Writing tends to fall towards the end of the priority list these days. Considering it is one of my best forms of self-care, I definitely need to be mindful of not forgetting it altogether. What better way than with a blog update! I saw my therapist this week for the first time since she went on maternity leave in the spring. I think we were both a little surprised with how well I have done over the past months. Not to say that she didn’t have confidence in me, I just have a track record of rolling down the mountain into a hole and needing a lot of assistance to climb back out. I started seeing her almost two years ago when I was sick of feeling stuck. I was tired of settling for a life where I continuously lived in a semi-recovered state. Sure I could survive life that way, and I did for several years, but something inside me knew that there was a better way to live. I couldn’t put it into words then, but I knew change needed to happen. Every single day I am grateful that I went back to treatment and fought for this life. A free life. I know I still have work to do. We all do. But this is the first time in a long time where both I and my treatment team have acknowledged that I am not stuck anymore. I am definitely beginning to live a life of full recovery and not settle. Even if you are new to recovery, please never let yourself settle for anything less than complete freedom. And if you consider yourself as recovered as you will ever get, reconsider! There are always ways to continue to move forward and live your best self. I realize that it is therapeutic for me to write, but I also hope to reach others in recovery to continue to show people that it is possible to get your life back and rediscover who you are. No matter if it is eating disorders, substance abuse, mental health disorders, etc – life can always be beautiful.
I want to post about my experience with exercise in recovery. Up until 2 years ago I thought it was possible to recover from an eating disorder and still work out. Maybe that is true with some people, but that has definitely not been my story. Exercise has been a part of my entire life. I was a gymnast competitively and then switched over to competitive jump rope. I have trained endless hours for National and World competitions since I was twelve. There was a very fine line between just training hard like any athlete and over exercising as an eating disorder behavior. I knew it was becoming more of the latter when my overall health and performance began deteriorating. Working out became something I had to do and there was no joy in it. As I began recovery I couldn’t quite let go of this part of me or even acknowledge that a problem actually existed. I was competitive and at an elite level you have to continue training. That was just life. At that time I was never asked by my treatment team to cut back on training and in hindsight I wish they would have. There was a lot of denial on my part at the time so I don’t blame anyone, it is just frustrating looking back and realizing that no one considered it a problem because I wasn’t at a dangerously low weight. My mindset shifted as the eating disorder grew. A part of me still always wanted to win, but a larger part was determined on seeing how far I could push myself. I wanted to manipulate the number on the scale. I wanted to escape all the anxieties of life and control would I could.
My mindset has been completely turned around over these past two years. Luckily I had no choice in the matter. A major back surgery tends to sideline people for a while. I was absolutely terrified during this time. Not being able to work out for months seemed absolutely unacceptable. I had been working out with pain for months. And what if I wouldn’t ever get back to the level of intensity that I wanted after a surgery like this? Most doctors thought I should wait to have the surgery until I was older and told me to slow down even though I was in considerable pain. Thank goodness I talked to several doctors and formed an educated opinion. And thank goodness my surgeon believed in my ability to get back to jumping and a very active life. I could write a whole post about spinal fusion and recovery in itself because I have found a lot of misinformation out there along my journey. Not to skip to the end of the story or anything but trust me I am completely healed and am at a higher level of fitness than I have been at in years.
That surgery was a blessing in disguise. It is the greatest thing to ever have happen to me. I was forced to face myself and sit with myself and all my feelings. Not run away from them to the gym. I didn’t realize that working out was one of the last hurdles to conquer to really living out full recovery from the eating disorder. Over those months of strictly nothing but monitored rehabilitation I started peeling back all those layers of what exercise truly meant in my life. What I found was a very unhealthy relationship to it. My identity was completely interwoven within it and I didn’t know who I was outside of the disorder and exercise. How did I define myself without being an athlete? I was quite lost for those few months. Right after my surgery I realized that relapse was imminent if I didn’t find a new treatment team. I was in a state of half recovered at the time, doing things on my own, but mentally I was a wreck. So I sought out a center and found a therapist who specialized in both eating disorders and sports psychology. Hallelujah! Another blessing. I am a pretty private person so people don’t necessarily realize the effort that I have put into my recovery since that surgery. I assume most people thought I was pretty much recovered by that time and it was just frustrating to talk about. I was flustered because I knew that life could be better than only half-assing recovery day after day. I refused to believe that I would always have disordered thoughts the rest of my life.
