Progress is Not Linear

When a baby learns to walk, she crawls for a while. In time, slowly and with the support of adult hands, she stands up and moves forward. Finally, one day she takes her first steps, free of parental support. But seconds later, she falls. She gets back up, takes a few more steps and inevitably she falls again. This process is repeated over and over and over for months on end, until eventually, she stops falling. As she develops into a young child, her early childhood will be riddled with scrapes and bruises from countless trips and falls. She won’t fall every day, maybe not even every week, but she will still fall until at some point in her life, she will stop falling almost completely. Even as an adult however, there will be a fall from time to time, whether it’s tripping over a root or falling over a shadow. Even every adult falls.

Progress is never linear.

Eating disorder recovery is a lot like learning to walk. It starts slow and choppy, and you may feel like you’re failing most of the time. But overtime with commitment and support, it slowly becomes easier and more consistent. No one masters eating disorder recovery in a day (or month, or year). Eating disorder recovery is a long and challenging process. Even when you think you’ve got it down, like an adult surprised by a fall, you will hit a bump in the road.

This isn’t to scare you off from recovery. Yes, eating disorder recovery is arduous but it is also one of the most beautiful things in the world. But far too often, eating disorder recovery is packaged up neatly with a curled ribbon on top. Eating disorder recovery is frequently portrayed as a before and after, an image that can be detrimental for those living in between. Eating disorder recovery is a courageous journey to embark on, but it is just that; a journey.

Eating disorder recovery is beautiful, but it isn’t pretty. Recovery is messy and anything but linear.

For years, in college and beyond, I was consumed with guilt when I ate something “unhealthy” (what does that even mean?!) and I went to extreme measures to negate the “extra” calories I consumed. Track and cross-country practice were never enough, especially if I’d eaten lunch that day. I’d convince myself the extra core-work or rest-day-cross-training I did was for my running success, but it was always in an effort to make myself smaller. I regularly cried myself to sleep and made myself miserable, forever in a fight to change the way my body looked.

My recovery began before I could even admit to myself that I had an eating disorder. Close to four years ago, I was still suffering from a tumultuous relationship with food, exercise, and my body. But around that time, I moved to a new city, made new friends, and began to look at running differently. Slowly, I felt a shift in my mindset and over time I grew to hate my body a little less. It took a couple of years, but in time I was finally eating pizza again, I dreaded bikinis less, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had cried myself to sleep. I thought I was all better. Wrap in shiny paper, add ribbon, end of story.

But like I said, that’s not how recovery works. My recovery continued, but certain behaviors stuck with me or returned. I hadn’t weighed myself in at least a year but then my roommate got a scale. At first I weighed myself a few times out of “curiosity” but before too long it was back to weigh-ins two or three times a day. I was eating foods I once feared, but gluten remained fully restricted from my diet. And rest days? Still wasn’t a fan of those. I kept trying however, taking it one day at a time. Baby steps and plenty of falls.

This time last year, with the birth of Lane 9 Project, I found a community of women with experiences similar to mine to connect with. I began to talk about my experience and for the first time, admitted to myself that I had struggled with an eating disorder and that I am still in the recovery process. With this community I have had the opportunity not only to reflect on how far I’ve come, but evaluate how far I still have to go.

I’ve written about recovery, my personal journey, and the freedom there is in being recovered from an eating disorder, but there’s something missing in all that. Although I’ve progressed and I’m no longer that baby trying to walk, I’m still human and I’m always going to fall down.

For example, I love Cheez-Its. Like really really love Cheez-Its. But while I was eating them the other night, I said out loud, “I really need to stop eating these”. Why?! I was hungry, Cheez-Its taste good. There were zero reasons for me to stop. The voice of my eating disorder, the one I’ve been able to silence so successfully, was creeping in. And again, just tonight, I finished up my easy training run and grappled with the idea of doing some core exercises. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I should. Again, the eating disorder voice I’ve worked so hard to leave behind, was trying to sneak back in. I believe I am mostlyrecovered from my eating disorder, but there is always room for growth, and progress is never linear. I may feel amazing for months and then have a few bad days. That’s OK, the goal is to keep moving forward.

