By: Etta Eckerstrom
As Valentine’s Day approaches, the emphasis is on celebrating romantic relationships. Flower and chocolate sales skyrocket, dinner reservations are made, and cute social media posts abound. I may be single this year, but I’m choosing to celebrate another relationship: the one with myself.
Flashback to last Valentine’s Day, and I was deep in recovery for anorexia. Each week consisted of another doctor’s appointment, another day to follow my meal plan, another struggle to fight the voices in my head that told me I didn’t deserve to be healthy. The ones that promised that if I stayed within the prison I built for myself, I would finally be enough on a campus and in a society that screamed out all the ways I didn’t measure up.
I lost much more than weight when I was in the depths of my eating disorder. My desire to be around people. My passion and love for music. My ability to feel. Certainly any love for my self. All gone. My days were structured around workouts and how many hours I could last without eating. My worth was based off the number the scale flashed back at me and how “good” I had been with the food I did consume. Mental space that had once been devoted to school, relationships, and dreams became a home for my preoccupation with how I could minimize the physical space I occupied. My value was based off these numbers and ability to follow my eating disorder’s rules. But even as these numbers fell lower, it was still never enough. My life was no longer mine. I was no longer me.
It wasn’t until I hit my stride in recovery that things began to change. It didn’t happen overnight, and I don’t think I could identify a single moment where I realized things began to change. Slowly but surely, however, the passion for things I loved, and people, and life, started to return. I imagine it was what Dorothy felt like, stepping out into the Land of Oz: a world, lived in only shades of black and white, suddenly flooded with color. I did not realize what a shadow of my former self I had become until I could feel and breathe and think clearly again. Any sort of social interaction, once a treacherous, exhausting game of “how normal can I act?”, became something I craved. Music, once senseless noise, made me feel alive again. Even the simple things, like walking across campus without feeling dizzy, became something to notice and celebrate, another sign that I was becoming healthy again.
I no longer take the simplest gifts of life for granted. I love that I can love. I love that I can feel. I love that there are so many things in this world that I am passionate about, and that I now have the freedom to devote my whole self to them. But the greatest gift recovery gave me is the ability to love myself. To see that I am worthy. To see that not only can I give myself love, but I deserve it. I deserve the happiness and life that I stole back from my eating disorder. I deserve to wake up, look in the mirror, and tell myself how beautiful I look today. I deserve to put on my favorite song and dance, just because I can. Because it makes me feel good. I deserve moments of peace, and rest, and bliss. I deserve to live fearlessly and unapologetically and to be my imperfect, often messy self. People may wonder why I care so much about this cause. Having come from the empty place I once allowed myself to be, and seeing how embracing self-love has had a ripple effect throughout the rest of my life, I feel a need above all else to help others experience the same. Once you embrace true, radical, self-love, I truly believe it has the power to change your life. It has certainly changed mine. If everyone could learn to cultivate a radical self love, think of how we could all love each other more?
All of the energy spent trying to fit ourselves into an impossible mold, all the time spent dwelling on what we aren’t could be spent using what we are to build others up. At the end of the day, we all have a finite time on this earth. One life to live as we choose. Why would we choose to spend it hating what is ultimately just a vehicle for our souls? I want to lead by example, and change our culture of comparison, to one where every individual can see their inherent worth, worth that ultimately lies far beyond our physical bodies. Even now, however, I am not perfect in this endeavor. I still have days where that voice inside my head rattles off the ways in which I could be doing more, always more. But those days have become fewer and farther between. And when they arise, all it takes is reflecting on the beauty of the life I built back up to remind me that the voice is a lie. I am always grateful when I can silence the voices that used to drown out all else. So this Valentine’s Day I will buy myself flowers for my room. I will buy myself chocolate, and savor every bite. I will surround myself with people I love, and people who love me back. I will love myself with the same love I strive to show other people everyday. Life is too short, too precious, to let it pass by in a prison of self loathing. You are worthy. You can find hope and healing and happiness. But you have to choose it. You have to choose recovery. And you have to choose happiness. I hope you choose wisely. You deserve it.
About the Author: Etta resides in Nashville, TN. She is earning a degree in public health and psychology from Vanderbilt University. At Project Heal, Etta is dedicated to having a positive impact, directly or indirectly, on those who are in recovery. She is passionate about empowering others and educating people on eating disorders. She can often be found studying at coffee shops around Nashville, going for a run, and spending time with friends. Etta’s favorite ice cream flavor is anything with chocolate.