I wrote this letter in October 2015. After over three years intensive treatment, 4 years with a diagnosis and virtually a lifetime struggling I so want to bid a final farewell to anorexia. That is yet to happen but it’s still my aim!
I’ve been thinking about this letter for a few days, starting different sentences in my head, thinking about what I might say to you, and now I’m tapping away at the keyboard so that I can get this job done because this is not easy for me to do. This feels very strange to write, this is the first time I’ve addressed you directly and while writing this I’m imagining you inside the computer screen. I’m facing you and picturing you and looking you up and down. I cannot work out whether you are a flawless beauty or hideously disfigured but either way I know I still find you enticing. I guess related to this is the other reason this is strange and hard to write: I, am writing, to you. There is a ME and a YOU and we are separate. It’s not us, it’s not Bethany the anorexic, it’s me writing to you and we are not one in the same. The main reason this is a hard letter to write is because, despite it being the first time I’ve written to you, this letter has a simple message. I want to say goodbye.
I’m not sure I remember the first time we met and I’m almost certain that the first time I would have been aware of you was not the first day you were in my life. Perhaps you have always been there? Maybe you were behind the feeling of inadequacy right from the start, you then gained slightly more control when these feelings got pinned on my body. Was it you who taught me that the most valuable thing about myself is my negative space?
Thinking about this is complicated and hard to make sense of or put simply. I guess it’s complicated when external events seemed to cause the feelings I have but maybe I’d have reacted and coped and processed the difficult experiences better if you weren’t around. You’re friends also make this complicated, you know the ones I’m talking about because you’re always hanging around with one of them, depression and anxiety is it? You hang around with others too – perfectionism never leaves your side although I knew her before I knew you and she can be really helpful when not led astray by you.
I don’t remember how aware I really was of your existence before the realisation that you had made a home in my brain. “Anorexia is skinny girls who choose not to eat” was probably the extent of my knowledge but I’m really not sure, I guess it never really crossed my mind. What I definitely couldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams was that I’d ever be at a point of writing to you after having been in the most intimate relationship of my life with you.
A time that sticks out for me was a particular day in October 2011, I think it was the 8th but I’m not sure. I had a saxophone audition for a top wind symphony orchestra I was told I was good enough for. I ate no breakfast claiming I was “far too nervous” and went off to the audition feeling a buzz from emptiness. I was aware I perhaps needed more energy to do my best in the audition but all I keep hearing in my head was how I wasn’t going to get in anyway because I was rubbish and should have worked harder because there were so many people better than me it’s embarrassing I even bothered. Anxiety overwhelmed me and I burst into tears on leaving the room crippled by the thoughts of all the mistakes I had made. When I arrived home I started a food diary and by the end of the day I had my structure and process for detailed documentation of the nutritional information of my daily intake. The 8 baby tomatoes and half a hot cross bun I had eaten that day sat in their neat boxes surrounded by plenty of blank spaces. Again the blank, the empty and the negative held far more value that anything full. The next morning I weighed myself and well, you took control. This wasn’t the start of our relationships but I feel this was the day I became your puppet. I can see now how you’d spent my whole life up till then forming, placing and securing the strings and in the last few months you’d been climbing high enough to pull me up and now you were totally in control.
The details of the next years to pass aren’t important for this letter. For me what is important is that I say thank you to you for the things you did for me. I have spent a long time in love with you. Sure, I’ve hated your guts the whole time alongside but you don’t give so much attention to, spend so much time with or go so out of your way to please someone you aren’t in love with. Like I said, a flawless beauty and so enticing.
It’s difficult to know where to start with this bit because in many ways you gave me absolutely everything and breaking it down sounds far too simplistic. But here goes an outline. You gave me control. You gave me a sense of success and achievement. You gave me a distraction. You gave me the pain I deserve but also a reason to receive the care and nurturing I craved from other people. You gave me an excuse to be sad and broken without having to tell people the real reasons that I was. You gave me hope. I believed every day that this incredible world, a world of perfect peace and happiness was always just a week away if I lost just a bit more weight. That if I worked hard, obeyed you, suffered and endured then it would all be worth it, in just a few days it would all be okay.
While consumed in your world and your reality I didn’t have to think about much more than that. This was a relief and perhaps it saved me, because how could I possibly truly be present in a world that had caused me so much pain. Where such terrible things are allowed to happen. Where no one knew anything of the events that consumed my mind and where I felt so misunderstood. No one knew about the tear stains pillows, blood stained towels, and bruise stained body or worse of all about the stains to my innocence, to my heart, to my mind and to my future. Focusing on your voice, vacantly performing your wishes meant I could shut things out. I felt so in control while, for want of better phrasing, I was under your spell. Calculated, precise, my choice. Action and reaction all in the way we wanted. Eat less, weight goes down. Simple, predictable, controlled. The total opposite to my world.