This week, I’m teaching my 3rd grade students about story mountains. In stories, characters face a bunch of problems as we climb the mountain, we reach the climax at the top, and then the character’s problems are resolved as we make our way back down the mountain. In my eating disorder story, I’m on my way down the mountain, I’m beyond the climax, the height of my eating disorder, but the path isn’t clear. The trail ahead is winding, with rocks, roots, and the occasional uphill in the way. I will not turn around and climb back up that mountain, but I am prepared to get a little lost on the way.

No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third).

I am an adult in my recovery journey, but even the strongest among us fall down sometimes. You will fall and you will fail and that is OK. No one will get everything right in recovery the first time (or second or third). Unfortunately, it just isn’t that easy. When you fall, remind yourself that you are not alone. There are so many others who have fallen down with you, help them up. When you fall, do not stay down. You are not a failure, you are a human. You are doing the very best you can and that is always enough.

 


 National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 800–931–2236

Originally published on Medium

More to Celebrate

5 Years Ago

I’m sitting in my childhood bedroom, painted pink and orange from when I moved in at 13, staring at my reflection in the mirror. My best friend Kiley is curling my hair and we’re sipping a fruity cocktail of some sort, shaken up and delivered to us by my mom. Kiley turned 21 on Wednesday and at midnight, I will join her. About ten of our high school friends are coming over for food and drinks before we head downtown to celebrate. As we get ready, my mom bakes pasta, cookies, my favorite chocolate chip cheesecake, and whips up some magical champagne jello shots.

When our friends arrive we eat, drink, and chat about everything from middle school drama to post-college plans. Most of us are heading into our senior year and won’t see one another again until Christmas. Everyone was enjoying themselves, including me, but there was a voice in my head that I couldn’t turn off:

You shouldn’t have eaten dinner, now you don’t look good in your dress.

Why are you having that cookie? You’re disgusting.

Do you even realize how much sugar is in that drink?

You have no self-control.

My friends were there to celebrate me, yet I was completely incapable of celebrating myself. Throughout the night, the feelings of guilt and shame never subsided. The champagne glass in my hand was filled to the brim with regret. A night that I should remember as pure joy is clouded with vivid memories of self-hate.

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The next morning, while my friends slept-in, I got up early and went for a long run. I ran 12 hard, fast miles. Sure I was training for the upcoming cross country season, but the real reason I ran that morning was an attempt to shed the guilt of the night before. I wanted to burn calories and run my body ragged as punishment for letting go and letting myself live.

The following day, I ate very little, still attempting to purge the guilt. But finally, the lack of nourishment caught up to me and I ate some leftover pasta. I dove into the bowl and with every bite the guilt came back. I quickly felt like a failure and the voice of my eating disorder grew louder and more aggressive.

You are worthless.

Why would you eat that? You’re so fat.

I was angry and frustrated with myself for losing control. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stop eating. I wished I was better at restricting. I thought, “I’m not even good enough to have an eating disorder right”. So I ran.

I went to my favorite trail and set off for a run on my full stomach, knowing I would feel sick and hoping I would throw up. It was muggy with a light rain when I stopped on the shoulder of the road and cried. I tried throwing up but it barely worked. I felt trapped in my own skin and wanted a way out. I wanted to look different and feel different but I couldn’t find a way. We only get one body.

When I look back on my 21st birthday, these are the things I remember most vividly.  Unfortunately, this type of memory is not isolated to one birthday. For years, Christmas and Thanksgiving were holiday’s I feared and my memories of them are clouded with anxiety and guilt about food and my body.  When I remember parties with my friends and teammates in college, I see images of certain photos that I once shed tears over because I thought I looked so terrible. It’s painful to recollect these memories but they are an important reminder of just how far I have come.

Now

Tomorrow I will turn 26. Twenty six isn’t really a monumental birthday (other than losing your parent’s health insurance) but to me, it is. I am celebrating more than another year on this earth. I’m reflecting on that birthday 5 years ago when I was at the height of my eating disorder and I am taking pride in how far I’ve come.

