Last weekend, I was feeling anxious. Anxious, alone, and down in a way I haven't been in a long time. Saturday morning, I woke up late and couldn't eat. I didn't even want coffee and despite my best intentions, I didn't want to go for my usual run. Around 10:30, I dressed myself, planning to meet a running group, but instead of driving anywhere, I sat in my car and cried, using Subway napkins to dab the tears from my red, swollen eyes.
Eventually, I left my things in my car and set off to run a route I've done dozens of times. It was 7.5 miles, through the familiar streets of my neighborhood, and the act of moving did lift my spirits. It is impossible to run while crying, a fact I first discovered at the tender age of 15 when my great grandmother had a stroke and was lying in a hospital bed dying. I left the hospital one day and went for a long, hard run, hoping the physical pain would ease my emotional anguish.
Many people run to feel better. Endorphins are wonderful, natural drugs that often lift my spirits. Endorphins are addicting, though an impossible, implausible catch-all for deep psychological pain, despite being undeniably good mood boosters. Saturday morning, as I finished my run and walked up the steep drive to my apartment, I felt tears trickle down my cheeks. The endorphins didn't help much.
Soon after, I found myself in my shower where I stood for far too long, until the water turned cold and my fingers began pruning. As I dressed, I contemplated eating something, but I didn't feel particularly hungry. I knew my body needed food, it was nearly 2 p.m. and I hadn't eaten anything since the prior evening. I poured myself a bowl of Multigrain Cheerios, which I ate, but which didn't taste even remotely like food. As I rinsed out my bowl and placed it in the dishwasher, I felt an overwhelming urge to rid my body of the food I had just swallowed. This urge is historic, but I hadn't felt it in a long time. The food felt alien in my body and I wanted nothing more, in that moment, than for it to be entirely gone.
"I didn't mean to throw up," I told a group of people that night at a local Eating Disorders Anonymous (EDA) meeting. "I knew it would feel bad, and it did, but I did it anyway."
"That's my own personal definition of insanity," a woman sitting next to me said. And it's true, I did feel a bit insane. All the work I have done, in therapy and on my own, over the course of the past few years, somehow felt invalidated by one purge. I felt incredibly guilty for willingly walking back into my eating disorder, for reasons I couldn't quite understand.
It wasn't just that I was feeling lonely. It wasn't even that I was feeling, for a short time, unloved and/or inherently unlovable. It was the realization that everything I'd told myself about myself was suddenly not true. I did not feel strong, or funny, or smart. My own personal narrative was faltering, all because of a perceived personal weakness. My emotional brain was telling me that I'd failed, while my logical brain was telling me that Recovery is not linear. People make mistakes. But the grace I so easily grant to others is incredibly difficult to grant myself.
There are moments in life when I feel as if I'm taking giant steps forward in terms of my job, relationships, hobbies, and personal growth. Last weekend I took a distinct, irrefutable step backward. The difference this time is that I know I will not stay backward. I didn't tell many people because I didn't want to burden them. This pain is my own. I'm writing this now, because I realize my story isn't a burden. There is something deeply empowering in owning your story, and I am ruthlessly, defiantly, owning mine.
My name is Sarah. I have an eating disorder. I'm in Recovery, and sometimes I take a step backward. But mostly, I'm taking enormous steps forward, and right now, that's enough.
P.S. If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237, find an EDA meeting near you HERE, or find an treatment center near you HERE. A comprehensive list of resources for any type of eating disorder can be found HERE.