Don’t You Let Go: A Lord of the Rings Lesson on Addiction/Struggle

I can’t help but think of Lord of the Rings when I think of the relationship we have with an eating disorder–or for anyone with any addiction, for that matter.
I was never a die-hard Lord of the Rings fan, but I’ve enjoyed the books and the movies. It’s fascinating for me to see the way the characters become entranced by the ring–some more strongly than others if they become vulnerable to its power–and how similar dabbling in eating-disordered habits allows people to become consumed with their own ring of supposed “power.” Funny, too, how the circular nature of a ring is not unlike a metaphor for the cyclical pattern of addiction–especially with eating disorders.

Recently I watched one of the final scenes of movie three of the trilogy where Frodo and Sam reach the pinnacle of the fiery pit to destroy the ring at last. Frodo stands at the edge, holding the ring over the lava, still contemplating whether he truly wants to destroy it or not. It calls to him. It reminds him of the power he can still have in their relationship. And many of us face that nearly every day with our eating disorders.
Do we really want recovery? It’s a battle with wanting to get rid of the eating disorder, but not knowing how to live life without it. We don’t want to completely throw away the ring of power, because when we put it on–when we fall hard into the eating disorder–we can become invisible, can sneak around and deny that we have a problem, that we need help.

And then Gollum creeps into this scene. In that moment, I can’t help but think that perhaps this is the picture of what can happen–and does happen–to many who fall too hard and long into addiction, and are too consumed with the power we think it gives us. Gollum is the picture of the animal we become when we become lost from our true selves, when the identity of the ring/power takes over our lives, and thus our bodies. And as Gollum eventually tumbles into the fiery pit– even as his body disintegrates in the lava–he holds his hand up to his idol, his addiction, giving it the final say in his life.
We can’t let the eating disorder do that to us, too.
But the most poignant scene in this intense struggle? Frodo, hanging off the side of the cliff, surely about to face the similar fate of Gollum. The ring still calls to him as it sits above the lava, not yet disintegrated, and Frodo has a choice to make–grab the hand of his best friend Sam and be pulled to safety, or let the ring win in its final moments.
And then something happens. Frodo hears a voice, and it is not pleading, but stern and empowering–
“Don’t you let go,” Sam tells him.
Don’t you let go.
I couldn’t help but feel moved to tears at hearing this, feeling that Sam is not only speaking to Frodo, but to all of us–that we must keep holding on, and that even in our darkest moments when it seems all is lost, when we think that we cannot fight back any longer, we must accept those who want to help us and make the decision to keep fighting for ourselves.
Don’t you let go.
Even if I am the only one to tell you this–if you do not hear this from anyone else–I plead with you, reach out to you, and want to tell you in the same, heart-felt voice that Sam uses with Frodo,
Don’t you let go, either.
Order your copy of Running in Silence: My Drive for Perfection and the Eating Disorder That Fed It here.

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.
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9 Responses to Don’t You Let Go: A Lord of the Rings Lesson on Addiction/Struggle

  1. Tamara Steil says:

    Ahhhhh – this was SO good!

  2. Ryanne James says:

    First things first, for not being a Lord of a Rings ‘groupie’ you capture the movie perfectly, and the way you compare the rings power and an eating disorders power is dead on. A couple of summers ago my sister was in ROTC for the Marines (now she is a commissioned Naval officer), well the Marines have very strict weight limits, and my sister really struggles with keeping her weight in the designated requirements, and tends to be always 10-15 pounds above it. This quickly escalated into a summer of horror. She was crazy about not only counting calories, but exercising. I can remember one day she “ate too much” and lost it. It was as if her Gollum took over. I told her to relax it will be okay, suddenly it was as if I was Froto trying to throw in the ring (her control over food consumption) and Gollum , my sister, attacked me. She started smacking me, and in actually lost control. After that summer in the following spring she switched over to the Naval academy, which is much less strict in those matters– and well now she’s free of her hunger of ‘power’, and no longer posses the ring.

    This was absolutely perfect. Any individual who has ever dealt with the horrors of eating disorders– any forum, can relate. In fact, any person (as you say) who suffers from any mental/physical addiction can relate. I mean, I related to this article not only as a second hand experience, but personal too! Also, this little read can really educate people on how eating disorders are not a simple thing, it is an addiction, a way to have power; people cannot just stop because it’s bad for them or could cause serious health issues– they know, and it’s much more dense than what people believe. The ring analogy– I just cannot get over how beautiful it was. This was perfectly used to show the power an eating disorder can have over an individual. Awesome read.

