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Becoming Real: How 'The Velveteen Rabbit' Relates to My Eating Disorder Recovery

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741741.

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit. 

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ 

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’ 

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” 

 Margery Williams Bianco, “The Velveteen Rabbit”

We all have a story of becoming “real.” Like the Skin Horse describes, it does not happen all at once; one might even say that it takes a lifetime.

I’m often asked (by friends and family, sometimes even complete strangers) why I am so open about my messy struggle with mental health, with living, or as I like to call it best — becoming real. And the honest, simple truth is this: we are all in the process of becoming real. In one way or another, we are all in the process of either accepting or rejecting becoming real. At the end of the day, we will all become real in various degrees. Beautiful, painful, broken and finally whole — this is the story of becoming real.

I’ve done “recovery” my own fair share of times. I’ve done the whole: go to treatment, do therapy, see a dietitian, gain weight, stop using behaviors more times than I can count. It hasn’t stuck yet. And I’m learning to be OK with that. Because guess what? I’m still becoming real.

Each time I’ve sought health, each commitment to recovery has moved me along on the path toward becoming real. Because the Skin Horse is right; it doesn’t happen all at once.

And like the Skin Horse tells us, it hurts some of the time.

I recently took a leave of absence from my job to continue the work of becoming real. Many people in my life — those close to me who know me best, who care about, and love me — were perhaps the most confused.

“What will make this time different?” they’d ask.

Or I’d commonly hear, “I thought you were better, that this was not a problem anymore.”

The most disheartening of all though was the silence. That condemning reticence which speaks more loudly than any confused comments.

My brain told me the silence said, “You are chronic. You are hopeless. You will never get better.”

The silence said, “You are too needy, too messed up, too unfixable for me to love.”

I filled in the silence with my most painful inner thoughts.

This is the danger of silence. This is the most common path toward the rejection of becoming real. Silence and filling the silence with more pain only makes us more prone to breaking easily, to needing to be carefully kept, to being all sharp edges. In the silence, we hear our worst fears.

So this is why I share my story. I am not recovered yet; I don’t know if I will ever feel comfortable with using that phrase.

But I am becoming real.

I woke up today and went back to work and I spoke to that familiar fear and anxiety. I filled the silence with vulnerable authenticity.

Today, I ate three meals and snacks and I tolerated the distress of completing my meal plan. I filled the silence with opposite action.

Today, I am becoming real.

It takes a long time. I might get loose in the joints, hair all loved off and very shabby. I might not be recovered today, tomorrow or even a year from now. But I am becoming real. We all are, in one way or another.

We need each other. We all need to help fill the unspoken silences with our stories of courage, of bravery and of hurting. In becoming real, we fill the frightening silence with truth — the truth that we are all human and we are all becoming real.

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.

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Getty Images photo via Vimvertigo

Originally published: January 12, 2018
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