I suffered from disordered eating for a very long time. My eating disorder began at around the age of 13, and it wasn't until my early 30s that I began to earnestly seek out and participate in the recovery process.
That's a really long time.
If I could go back in a time machine and change things, honestly, at this point, I don't know if I would. Because while I don't think it's awesome that so much of my life was spent in a sort of disordered eating haze, I believe that my disordered eating has played a big part in shaping who I am, and now that I am in a state of advanced recovery, it is giving me fuel to truly pursue who I want to be, and allowing me to help make the world better for others.
However, if I did have aforementioned time machine at my disposal, I would like to use it to go back and spend a little time with my pre-eating disorder self, say age 12 or so. Here's what I'd like to say to her.
1. It's going to get really hard for you, and I'm sorry.
It's hard to think about looking at a younger version of myself and knowing about the hard road ahead for her. It makes me feel embarrassed, like I want to protect her. But I know I can't.
But I would like, if I could, to go back and tell myself in the most loving way, "Hey, you. Things are going to get hard. Really hard. And that I am so sorry for that. But even when you can't see it, there will be people and things that will keep you going. And even though at times it will seem impossible to believe, things will get better. You will survive."
2. You're not fat.
When I look back at photos of myself during my teens (which are few and far between because I didn't like having my photo taken) I don't see a girl who is as "fat" as I felt or feared. I'd like to go back, look her in the eyes, and tell this version of me that she is not fat, she never was fat, and that all of the people who ever called her fat (which were really not that many, because I wasn't!) could go f%*& themselves. Oh, and at least one of those rare boys who called her fat ended up becoming a train wreck drug addict / petty criminal, so there.
3. You're good enough.
I'm not sure where my fear of not being good enough comes from, but it is something that still plagues me today. I didn't have abusive parents, I didn't have some tyrannical coach who brought down my self esteem, I didn't have friends who berated me. I mean, I had moments of frisson with figures of authority, but I can't point to a pivotal experience that would have made me feel lesser-than.
I can only assume that since I am a pretty driven person, it's just that I am really tough on myself. So I really would like to go back, and whisper it in my own ear at that moment right before I fall asleep, over and over: "You are good enough. You are good enough. You are good enough."
And I wouldn't mind it if someone did that to me today, either.
4. There's not just one path.
Girl, you're going to follow the rules for a long time. You're going to get a job, you're going to advance, you're going to get married, you're going to start a business, you're going to get 2 dogs, you're going to get a house, you're going to open a retail store.
And then shit is going to happen, and you're not going to be married, you're not going to have a house, you're only going to have one dog before you get the second back again, and you're going to close the retail store. Don't worry, you'll keep the business.
All of those things are, for a while, going to turn you upside down and to make you think you've messed up all of the things you should do in life. But you haven't messed up by veering off path. If anything, it was veering off path that saved you and took you down the road of eating disorder recovery.
5. Your so-called failures are going to offer the greatest learning experiences.
You're going to, by society's definition, "fail" at a lot of things. For instance, divorce. Many look at it as a failing (you will too, for a long time). Listen, getting divorced is not going to be awesome, but it's going to make you a more compassionate, kind, and less judgmental person.
When you close your store, a lot of people are going to assume that it is because you've hit financial rock bottom. Even while that is not true, you're going to absorb that and feel like a failure. But closing your store is what allows you to travel and see the world. If you kept the store, you never would have gone to Bali, or Puerto Rico, or Santa Fe, or Philadelphia. You never would have started doing yoga, which ends up changing your life for the better.
It's cheesy to say that when one door closes another opens, but it's also, you know, the truth.
6. You're going to be able to do badass splits in yoga.
I'm not gonna lie, I would relish the opportunity to brag to my 12-year old self about some of the stuff I can do now that I never thought I could do then. So I'd probably not only tell her but demonstrate that I can do totally badass splits in yoga.
I've always been naturally flexible, but I never really had the chance to discover how flexible. Other than playing soccer and flirting with track in middle and high school, I never really exercised (other than walking) until I was 30. When I took up yoga, I was surprised and delighted to learn that not only was I flexible, I was very flexible, and I could do some very cool-looking poses in yoga. No, not what yoga is about, at all, but it made me feel GREAT and empowered, and there is something good to that, I think.
I like to think that I'd knock my 12 year old self's socks off with my current yoga prowess.
7. You're going to break the rules, brilliantly.
So, I've already told my 12-year old self that there's not just one path, and that sometimes, following the trajectory of how life "should" be doesn't quite work out.
But I'd also like to make it very clear to my pre-eating disorder self that she's going to really break the mold in some fabulous ways. That she's going to be told that going to art school is a bad idea, but will do it anyway. That she's going to start a company unlike any other, with no "proven track record" and that it's going to take off. That she's going to pave an unlikely path that, amazingly, allows her to do all of the things that she loves and is good at. That she's going to learn the rules, and then she's going to break them, brilliantly. And that I'm so proud of her for it.
8. You will have a lot of friends.
My eating disorder started in high school but truly kicked into high gear during college. This was a time when a lot of people were spending time discovering themselves, making fools of themselves in relationships, and forging relationships with friends that would last for life.
I spent a lot of time without friends, because my eating disorder was more important to me and kept me isolated. I felt like I had missed the boat on making friends in adulthood, and that maybe I was just destined to have a variety of friendly acquaintances, my deep friendships reserved for people I had met in childhood.
I'd like to tell my pre-eating disorder self that this is going to be scary and a bummer for a long time, but that when she is ready to get help, she's also going to discover that she's able to make friends, and she's going to have so many good ones that she will need to pinch herself daily to make sure she's not dreaming, they're truly that awesome.
9. You're going to emerge as a better person.
Like I mentioned before, this exercise isn't about wanting to go back and change the past; it would be more about wanting to tell myself that the future is going to be OK.
To that point, I'd like to tell my pre-eating disorder self that after she decides that she's truly ready to re-join the world, she is in fact going to emerge from the disorder as a better person. In some ways a more tender person, and not without faults, but a better person.
10. You're going to help people.
Yes, little 12 year old Jessie, you're going to have a long, hard battle with an eating disorder. That part really effing sucks. But there is going to be good that comes from it.
You're going to help people that are going through what you did.
You're going to make yourself available via email, phone, and in person to anyone who asks for help. You're going to give advice, you're going to listen, you're going to let them know they are not alone.
You might not be able to stop other people from developing or suffering from eating disorders. But you can certainly help them on their path.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-eating disorder self?