26.2 A SERIES
Everyone has dreams. Since I was about 16 years old, one of mine has been to run a marathon. When I cross the finish line in NYC on November 5th, I’ll likely do so with a recorded time of between 4 and 5 hours. In reality though, it will have taken me much longer to get there. There are things inside and outside of us that bring us closer to our dreams. There are also things that delay us, that push us so far away from our goals they are sometimes out of sight. If we are lucky, little by little, we are often able to transform those stumbling blocks into building blocks–they become the foundation for our strength, resilience, and ultimate determination. This series aims to uncover my long journey. Each week, I’ll share the people, places, and things that have brought me to the place I am at today, and that I hope will carry me from the starting line in Staten Island, to the finish line in Central Park. Mile by mile–this, is my 26.2.
Miles 13 & 14: A Bigger Body and A Bigger Life
Anorexia is the only disease I’m aware of that tells you you are a failure when you don’t do it. If you’re an alcoholic or a drug addict and you make it a day without using, you may feel like shit, but your brain knows that you’ve won that day. If you’re a chronic overeater and you stick to your meal plan, you might have cravings, but you know your restraint means success.
Anorexia, or Ana as she is called by so many of her current and former followers, has always told me that I’m a failure in a voice that is as coaxing as it is abusive. Whether I was in the full throes of the disease or in my fight to recover, Ana would trickily try to convince me that eating was taking the easy way out–that feeding myself was a sign of weakness. Anorexia is an insanely ironic disease: the “stronger” you get at the behaviors of the disorder, the weaker you become in real life. Truly, the perfect anorexic is the dead one; any other outcome is really quite simply, a failure.
But I did not want to die, at least not all the time. Choosing Ana but not death meant I was essentially serving a prison sentence. My cell was my mind and there was only space for two people: me, and my disease. When I was at my worst, there was not one moment in a day where I wasn’t obsessed with weight or food or exercise. I remember I would be dead asleep, and would wake up because I had to pee. As I’d walk the 30 ft to the bathroom I’d think: I should probably wake up more often to walk in the middle of the night, it would burn more calories.
When you tell someone you used to struggle with an eating disorder, often their first question is, which one? In my experience, most of us have struggled in some capacity with both anorexia and bulimia. For me, anorexia was all about success, and bulimia (or Mia) was all about failure. My goal was usually to eat under 400 calories a day. When I failed, I’d purge. Purging was not fun. It was gross, and sometimes painful. If I broke down and ate something that was especially difficult to refund, I’d often end up with broken blood vessels in my eyes from the strain it took to bring the food back up.
Sometimes when people get sober when they are older, they look back and wish they hadn’t wasted so much time drinking. I am one of the lucky ones, I got sober when I was twenty-five. This means I don’t have a ton of regrets about the amount of time I spent drinking; I only had a couple of years where it really wasn’t fun. I cannot say the same for my eating disorder. It was never fun. Even when I was thin, it was never good enough; there was no happy place to be had, only misery. What I regret most about my eating disorder was the time I let it take from me; I can’t imagine how much more I could have learned and accomplished as a young person if I my mind hadn’t been so preoccupied with being thin. As I was counting calories, experiences and opportunities were passing me by. As my body failed to shrink as much as I wanted it to, my life continued to get smaller and smaller.
While I went to an extremely helpful inpatient and outpatient treatment center for my eating disorder for a few months when I was 23, my real recovery began when I got sober. As I saw other women struggling to let go of drugs and alcohol, but hanging on to their eating disorders for dear life, I knew I had to let mine go. I had reached a pivotal point: I’d either let these diseases kill me, or I’d follow people’s suggestions and amass some tools that would allow me to live in the world as a productive, healthy, and maybe even happy, human being.
I know I haven’t been in a treatment center in quite a while, but I fear that’s the element that might still be missing from these places–making it clear to patients that there is joy to be found beyond these horrific diseases. I know a lot of women in recovery from their eating disorders who are still obsessed with weight and food. They are not restricting anymore, but they still count calories. They don’t stick their fingers down their throat, but only because they seldom allow themselves those foods that might initiate that urge. This pains me. I want those women to know that feeding themselves and allowing for the possibility of their bodies to get stronger, and maybe even a bit bigger, also allows their lives to get bigger. When we are nourished, our minds and our hearts grow along with our bodies and our eyes can finally open to a world full of possibility.
When I was starving myself, I could never have imagined reaching Mile 13 and 14. I loved running, desperately, but I never had the energy to go beyond 3 or 4 miles–there was never enough fuel in my tank. Feeding myself properly has had the most incredible impact on my running–I can’t believe how far I can go and how strong I can feel. When I run I work out my sadness and my fear and my doubt. No matter how bleak things can look around me, running clears a path so I can see a way forward. It is my uncomfortable comfort; it continues to make my life larger and more joyful, each and every day.
Miles 13 & 14 go not to you Ana and Mia, but to all the courageous women who’ve left you behind for something better. May their bodies grow strong, their hearts beat brave, and their only hunger come from their insatiable craving for more and more life.
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