My first word was love.
Under the flickering lights of North Shore Hospital on March 10, 2002, I met the one person whose love for me is unconditional. As I tore my eyelids open and glanced the kind, raven-haired woman, I immediately noticed her smile, which stretched for miles past the horizon.
I truly believe that one person molded me into the person I am today. As I grew up, I became afraid of my own reflection, until I realized that the only things I should see staring back at me are the doting eyes of my grandma.
Many years later, I returned to the hospital. One week away from losing my life, I realized the tragedy of my situation. My personal demon, Ana, in undying attempts to starve my body, tricked my mind into pushing away everyone who cared for me.
For Ana, my grandma was a punching bag.
One hundred fewer calories per day meant ten more screaming matches with my grandma. Fifty more sit-ups per day meant five more lies about whether or not I ate.
Only when I was shaking on the floor, my heart palpitating unnaturally did I finally realized that Ana did not care about me.
After every panic attack, it was my grandma who took my hand and cradled my head in her lap, telling me "Nothing bad is going to happen to you. You are okay." For fleeting moments, I felt safe, as though nothing could ever scare me again. The one constant in my life has been my grandma.
After seeking treatment for anorexia in Colorado, I returned home to face my family, my old friends, and my reality. I remember standing in my bathroom, engulfed in steam and while I swiped my hand to clear the mirror. I was disgusted by what I saw.
I fell to the ground, and the world went white.
Then I felt her hands. They were guiding me towards a towel, then they were gently wiping the tears off of my face. I could feel something had changed, for Ana's voice was nowhere to be found. I looked up and saw my grandma's quivering lip and eyes filled to the brim with love beyond what words could describe. I finally stepped into recovery.
My grandma is my safety blanket. But she never flinches. She never gives up on me, no matter how many hurtful things I say in bursts of anger. My grandmother's love engulfs me day after day and reminds me that there is always someone I can count on. My grandma is now my mirror, reflecting back a version of me I chose to accept every day.
The home-cooked meals that Ana had once made me loathe, now remind me of my grandma's hugs and kisses. My bathroom mirror which once caused me such pain now reminds me of my grandma's smile. No matter where I go in the future, I can remember my grandma through the smells of freshly-made curries and Pantene shampoo.
I believe in a world where people understand the power of change. Becoming comfortable with the ups and downs of life will allow you to live to your fullest potential. Now, one hundred more calories per day mean ten more opportunities to hug my grandma. Fifty more minutes of relaxation per day means five more moments spent loving with my entire heart and soul.
When I asked my grandma what the hardest thing has been while raising me, she replied with the simplest answer,
"You have never allowed yourself, to love yourself as much as I love you."
The concept of love is simple; in order to love, you need to love yourself.