Have you ever heard of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? If you haven’t, I’ll spell it out for you in the most rudimentary way possible. You’re in the cave, meaning you only see an imitation of the truth. You are in the dark, living your life through fake shadows. If you venture outside the cave, you will be blinded by the truth, but then come to accept it. Almost everyone on this Earth is inside the cave, only the truly amazing and ethically correct will be curious enough to drag themselves out. This allegory of the cave can be used as a metaphor for all areas of life. My cave is vanity.
I always thought of myself to be standing outside the cave, watching others suffer as I yelled from the outside, beckoning them to the light.
The longer I stood there, basking in the sun, criticizing the ones who I believed put themselves there on purpose,
the closer I inched toward the entrance. I thought I could be their savior. That I could go inside and walk out a free woman with everyone in tow. My feet itched to venture in, and I slowly convinced myself that maybe the cave was where I wanted to be.
I looked at them all, sitting there, withering into nothingness, and vowed never to be like them,
but a kernel of my mind wanted it.
I don’t think it was for the attention, no, it was the melody from the cave infecting me through my ears and into my soul. I listened to them too hard and began to believe their words, buying into their tenets like they were a cult.
Finally, I took a peek inside, venturing into the unknown that I thought I knew so much about. Before I knew it I was
Falling so fast I didn’t believe it possible, rolling down the hill to the bottom, stuck forever with no one to save me. But I didn’t want help. I placed the chains on my hands and feet and sat next to them, still vowing I would never look like them.
I was better than them.
But I never was. We were one and the same, drinking the same Kool-Aid, slowly spiraling into despair. Our chains weighed us down, but we were the ones that placed them there.
Or were we?
Let’s take a trip into the heart of society’s standards to decipher this one together. What is so essential that almost every industry revolves around it? Beauty. At the center of everything, it all comes down to what we look like, and how pleasing it is to others. Curling around the edges that make up our lives and nestling into the center, starting as wisps and becoming noxious gas. People spend their lives worrying about a bad hair day, or a pimple, or shaving their legs, or what makeup looks the best on their skin, or what clothing trend is currently gripping the people by their necks, until it all becomes so much that you just want to cut off all your hair and move across the world to live in the middle of nowhere and never see another human ever again.
My life’s dream was to become a writer one day, and it still is, but somewhere in there, I dream about growing old and finally deciding to stop caring about what I look like. The dream of eating all the food in the world, getting fat, and living happily ever after with my partner in a house on a beach, spending my days reading and basking in the sun.
People spend their whole lives on an escapade to lose weight, saying they will start tomorrow every day until the day they die. It seems like the whole world wants to lose weight, case and point. So maybe I didn’t put the chains on myself, maybe society did. Maybe I grew up in an age where the flatter my stomach is, the more worth I have, and that finally rubbed off on me. Maybe I got swept up in health trends and fell face-first into a problem much bigger than obesity. I, along with society, decided that appearance, merely just the vessel that our consciousness uses to survive, is meaningful. That the way we look means something. As if we aren’t living on a floating rock in space that doesn’t give a damn if your makeup looks good today or if you lost 5 pounds for the summer.
If you couldn’t tell by now, I suffer from anorexia.
Yes, present tense, and no, I don’t want sympathy. Like I said before, this wasn’t for attention, in fact, this is the first time I’ve written that down, etching the truth into the eternity of pen and paper. I spent months in imprisonment, sitting idly by as my chains got heavier and my fight got weaker. I didn’t want to leave the cave until it finally dawned on me:
I have a problem.
This was the problem that I willingly fell into knowing nothing about it. I thought it harmless, maybe even beneficial because I would finally like how I looked, but I’ve never been more critical of my appearance. It’s ironic how I thought my confidence would skyrocket, but I crashed and burned, landing in a pit of despair instead.
And then another thing dawned on me, a lot of people love me, and a lot of people would want me to get help. They say asking for help is the hardest part, but I don’t believe that to be true. Nothing is easy, but in relation, that was the easiest part. The months of feeling all alone in the world, inside my little cave, sinking farther into the ground. The months of wanting help but being too afraid to ask, too scared I was faking it for attention, too scared of getting better. Then, when I finally reached my hand out and grabbed onto my parent's forearms, it was the next step that was even harder.
It’s easier to sit in the cave and rot, than to start a treacherous climb upwards, not knowing if you will ever see daylight. To make huge steps one day and wake up back at the bottom the next. The constant watchful eyes, the comments, the doctors and therapists, and even though I had told someone, I still felt alone.
Alone on a seemingly impossible climb.
And then I realized that my whole life was a slow trek through the cave, destined to months of imprisonment just so I could stretch my legs and climb out, finally receiving the freedom I deserved.
Because I deserve freedom. I deserve to be free from the cave. To frolic in the warm sun, not blinded by its truth, but set free by it. I deserve to realize that the way I look isn’t meaningful. Nothing about my appearance says anything about my personality, my hopes and dreams, my attitude. One day, I will finish that climb. Even if it isn’t today, tomorrow, or next month, I know I have the strength to fight it because that’s who I am. I am a strong person. And the farther down I chained myself, the less I believed it, but it's true. I believed myself cliché, embarrassed by how I became just like everyone I said I would never become. Hence, the reason I haven’t told a soul other than my parents, doctors, and well, now you of course. I may be cliché, I may be just like everyone else, but aren’t we all?
And that’s okay.
That doesn’t have to hinder my climb. Embarrassment is just another pebble in my path. I can kick it away, or I can trip and fall all the way back down, it’s my choice.
I choose to kick it away.
What I’ve realized from this treacherous journey is that real meaning can’t be defined by what’s on the surface. Whether that’s beauty, or even just every surface-level activity that we plague ourselves with just to feel included in life. Real meaning comes from the people we love, and how they bring us up so we can become better, because I’m not on this climb alone. I have a whole crew of people walking beside me who can’t see the light either until I make my climb.
Someone once told me that things tend to scream when they are dying, and in that moment I understood why my shackles got heavier the closer I got to the sun. All of this control that I thought I held over the voice of my eating disorder was void.
I never had any control.
I never knew anything. Every time I took a step forward she screamed from the shadows, and I ran back to her, but she only screams because she knows she will die if I reach the light. I’ve never wanted anyone to die so badly before.
So, from this day forward, I will put one foot in front of the other, listening to her screams as she gets left behind, and I will see the sun again.
Because I deserve it.