In the dark of the “Cardio Cinema” at Gold’s Gym I struggled to fight back the tears that started to come to my eyes. My mind still isn’t healthy enough to do this, I admitted to myself in utter defeat. The workout seemed easy enough but fighting back the demon that still plagues my mind is another story.
I found a rabbit hole and couldn’t resist the shiny object at the end:
thinness and weight loss.
Instead of following my recovery mind, I followed the eating disorder right down that hole. That stupid, big black hole.
In a matter of weeks I could feel myself slipping and, once again, becoming a woman possessed by workouts, “clean” foods, and my body. Things I thought were long gone and replaced by more enjoyable life experiences such as happiness, writing for BBA, and health. I wanted to build my strength and cardio endurance so hoisting the sails on our floating home would be a little less tiring each time I did it; fully acknowledging the risks associated with entering a gym. In my case the risks are not so much physical as they are mental and emotional, but I thought I put a good support system in place. I didn’t hide my gym membership from my husband and I even decided to start going with a friend who is in excellent physical condition to help me get back at it. We set a time limit, and often broke it, but had a plan for our time at the gym nonetheless. I couldn’t just exercise endlessly without accountability. That was my plan. My plan had one major fault: my brain.
By entering the exercise arena again, I opened up a corner in my brain that allowed the eating disorder to slowly creep back into my life. I could “hear” it before I wanted to admit it was back. The voice telling me not to eat because I had done such an excellent workout that I shouldn’t poison my caloric loss with more calories. Red Flag. Talking myself into eating over a grumbling stomach; knowing I had only eaten twice but now it was after 7pm so I shouldn’t eat anything more. Red Flag. My brain telling me to just make some green tea and sip on it until I am no longer hungry. Maybe I should. Maybe then I could actually lose some weight. Red Flag. I found myself obsessively looking in mirrors and reflective surfaces with a consistency I haven’t had in months, berating my body and appearance. It took over my mind every time I saw my reflection with a vengeance for giving it up in the first place. Red Flag. I found myself utilizing the same old excuses with family and friends who voiced concern over my return to the gym, reassuring them I knew what I was doing and I was ready for this. Red Flag.
Bright, red, you-can’t-freaking-miss-it flag.
My recovery mind was fading into the background fast; replaced with thoughts dominated by the eating disorder instead of the real me. But why? Why now?
I’ve been doing well for so long…
I returned to the gym during a period of high stress. Mistake número uno. My sister and the son of my Army Soulmate/BFF were having surgery and I was stressed. I needed an outlet and I felt my life was too hectic to sit down and write. Instead of utilizing safe outlets such as yoga, writing, and paddleboarding; I opted for one of my bigger triggers because I thought surely I was ready for a triumphant return.
I traveled to Pittsburgh, PA to be with my sister and Army Soulmate for the surgeries; requiring I stay at a hotel. Only I didn’t stay at a hotel. I stayed at this quaint little place, Family House, for people who have loved ones at local hospitals. Upon walking into the place it felt eerily like walking into an eating disorder treatment facility; a feeling that made me want to rebel against recovery with every fiber of my being. The large kitchen with two industrial size refrigerators, large sinks, and multiple microwaves screams community meals. The environment is meant to feel inviting, like a home, but instead feels like what it is–a place where people stay when something serious happens. I stood in the oversized kitchen after both surgeries had been completed and I had been up for 18 hours, when my mind flashed back to my time at the Center for Balanced Living. At least this time my food wasn’t being checked and re-checked for meal plan accountability and I wasn’t going to be watched while I ate. I suddenly felt devious. I could sit alone at a table where I could eat as slowly as I wanted and throw out food without the need to hide it first. What I couldn’t believe was that I was even entertaining this thought. I sat at the table, playing with my food, and eating it incredibly slowly; pushing the thought out of my mind that I might actually be starting to struggle again. Despite being very busy while in Pittsburgh, I made time for exercise because I couldn’t “undo” all the hard work I had recently been doing.
All these red flags and I kept ignoring them. Excusing them away and dismissing them as paranoia. I mean, when will I get my life “back” if I don’t start now? I do enjoy the occasional run and the feeling of being back in the gym, but I went too hard too fast. The safeguards weren’t enough because I started out doing too much too soon. I didn’t ease back into the gym, I went at it like my mind and body were fully healed and not susceptible to relapse.
I was wrong.
Healing from an eating disorder doesn’t happen overnight.
Recovery and healing happens over years; marked by struggles, slips, and points of higher learning.
My experience in the gym is a point of learning. Learning I am not able to exercise daily like I used to because my mind isn’t ready for it.
The trigger to return to the eating disorder is still there, lying in wait, for me to choose it.
I chose it.
I tried to ignore it but thankfully I’m stronger than that now. My husband is stronger and knows when to call it to my attention.
Together we won’t let the eating disorder retake my life.
On a similar, yet slightly different note, I hate myself a little for supporting a business that thinks posting crap like this is appropriate, but it is what it is. Besides, I haven’t been a “girl” in quite some time…I’m almost 30!
I much prefer the cover image I’ve chosen from Women’s Running Magazine that both demonstrates and states that weight doesn’t matter. Because it doesn’t.
With Body Love,