It has been a long, slow journey to recovery and it’s a journey that has no end. Everyday I have to make choices to keep myself on the road to recovery. I still occasionally fight the eating disorder voice in my head. Some days are easier than others, but most days are pretty good.

Tomorrow morning, I will run long with great friends not because I want to burn calories or punish myself but to enjoy running and prepare for my upcoming marathon. Tomorrow afternoon, I will celebrate at brunch by drinking mimosas and eating as much Mexican food as I can, surrounded by wonderful people. I will fill my day with laughter, absolutely no guilt, and I will contrast it wil that birthday 5 years ago.

My eating disorder can no longer rob me of beautiful memories.

This year, I am not just celebrating a birthday, I am celebrating the control I have gained over my life. I am celebrating that my eating disorder can no longer rob me of a beautiful memories.

November Project DC, Thank You.

November 26th, 2014, 6:29 a.m. (Err, like 6:35 probably)

It was raining. That cold, miserable, one degree away from being snow, kind of rain. Fingers and toes numb as I ran along Constitution Avenue in the direction of the Lincoln Memorial. A few weeks earlier I’d been told about ‘November Project’ and was now headed to my first workout. I thought it sounded fun, but I was hesitant, wary the workout would be too easy (good one, past self).  

I guess we showed up late because I don’t remember a bounce (missed my chance to yell “Fuck Yeah” before I’d even had my morning coffee). I soon learned it was ‘PR Day’ and we’d be running 17 Lincoln Logs (up and down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial), as fast as possible. I was awful at running down the stairs (still am), paranoid of tripping over my own feet (again, still am), but my determination prevailed and I was among the first finishers. I stood with the others contemplating whether I’d miscounted, while cheering on those still running, until the very last runner finished. I felt like I was back with my college team, sending my teammates to the finish line, despite the fact I didn’t know a damn soul. When the final runner descended the bottom steps, we posed for a picture before I shiver-jogged my way to the shower and headed to New York for Thanksgiving. Wednesday, earned.

After that first workout I didn’t make it again until a snow day sometime in January, at the time I left for work by 6:30, so even the 5:30 workout was out of the question. I came sporadically when I could but definitely did not consider myself part of the tribe. I felt like a bit of an outsider when I managed to make it, but something kept pulling my back.

 

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Not my 1st workout, but a workout. Photo Credit: November Project DC

 

Fast forward to January 2016. I was in training for the Boston Marathon and no longer leaving for work at 6:30 a.m. I decided I wanted to become an NP regular, rather than the sporadic visitor I’d been for over a year. I wanted  NPDC to be my tribe, I wanted these members to be my friends. So, Wednesday after Wednesday, I set my alarm for 4:45, got my butt outta bed and joined the 5:30 crew. Slowly, I started to learn people’s names and to my surprise, people remembered me too. As the weeks went by, 4:45 became more routine, the workouts became more fun, and I felt an inch closer to being part of the tribe. After Boston, I got injured and was sidelined from June until September, but found myself on the steps as soon as I was back in commission. I finally deemed myself a (Wednesday) regular.

None of this is life altering and I didn’t think I had a November Project story to tell. I didn’t think I was in deep enough or a significant enough member of the tribe for my story to be valid. But as I realized how bummed I was to miss this Wednesday’s workout due to illness and how much I was looking forward to next week, it registered to me that NP is a bigger part of my life than I was aware.

I have not given November Project DC, its leaders, and the tribe the credit it deserves. When I showed up at that first workout, I was still a former collegiate athlete, struggling with disordered eating and grappling with very little self-worth. I didn’t see myself as a strong, capable woman, who also happens to run pretty well.

At the time, I still believed my value was determined by my PR time or my waist size. Now I realize, November Project undoubtedly contributed to and accelerated, my recovery.

