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What Tom Sawyer Taught Me About Overcoming Anorexia

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I used to be jealous of Tom Sawyer.

In one of the more memorable chapters of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom is able to attend his own funeral, as his friends and family believe him to be dead.

I imagine that once in your lifetime you have pictured your funeral. You imagined where it will be and who will attend. In your mind, you envisioned those who wronged you -- your old enemies, overwhelmed with guilt, wishing for a second chance. You pictured your loved ones sobbing and mourning, the eulogies they tell to be beautiful and poetic.

You may have imagined this out of curiosity, to comfort yourself, or maybe to spite those around you toward which you feel aggression and anger. Whatever the reason, I believe that at some point, you were led to picture what it will be like for those around you when you are gone.

When I was 18 years old, I was approaching my funeral.

I was literally dying to be thin.

I was in the throes of an eating disorder, and despite my parents' and doctors' attempts, I did not think that it could kill me. I believed I was invincible. My pain and hopelessness clouded my vision. My internal suffering as well as my irrational, powerful mental illness left me trapped and weak.

I thought I was fine. I thought everyone else was crazy. But I was near the end.

In Steven Hayes's book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life, he asks readers to envision their funerals had they succumbed to their illness or struggles.

In the deep, dark hell of my eating disorder, I'd have imagined my tombstone to read the following: Here Lies Temimah, the Perfect Anorexic.

People would have spoken about my potential, my personality and my kindness, and yet they'd have thought about my final appearance and my frailty in life. They'd have mourned the future I could have had, had my eating disorder not taken me. They'd have spoken about my strength and perseverance, two qualities that at the time became devoid of meaning to me.

My wish to stay a child and never encounter serious life challenges would have been met. I wouldn't have been given the opportunity to try.

I'd have been missed. My memory would have been tainted by numbers and calories, superficial weights and behaviors.

My illness would have triumphed.

But it didn't.

I am 24 years old, and I am thriving. I stand atop a mountain, dirt in my nails and sweat on my brow, holding my vibrant flag of triumph.

I do not think about my funeral, or imagine the loss and sorrow that will ensue when I am one day gone. Instead, I focus on the legacy that I am working to create in this one life that I have been given.

A life that was almost lost to demons and voices, numbers and exercise. A life that I have been blessed with, a life I have fought for, a life that I will treasure until my end of days.

My legacy will include my perseverance, my hope.

My relationships -- those that I have lost and those that will forever remain a part of me.

My character and moral, my religion and my culture.

My acts as an advocate, my determination to provide hope to others.

My role as a member of a family.

My passion, my tears, my humor.

My strength.

I am not proud. Rather, I am grateful.

I live my life in the present. I do not dwell in the past, nor do I dabble in fears of the future.

I do not envision my funeral or eulogy. I dream of today, of what I can bring to this world. On my occasional excursions to years from now I picture joyous events: laughter, celebrations, joy, fireworks.

I once let cruelty and shadows define me. Let others determine my values; let an unhealthy, negative part of myself tell me that I deserved to die.

I deserve to live.

There are those who do not emerge from their struggles. They fight, they hope, but they are taken. We must remember these souls for what they brought to us, for what they professed to the universe.

I will experience pain. I will feel the spectrum of difficult emotions.

But I will not suffer.

For I will live my life in appreciation.

I have mourned the person I once was, the naïve, confident girl before my eating disorder who was lost to a mental illness.

I let go of my anorexia. I fought the storm away and surrounded myself with those I love and umbrellas of brawn.

My funeral one day may be sad, but I am no longer jealous of little Tom Sawyer. For my life is to be celebrated... and lived.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.