She has to want to get better

I was at inpatient for three months. Well, let’s be honest. I was there for three months minus three days. I was “better” for two months and 27 days. Then for the last three days I internally freaked out that I was nearing my “safe weight,” which to be clear was still significantly less than my goal weight. My discharge plan had me continuing to gain on my own back at home until I reached my weight range. They suggested that I continue on to an R-sponsored home care – RLP — but I was adamant about living back home in the midwest. Or rather, back home in my eating disorder. I was adamant about going to college – About getting as far away from home as possible, back with my ED, and back getting the weight off of me ASAP. At inpatient, I started getting Ulcerative Colitis symptoms, and really played it up that I was concerned about going back into a UC flare just so that I could get the hell out of there and back to my ED.

Although inpatient didn’t cure my anorexia, it did lay the foundation for my true recovery, which happened later. But there was one episode that stuck out to me. Everyone goes through “Family Weekend,” where your family comes out to visit for a long weekend and you work through group and one-on-one therapy sessions. The purpose is to help everyone express how the eating disorder has effected them, how they’re feeling, what they’re concerned about, past hurts, etc. The goal is to “unpack the baggage” that has contributed to this ED monster.

The assignment was to make an art project about how anorexia has impacted you, or made you feel. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what my family made or said — I was too busy being preoccupied with self-hatred and thinking about all the calories present in my body. But I do remember what I had made, and I think it will shed a lot of light on the disease to the loved ones of those battling it.

I made a black box, or coffin, out of construction paper. And inside the black box was a bunch of brightly colored confetti.


The box, I said, represented my disease. The brightly colored confetti was who I was pre-anorexia: I was vibrant. I was exciting. I had passion, zest, life, energy, love, zeal. Anorexia took all those things and killed them, as it was slowly killing me.


That’s the thing that people don’t understand. They see their daughter or their friend wasting away. “Where’s the silly girl I love?” “Where’s the goofy girl who loves to play outside, hang with her friends, watch movies and eat popcorn?” “Where did she go? If I could just reach her…If I could just find her again…”

And that’s precisely it. Because the truth is, If I could reach her, then I wouldn’t be here, wasting away. I’ve lost her and I cannot find her anymore either.

Loved ones don’t understand. Anorexics are typically smart girls. Brilliant, even. So then why don’t they just get it? Why don’t they just eat? “She’s a smart girl, why doesn’t she just eat the damn food!?”

I think the hardest thing about anorexia for the loved ones of the sufferers, is that they want to be able to fix it. They want to be able to cure the disease. That was my father. He was always the problem solver. That was his gift. But he saw my anorexia as a problem: I had Ulcerative Colitis and was unable to gain weight because of a medical issue: my pyloric valve was paralyzed and as a result my stomach wouldn’t empty; it hurt to eat; I wasn’t absorbing nutrients. If I could just get enough calories then I would be fixed. So he did what he does best: he problem solved. He researched weight gaining drinks and ended up finding some incredible, non-FDA approved and super-caloric weight gaining drink from Scandinavia that he had shipped to the house. He had crates of Ensure drinks in the garage. He was going to fix it. Fix me. He took walks with me to help me digest the food that I was “trying so hard to absorb.” He believed that he could fix it -That he could fix me.

But try as he might, he couldn’t. Because here’s the long and the short of eating disorders that makes them so deadly and perverse:

She has to want to get better.


Period. End of story. That’s what’s so heart breaking – is that her mom, dad, friends, boyfriend, loved ones – they can pull out their hair, bend over backwards, go to Timbuktu and back to help get her to eat and to gain weight, but at the end of the day, she has to make the decision that she wants to end the disease and get on with her life. That’s the truth. That’s what needs to be understood.

And that’s why it’s so confusing: anorexia is not about the weight. That’s why inpatient doesn’t always, or usually, work. Just because the weight is on, doesn’t mean that the disease has “left the building.” That’s why people relapse. That’s why I relapsed. Because I hadn’t silenced the voice of death yet.

44 responses to “She has to want to get better”

  1. As a father, as someone’s child, and as the former husband of a woman with bulimia – the words you write resonate inside of me with an almost palpable sound.

  2. I agree, you have to come to the end of yourself – no matter what trial you are going through right now – and want the light on the other side, want to be free from the body of death. I thank God He gives us this light, His life, in Christ.

    • Yes. It takes a lot of courage to choose the light and to let God in. But that’s all he wants to do, as evidenced by the miracle that will take place this Easter Sunday. 🙏🙏🙏

  3. Reading this entry and the “Inside My Mind” entry helped me understand your daily struggles. Based on reading about your experiences, I can only imagine what anorexia does to a person.

    I do have one question: what did you enjoy about my blog entry “Stuck on the Rim”? I did you connect with it?

