On Sunday night, two friends and I trail ran a quick loop around the bayou.
It doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, probably. And it didn’t look like one, for sure. Just three girls jogging a faint trail through the grass behind apartment buildings; weaving under bridges and criss-crossing concrete drainage ditches and pointing out alligators along the way. We chattered about work and friends and our YoungLife kids and tattoos we want to get and funny stories we remembered. There was a steady breeze and evening sun and while we all agreed it was a pretty perfect night, there wasn’t anything all that extraordinary about it.
For me, though, it was a major victory.
Other than on my “anniversary” of first sharing publicly about it, I don’t talk or write much about my past with disordered eating. I never want to so closely associate myself or my identity with a struggle that it keeps me tied to it; and honestly, I’m also wary of being misunderstood whenever I bring it up. I don’t want to appear as though I’m fishing for affirmation, and whether or not that’s a valid concern, it’s one that keeps me from talking too much about it.
But guys, this year has been a major one for me in terms of that part of my story. This year is the freest I have ever felt from all of it, hands-down.
Recovery for me was a much more mental, emotional, and spiritual process than it ever was physical, and it was also dadgum slow. There were some big moments along the way, for sure; but most days, fighting to stop believing the lies that fueled disordered eating for me has looked like tiny little steps.
I don’t know when those tiny little steps added up to those lies actually not feeling true anymore; but at some point, they did. And it’s been wild good, you guys. There have been a million little breakthrough moments for me.
I haven’t been anxious wearing a swimsuit. Like, I have put a swimsuit on and gone swimming without ever thinking about my body. I just swim. It’s awesome.
I haven’t been anxious wearing a swimsuit around other people. Do you know how many pool parties I’ve skipped or “forgotten” to bring my swimsuit to? It makes me really sad. I decided before this summer even started that I wasn’t going to turn down a single invitation to pool party this summer, and I haven’t, and it’s been a joy.
Climbing has honestly been a huge victory for me in this area — something that’ll get its own post eventually, I think. But I always wanted to try climbing in college (we had a decent gym at my school), and because of my body insecurity, I never did. I’ve gotten emotional about it on more than one occasion, now that I know how much I love it, and how untrue my thoughts that I was “too big” to climb are. Climbing is one of the most universal sports imaginable. If your body can get you up the wall, you can participate. There’s no specific way to look or barriers to entry. When I use my legs to power up a boulder problem or my height sails me through a reachy section of a lead route, I sometimes think about how wrong I was back then, and how grateful I am that I didn’t let the old voices that piped up when I first visited my gym in October determine whether I gave climbing a second chance.
I’ve liked photos of myself. I haven’t ripped them to shreds mentally or untagged myself from them or avoided taking them altogether. I’ve let myself be captured in moments, in the places or with the people I love, because those memories are precious to me. I’ve started being able to see them with the same generous eyes with which I look at photos of friends.
While at YoungLife camp last month, I was asked to share about my ED in cardboard testimonies towards the end of the week. It’s basically what it sounds like — leaders write a hard part of their story on one side of a piece of cardboard, then how Jesus redeemed it on the other. The staff asked us to stay onstage afterwards so that kids that had similar struggles could come talk to us, if they wanted.
I waited around for a pretty long time afterwards, sensing that a lot of the girls who might need help in this area wouldn’t want to be seen by others. Four ended up approaching me, one of whom spent a pretty long time just rocking back and forth on her heels in front of me at first, biting her lip, before finally whispering, “Do you ever stop feeling ashamed?”
And for the first time ever, in a truly complete way, I could wrap her up in a hug and say, “Yes.”
Right after cardboard testimonies, a guy leader who I deeply respect approached me and told me he’d watched as I’d talked to girls after the fact, and it had brought him to tears. He told me that part of my story was beautiful, sharing it was brave and important, and that he was proud of me, basically. I was too emotional already to process why his words hit me so hard, but as I thought about it later, I realized that I’ve had multiple guys in my life receive that part of my story really poorly. It’s not something that I’d realized I’d internalized, but as I thought back to some of those responses, it stunned me that I hadn’t. Someone I dated, after I told him, basically got super awkward and said, “Thanks for telling me. I’m glad you don’t struggle with that anymore.”
I wish I could go back in time and tell him, “Actually, no; I’m going to struggle with this forever, and I’m going to need your help.” And that’s okay. I wish I could go back and yank my past self from the passenger seat of his car, and tell her that if she’s believed the lie that disordered eating is an embarrassing, shallow, or shameful part of her story; partnering with someone who wants to sweep it under the rug only drives that ugly point further home. And that’s not going to cut it.
That leader’s words at camp were healing in a way I hadn’t known I’d needed. I didn’t realize I had lingering insecurities about how men would respond to that part of my past, but his encouragement gave me a standard to look to, and told me not to settle for less. And I believed him. And there’s something really, really empowering about that.
I’ve worn what I want to wear, instead of basing all my clothing choices on what I think will make me look the skinniest.
I’ve started noticing when I’m about to say something negative about my body or appearance or even just the food I’m eating and choosing not to say it.
I haven’t stressed about what I’m eating in a really long time.
And, finally, I like running, but I’ve only ever run by myself, because I don’t run very fast, and I’ve always told myself the story that others are judging me or my body based on my performance. It’s BS, but some of you know exactly what I’m talking about and how hard it is to shake. One of the things I’ve told myself I was going to do this year was get over it and run with friends; and that Sunday night trail run was the start of it for me. I loved every minute of it, and I will never rob myself of it ever again. I sheepishly admitted the occasion to both friends after our last mile. One of them got emotional and they both celebrated with me hard and I just have really, really good people.
Sunday night run club, as we jokingly called ourselves, reminded me of just how far I’ve come this year, and how free I am, and how much it means. And I felt like talking about it, if only for myself — to have something to look back on, a mile marker of sorts.
Grateful and happy and hopeful that wherever you are in your own struggle, you know your version of Sunday Run Club is on the way, too.