I’m not a sucker for motivational sayings; I don’t forward emails with cutesy poems or tag my friends in clichéd posts that someone famous may or may not have actually said. Simply put: I don’t have much patience for any of that stuff. So, when I stumbled across this quote many months ago and couldn’t shake it from my subconscious, I knew it was nagging at me for a reason. For the life of me, I just couldn’t ignore it.
“I love the person I’ve become because I fought to become her.”
The words sent me hurtling down a path I haven’t ventured on in many years; one that I thought had long ago been covered over, never to be re-traced. It was the path to my recovery.
From the time I was 18 to about 24, I suffered from a debilitating eating disorder. It was and still remains one of the most defining periods of my life—even after many years in recovery, it continues to shape and bend my life in ways I’m not sure I fully understand. The experience is always with me, buried beneath my skin, hidden but not forgotten.
When I was at my worst, I became someone I didn’t recognize. Not just the person looking back at me in the mirror—though surely she looked much different than the girl I’d been before—but I was changed down to my very core. I felt all at once like I was heavy as a sinking stone, but light as a flower petal that could blow away with the slightest breeze, never to be seen again. I was not Melissa; I was someone else entirely, someone whose eyes she couldn’t even meet in her own reflection.
So when I set out on that long path to recovery, I went into it knowing I’d need to be primed for a fight. It was grueling work—recovery—and I backtracked more than a few times, certain I’d never make it out in one piece.
But I did.
After countless hours of therapy and medication, nutritionist appointments and journaling, hard truths and forgiveness.
I fought for my life and I won.
So, when I saw this quote, it really got me thinking. About my own journey and about those of other women I’ve known. About how deceiving the illusion of true happiness can be at times.
Back in those days, my inner life was a raging storm, ready to tear the roof off the whole façade at a moment’s notice. Yet, on the outside, everything seemed composed and orderly: I had the trappings of a happy existence that conned even those closest to me into thinking nothing was out of the ordinary. “I had absolutely no idea that something was wrong,” a close friend told me, years later. “ You always seemed like you had it all together. I just assumed everything was coming up roses for you.”
It makes me wonder.
Wonder how many other women have felt this at one time or another—like they were standing on the proverbial ledge, ready to let go—while everyone else around them assumed they were simply admiring the view from the top.
Wonder how often those closest to me—the people I profess to know so intimately—have struggled under the weight of their respective lives, while I was none the wiser.
I wonder because I don’t know the full story. Because experiencing that darkness myself allowed me to realize that, sometimes, the face we expose to the world looks much different than the one we keep hidden behind closed doors.
And why is that? Is it because no one ever asks? Because we never tell? A combination of both? I often question if, in the event that someone had sat me down and asked what was really going on with me, I’d have brushed it off or felt relieved to finally have someone else share the back-breaking load of my loneliness, depression and self-loathing. Would I have felt cornered, forced into acknowledging a sickness I tried so hard to keep from landing in the court of public opinion? Or grateful that someone took the time to really see me after so many years of making myself slowly fade away, pound by pound?
Even after all this time, I’m still not sure.
But here’s what I do know: the strong women of the world, the ones you admire for their confidence and grit, the women who make everything look easy—they’re like that because, almost certainly, they fought to become that way. They are tough, not because they were lucky enough to be born flawless and fortunate, but because they are battle-hardened, shaped by the trials of their lives: an abusive spouse, a cancer diagnosis, infertility, loss, heartbreak. They became tough because they had to be. Because they had no other choice.
It makes you wonder.
How many people you’ve known who are fighting a battle you know nothing about. How many times you’ve judged another woman by her perfect outer life, when she is crumbling on the inside. What circumstances led that woman you so admire to become as tough, as seemingly invincible as she is.
When you’ve fought for your life and won, you begin to recognize that fighting spirit in others. You realize that there is always another side to the coin, another story to be told. That maybe that other woman who seems like she has it all is slowly sinking and desperately searching for a lifeline. Or has finally kicked her way to the surface and lived to see the view from the shore.