I want to run a 25K.
But yesterday I ran a mile. It was the first mile I've run in my whole life.
Technically that is not true. I used to run. I ran miles and miles, around my college town of Helena, Montana, where the wind whipped the air into an arctic frenzy, and I had to wear double wool socks to convince my toes to keep circulating blood.
I ran in Boulder, Colorado after I dropped out of college, powering up the dry slopes of the Chautauqua, the altitude of my home state keeping me high and dizzy, dusty and worn.
But I never ran alive.
I was running away. Every stride I heard the monster in my head, eat less, go farther, more, now, you're not good, you're not good, you're never good.
I was never quite thin enough for him. Never in control enough. I ran for miles, and when I came home, the monster whispered slippery words that made me put my sandwich down, and go back out for another run. He screamed at me until I cried and hid my birthday cake in a paper napkin, frosting leaking through my bony fingers. He opened my mouth and, like a poltergeist, screamed at my boyfriend for putting too much olive oil in a pan. I once Googled “How many calories does crying burn?” Even the internet was too worried about me to answer.
My shoulder blades popped out like sharpened angel wings, and I kept running. My boyfriend told me I was beautiful no matter what, and the monster covered my ears and laced up my trainers. A few months after my 21st birthday, I used the tiniest bit of myself that I had left, and held down the monster with one hand and used the other to call my mom. I checked into a hospital the next week.
It’s been almost 7 years since I left the hospital. It’s been 6 years since I’ve been a healthy weight. I have never ever gone back. The monster is little now – like a demon baby Merlin aged backwards - living in the back of my head in an isolation room. I can hear him wail, hear him scream for recognition even now.
When I give talks to eating disorder patients, who most often have never met anyone in successful recovery, I am often asked how I faced up to the monster.
“Do you eat whatever you want now?”
Absolutely, yes, I do.
“Do you weigh yourself?”
Never. Never ever.
“Do you exercise?”
No. No I don’t.
They tell you to not do intense exercise in recovery. It is often the thing that trips the lock on that chamber you built and lets the monster out. Our culture is exercise obsessed. It does not differentiate between the joyful movement of a body and the weight loss objective of it. The belief that our bodies are meant to be perfected by any means is a billion-dollar industry cloaked in trendy words like “clean eating” and “artisanal”. But those same people who use those words will choose chemical-ridden Diet Coke over the real stuff, fearing calories over cancer. They will tell you to move your body from joy, and then advertise for gray, harsh gyms where people simulate caged hamsters.
So, no I don’t.
But then...why don't I?
It's 7 years later, and I am still running from my body. I run from its energy, the energy I had as a child when I played. When my elbows and knees jutted out from my buzzing body. When I was in my body, but not only my body.
How can I say I'm recovered when I am still afraid of the body I am? I did not survive to be afraid. I did survive to be strong. I am loathe to admit it, but I have yet to be strong.
I was not strong when I was running before. I am not strong now, my body full of anxious energy I've refused to let it expend because of my fear.
Not everyone naturally expends energy through insane exercise like running. But I do. I am not built for grace, or coordination. When a ball comes flying at me, I duck. I am built for endurance. I am tall, with strong legs, and Colorado lungs. I am anxious, an introvert, and can only function when I feel like I've been properly steeped in silence. I do not run with music.
I like inclement weather. I like clouds and rain and cold. I like to run through them, and pretend I am a thunderclap splitting the sky in two.
I want to be strong. I want to reclaim my own strength. I want to run, for the first time, with my body, instead of away from it.
I ran a mile yesterday. My friend, an amazing distance runner, put together a running calendar for me so I would build up slowly. Another friend is going to be my running buddy, so I stay present, helping me keep the lock on my monster screwed shut. My boyfriend suggested lightly that I create a safe word so he can tell me if I go too hard, too fast. But that monster is not going to keep me from my own body. It does not own me anymore.
I am going to write about every run, even the boring ones, because I want to see for the first time what happens when I do what I want to do, because I want to do it.
That first mile was rainy, and slow, and my dog was being a pain in the ass about it. I felt tired and weak. But my legs started to remember. And the world was quiet. My head was quiet. I felt my body, and it wants to be strong.