His voice curled around my waistline
And tickled every toe,
Breathing out security from his lips and his nose.
My knight in shining armor,
My king upon his throne.
And my home.
He Who Made Me Stronger did not start as a book idea. It started in a small group room of a psychiatric hospital where I was being treated for an eating disorder. As I sat scared and uncomfortable, the therapist walked in with a bowl of folded pieces of paper and instructed each of us to pull a slip out and follow the prompt written down. I slowly drew my legs away from my chest and pulled out a piece that read, “write instructions on how to cry.” As soon as my pen hit the paper, I felt my body relax. My leg that always bounced to burn calories stopped moving. My bottom, which always sat on the edge of my chair to prevent me from feeling comfort eased back. Words poured out of me and the eating disorder voice became quiet.
Growing up, I read any book I could get my hands on. When I entered middle school and was exposed to poetry for the first time, I fell in love. Poetry is an art form that reflects the human struggle; it is raw and unapologetic. It flows easily at times and others it is choppy and full of emotions we have all felt but find hard to name. When you look at a poem, you know what it is, but it isn’t until you have read it, digested, and questioned it that you find what it means to you. In my writing, I found my avenue for healing. It was the first instance in my eating disorder journey where I felt confident that I knew my illness. When I put it on paper, read it, and got to know its language I discovered I was strong enough to question its words.
Whenever I did not understand where I was underneath its screams, I wrote. Blank pages became the only safe place I could pour out the anger, the fear, and the twisted sense of security the eating disorder gave me. Over time, as it took more of what I loved away, my words turned against it. In placing his narrative on paper, I took ownership of the strength it had not been able to remove from me. Personifying the eating disorder helped me and those who loved me, to understand that no matter what it promised, at the end of the day, its words were empty. I chose to personify my eating disorder as a male figure because the voice I heard in my head when it demanded I restrict or over-exercise, was loud and masculine. The relationship I shared with the illness was abusive. When I did not do as he told, I was yelled at and punished. When I did as he demanded, I was soothed and rewarded. The relationships I held outside the illness with men were strong and supportive; none compared to the harmful bond I shared with the illness.
After nine years of battling back and forth between keeping the eating disorder and entering recovery, I chose to start with one small step. I took every poem I had written while sick and put them in chronological order. He Who Made Me Stronger is a collection of these poems and a reflection of my journey from sickness to healing.
No one chooses to have an eating disorder yet each person who suffers is gifted with the opportunity to choose to heal. Unlike other illnesses, when one chooses to heal, they become the leader of their journey. In recovery, you are given the chance to re-imagine life without the illness. You learn tools to strengthen healthy-self dialogue and undergo incredible transformations.
Writing is one of the most powerful tools one can use when embarking on a healing journey. Whether you write about how your day went, how you are feeling or not feeling, something you learned, or are grateful for, you are creating your healthy self. Taking words out of the brain where they swirl or sit and putting them on a concrete surface allows you to let go of the weight they carry; you become the reader. As a reader, you are given the power to leave words on the page or bring them into your personal story.
Writing in a healing arena allows you to examine the stories you believe. For so long I bought into the story the eating disorder was telling me. I believed I was unlovable and unworthy. When I finally wrote his words down, I realized they did not belong to me. My narrative was one rooted in love and authenticity, he was ugly and unkind. To see the differences between our stories allowed me to create a new narrative for myself; one that better aligned with my values. When I separated myself and became the reader of his story, I found the strength to put his words away.
Learning his words allowed me to better learn my own. My voice became louder and stronger, and over time I heard mine before I heard his. Writing allowed me to turn my recovery into an art. It became a concrete way for me to weave the strong emotions and even stronger actions of recovery into a story that truly felt like mine. When coupled with healing, writing takes on a whole new meaning; it left me bolder and braver than when I met the page blank. Finding your voice in recovery is essential to healing; and art, through the written word, taught me that even when your voice feels lost you can always begin to meet it again on a fresh page.
Writing helped me move beyond imperfection; to dare to make mistakes and choices that would hurt in the moment and heal in the long run. It asked me to go deeper, to surrender even when I felt I had given my all. It met me in my illness and only got stronger in my healing.
My wish for those who are exploring writing as a tool for healing is that they find the art within their own stories. That they use their words to build strength, harness courage and move into lives where they triumph over struggle. Healing is an art that we are born with; one we are gifted with the grace to rise into. Words when unified with the human spirit create healing; and where there is healing, there is hope: an essential tool for the journey.
Four inches deep in a bubble bath, I say this prayer aloud:
“Body, I love you.
All that I have is yours.
Yours I am.
Yours I want to be.
Do with me whatever you will.”