I spent the good part of nine years running from bulimia; trying desperately to get better but failing miserably every time. I though I knew how to cope. I thought I could manage my addiction to bingeing and purging and I thought I could make myself well. I thought if I just cultivated more self-control. If just planned out healthier meal. If I just didn’t buy foods I liked to binge on. If I just avoided situations that triggered a binge. If I just ran marathons I’d be healthy.
Looking back I can see I was running away from an addiction that controlled me. No amount of self control or well planned meals or avoidance or miles could solve the bigger problem that was going on inside my head and heart. My eating disorder was a complex mix of a distorted view of myself, a desire to be ‘better than,’ and a lack of self-worth. And all of that made my relationship with running equally distorted and complex. What started out as fun challenge had suddenly become a tool in my twisted purging methods. I ran to burn off calories. I ran because I was afraid of becoming “fat.” I ran because I thought I could out-run addiction, that somehow if I was a “runner” that at least made one aspect of my life “healthy;” that it would somehow balance out all the other destructive behavior that left my body a broken mess.
It didn’t. It was part of the destructive mess. And looking back, by the grace of God I’m still alive today. When I think about some of the combinations of destructive behavior that went on during those nine years specifically when we lived in Arizona, I shake my head in disbelief. Frequently I would binge, purge, use laxatives one night and then because I was training for a half marathon or marathon go out for a long run the next morning. The toll that it took on my body was evident, despite behind capable of more I constantly performed well under my abilities.
I ran three marathons and three half marathons while I struggle with bulimia and each one was a struggle, so much so that after my third marathon in San Diego California in 2007 I stopped running almost completely (which was probably a good thing). I couldn’t handle the disappointment of not even coming close to my running goals (qualifying for the Boston Marathon) and just didn’t want to try any more. But the truth is, in the state that I was in there was no way I could have ever achieved what I wanted to. I wasn’t healthy. And the destructive behavior of binging and purging and taking laxatives was hindering every step I took.
Many people have asked me “what changed?” And while it is a loaded question that requires a multifaceted answer, simply put I LET GO. Very slowly and after reaching what I would consider my “rock bottom,” I let go. Partly out of exhaustion of living a bulimic life for nine years and partly out of strong desire that the daughter I was carrying inside me would never see me this way, I let go. I let go of the fear of gaining weight. I let go of the idea that I could fix myself. I let go of the lie that I wasn’t good enough. I let go of the pressures I placed on myself to be “better than”. I let go of counting calories. I let go of exercises as a means to burn those calories. I let go of the image I had in my mind of how I wanted to “look.” I let go. The letting go had been in process for nine years and the catalyst that finally led me to be able to let go was my pregnancy. It was the last straw.
And after I let go. I rebuilt. Slowly, the way that I viewed myself changed. The way that I viewed food changed. The way that I viewed exercise changed. And today I’m happy to say I am completely FREE of all of those lies and wrong ways of thinking and distorted views of myself. I am free. And the funny thing is that everything I was striving for while I was bulimic: a specific number on a scale, a specific “look.” They all happened. But not because I tried hard to get there. They happened because I’d let go and it turns out that’s where my body naturally wants to be when I eat good food and exercises because I love it. There are times when I still fight against the desire to “look” a certain way, like this past summer when I wanted to run in a sports bra and tank top, but felt like I didn’t “look” fit enough to do so. And times when I’ve learned to balance a desire to change my body with acceptance. But the striving and the straining towards an image is gone.
And all those running goals that I had, those too have come to pass. Because I’ve worked hard? Yes. But mostly because after nine years of being destroyed by my bulimic behavior my body has healed. My body is healthy. My body is ready and able for the big goals I have.
My relationship with running has transformed since my addiction to bingeing and purging is now gone. No longer is it a means to purge extra calories I’ve consumed. Now it’s a means to prove what this healthy body is capable of. To train my mind and body to overcome obstacles and do things I never imagined it could. Maybe I’m still driven by that internal voice that tells me I can be better. But it’s not twisted and distorted into destructive behavior, instead it’s leading me towards my dreams.
And for that I am so grateful.
Have you ever realized you were running away from something, not really facing it head on and dealing with it? Have you ever noticed that when you let go of the things you’re striving for most, they somehow come your way in the most unexpected ways?
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Email: RunFarGirl [at] gmail [dot] com
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