At November Project, people applaud your PR’s and celebrate your successes, but the tribe knows you’re so much more than that. If you told a single member of NP you don’t feel fast enough, or thin enough, or smart enough, or whatever enough, without missing a beat they’ll call bullshit and remind you that you’re FUCKING BEAUTIFUL. And they won’t just say it, they’ll genuinely mean it. I’ve finally figured out, this is what kept pulling me back to the stairs before dawn. I couldn’t see it in the beginning, but the tribe was reframing my way of thinking, giving me back my self-worth, and pushing me down the road to recovery.

November Project is a beautiful place. A place where nobody gives a shit how fast your 5k is. No one cares if you run 70-mile weeks or 7-mile weeks. It doesn’t matter if you’re a size 2 or a size 20. If you show up, you belong. If you show up, 10 or 50 or 200 other people that decided to show up that morning will cheer you on until the very last step. The fastest member of the workout and the slowest member of the workout will high-5 each lap because no one is ever more than half a lap of away. November Project is a place to grow, to make friends, to give hugs and strange ear massages, to lose weight, to gain strength, to get faster, to unwind, to socialize, to explore.

November Project is exactly what you need it to be.

For me, November Project is a place to recover. November Project DC, thank you.

 

A Lesson in Recovery

Again and again, I’ve fallen victim to the trap of training too hard and recovering too little. As a result, I’ve succumbed to multiple injuries over the years. I’ve experienced the consequences of neglecting rest and recovery, but until today, I hadn’t truly experienced the benefits from prioritizing it. 

A couple of weeks ago, my long run was a 16-miler. It was nothing to write home about, but it went well. I came home, stretched, had a bagel and chocolate milk, then hopped in the shower. Up until that point, I’d done the right things, after that, I threw recovery out the window. I headed out of town for the night with nothing but a pair of heeled booties, I didn’t eat again until dinner, and I greatly neglected my hydration. The next day I was tired and sore. That morning, I headed out for my easy run, that wasn’t all that easy and later, some unseasonably warm weather and a Monday off led to a few too many glasses of sangria. On Monday, I repeated Sunday’s mistake and ran even harder. By the time the week’s first real workout rolled around on Tuesday, my body felt like garbage.

I felt like crap the whole week; heavy legs and aching joints. When I got to Saturday’s long run of 12.5 miles, far less than the week before, my body was begging for a break, but I pressed on and ran what turned out to be 12 of the most miserable miles of my life. The run was so rough by mile 9 that I walk-ran the last three miles, something I’ve never had to do. At that point, I began to recall the past week and pinpoint why I felt so bad; it quickly became apparent. I didn’t take care of myself in the hours and days after my long run, and I was paying for it. Right then, I vowed to focus the coming week’s energy on rest and recovery, so I’d be ready for today’s 18-miler.

This past week I’ve hydrated and I’ve eaten. I’ve had no more than one alcoholic drink in a sitting and I’ve foam-rolled daily. I ran Friday morning rather than Friday afternoon to increase recovery time before my morning long run. I made little choices every day in hope of maximizing my recovery and waking up with fresh legs.

I didn’t sleep well last night and I crawled out of bed this morning hesitant, worried about how the run would play out. As I began running towards Meridian Hill, where my running buddies would be waiting,  I immediately noticed that my legs felt fresh. I expected to feel this way until mile 8 or 9, but with each mile, I continued to evade the fatigue. Mile by mile flew by and I continued to feel like I’d just started. Finally, at mile 15 I said by to my running partner and headed towards my car. I feared I’d get tired, running alone the last few miles, but I put in my headphones and focused on relaxing. Those last 3 miles flew by and without realizing, my pace dropping significantly. When I was alerted by my phone I’d reached mile 18, I was actually disappointed. I felt great and I wasn’t ready to be done. Runner’s high. 

Last weekend was one of the worst long runs of my life and today, despite running 6 miles further, was one of the best. The difference between the runs was not fitness, motivation, shoes, or running partners, the difference was recovery. Today I was able to experience, for the first time, the tangible benefits of recovery and now, I’m convinced.  I’ve always had an “I’ll believe when I see it attitude” about recovery. Now, I’ve seen it and boy do I believe it. I wish I had this moment sooner, but from this day forward, my perspective on recovery is changed.