The Seventeen Year Itch


May of last year, I entered residential treatment. I was seventeen at the time and as lost as a soul could be. It has been a year now and about a year and a half since I embarked on the path in search of safety. This road has not been smooth; I have needed patience, perspective, second, third, and fourth tries, and, of course, a lot of time. In no way am I finished. In fact, I am beginning to understand that there really is no end; there is just today, right now. However, with each day, comes change and, though I have moved forward quite tremendously, it is challenging for me to let go of my story.

In my experience, my eating disorder traumatized me and, in many ways, this was something that probably saved my life. Many times, I did not know what I was walking towards, but I knew for certain I couldn’t stay still, never mind walk backwards. The necessary fear kept me motivated. Today, though, it is not the nightmares of what has been that perpetuate my movement, but the excitement of what is to come.

My therapist had me write a letter to my seventeen year-old self this past week and I realized it’s okay to give myself permission to be free of the need to remember. I am almost nineteen and I am okay. My sickest days can be put to rest for now. Here is what I wrote…

Dear Seventeen,

I think about you often, though think may not be the word. I more so embody you frequently, daily. It’s strange to think of you in retrospect, as I forget we’re not the same. When I think of our younger selves, there’s an imaginary aspect to the memories. They feel distant and I am removed. You, however, are sewn deep into the foundation of my core.

Your isolation pervades my connection and I am suddenly thrown into the starved mind of your soul. I carry you on my shoulders, making sure you do not perish. I fear for you, as if it were I, grasping any remnant I can hold. Every look you have made is forever etched into my spirit. I have become you, in case you give up.

To think we are separate is a concept I never considered. After all, is a butterfly not still a caterpillar at its center? The evolution has occurred, yet that is all it ever was to me: a series of happenings over time. It was I who drowned in the middle of a whirlwind; it was I who fell so pugnaciously into obscurity; it is my bones that brittled, my heart that slowed, my skin that sallowed, my head that shattered. And still it was yours.

I am a product of you, fabricated from your cloth, but to consider us the same would be a vast overlook. A frog is not a tadpole, despite history. It may, in fact, neglect to remember its once vivacious tail. It will still have played a role.

In my white-knuckling, I hold the palpable concern of ignorance. A terror satiates my nature in repulse of once again experiencing the shivers in your bones. And, so, I hold them close, as to touch but not become. I shake with the trepidation of knowing your pain twice over, and, thus, I keep myself locked into the depths of my antiquity. There is an edge to every warmth I obtain, with the numbness that arrives from the uncertainty of tomorrow, as told by yesterday. I take half breaths.

Weaved into that belief is the ribbon of compassion, another strand of dread. I know your story inside out, each silent cry you scream. It is I, alone, who knew each moment, and it is you who suffers. I fear your solitude with every hand I take, and it robs me of full joy. I worry, if forgotten, you will never feel the empathy I call. I am afraid you will let go, and, on days when I embody you, it is I who won’t know.

In the end, the yearning I have for you is mine. To embrace the caterpillar, I must use wings. To differentiate will take time, but I want you to know you are not alone. It is not in leaving you behind, that I walk forward. It is not to cut you off, that I dismiss your pain. It is the recognition that to become one, I must know you are I, as I wake to peace. To lose tragedy is the only carrying I can offer. To lighten the boulders is to lift yours. We are one, and it is time we, together, feel the sun.



5 Replies to “The Seventeen Year Itch”

  1. Oh, Alex…I know this is an old post, but my god can I relate right now. There is something about the past that continues to shriek bloody murder in my head, some attachment to it that feels urgent and vital, some inability to move past the trauma of it all. I don’t know where to start, and I feel afraid to. I feel like it’s something I’ll never truly overcome or “get past”, I’ve been feeling as though I’ll always hold this weight of who I have been in my chest, and I have absolutely no clue who I am now. I’m caught off guard by this success, by actually being in recovery at last. I don’t feel like myself in any way, and so much of the time I’m on autopilot, but there’s always that younger me screaming inside. It feels unsustainable.

    …well, now I know what to talk about in therapy on Tuesday. Hah. Love you so much, and I’m so proud of you.

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