Climbing towards Recovery.
In 2007, at the height of my bulimia, I was a healthy 140 pounds with an unhealthy, angry and scared mind.
Having lost almost everything I had during a series of events in my life, bulimia was a statement to the world: I cannot hold anything more inside of this body. I have had enough. It was after a binge on salty, greasy, thick-cut french fries, where I attempted, once again, to fill my emotional voids with food, I followed my routine to the bathroom, where I rejected, and ejected my failed attempt.
It was then where I found myself choking, trying to vomit out barely chewed fries, and I saw my death, through the reflection of the shallow toilet water.
In a desperate turn of events, I found myself reaching into my mouth, this time, to save my own life, dislodging the starchy fries out of my mouth and with my inhale I vowed to never purposely throw up again. Well, I stopped purging, but I couldn’t stop binging, and quickly began to gain weight. Using self-injury as a means to punish myself for feeling and self-criticism to punish myself for gaining weight, I found myself dangerously sicker than I had ever been before.
I spent many years pulling and pushing from my disorders towards recovery. There were weeks when art, music, literature and rest were sufficient therapy, and others where I had to reach out to online support groups and suicide hotlines.
There were weeks when I was perfectly functional and was able to go out, go to school and nurture my friendships, and many others were I had to hide away in my room, in the dark, in order to wait out the storm in my mind.
Sometimes I ate more than I could eat, sometimes I ate nothing at all. There were days were I was a courageous fighter, ready to claim my life back and those days were so few and far between at first.
I made an appointment with my physician, around the fall of 2010.
I was traveling with an archaeological research group thorough my college and needed to have my vaccinations up to date. That is when I found out I was 200 pounds, and when my physician found out I was a self-injurer. I had gained 60 pounds in three years and hundreds of scars- one of which was not properly healing. My doctor wasted no time and referred me to a psychologist, who wasted no time and put me on a low regimen of antidepressants. The medication, combined with weekly sessions, gave me enough head space to start believing that recovery was possible. Once I left for my trip, to a beautiful Caribbean island, where I spent a lot of time working in nature, I knew that recovery was imminent.
During the trip, there were two things that I feared would hold me back; I feared my weight would prevent me from keeping up with work and activities, and I feared my scars would prevent me from making any friends.
I hadn’t yet learned to trust my body or it’s strength and I hadn’t yet learned to be a good friend to myself, so I didn’t know if I would be a good friend for others. Imagine my delight, when for three whole weeks, all 200 pounds of me hiked, dug, ran, climbed, pushed, pulled, caved and even learned to swim, all while getting to know two wonderful women who would become two of my very best friends. Well, actually three wonderful women, because I got to know myself, too, and I was freaking fantastic. I learned to love myself, during that trip, I learned that my body was powerful and strong and that my mind was boundless. I found an insatiable passion for nature, and a curiosity for how far I could push my body and my mind.
When I returned back home there was a period of adjustment I had to face. There were certainly days where I felt hopeless, where there razor was my friend and food was my enemy. There were days where I was horrified at my reflection and disappointed in myself for not properly fitting that externally determined ideal of perfection and beauty. There were many days I forgot that I was a powerful, creative, intelligent and unique.
Recovery was waiting for me, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready. It took some additional changes in my life, mainly patching up some relationships, while severing others, until I created the ideal environment for my recovery. Once a peaceful, supportive and rather stress-free environment was set I felt free to explore. What was I looking for? Well, I was looking for things that could replace my current coping mechanisms of binge eating/restricting and self-harm. Tools, skills, wisdom and activities that could heal the emotional scars of my past while paving a healthier future.
That’s when I found yoga, and through that physical movement I found internal peace.
Yoga allowed me to reflect and to unlearn a lot of the lies I had told myself, about myself. I gained self-love and confidence back. I developed a meditation practice, and through the calming of the mind I found oneness. It allowed me to see the magnificence of life and all of its potential. Once I recognized the potential of life, I began to actively explore it. I began to cook at a yoga studio and made peace with food. I learned to view food as a gift, even those greasy french fries.
I learned to eat mindfully, meaning, to nourish my body rather than to fill my heart. I learned to love my body and its ever-changing landscape: curves, scars, rolls, wrinkles and stretch marks. I even learned to love others properly. I found my voice again, while singing mantras, and I revisited my passion for singing and songwriting. I have become an explorer, letting my curiosity of the world guide me. Still, my eating disorder and self-harm haunted me. I feared the day I would relapse, and waited for it. I was on the road to recovery, but I wasn’t sure how far down the road I had walked.
I have been in recovery for three years now. And with a loving and powerful team of family, friends, therapists and spiritual advisers, my eating disorder and self-injury have become, for the most part, a distant memory. Yet, during all this time, I have still felt very insecure about what recovery means and where I am at in its scale. It’s been an uphill battle, fearing I may fall back to the bottom and not really being able to see the top. I’m not afraid heights but I am afraid of falling. That is, until I went indoor rock climbing this weekend.
It was my first time at a rock climbing gym and I was extremely eager and excited to begin my lesson.
However, fear was whispering in my ear: What if you are too heavy? Can you hold your own weight? What if you fall? I interrupted fear as I strapped the climbing harness on, showing it that it’s ridiculousness was never going to stop me from living again, that I was never going to believe it’s ignorance and hate again, that I was invincible. I grabbed on to a hold above my head, stepped on the ledge and pulled myself up. I reached for the next hold, and the next, using both my arms and my legs to climb the 20 foot rock. I shook out of excitement, looking down at the ground, then looking up again. I’m doing it. I started climbing stronger and more confidently, higher and higher—until I reached the top.
Then fear whispered in my ear again: See what happens when you try? You’re going to fall back down.
My arms became weak and I didn’t know if I could hold myself up any longer. So, I signaled for my belay partner that I was ready to be lowered, and she let go of the ropes slowly, as I calmly walked down the wall. I didn’t fall. Even if I had, I’d have someone holding my rope, ready to break at any time, even if I had, I would have just gotten back up. I did it.
As I looked back up at the rock I had just climbed, for the first time in my life, I felt recovery. I had conquered my fears, proven my strength and showed my potential. I felt recovery and it felt so, so good.
Now I know where recovery is, and it’s not at the top of the mountain—it’s in the climb.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta
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