A desire to do something self-destructive is a lot like craving ice cream.
You want to order a double scoop of chocolate topped with rainbow sprinkles and caramel sauce without thinking twice about how utterly disgusting it is for you, just because it tastes good and will satisfy you. Of course, choosing to restrain from something self-destructive would be like taking the alternate route and ordering plain-ass vanilla frozen yogurt with sliced fruit and some stale granola, because you know, it’s the “healthy” option.
I do not want the fucking frozen yogurt. Rolling a joint and downing seven shots of vodka sounds so much better than yoga or emailing my therapist. Right now, it is so much easier to step on the scale and refocus whatever anger and pain I am feeling onto my weight and food intake rather than deal with it accordingly. I would rather reach for something sharp than reach for a pen and try to write it out.
Watching yourself bleed will always be more of a release than drawing a picture describing how you are feeling. It is hard to worry about other things when blood is coming out of you. I do not want to be talked back into sanity. I would much rather escape into the comforting and all-too-familiar feeling of lightheadedness brought by my favorite illicit activities and self-starvation. Impulsivity and loss of all logic and conscious thinking is so dangerous for me right now, but I just cannot stop craving it. It is intoxicating.
It is the way they make me think. I used to think things like that every single day. Essentially, I thrived on destroying myself. It was not a straight downfall, but a series of events that transformed me from my carefree self into a completely unrecognizable zombie. When you do not feel happy with yourself, you will cling to anything that uplifts you. You will over attach yourself to it, obsess over it, and do whatever you can to never let it go, because you think that thing can save you from yourself.
That is how running was for me, and not long after, that is how my eating disorder and all other unhealthy coping mechanisms were, too. They were all I had to mask my depression and anxiety. Until my first year of high school, I did not have anything that needed masking. I was a confident, super-athlete who convinced herself she was on the road to becoming a D1 runner. I was running for the varsity team as a seventh grader and I started hanging out with juniors and seniors from my team.
I suddenly felt better than I ever had. I felt like I belonged somewhere and running became my life. At first, I did not use running for anything other than having fun. I was genuinely enjoying myself. Win or lose, I knew I was still fast enough and good enough. However, that year, everything started changing. Many of my friends had graduated, and I felt somewhat lost without them. I hated my high school and I did not have a close relationship with my parents at home, so I did whatever I could to avoid them both.
I started hanging out with friends I had met here or there; people who had connections to things that would turn off my brain for a while. We would get high, sneak into bars, go to concerts, or involve ourselves in some sort of trouble wherever we could. It was just another bad distraction for me and I still felt shitty about myself. When I was stuck in school, I would count down the hours until I could put on my sneakers and push myself until there was nothing left.
I felt like if I could run far enough or fast enough, anything I was dealing with at home or at school would not matter. Soon, even running could not hide how I was feeling. There were days where I felt so low that I could not run fast enough – no matter how much I tried. I felt empty. My coach started noticing, but the thing she noticed was I not her best runner anymore.
She had always played favorites and I was no longer one of them. “What’s wrong with you?” “Cheer up and win this race for us. Let’s go.” She started comparing me to other girls on my team. “If you looked like her and had that body type, maybe you could run like her, too.” I thought she was right. I thought I had to push aside whatever I was feeling on the inside and do whatever it took to “look like her”. If I looked like “her”, people would like me again. I would like me again.
I thought it would be an easy way of bettering myself. Wrong. I stopped eating breakfast. I jogged around my neighborhood before school instead. As soon as I got my license, I would skip lunch and drive to the gym. Whatever I did eat; I had to work it off. It was like a sick and twisted mind game that I thought I had to win. It was addicting and it was almost fun at first. I could hide it so easily. If I ran fast enough and ate little enough, I felt so lightheaded and confused throughout the day that I didn’t have the energy to worry about anything besides the food I was putting into my body.
As long as I was preoccupied with the number on the scale, I was completely numbed out from anything else. Of course, this came with many consequences, but I did not realize it at the time. I was focused on immediate gratification and doing whatever I could in the moment to distract myself. If I could do tangible, external things to make myself better, then why shouldn’t I?
You think that one pound lost will make you feel “whole” again. You think you are in control, but before you know it, the eating disorder controls you. Restricting three days a week turned into seven. Cutting out fats turned into cutting out more than one food group. It seemed like every single day, the voice that controlled me from behind my eyes commanded me to follow a new set of rules, and I could not turn it off.
During track season my junior year, I was injured from over exercising, and had to stop running for a while. This also meant I would not be able to run in college. If that was not bad enough, I had to go to multiple doctors’ appointments, so all of the things I had been hiding for years inevitably came out. “How’d you get all those cuts on your leg?” (I don’t know…I hike a lot.) “How many calories would you say you eat in a day?” (Enough! I promise). “You have to quit track until you get your weight up.” (No really, it is fine! I eat a lot I swear. Just not today.). Suddenly everyone knew. My parents were the easiest to fool, so I pretended to recover. I made it seem like I was eating more and I slipped one-pound weights in my pockets when I went to the doctor. They thought if my weight was fine, then so was I.
Unfortunately, this continued when I left for college. I thought that if I faked a smile during the day and numbed myself out at night, all of the pain would go away. I was so wrong. I was suddenly in a new city and I felt fazed by all of the new people around me. College brought about even unhealthier coping mechanisms for me to indulge in. I was on my own, and the freedom and lack of supervision made it even easier for me to hide my eating disorder.
It was the worst it had ever been. I had never felt as depressed and anxious as I felt my first semester of college. I will not go into detail about what happened next, but I will tell you that it is the wakeup call I needed. I decided to commit myself to recovery. It has been four months. I still have an eating disorder. I still have depression and I still have anxiety, but I am not those awful things.
In retrospect, I realize I really did get where I needed to be through all of the shitty things that happened. Maybe I was not meant to be a D1 athlete. I was meant to run or go hiking, because I want to and I enjoy those things. I can exercise because I want to, not because I need to. If my mental illnesses had not destroyed relationships, I would not have re-routed and found myself the amazing people I have in my life now. Maybe I was not meant to have a set path of where I was going to go.
That makes my life a lot more exciting. The only thing that was ever ugly about me was my eating disorder, but it does not have control anymore. I feel free again.