subject line: one survivor to another

 

my living room floor

Dear 18 year old Survivor,

Congratulations on two years. As someone who has been there, I want you to know how proud I am of you. What an incredible accomplishment to give yourself two years of love, care, and gentleness. Two years of grace and healing. I pray you have many, many more.

I love your story; it’s one of victory and we need those. You see, survivors of eating disorders and self-injury seem to tell their stories far too infrequently. Both are so easily misunderstood, but there are people still living in isolation who need to know they are not alone. Telling your story will bring light and hope to people still walking through the lowest hell of those afflictions. Your story makes me want to tell mine.

I am a perfectionist with a strong need for control who grew up in a home where abuse was more common than breathing. I had no one to believe in me and no one to notice the damage I was inflicting on my own body. I was skipping meals by the time I was 13 and self-injury followed shortly after. I started scratching my wrists with a safety pin, but soon that was not enough. I burned my skin with lighters and slashed my legs and stomach with razor blades. I was not trying to kill myself, a common misconception. I just needed some way to show on the outside how much pain I was feeling on the inside. I carved into my flesh the words hurled at me by my abusers: worthless, failure, stupid, fat, whore, and much worse.

At the same time, my weight was plummeting and no one seemed to notice. Or so I thought. One of the women at my church called my mother and expressed her concerns. Instead of offering to find me help, my mother called me an attention seeking liar. She told me it was normal for teenage girls to skip meals and workout multiple times a day. I vowed that day to become better at hiding my pain and self-inflicted punishment. So I did. I was an expert at dodging questions, deflecting suspicion, and faking smiles. But I was dying inside and desperate for help. I thought I couldn’t ask for it because there was nothing wrong with me, according to my mother. I was fine and should stop wasting people’s time with imagined difficulties.

Then my mother kicked me out and I went away to college. My freshman year I collapsed in a friend’s dorm room and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I realized that day how badly I needed help. I wish I could say I got it and everything got better. I didn’t. It didn’t.

I fought for years to get my life back. I was in and out of therapy. I would do better for a while and then something major would happen and I would fall back to the comfort I felt by controlling my eating and inflicting physical pain to match my emotional turmoil. Eventually, the good times grew longer and longer and the relapses shorter and shorter. I clawed my way out of the dark, by the grace of God and the love of a good support system. Some days are still a fight, but it is a fight I now know I can win.

I will never rid my body of the scars I inflicted, but I no longer see them as a sign of weakness or failure. They are a reminder that I survived. I fought my demons and won. I see them and am reminded of my strength. For me, it’s been four years since the last time I cut my own skin and three years since my last major relapse. I look forward to many more.

So, dear Survivor, when you have difficult days, know you are not alone. Know that, even though I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine, I am on your side. Know I am praying for you and believe you can navigate these waters with grace. From one survivor to another, you are beautiful, worthy, and loved. Always.

Sincerely,
31 year old Survivor