All the work the past two years has truly transformed my life. There were many factors in ending up where I am today, but completely abstaining from exercise was the answer for me. It established in my head that my relationship with working out was very unhealthy and it also made me think about who I was apart from my identity as a competitive athlete. I have also been privileged to work in groups specific to exercise dependence with other competitive athletes with eating disorders. I learned more in those six weeks than I ever have in ten years of other recovery work. I rebuilt from the ground up my relationship to the gym. I was out of the gym for nearly eight months and when I returned I did at a snails pace. Today I work out intensely because I want to and because I am able to fuel my body properly and really listen when it needs rest. I love how strong and confident I feel in the gym and that confidence is overflowing into the rest of my life. My training doesn’t just revolve around jumping. I run, bike, hike, crossfit, yoga, etc. I am enjoying new things. I consider training again for competition because it gets me excited and I have this whole new outlook on it. I no longer feel the need to work out because I think I should or because I really need to work out so I can have that glass of wine at dinner. I have had to be very careful integrating numbers back into workouts but I feel nothing but joy now and freedom. Numbers used to dictate all workouts, now they are simply a measure to assess strength and ability. I am stronger after that surgery both physically and mentally because I took the time to do the work. I am absolutely in awe of what my body does for me on a daily basis and know now how to take care of it. I wouldn’t have discovered this amount of pure happiness if I wasn’t forced to sit down and deal with it completely away from the gym. It makes me realize now how sick I actually was and how I was harming myself. I have never felt better in my life and I wonder what I can accomplish when I actually take care of myself.
I have a new morning routine on the days that I don’t have to rush out the door somewhere. Currently I am sitting outside on my patio drinking coffee and enjoying the beautiful Colorado mornings. I generally write, color, listen to music, or just relax and watch my pups play in the yard. I am starting to get a glimpse of the first veggies to spring out of my garden and even this morning I have a first rose blooming on its bush. I am taking this time to practice the mindfulness that is so crucial to my life and recovery. I am soaking up every minute because I know that this summer is filled with extra time- fall bringing the added stress of graduate classes. I am very grateful for this time and the ability to be filled with life and beauty. My mind is no longer consumed with what I am going to eat or not eat for breakfast. I look forward to my workouts to be awed by my body’s ability, not to endlessly punish myself for eating that extra piece of candy or bite at lunch. I am genuinely feeling freedom for the first time since the eating disorder consumed me over a decade ago. I look back at the past two weeks on the many successes I have had and can’t help but grin from ear to ear. I went on vacation and had few destructive thoughts while at the lake in my bikini. I ate out numerous occasions ordering exactly what I wanted and eating intuitively until I was full. I even was able to indulge without crushing guilt. I missed workouts because other things like spending time with people were more important. I went clothes shopping and even found a couple of dresses and shorts that I love and feel comfortable in (see pictures below from Father’s Day!). My body image has been positive more than negative. I have been successful for two months without my treatment team. I am finding beauty in all areas of life. I started shadowing clients at a cancer rehab on campus. I am filled with excitement and anticipation for this graduate school adventure because I feel at peace and happy while there. As life has slowed down for me and as I have made a genuine effort to slow down my thoughts and day to day, the world has completely changed and opened up to me. I hope my joy can radiate off this page and encourage anyone struggling to keep pressing forward. Freedom won’t happen overnight, but as you realize that it is happening it is the greatest gift in the world. I would never wish that someone would have to struggle through the weight of mental illness, but the struggle gives me perspective on the world that I am thankful to experience. We all hear that life is short. I am thankful I am able to be mindfully present as the days pass which makes them seem fuller and more serene. I am actually living a life that I imagined growing up and I love being inspired by new things every day. Recovery is a beautiful thing.
I have spent the day practicing a lot of mindfulness and self care. May is a month I would quite like to move on from but I am very grateful for days like today. I treated myself to a facial which was needed. A little too much information – nothing like a lot of sweat to block up those pores! After a week of hard workouts today is a welcomed rest day. I enjoyed a crisp iced caramel machiatto and sat down to do some more creative writings, an art form I abandoned over the tumultuous years. I find it hard to start up again but you have to start somewhere. I have gone about the day at a slower pace and it is such a blessing. Even now I sit and write this post outside in the warmth of the sun, dogs playing, nature surrounding me. I feel serene and in love with life. A day like this hasn’t happened in awhile so I am soaking it up and remembering that I have the capability to make every day as precious as this one if I slow down a bit. Remember what is truly important. Take some time today if only for a moment to soak up life, enjoy the warmth of the sun, the beat of your heart. Just be still.