While what I’ve written there speaks about what you gave me in the dark days, I guess that while being in recovery I still have been walking with you and not saying goodbye and perhaps the things you have given me during this phase are harder to say I don’t need anymore. Appointments and hospitals come along with concern, tests, labels and questions. I felt understood. My thoughts, feeling and behaviours have a name and someone knows how crap this all is for me. I’ve never wanted to let you go but this different perspective, these new words I can hear are a relief. Our relationship during this time has given me choice. I can choose whether I’m going to swing more between listening to the professionals or to you. Do I want people to feel proud of me today or do I need people to be worried and step up the help I’m getting? I think you actually loved this time we had together because it’s when you could truly try out just how sneaky and manipulative you can be. I bet you loved the days I surrendered to you again, confessing my love and telling you “I am sorry for trying recovery, I know now that you are right and you will save me and protect me lets go for 5kg less again”.
But the things is, I may have weak moments where I run back into your arms, and you may have strong moments when you snatch me back. But despite all these things you give me, I don’t want to know of your existence anymore. I want to break completely free because yes, you’ve given me a lot but you’ve also taken so much away from me, held me back, caused devastation in my family, damaged my body, consumed a brain with so much more potential. You are evil, pure evil.
You made me miss out on going to uni for three years in a row. But worse than that you made me think that this didn’t matter and that I didn’t care anyway. That’s the worst thing you did, the biggest negative impact you’ve had and the thing that perhaps has kept me by your side so long. You made me believe that none of the things you took away from me mattered. You made me honestly believe that if I was listened to you and stayed small I would be happier than being at uni, going on nights out with friends, travelling the world, playing sport, performing in concerts, getting my a-levels, enjoying time with my family. I’m sorry but, how dare you! I think this is still the thing im finding hardest because a lot of the time I still believe you can make me happy and in the moments in between im so angry that you have the power to do that. You made a 16 year old starve herself until she weighed less than she did when she was 10. You made me push my body to the point of organ failure. You made me have to spend 8 months away from anyone I knew and loved, detained against my will in hospital. You made me have to experience having tubes shoved up my nose and be knocked out by medication. You made me finally come to the conclusion that life wasnt worth living and so came along many days of ambulances, hospitals, drips, stitches, police restraints and sections.
Worst of all, absolutely worst of all you killed an incredible friend of mine. I could write a whole separate letter about this but basically, I hate you for taking someone so precious to me and many others who deserve so much more life that they got. You’ve killed so many with friends and family and futures. 1 in 5 suffered die at your hands. You are disgusting and I hate you for this.
And still now, in the few days in-between deciding to say goodbye to you by writing this letter and actually writing it you’ve been bullying, controlling and intimidating me. I think the control you have is what’s most scary yet half the time you’ve manipulated me so much that I’m rushing around doing everything I need to do, pleasing everyone, impressing everyone, achieving things, feeling so proud of myself for being on top of everything when in reality it’s your crack of the whip that gets me through my to do lists because I have to do everything perfectly and to your standards. But then there is the times, the all too often times where your control turns me into someone I don’t even recognise and certainly do not want to be. I’m twenty years old and I scream and stomp and cry and collapse on the floor in hysterical sobbing and wailing. I throw things, I break things, I smash my head against things, I cut myself. You have so many channels for expressing your needs through my behaviours. I actually think worse than these outward outbursts of emotion that are new and terrifying for me is the much more familiar reaction that I and my family are all to use to now. The silence, the no reaction at all, paralysed, glazed over and barely present in reality. Sometimes I can hear the voices of those around me either desperately concerned if they haven’t seen me like this much or its mum pleading with me and getting upset and frantic. But the voices sound so distant and I’m lost listening to you, either your calming soothing voice of promises or your angry punishing voice of criticism. Why do you set so many rules? Why do I have to eat certain foods on days at certain times? Why do I have to stand up all day and look like the biggest twat ever for refusing to sit down for a whole lesson when everyone else is? Why can’t I eat out of any bowl I chose? Why can’t I decide to spend time with my godson rather than go to the gym? Why do I have to get up at 6:20 every single fucking day?
It’s hard to work out why, after all this pain you cause, it’s difficult to think about letting go but I guess I explained why though all the things you gave me. You are illogical and make no sense. It should be and often seems such a simple decision to walk away and live freely, but it’s not. It’s really fucking hard and painful. I think I’m going to miss you for a while, but each time I do I will simply remember that you are trying to kill me. Each time I do I will remember that I only miss you because there is a still a small part of you in my brain and if I keep pushing further away and creating new memories that do not involve you, this part will eventually go away and I will shudder to think I nearly didn’t make the decision to live free, being so grateful that I did because I will be achieving so much and will be happy.