Stay Together, Stay Strong

Yesterday at school I was hanging out with this girl Leah in the orchestra room. We were just hanging around talking (but if anyone asks, we were practicing!) and she was complaining about her terrible cramps.

Now, as everyone knows, the one thing girls love more than fashion is to sit around and talk about their periods. But me and Leah aren’t particularly close and I wasn’t expecting her to be so open with me.

“My cycle’s all messed up and I get really bad cramps because of my eating disorder.” She said it casually, as if she was commenting on the weather. I already knew, actually, that she had had an eating disorder last year but I didn’t know the details—and I didn’t expect to be told them either. And then I said something without thinking at all.

“Yeah, the same thing happened to me, too.”

She didn’t look shocked or amazed or anything, really. She barely even looked up from her phone. But in that moment my heart was pounding harder than it ever had.

And then she put down her phone and started to talk about it, as if we were the best of friends.

She explained her disorder to me, how she reached chronic levels of malnourishment with horrifying rapidity. How she was not only anorexic but bulimic. How she would have kept going had she not been near death.

She asked me which I had been and for how long. We talked about it for a while and I was taken aback by her honesty and sincerity. I’ve never known Leah to be the type of person to be very sincere—I always saw her as funny and interesting but sort of shallow and definitely not the sort of person who I could become close with.

But then again, she probably saw me the same way. We both play our roles, the roles we assigned ourselves, very well.

When the bell rang signaling the end of the day and we said goodbye to each other, I realized something: I had never told anyone, not even Chris or Cara or Ellie, the exact details of what had happened to me. I had never told anyone about the fear or the acute horror I felt as a result of what I had done to my body.

I didn’t want anybody, even the people who have known me at my best and seen me at my worst, to think I was damaged. A freak. But when I was talking to Leah, I felt like the most normal person in the world.

I don’t know if I managed to help her at all—she’s still recovering, still struggling. But I’d like to think that I at least reassured her that she is not alone, that she is not broken, that she is not a freak.

I don’t know if I helped her, but then on the other hand I don’t know if she wanted my help. I don’t know if she needed it. But in that moment when I was waiting for her answer—when my heart was about to beat its way out of chest because I felt so, so vulnerable—I felt so amazingly close to her even though I barely even knew her at all.

Talking to Leah, I felt safe. I felt strong. I felt like I wasn’t alone. It felt so good to recieve validation and reassurance.

Support is so, so crucial to recovery. But even more important than support is solidarity. There’s nothing quite like being able to hear from someone who’s gone through the same thing that there is a light at the end. There’s nothing quite like knowing that everything is going to be okay.

So please, to all those who are still struggling: stay together. Stay strong.

We will make it through this.

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