What We Need You to Know

I need you to know that my healing requires space from the reaches of diet culture. I am un-learning lessons of self-hatred, carving out freedom from what feels like the constant command to make myself smaller. I am saying no. I will not be reduced, I will no longer fit myself into a mould that wasn’t cast for me, I will not be contained by numbers, labels, or language around my food or my body.

I need you to know that my body does not describe my experience and in order for me to heal, I must let go of the urge to try to tell my story and my suffering through my physical form. I am finding my words and I need you to hear them. I cannot give you an easily measurable experience of living with and recovering from an eating disorder - just as my weight does not contain my worth, neither does it contain the depths of this experience so please do not look for it there. I need you to know (because it takes the world just to remind myself) that my struggle is valid at any weight, shape, size, age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic background, and so on.

I need you to know that the stereotype of an eating disorder serves no one, that my struggle with an eating disorder is valid when I am a person with a “larger” body, a person of colour, LGBTQ+, older, or male. I need you to see my struggle and to hear my words over judgment, stigma, and stereotypes. I need you to design services that screen for my lived experience and help support my unique needs on this journey through recovery.

I need you to know that just because my body may change during recovery, it is nothing compared to the deep-rooted changes occurring in my mind, my soul, and my very ways of being. The hardest work in recovery (and the most meaningful) is often invisible except perhaps in the long term when you see me pursuing my dreams, living my values, and engaging with others again as my authentic self. For a long time when you tell me I look “healthy” I may only hear a commentary on my body. Just tell me you love me, that you’re proud of me, that you’re here for me because that’s all that’s at the bottom of “you look healthy” anyway.

I need you to know that this is about more than the surface of things, both my struggle with my eating disorder and my recovery from it. It was never about vanity. It was always a pain lived out through actions against my body and my being that lay farther beneath. It has always been about coping and now… learning to cope in new ways and to dig deep into the work of recovery, a process unique to each person.

I need you to know that it’s not as simple as choice, neither my eating disorder nor my recovery from it. That is not to say I am powerless, merely that there are some things beyond my control, that it is human nature to tend to do whatever possible to avoid discomfort, and that the choice to recover is not one choice, it is many choices made again and again, every moment of every day. There are times I may be more able to make these choices consistently, or even with confidence, but I must be well enough in the first place for this capacity to exist more fully. When it is hard for me to make these choices it does not mean I do not want recovery with all my heart, just that it is hard to imagine much outside of where I am now. With the right support, I can regain my independence in making these choices again and finding a place where recovery seems clearer again.

I need you to know that hope and compassion do worlds more for healing than fear, guilt, or shame ever can. I know hope is hard, I struggle with having hope too sometimes, but hope is what I need to help me move forward. Please hold onto hope for me when I am struggling to hold onto hope for myself until I am strong enough to find it again and carry it on my own.

These are the things I need you to know - as the public, as friends, family, loved ones, as doctors, nurses, therapists and everyone else helping me on my way.

- the many words and experiences of the beautiful people in this community, compiled (with some poetic license) by S. Ritchey