I once had a boyfriend named Ed. When it all started I had never been so confident. He loved me, he told me how beautiful I was, he praised me for my self-discipline, he complimented my work ethic, and he thought I was totally hot.
After a little while he started ordering my food for me at restaurants, and telling me what to wear - but he loved me, he just wanted me to be the best me I could be. Eventually though, his praise turned to micro-aggressions, and then, it got ugly.
He started telling me how worthless I was, how much I needed him, how much I would never be good enough for anyone else. He was textbook abusive. And he was me.
I was diagnosed with Anorexia on my fourteenth birthday and hospitalized 2 weeks later. It’s almost impossible to explain to people who have never been afflicted with an eating disorder what it really feels like, but this is the closest I’ve ever come. It’s as if there are two people living in your head constantly fighting for control. Eventually, his voice becomes so much louder than yours that you simply cease to exist, and he’s all that’s left.
Every now and then I could hear myself faintly in the background fighting. “Why am I cutting this piece of chicken into 500 pieces?” “I should stop walking.” “I want cheese.” “I’m scared.” “I’m dying.” And every time, just as my own voice became audible, Ed took control again.
By my fourteenth birthday I weighted just 85 pounds, and had one friend. One. She never really talked about me being sick. For months she listened to my mindless gibberish concerning exercise routines, new recipes, and how great I felt. She ‘believed’ that I had chronic stomach aches, and she never offered a word of judgement. I cherished her silence. Ed thrived in it.
About a week after I started treatment she sat across from me in the guest bedroom of my parent’s house. She was writing in a notepad. I asked her what she was doing and she told me I could read it when she was done. I sat there, for what must’ve been an hour, self-absorbed in Ed’s rhetoric of the day, until I realized she had ripped the letter to shreds. I challenged her about it, but she said it didn’t matter, and we dropped it.
She left the next morning, and I taped the letter back together, I cried. For the first time, I told Ed to fuck off and I ugly cried for hours.
Her letter wasn’t some deep heart felt letter about how I was worthwhile, or how I was her best friend and how much she cared. It carried a generally selfish and accusatory tone and read pretty much as follows:
How can you do this to me? How can you force me to watch you kill yourself? Why don’t you care how much that hurts me? How can you expect a fourteen year old to know how to deal with you? How can you ask me to pretend that you're ok? How can you ask me to love you and hate yourself so much?
Why aren't you here for me?
I had other support systems, my entire family jumped down the rabbit hole with me from day one, and for that I will never be able to truly express my gratitude. But it was this letter that I credit with pulling me back out.
My parents did all the things that parents watching their children die in front of them are supposed to do: they called doctors, they spent money we did not have, they consulted friends and family, they told me how much they loved me constantly. They did everything in their power to help me care about myself again. What they didn’t realize though, was that Ed was me, wholly and completely, and Ed didn’t give a shit about me.
My friend finally got through to me because she reminded me how much I cared about her, not the other way around.
As people, we have an inherent tendency to treat broken people with care, with a gentle touch, with caution. As broken as I was, I couldn’t accept being treated that way. I didn’t want to be treated like a child with the flu; I needed to be challenged. I needed someone to force me to give them a reason why I was hurting them. I needed to feel guilty about hurting them, because I did not feel guilty about hurting myself.
I don’t know how valuable this lesson will be to other people struggling to love and care for someone who cannot love themselves. At the very least, I hope it reminds you how much your support matters. That even though we, the broken, cannot thank you vocally, we do it in our own way. We thank you by living. By continuing to fight, and hopefully, eventually, by telling the Ed’s in our lives to get the fuck out and never come back.
It has been 8 years since I was released from the hospital; I have bad days, sure, but I have never relapsed. I realize what a rarity that is, and I thank my friend's selfish selflessness for that.