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Dear Gracie Gold (and Anybody Else Entering Treatment for an Eating Disorder)

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Dear Gracie Gold (and anybody else entering treatment for an eating disorder),

When I read the news that you were taking a break from figure skating to pursue treatment for an eating disorder and depression, I wanted to reach out.

Your situation sounds unique, a perfect storm of physics and appearance, where what you weigh and how your weight is distributed can affect your performance. I can’t possibly know what that pressure is like, but I do know something about eating disorders. I had one. I had to seek treatment, too. And as a person in recovery, I know you know you’re in for the fight of your life. I wish it were different, that we could do what so many people on social media and in casual conversation seem to think is the solution: just eat. We both know that if it were that easy, we’d be cured in a second. Nobody thinks they’re going to get so sick they’ll need to upend their lives to get better. But that’s the trick with eating disorders, isn’t it? They seem so simple, especially to outsiders, who seem to sometimes think our mental illness was a choice.

But I would never have chosen it. Eating disorders damage our bodies and play with our minds. Sure, maybe it seemed a little romantic at first, swearing off food. Maybe there was a prom or a wedding or a competition to look forward to, one that would be so much better experienced “thinner.”

It’s like a car accident. You don’t get in the car thinking it will crash. But when it does, it shocks and shatters you even as it takes over your common sense and rationality. Before you know it, the eating disorder controls you, not the other way around, and you realize there is no quick fix. It’s terrifying to think you could be stuck with this for the rest of your life.

Still, if you’re an optimist like me, you wish for a simple solution. I can’t count the times I yearned to visit the doctor and walk out with a one-tablet-heals-all pill. But here’s the truth of it all:

You are the only person who can get yourself well. You can go to the most famous doctors, the best facilities, be in the most wonderful support groups and to truly recover you might need them all, but if you aren’t 100 percent committed, you’re in for a long, discouraging ride.

Recovery is hard. On those early, tortured days of forced meals, nutrition drinks and endless therapy, my mind, heart and body screamed to fall back into old habits. Long-buried emotions that made me feel like I was in a hole so deep I’d never escape popped up and stayed with me for days. There were so many times I just wanted to go back to my eating-disordered life. It seemed easy and safe compared to this hard, new reality, where I lived in anxious fear of gaining weight, of starting to eat and never being able to stop.

I was most terrified, though, of all the time I’d have if my eating disorder left me. How would I fill it? What would I think about? And, most importantly, who would I be without my eating disorder? I truly didn’t know, and it kept me up at night, worrying that I’d be left a shell of myself, devoid of interests and passion.

But as hard as those early recovery days are, it gets better.

I’ve been in recovery for 13 years. I fill my time with so many things — baking, reading, exercising, socializing, being a mom and wife, writing books — all things I didn’t do when I was sick.

There are times, still, when I have to fight to stay well, but I fight like hell because living without an eating disorder is worth every single tear, moment of heartache and setback that came with facing my illness.

And there might be setbacks. And that’s OK. Just like people, recovery isn’t perfect. It takes time. What’s important is that you pick yourself back up when you fall and keep trying.

Because recovery is worth it. People I know who have struggled with eating disorders — or other mental illnesses — are some of the most compassionate and caring people I know. I consider them — all of us — to be warriors. And when you’ve beaten it, and I know you can, I hope you will consider your recovery to be one of the biggest and most difficult achievements of your life. Because it is.

And I haven’t even told you the best part yet (at least for me). The most amazing thing, the benefit I am thankful for every waking day, is this: I have a life now. A real life. A life where I might eat a meal and then never, ever, think about it again. A life where I enjoy eating out with my friends, family and even myself. A life where I enjoy food, where I spend the day doing things I love instead of spending every hour as a slave to my eating disorder.

A life where I like being me.

You can have it, too. You just need to get through the hard parts. And at first, they are all hard parts.

But they don’t last.

And someday, you might find yourself writing a letter like this one to somebody else who is struggling.

So go for it, Gracie. Cry, scream at the sky, punch pillows as much as you need. But keep fighting. And know that you have thousands of eating disorder survivors cheering you on from the sidelines, people who know what it’s like to have to fight for your life.

Because it’s worth it.

You’re worth it.

Follow this journey on Alexandra Ballard’s site

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead photo via Gracie Gold’s Facebook page

Originally published: October 23, 2017
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