I had two rock bottom moments in my life.
No, wait. Three.
Episode 1: I was not supposed to run. Sorry, there will be numbers involved, so if me telling my body weight is triggering, please skip this portion of the blog. Ok, here goes. I was 82 pounds. Eighty. Two. The idiom “skin and bones” accurately described what I looked like and how I felt. Cold all the time. Sores on my back and bottom from sitting on a chair (no fat=sore butt). Blood pressure that changed from lying to sitting to standing. Frequent episodes of dizziness and feeling like I was going to black out. And yet I’d still run. At least 3, 4, 5, or more miles a day. I was told to give up my running shoes by my treatment team because I could fall down dead at any given moment. Despite their pleas, despite their cries, despite me giving my five pairs of Brooks and Asics to my nutritionist, I still ran. I bought a cheap pair of kicks from Goodwill and hid them with my spare tire in the trunk of my car. I’d wake up at 1:34am and run laps and laps and laps around the neighborhood, trying to build up a calorie deficit because I knew I would have to eat that day and I couldn’t bare to eat and eat and eat and get fat.
Episode 2: I would go to hot yoga class religiously. Every day. Sometimes twice a day. I craved the heat because I was cold. All. The. Time. But after a while, even ninety minutes in a 100 degree room wasn’t hot enough. I’d wear a tank top and two shirts and long pants hoping to get a sweat. I was “skin and bones” but could not go a day without spending time in the hot room. Until one day when the owner of the yoga studio I frequented pulled me aside for a short talk. In a concerned, sad voice, she told me that other class members were worried for me because I was so thin, but more importantly I WAS GIVING OFF AN ODOR. It was a foul, acidic smell. And so she said that I needed to get cleared by a doctor and nutritionist before I could practice at the studio again. Guys, I was basically deteriorating in the wooden-floored studio. My muscles were eating away at itself, and what was left was this awful odor.
Episode 3: I just gave birth to my beautiful little girl, a bubbly thick-thighed (almost) seven pound bundle of joy. Life was wonderful (well, as wonderful as it could be on maybe three hours of sleep a day), but there was a problem. I was afraid I’d drop my little girl. One day while nursing, I needed to stand up from the floor. And I could not. I had absolutely no muscular strength or endurance to speak of. Yes, I could do crazy yoga postures. Yes, I could run for miles on end. But functional fitness? Standing up with a weight? Walking up and down stairs holding a newborn without feeling like my arms were going to fall off? Yeah, that was a no go.
These were my rock bottom moments that caused me to finally wake up. Wake up to the fact that I was exercise addicted. Wake up to the fact that I had no clue what true fitness is. I realized that my definition of exercise was horribly skewed. I equated six pack abs with health and cellulite free thighs with wellness. So what changed? What got me out of exercise addiction to a more holistic idea of what “good” exercise meant?
In the first episode, it actually took the love and faith of family and friends to get me past my addiction to exercise. With my malnourished brain freaking out that eating food and not running would cause me to balloon up like a whale, I needed intervention. BADLY. When I still couldn’t give up the miles and hid shoes from my treatment team, I ended up going into an inpatient program–one in Hawaii and later one in California. Although the programs themselves helped me gain weight, the obsessive behaviors were still there. That was when my family and friends stepped in.
My husband (who at the time was still my boyfriend, and yes, we have known one another for a looooong time) would randomly check my car, my drawers, my closets, any and everywhere that I could have hidden running and swimming gear. And then he bagged it all up and took them somewhere. Where? I didn’t know. At the time, I felt incredibly relieved that someone was actively taking away the gear that I knew I couldn’t give up. But then the irrational eating disorder voice was livid. Angry. Plotting.
And that voice tried. It REALLY tried to find a way to sneak in a quick fifteen minute swim or run. But my husband was great. Seriously, he was great. He popped up at my work place to check if I was hiding workout clothes there. And he came bearing lunch. He stopped exercising himself so that we could spend time together doing other activities like watching movies and talking story. He went to all of my outpatient treatment team meetings. All of them. He secretly emailed with my psychiatrist and dietitian to ensure that he was doing all he could to help me.
My husband was one of the reasons why my exercise addiction could be broken.
As wonderful and as loving as he was (and still is), being that vigilant was extremely tiring and stressful. I could never imagine what he went through, what with having to devote so much time and energy to helping me through recovery. But he did. He didn’t have many friends to confide in about this whole eating disorder/exercise addiction situation, so he ended up talking with his boss about the strain he felt, the fears he felt that I wouldn’t get better, the frustration he felt that he couldn’t just fix me and make everything all better.
But he got through it. I got through it. And as my brain became more nourished, as the anti-depressants helped me think more logically, I was then able to see that WHY I wanted to run, the motivation behind the act, was less than stellar. Most people take a jog around the park because they know cardio is good. Getting oxygen to the body is good. Being outside is good. I, on the other hand, didn’t put on shoes to go for a run because I knew that I was helping my cardiovascular system. I didn’t think it was helping me gain endurance and strength.
I did it because I didn’t know what else to do. I identified myself as a runner, and if I didn’t have that title, I didn’t know who I was.
And that was where my other family and friends stepped in to help me overcome the running addiction. They prayed for me. Prayed and prayed and prayed. They asked God to show me who I was in His eyes, not through society’s view or through some idealized version of who I thought I should be.
They prayed for ME to see ME.
This went on for a long time. Many days. Many weeks. Many months. Many many months. At many points during this process, as I sat in my bedroom, looking at my thin legs, I asked God to JUST SHOW ME. And I felt like I couldn’t hear Him. I didn’t know who I was.
And then instantaneously, He spoke. It really was like one minute I felt down and out, and the next second power and light filled my spirit.
I suddenly had no urge. No desire. I didn’t want to run. I was finished.
I drove by old running routes and saw similarly thin joggers racing up and down Diamond Head, mouths solidified in hardened lines, eyes downward as gusts of wind pushed against their pumping arms.
And I felt sad for them. Because I knew the feelings of compulsion and fatigue they felt. And I didn’t want to go back there.
It seems incredibly unbelievable that I just stopped running. But remember, prior to that instantaneous “I give up running!” feeling came a LOOOONG time of me doing CBT, eating all the food, taking medication, and being accountable to my family and friends. And it took a LOOOONG time of my family and friends supporting and loving and praying for me.
How did I know that IT WAS OK that I didn’t run anymore and that the addiction didn’t have a hold on me? I threw away any of the hidden shoes and shorts and tanks that I accumulated in my car “just in case” I needed to go for a quick jog. I stopped looking at running magazines and race calendars. I stopped idolizing Deena Kastor and other long distance runners. I literally didn’t care if I could or could not put on shoes and hit the pavement. Life was more than kilometers and trails and roads.
The running addiction was done and still is done. I can now run a mile or two, stop if I want to, keep on going if I want to. And there is no emotional connection between me and my Nikes. I don’t see myself as a “runner”. The fact that I only go five minutes at a nine minute per mile pace to warm up for lifting is nonessential. Because maybe I won’t go five minutes. Maybe I’ll go three. Or maybe I won’t go at all. Running no longer has a vicious hold over my life.
But there are still two more defining rock bottom episodes related to my exercise addiction journey. What then about yoga? How did I get beyond that obsession? I’ll tell more about that episode in my next post.
Do you identify as a runner? Have you been compulsed to run miles and miles even when you knew it wasn’t the best thing for you to do? How did you get over that addiction? Leave your comments below–I’d love to hear from you!