The journey toward healing starts with a single brave step, but it is never walked alone.
All That Fills Us by Autumn Lytle follows an anorexic woman named Mel Ellis who decides to embark on a cross-country thru-hike as a last-ditch effort to make something of herself. Along the way she meets strangers with their own stories, as well as ghosts from her past who can no longer be ignored. Despite the physical challenges of the thru-hike, her own dark thoughts pose the biggest threat she’ll have to overcome in order to find peace in the life and the body she has been given.
A Character Interview
Your main character, Mel Ellis, has a history of struggling with an eating disorder. What do you hope to portray by telling her story?
I hope to portray an honest view of the disorder that will give readers a true glimpse of the realities of living with anorexia, as well as to make those suffering from it feel less alone. I want to turn my experience into something useful and life-giving to others. Like other mental health issues, anorexia can be a lonely and lingering experience. The road to recovery is never easy, straight, or smooth. Through Mel’s story, I hope to portray the difficult and winding road that accompanies a longing to get well, to show that doubting and backtracking and relearning the same lessons over and over are totally normal parts of the healing process. I also think Mel’s story speaks to anyone who has ever doubted their self-worth or felt like their story wasn’t big enough to matter.
Mel meets a lot of people on her journey, and many of them are normal people whose normal lives were interrupted by this strange girl on a mission. They save her, bit by bit, not with grand gestures, heroic feats, or by saying the magic words to unlock healing. They do so by showing up, listening, and offering what little they have to give. I’m hoping readers can recognize the small, otherwise normal life-givers in their own lives and strive to be more like them, as Mel ultimately does.
Can you tell us a little about the personal journey that Mel embarks on in this novel?
The really cool thing about having an anorexic character head out on a cross-country thru-hike is that she’s forced to face her disorder head-on. She literally won’t survive the trip if she refuses to see what the disorder is doing to her, so she has to relearn that food is a life-giving thing instead of an area of her life where she can punish herself. Through the people she encounters and the natural world that constantly surrounds her, she slowly begins to understand the concept of grace and accept that she is a willing candidate for it. She is so hard on herself at the beginning of this book and honestly a little hard to love because of it. She hides behind a thick veil of sarcasm so people can’t see how much she’s grown to hate who she’s become.
My editor told me it was so hard to restart the book on each of her read-throughs because Mel grows so much over the course of her journey and it was painful to see her back at rock bottom. I wanted to avoid writing a story where all of Mel’s problems vanish and that by learning to love herself, she gets to live happily ever after. That’s not life and that’s not what recovery looks like. So even though Mel grows and heals, the ending of the book stresses that the process is never truly over.
Why did you choose to have Mel embark on a physical cross-country journey while also taking on the emotional journey of facing her inner demons? What parallels can be drawn between the two?
I wanted a more visual representation of the healing journey. Recovering from an eating disorder can feel so cyclical, so I wanted to show the reader that even through all Mel’s missteps, she is still moving forward. Still moving toward a goal. I also wanted to pick a route that wasn’t known for its beauty or popular in the thru-hike community because that’s how recovery feels. It’s not full of breathtaking views and it’s not an accomplishment that feels like a big bragging right. Recovering from an eating disorder looks odd to the outsider.
We’re taught as a culture to eat less and exercise more, but in recovery we celebrate weight gain and rest days. And for that reason, I wanted a lesser-loved, lesser-known trail that doesn’t instantly endear the reader to the journey. Recovery isn’t something the addict sees as glamorous or even really looks forward to most of the time. They do it because it’s the only way to get to where they need to be, even if it will take everything they have to get there. I’m not saying I do all these complicated feelings justice, but I try to use Mel and her journey to at least touch on those points.
Autumn Lytle enjoys running long distances and writing even longer books. Along with being a forever-recovering anorexic and exercise addict, she is a weirdly good checkers player and finder of four-leaf clovers. She spends her days thinking up stories and trying to figure out this whole parenting thing with her son. She lives in Seattle, Washington.
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