You are a thief. You steal my happiness and my hope. You steal my motivation and my inspiration. You steal away my self-worth and my confidence.” It isn’t hard to remember how I felt when I wrote these words for the first time. Writing a goodbye letter to my eating disorder, I gave it everything I had, screaming at my eating disorder through words on paper rather than voice.

At eighteen years old, I was the youngest patient in the adult house during my stay at The Meadows Ranch. At this age I had in my grasps the opportunity to live some of the most exciting and fulfilling adventures in my life. I had the chance to create memories – great ones. Stolen from me was the healthy body and sound mind I needed to live this free, adventurous life where I wasn’t enslaved by fear and self-hatred.

During treatment I somehow decided that recovery for my parents wasn’t good enough. Recovering for my boyfriend wasn’t good enough. Recovering for the doctors, and the nurses, and the other patients wasn’t good enough anymore. I had to recover for me. Although this wasn’t the moment where I began to radically accept myself and my body, it set off a huge and never-ending chain reaction.

This chain reaction is something I can now recognize as endless and on-going (even now) steps toward self-acceptance. I can identify day after day after day where I inched closer to loving myself again.

I see now that the day I began loving myself was the day that I flew home from treatment and said yes to a snack on the plane. I see that the day I began loving myself was the day I gave away my sick clothes. I recognize presently that I loved myself when I told my eating disorder “no” for the first time, and as well when I completed my meal plan one hundred percent for the first time after leaving treatment.

I loved myself a little more when I took a bubble bath just to feel good, and when I painted my nails after years of leaving them bare. The day I began loving myself was the day I suggested meeting a friend in town for dinner and didn’t have to ask for a to-go-box full of food I didn’t plan on eating later.

I began loving my body when I bought jeans that fit like a glove. I loved my body the day I started taking pictures of myself again and chose not to delete them. The day I started loving my body again was the day when I allowed it to invest time and energy into something that wasn’t destructive, but rather productive and enjoyable.

I am learning to celebrate my appearance. It has been eight months since I left treatment, and I can say with certainty that I have made progress in loving my body. What I see in the mirror when I wake up no longer determines whether a day will be good or bad. Observing this truth in my own life not only encourages me, but drives me to make further progress in recovery.

“I want to hate you, and I am close.” These were the last words on the final page of the letter I wrote to my eating disorder. I found difficulty in that moment. I tried to express to this mental illness of mine that although it has tricked my mind into captivity, and taught me to love it, crave it, and rely it in some dark and twisted way, that I was almost ready to let go. Furthermore, I was learning why and how to let go. Treatment taught me to recognize the amount of destruction that was falling down on my life as a result of holding onto something that was no good for me. Once I began to make this connection, I also began the process of ignoring my eating disorder’s voice and loving my body again.

This process of self-acceptance carries on even now – eight months after treatment. For me, there wasn’t a giant and unbelievably obvious over-the-top aha-moment. There wasn’t a fanfare or a bright light. Instead, accompanied by a lot of effort and hard work, there have been identifiable moments in time which I can look back and see how I progressed further on the journey to loving myself.

I am closer than I have ever been to accepting my body for what it is, and it is this acceptance that I wish for everyone who is struggling and has struggled with an eating disorder in their lifetime.