Two years ago, I was sick. I weighed 93 pounds, an I ran 10 or more miles every day on little to no food-fuel. I drank a lot of alcohol and I raided the kitchen at night like a zombie in an egghead convention, but during the day I consumed almost nothing of any real nutritional value.
It was all an accident; I thought I was being healthy. I thought I was in control of myself and my environment, and that working out less or at least less intensely would be a failure; I thought I would be doing irreparable damage if I ate anything fatty, or too protein-rich. I was scared of my body and of food and of people who had a healthier relationship with both, either real or imagined.
I could have died. Six inches closer to the sink that night in Houston when my blood pressure dropped, and I could have collapsed into a nice, long vegetable state. I could have had a heart attack, or a stroke. Shit got real.
Looking back, I'm not as embarrassed about the rude awakening as I used to be. I still have the scar on my lip from that night, and like all my other scars I've come to see it as a badge of honor instead of a mark of shame: I lived through this, I moved on from this. It's just a scar now, a memory. That wound has closed.
Still, like all folks who recover from something emotionally, physically, and mentally addictive (like drugs, alcohol, or wanting obsessively to be "healthy" and/or thin), there's that little skeptical voice inside you that insists you'll never be over it: You'll always be an "X," even if you haven't revisited the problematic behavior or substance since starting your wellness journey. I could always make a mistake, I could always break my own trust and progress, I could always wind up back there on that bathroom floor.
Personally, I've long hoped that I would feel that way: I've wanted "recovery" to be something that I felt wholly and honestly, without fear. I've wanted to come to the understanding and the self-peace to have a positive relationship with my body and the food I put in it, and as of two months ago I felt like I'd achieved something like that. I had stopped stressing over the number on the scale, even if I did check it every morning; I stopped playing manipulative emotional games with myself if I didn't work out one day for some reason. I started eating things I never used to feel comfortable with, like avocados. (WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN ALL MY LIFE, AVOCADOS?!)
And then, the absolute ultimate test: I had surgery, and couldn't work out for six weeks.
The past six weeks have taught me a ton of things about myself, including but certainly not limited to the acceptance that I am on the other side of eating-disorder recovery. I don't fear food any more—any food, ever—and I don't feel even a hint of anger or frustration at the size or shape my body is from this period of inactivity, despite either having gained a few pounds of fat or lost a few pounds of muscle. (At least I think I have, but I can't be sure, because I haven't gotten on a scale since at least a week before I went under the knife—that in itself is an amazing accomplishment.)
I also know that my longing to get back to exercise and running is from the love of movement and sport itself, not from a hatred of my body or a need to punish it. The things I miss about working out are social, spiritual, and emotional: I miss the interactions I have at my gym, the meditative time outside all to myself, the sight of a sunrise in Central Park. I miss feeling accomplished after a run, awake and alive. I miss Pandora and all the terrible 70s soft rock it gives me. I miss wearing better-looking shoes.
Obviously my experience is not everyone's experience, and I certainly don't recommend actually "testing" yourself if you're in recovery, because that is too much like the mentality that encourages the sickness in the first place: Be as kind to yourself as you would to a good friend who is suffering, take your time through whatever recovery process works for you, and remember that we are all different—and all worthy of feeling better, of feeling good. But I hope that I can prove to even one person that it's possible to come out stronger, happier, and safer.
If you're out there and you're struggling, I feel for you. I support you, encourage you, and believe in you. It ain't ever easy, but it's worth it because you're worth it. You are not defined by your conditions, your hang-ups, your addiction, or your disease. Redefine yourself. Ask for help when you need it, and take it when it's given. Be patient. Be honest. I can't wait to see you on the other side.