center that continually reaffirmed the idea that I was not my eating disorder, I was still a person.
This center did metabolic testing, gave me a daily calorie goal range with the eventual goal of intuitive eating, allowed me to choose to exercise since my weight was in the “healthy” range for my body type and gave me the tools I needed to be in charge of my own actions and my own recovery. I was constantly in various types of therapy throughout the day, and as I went further along in recovery and progress made, the amount and types of sessions were gradually reduced. It was up to me if I wanted to recover, and I felt this similarity to the treatment in the movie. There were positive and negative consequences based on what we chose to do, but the message was that we had a choice. That was the hardest work I have ever done in my life, but I cannot begin to describe how immensely rewarding it was. And, it meant even more because I chose it for myself, I fought for myself, and I found I had power over my life and the way I handled situations for myself. There is nothing that can take that way from me.
3. Everyone’s recovery story may have similarities, but they are also unique.
Yes, there are plenty of stereotypes that come with eating disorders. One we see and hear often is you have to look like you have an eating disorder for you to truly have one. And, it truly sucks that those are the only images we constantly see the media displaying. That is why it is so important to share our unique narratives. I have two vastly different experiences with eating disorder recovery. In my hospital treatment, I saw more diversity than I could have ever imagined. I would love to see more stories highlighting the eating disorder struggles among people of color because the patients being treated along side me were mostly people of color. I saw just as many young men as there were young women in that treatment program. It was diverse and filled with every socioeconomic group. I can see how a film such as “The the Bone” can be incredibly frustrating to those who do not fit the type of character displayed in the movie. It is only one voice and one perspective that does not always show our perspective.
On the flip side, the treatment center I chose was a much more similar experience as Ellen’s in “To the Bone.” It was out of pocket, and I was beyond fortunate to have benefactors that wanted to help support the financial burden of my treatment. That treatment looked very similar to the house in “To the Bone.” Except, I was almost constantly in therapy sessions throughout the day and some evenings. I even had meal therapy and cooking therapy, with weekly “fear food” challenges.
These differences in experience taught me that even though we may share the same mental illness it does not mean that our stories and our recoveries will be the same. I hope that more and more of us can have the outlets available to share and find the diversity in these disorders. It is then that we can all learn and find even more ways we can help, heal and move forward. Though I still had many differences, I loved “To the Bone” because I saw my own similar experience. I hope we can have more film and more dialogue that portray the wide spectrum of the numerous issues and differences within these disorders so we can all feel those same feelings of hope, feel less alone in our struggles, find more solutions to the financial difficulties of treatment and shatter the stereotypes associated with eating disorders.
One or two movies or narratives are simply not enough to accomplish that. We need to find ways to hear and showcase the narratives of those whose experiences are vastly different than our own.
4. “To the Bone” opened the door for greater dialogue in the realm of eating disorders.
I watched this film first by myself then with my husband. We both became emotional at points because we were reminded of my struggles with bulimia. My husband shared his fears with me, and we reflected on my own rock bottom. My eating disorders were not only painful for myself, but they were also painful for him. We also discussed the criticism with the film, and what I love the most about this film is it is creating discussion and dialogue among those with eating disorders, therapist who treat patients with eating disorders and mental health communities.
Though the film may have its flaws, it still does not take away from the fact that we are discussing and sharing our experiences with eating disorders, and about representing eating disorders in media and film.
Though my experience as I watched “To the Bone” might be different from someone else’s does not mean that either of us is right or wrong. We are different, and what is important is sharing our experiences despite possible differences. I don’t know about you, but I am excited to see what comes from this.
Photos via To the Bone’s Facebook page