As a little girl, my abuelita raised me in Portage Park. The red brick bungalow house stood out from the gloomy brown ones all over Waveland street. “Ven a comer tu comida” she would say as we ran to the kitchen to grab our seats. When I ate her tortillas I felt happy, asking “can I have more?” She showed her love and care for me through food. Showing our love through food is important in Mexican culture, as a way to connect.
At the age of 12, I started to notice a change happening in my body. A hatred soon started to spread through me with the idea that I had to do all I could to prevent this change from happening. Year after year went by, and I did all I could to look like my distorted image of beauty. I was terrified of any weight I could possibly put on. The love and connection I once felt with food turned into a fear of anything food-related. The fear distanced me from enjoying the tortillas I once used to crave.
At first it wasn’t fully registering with me that the habits I developed deprived me of what my body craves. When you start to deny your body of what you need to stay healthy, there are consequences. I strived to be that “thin, beautiful girl.” But as I weighed lower and lower, it never seemed to be enough. I was farther away from my goal to be beautiful and closer to death. Over the years, after going to treatment several times, I had to choose between the love and connection that comes along with food in my culture, or letting my anorexia continue to take over my life and stay in the repetitive cycle of being sick.
After my health started to fail once again, going back to treatment I realized I wanted to feel the love and connection without letting my anorexia take over. Courage is closing my eyes and looking deep within myself and saying, “yes I can do it,” and nourishing my body. Courage is me watering my dying body and choosing life. Courage is not blaming myself for stripping my body of health, while learning to say it’s not my fault. Courage is me letting my family hold me and hug me through the hard process of learning to say, “I deserve to eat.” Courage is not looking at my weaknesses, but looking at my strengths and forgiving myself, because there is always more space to grow.
Taking time to focus on my recovery has been the most important thing I have ever done. It doesn’t just take effort, it takes sacrifice. Recovery isn’t about being perfect or that everything will be better within a day. Recovery is messy and nonlinear. Recovery is learning to say, “thank you,” to your body and expressing your gratitude for it keeping you alive. Now at the age of 17, as I continue to go through the recovery process, I don’t have to necessarily say, “I love my body,” but “I want to be your friend, and thank you for being there for me.”
I may not always love recovery and may have tough days. But I love what recovery brings me and the happiness I feel when connecting with my abuelita through her food. Recovery is accepting the things that I cannot change, but having the courage to change the things I can.