I am not my eating disorder. Over the course of my life, I have loved it, hated it, ignored it. For a long time, I thought we were inextricably intertwined. We are not. My DSM code is not tattooed on my skin, ranked on a scale of mild to severe. There is no list hanging anywhere of how many times I have had to drink a Boost (Just the one. It was Very Vanilla, during lunch after a body image group, on pizza day. And I cried.) My obituary will not list "IOP, DTP, IOP, Outpatient, IOP," as the main part of my life. I am not my diagnosis.
I am a galaxy of thoughts and dreams and ideas. I am a collection of everything I have ever done and everything I will ever do. I am stardust, I am sparkles, I am a million tiny pieces. I am the time I fell off my bike when I was 8 and bled up and down the cul-de-sac. I am the time I ran into a filing cabinet and split my cheek open and needed stitches. I am every book I have ever read and every boy I have ever kissed.
My eating disorder does not make me special. There is no pride in torturing myself, in suffering alone in quiet agony. I am playing a game, but only with myself, and there is no prize waiting for me at the end. Countless women have gone through treatment before me, and countless will come after I leave. None of us is a special snowflake, no matter how much we may think that is the case. There are 30 million other Americans just the same, all believing they are special snowflakes too. They aren't.
My body is not an apology. I do not need to starve myself in a desperate attempt to take up less space in this world. I was not meant to shrink quietly and fade into the background, tiptoeing around and moving soundlessly through my own life. Food was not meant to be earned by exercising, by meeting a goal, by somehow becoming worthy through arbitrarily defined means of achievement. It does not need to be justified to others, or to you. Numbers do not define me. I cannot be defined. I am indefinable.
I was meant to take up space, to make an impact on the world. My voice was meant to be heard, to be shouted from the rooftops without fear of judgment from others or myself. My body holds within it unlimited potential, held back only by my continued preoccupation with its outer appearance bolstered by societal expectations and a lifetime of negative thinking.
How terribly sad it would be to look back on my life at the age of 75 or 80 or 85, only to come to realize everything I never did. How I never felt the wet sand on my feet and the salty ocean water envelop my body because I was too embarrassed to be seen in a bathing suit. How I spent an absolute eternity wondering what an apple fritter from Starbucks must taste like because I was terrified of ordering one — even when they were on sale for only a dollar — because I couldn't allow myself the extra calories that day. How I never got my novel written because all I could think about was the food I ate and the food I was going to eat and the food I would never eat all on an endless loop in my head at maximum volume over and over every second of every day with no way to make it stop or even just turn it down for one single solitary second.
There could be a world in which I am someone else entirely. In this world, I would have an whole personality and life that does not revolve around food outside of my capacity to host a fabulous dinner party and make a kickass peach pie. I would wake up every morning and surround myself with people and things that I love, basking in sunshine and crossword and warm coffee and happiness and probably a croissant, which might even be the same thing as happiness, I don't know.
This other world doesn't exist right now, but that doesn't mean it never could. I am slowly creating this world every day, with every meal I eat and every feeling I share and every word I write. I will create a life for myself in which I am who I want to be. I am not my eating disorder.
Bio: Rachel is a 22-year-old communications professional who lives and works in DC. She has been in recovery from a 10-year struggle with EDNOS since graduating college in May 2013. When she isn't trying to squash cognitive distortions, she is usually writing, going to the movies by herself, or defending Taylor Swift from a feminist perspective.