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 huge, nerdy (the cool nerdy! No hatin’ here against the die-hard fans) Lord of the Rings fan, but I’ve definitely 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.
Most 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.