  3. Katy Caballeros says:

    What an interesting comparison. I’ve never watched or read the Lord of the Rings, but I don’t feel like I have to understand the plot or characters to understand your analogy. The idea of wanting to have control over one’s life is universal to the human experience.

    I like how you incorporate rhetorical questions into the piece, like “Do we really want recovery?” It reminds the reader that these are questions that remain unanswered because there is only so much we can understand about ourselves and others. Your search to understand through a personal experience makes this entry worth reading to me.

    Also, I found the repetition of the phrase “Don’t let go” powerful and moving. It becomes a mantra to all of life’s struggles. It might be interesting to incorporate that phrase somewhere sooner in the entry.

    I laughed out loud at the phrase “the same, heart-felt voice that Sam uses with Frodo.” I understand that this is a serious piece, but the comparison between your desire to reach out to others and Lord of the Rings is unexpected, quirky, and beautiful.

  4. Kelli Burns says:

    This was seriously one of the most interesting comparisons I have heard made to Lord of the Rings. I do happen to be a huge, nerdy fan of the trilogy and I have heard many interpretations of it, but this is one that fits so beautifully and perfectly. You capture it so well. I don’t have an addiction, but I know some who do and this fits them almost perfectly. Great job.

  5. Tesla Knott says:

    Thank you so much for this, Rachael. When ever I find myself struggling with e.d. thoughts and behaviors, I come to this page. It is an excellent connection! But those words, “Don’t you let go” mean so much and are very powerful to me. When I am on the cusp of engaging in a disordered behavior, re-reading that second to last section, about holding on in our darkest moments, can really make me reconsider. Who am I living for, my Self or my eating disorder? My Life, or my protective mechanism to avoid feeling strong emotions? Am I really living as a conscious being, or is it the eating disorder that’s keeping itself alive? Every day I feel the disorder’s power over me falling away, but when those inevitable rough patches come up I can always count on support here. It’s funny how situations almost like “tests” come up to see if I can handle an uncomfortable emotion without collapsing into a lower level of functioning (e.d.) . I mean seriously, yesterday was my birthday, and everyone starts talking about how my cake (a raw vegan thing) is so dense, “there must be so many calories” “yeah it’s so filling I can’t eat much of it” yadda yadda yadda…. and if you knew my family, they NEVER talk about that kind of stuff! I felt my appetite dropping off instantly, as I was the only one still finishing my (larger than theirs) piece. It is the hardest thing not to drop into some sort of behavior to cover those uncomfortable feelings (like purge exercising or eating more) but I always ask myself those above questions even if I slip up. Every moment is always new, and I try to remember I don’t have to keep perpetuating destructive patterns, and even if I just did, I can choose to stop NOW!
    Thank you so much for this forum, and again, a beautiful post Rachael!

  6. Justin Reamer says:

    I remember reading this in your memoir. I think it’s great that you shouldn’t let go. Don’t let yourself give in to pain and disaster. Keep fighting, no matter how hard it is. I think it’s great that you made a reference to the Lord of the Rings. It really helped me connect with your piece, too. I, too, like Tolkien, and I find his writings to be very insightful. I am glad that you are going to keep fighting as Frodo did to protect the ring and to eventually destroy it. I hope you are doing well, and may God bless you.

  7. Taryn Streasick says:

    As I’m sure everyone else has already told you, this is an absolutely incredible and interesting comparison. I think it’s important to use comparisons such as this when trying to explain struggles such as eating disorders. It’s so difficult sometimes for people to fully grasp and understand what exactly it means to have a disorder and struggle through recovery. But when you use culturally known things such as the Lord of the Rings, I think it puts it into a perspective that some are more easily able to comprehend.

    As a psychology major, I’ve studied a lot of different disorders, read a lot of different case studies, and have learned about the different forms of recovery. But no matter how much I study it, I realize that I could never assume to understand what that pull towards “the ring of power” must feel like. But I appreciate this comparison so much because I feel like I’m able to understand the extent of your struggle that much more.

  8. Peter Triezenberg says:

    I can always appreciate a good Tolkien reference, and I think you nailed the significance of those precarious final moments on the precipice of Mt. Doom. On a more personal level, I find myself deeply affected by the repetition of the phrase “Don’t you let go.”

    “Don’t you let go.”

    Don’t you let go.

    If it wasn’t for the intervention of those close to me- my own Samwise Gamgee, so to speak- saying similar words, I’m not sure I would be here today. My own struggle to recognize and combat depression required a lot of introspection and support from those around me, and a need to keep on fighting, to keep climbing the mountain of fire even though the burden could seem unbearable.

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