  4. I’m really good at crazy, Beebs. I’m gonna go there, just for the sake of argument. You don’t have to go there with me, but you can if you like. I do think that these … uhhh … “abnormalities” in humans do have a basis. I don’t think it was fate that you face what you do or I what I or others they. I think there is a reason absorbed into real existence. What I refer to may not be measurable within a lifespan. Maybe not even within a handspan. I try to measure mine. First of all, I am very good at not getting along with anybody. I am very good at “roaring” if you will. Some people stick around, to their own detriment. Mostly they just want gossip fodder. I can’t help that. Anger. Rage. Violence. Many tendencies that for 20+ years I was able to mask completely as though they didn’t exist. I was able to play the part of mild-mannered well-focused young man. Identity has a way of catching up with spheres. Buried deep within my subconscious was a side of me that I kept holding down. Society, to get along, manners, etiquette, culture, religion all taught me that certain “behaviors” were wrong. I didn’t have anything against Jesus. In fact, when my temper boiled over, I even remember going to my brother at 7 years old (he much older) and saying I was sorry for what I had called him. Maybe I shouldn’t repeat it, but it was something like ‘¡stupid idiot!’ Oh, well, so much for not repeating it. I got into a fight at school defending the honor of my best friend. I pummeled the kid older than I as hard as I could. Fighting was constant in my home. I don’t think a day passed that I and my older brother (the second-oldest he) weren’t in a physical fight. I really don’t want to go into my history of violence, but I just wanted to make a point. I masked the violent side of me so that through high school teachers and coaches never even knew the real me. I thought I was the passive person I had become. But this is my point: I think in the subconscious is always buried that piece of me that really I truly am. Deny it I may, but it still lurks, popping those two eyeballs out in the dark and looking my way. Piercing glance, go away, or come over and turn me into the hellish monster that I am. I’m sorry. I’ve probably said too much already. I never even got to the point. I just don’t want to ruin your day any further. Chau.

    • Hi friend, thank you for sharing this. I think we have tendencies within us that stay beneath the surface. What has helped is actively seeking the good and focusing on things that are “good, right, true, lovely, honorable.” Will we give in at times? Yes. But being quick to forgive yourself is also important too. Sending hugs xox

      • Eso creo. Trato de insinuar el hecho de conocerse a uno mismo, entender la identidad lo cual vale mas que cómo otra gente nos ve. No temer a uno mismo, qué y cómo es realmente. A eso voy. Por eso tal vez no nos entendemos con claridad. Estoy diciendo que esas tendencias bajo el superficie tal vez se deben entender y no solo re-dirigir. Pero ya, pues, ¿que sé yo? Solo soy un astronauta buscando planetas que explorar.

  5. That was a very interesting post. I think that the coffin metaphor is actually strangely positive-it shows that the girl that used to be still exists and can exist again so long as she manages to break out of the coffin.

  6. “They have to want to get better” – That is true for so many mental illnesses. Doing all the steps the doctors give you is one thing, but actually deciding to want to get better is a whole other. Wanting to want to get better not the same thing. You have to WANT to recover and WANT to stop hitting the bottom of your disease to get healthy again. I really appreciate your honesty on this page.

  7. What I read through this, echoes a human story that comes from many different places, not just one of anorexia. The wisdom in the words: “i hadn’t silenced the voices of death” yet speaks volumes to anyone wrestling a demon others around them want to Fix. Thank you for sharing.

  8. I do not suffer with Anorexia, nor does anyone I know. I am only two blogs in on your page and am already starting to understand this better. Your posts are so incredibly important in raising awareness and supporting people with the same issue. You should be so proud of what you are doing, You have already made me see things differently in an incredibly short space of time and I thank you x

    • thank you so much for taking the time to read and understand. that really means a lot. it’s people like you who will change the stigma. thank you 🙂 sending hugs and love xo

  9. I have only seen people with Anorexia on Tv and have watched either on 60 minutes or 20/20 about it. And sometimes just reading about it can make me quite emotional. You are so brave and courageous…God Bless!

  10. Oh my god.. This is seriously getting emotional for me. You have just summed up so perfectly every single thing I have ever felt or wish others would understand about this disease.. nobody gets it.

  11. “She has to want to get better.” I appreciate seeing this, because I say something similar about my mathematics students. They have to want to learn. Artificial intelligence is self-contradictory, since intelligence is meaningless if not in use, and only the entity that has it can put it to use; nobody else can “program” it. And yet we can sometimes inspire others, and others can inspire us, to do things or want things. The inspiration may have to be subtle to the point of being undetectable. I am sorry when I see parents trying to force their children into doing things or wanting things. I have no personal familiarity with anorexia such as yours, but I was once a selective eater, as I mentioned in one of the blog posts (“Ahtamar Island”) that you liked. I was pretty much as Kayleigh Roberts describes herself in a 2014 essay that I have just found in the Huffington Post, republished from Bustle. Unlike Ms Roberts, I did overcome the problem before going off to college. At least, the problem went away; but perhaps I don’t really know why. I credit my family. For other more acute reasons, they had me see a Freudian psychiatrist. Our sessions never gave me a particular flash of insight, but perhaps they did allow me to relax about food and other things. I had to work for this, by being honest about what was going on in my mind. This took years. I hesitate to liken my experience to yours, and an important life lesson is that we cannot expect everybody to be alike; parents in particular cannot expect their children to be like them. But I have read a bit further in your blog, and I see the theme of self-discovery. I appreciate your sharing what you have found.

  12. Hi 🙂
    I’m only two posts in, but this is definitely a blog I’ll be coming back to whenever I have a chance. Thanks so much for stopping by my baby blog, I’m glad to have been lead back to yours!

    ~Beth Hope,

  13. I just stumbled across your blog today. I also suffered from eating disorders for years and I found writing to be soooo therapeutic. Also, I learned that finding the humor in it — the stupid, futile things I did for YEARS in an attempt to force my body into something she could never be! — helped me heal. Reading stories of others who have battled and overcome their ED monster is inspirational to me… I know how challenging it is. I know it’s not easy. And like you wrote… the first step is to actually WANT to get better. Man, it took me a long time to get to that point, but I’m so thankful that I finally did. And I’m so glad that you were able to get there as well. Looking forward to reading more of your story.

    • Hi Callie! Thank you so much for sharing your story. Amen to that – he or she has gotta want it. I’m so glad you got there too!!! Cheering for you in your recovery!! 🙂 hugs xo

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