Learning to Love Myself

It’s October 20th, 2016.
It’s my first day of rehab.
The walls are pink.
I want to die.

The nurse gives me a white t-shirt. XXL.
Says removes your socks. Remove your underwear.
Weighs me backwards on the scale.
Something I’m used to from all the outpatient.
I hope I die.

I notice the other sick girls.
I look at the other sick girls.
I join the other sicks girls.
I am one of the sick girls.

The walls are pink.
I want to die.
Our souls are black.

My roommate tells me about the time she was hospitalized – feeding tube hospitalized. I’m jealous.

I ask to go to the bathroom. I’m escorted. I flush.
Fuck.
I wasn’t supposed to flush.

In the Pink Place, they don’t let you flush.
They flush for you.
We are the sick girls. The anorexic girls. The bulimic girls.
We can’t be trusted around food or toilets.

I want to die.
I hope I die.
I hope something goes horribly awry and I leave this place in a body bag.

The nurse hands me a paper. It’s full of stupid questions.

You are taking a big step in your journey towards recovery.

Dumb.

How does it feel to take this step?

Bad.

What are your worries?

That you’re going to kill me.

What are you excited about in your transition to our center?

I might learn some nifty new tricks.

Someone inside me opens my journal. Someone inside me puts paper to pen. Someone inside me, someone who’s not me, produces strange, foreign answers.

I am learning to love myself and take ownership of my happiness and health.

I’m beginning to realize that I’m more than my external motivators:
more than my accomplishments, more than my activities.
more than exercise, and more than food.

I’ve decided to clear away the noise and discover what’s left:
Myself.
It needs a lot of work.

For a long time, I have hated myself. So I’ve distracted myself and “perfected” myself to feel like I’m enough.

Enough.
I want to become enough.

That’s my intention at this treatment center.
That’s what I’m excited to do.

I don’t believe that I deserve to heal. I’m not even sure I want to. But obviously part of me wants to, or I wouldn’t be here right now.

I’m excited to give myself a chance at recovery, a chance at happiness, to save my life. At this point, I still feel I might relapse. But I’m at least going to give myself a try.

I’m excited to work on my perfectionism, to appreciate myself and my body, and to give myself some relief.

I’m scared of what I’m doing.
I’m scared I made a mistake in coming here.
Reality hit me hard the moment I walked in the door and received news about my bone loss.

I wished I had never come.

I wished I had stayed in my bubble, happily continuing to restrict and exercise. But I still would have lost the bones. And had I continued to live in ignorance, I would have lost so much more.

I’m scared of losing control – scared of hating myself with no control mechanism to protect me.

I’m scared to trust myself, to give myself permission to indulge, literally and figuratively.

Right now, there is a chance for me to fully recover. To get my life back. To move again. I’m heartbroken about what I’ve lost, but excited by possibility, and I’m going to lean into that in recovery.

I want to feel that I deserve this, that I can have this, that I deserve and can achieve a life of happiness, balance, and an appropriate amount of self-control. I hope recovery will teach me to love myself again, and bring me to a new place of balance and freedom where I’ve never been.

Of course this feels surreal. I never imagined that I’d wind up in an eating disorder treatment center, especially during my senior year of high school. This sucks. This is not the life I want. Not anymore. College is right ahead of me, and I’m going to get the experience I deserve. I won’t fuck it up like I did in high school.

I’m ready. I’m scared, but I’m here. I’m doing this. It’s now or never. I’m asking for the help I need, and I’m getting the life I deserve.

The page where it happened.

It is January 1st, 2020 – 3 years since I wrote that.
I went to treatment to give myself a life – and today, I am actively living that life.
But not much has changed.

I might have discharged from that center, but I am still in treatment.

Yes, I can flush my own toilet.
Yes, I can portion my own food.
Yes, I can eat meals without the pressure of a timer.

But I am still in treatment.
I am still learning to love myself.

Self-love cannot be owned, possessed, mastered, or achieved.
It can only be practiced.
Rehab does not guarantee it. It does not set it in stone.
It simply makes it accessible.

My treatment will never be finished.
It will evolve and change – it will manifest in different ways – but it will never be finished.

Last month, the words I wrote three years ago evolved, changed, and manifested themselves into a performance piece.
They moved through my body in a rhythm they decided.
I called it, “Learning to Love Myself.”

I love myself, I approve of myself, I believe in myself,”
I repeated, over and over.

I performed for myself. For my young self, my old self, my wounded self.
For the self who first wrote those words.

I pursued treatment to give myself a life, and I dedicate that life to her.
I use my newfound physical health to stand onstage and honor her.
All she ever wanted was to be seen and heard. Now she is.

I also honor Rex. (“Rex” is the name I’ve given my eating disorder: short for Anorexia, and fearsome, like a T-Rex.) I may not be the woman she wants me to be, but she made me the woman I am.

At the end of the piece, I sang a little song:

I am learning to love myself exactly as I am.
What? How?
I am learning to love myself exactly as I am.
What now?

Now? I keep going. I keep going, and I don’t give up.
I continue to lean in to possibility, like three years ago I said I would.

In 2019 alone, leaning into possibility led to my first serious romantic relationship, it led to weight restoration, it led to a yoga teacher training, and it led to this performance – all good outcomes. But outcomes are all they are.

They’re the accessory to my ensemble, the cherry atop my sundae. They’re my dessert, not my primary sustenance.

In my acting class, if someone cries while they rehearse, my teacher says, “It wasn’t good because they cried. They cried because it was good.”

By the same token, I don’t love myself because my year was good.
My year was good because I love myself.

I can’t control any of my outcomes in life. I can only control my output.
So I choose to put out trust and love.

Hear me, Universe? My heart is open.
Thank you for the guidance you’ve given me so far.
Thank you for this recovery.
I’m ready for a new assignment now.
So, show me:
What’s next?

Thank you for reading.
Love, Bella

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