One year ago today I was curled up in a ball on the floor in my bedroom crying. It was the night before I boarded a Southwest flight to Arizona to start the most heartbreaking, challenging, humiliating month of my life at the eating disorder treatment facility Remuda Ranch.
It definitely doesn't seem like a year. This battle's been so intense that it feels like only few months. The details are still so clear. My then-fiance and I sitting on the stairs in my apartment, me wrapped in his arms shaking and sobbing. Running 10 miles the morning I left because I was sure it would be the last one I'd take for a long time. (I was right.) Landing in Phoenix and bursting into tears as I walked to baggage claim with the Remuda driver. Crying even harder when I arrived at the facility and was told I wouldn't have Internet access at all while I was there. Clinging to my cell phone as long as I could before they took it away, texting furiously with my family and Mighty Man just to stay in touch. Meeting my housemates and wondering how I would ever be at peace there with the surroundings like they seemed to be. Feeling so defeated, drained, scared and completely alone that first night. Realizing that absolutely every worldly comfort I had was gone and that all I had was God and His Word.
It's been almost a year since I left for Arizona, and I was reminded of the anniversary when I stepped out for my run this morning. I turned on my iPod and the One Direction song "What Makes You Beautiful" was the first song that played. It's not on my normal running playlist, so I hadn't heard it in months. But that was THE song that defined my experience last summer. One, because all I heard in Arizona was pop music, and that was one of only four songs the DJs would play. Two, because it addressed a very real subject that we were all exploring. And three, because it's the song our worship band played at church the Sunday after I got back to help me and all of the women realize that God looks at our hearts more than our waistlines to find true beauty.
I played that song over and over for at least three miles this morning thinking about how I've been changed since then. The most obvious difference is that I'm no longer a Gap size 00 and am now about 15-20 pounds in the northbound direction. While I still struggle with that at a very intense level, I do understand that it's a good thing. Shedding all of your body fat isn't healthy, and it doesn't make up for character gaps or personal imperfections. All it does is make you a thinner, more exhausted version of the person you are inside.
Then there are the non-physical changes, which I think have made the most difference. Only a year ago I was living in so much bondage that I could barely leave my apartment because I was terrified of being in an uncontrolled environment. I functioned, but only when necessary. I'd wake up and run and then starve myself as I wrote articles from my home. I'd eat a few small things to keep me going and then eat a large dinner before going to bed and starting over the next day. I'd go out with my fiance and to church but wouldn't do much else. It was too hard to engage with people--especially around food--because I was always hungry. I couldn't eat anything "unsafe," so I would just sit there wherever I was and endure hunger pangs until I could go home and eat something I'd preordained. To me, social engagements were associated with pain, so it was very difficult to go out.
This weekend, though, provided one of the most telling examples of how much has changed in the last year. My Mighty Man and I drove down to southeast Kansas to spend the day with his parents for Father's Day. We went to church with them and then came back to their house for a big lunch and relaxing afternoon. My mother-in-law had made a beautiful meal of roast, mashed potatoes, carrots, corn and salad with strawberry rhubarb pie and homemade ice cream for dessert. And for the first time I didn't look at it with paralyzing fear.
Only a year ago sitting in that very spot I had trembled with pain and anxiety as I chewed on dry lettuce and picked at tiny strands of lean roast. If anything else made it to my mouth, it was small, untainted by butter or gravy and within a certain calorie total. As everyone else ate, I toyed around in the conversation and tried to convince myself that I was doing the safe thing by not eating.
This year when we sat down to eat, I filled my plate with what I wanted, and I actually ate. The food was delicious, and I loved the flavor and texture of the roast-flavored mashed potatoes. I said yes to pie and ice cream and had a second bowl. When we were done, I sat at the table with the folks and my Mighty Man and just visited. It was about as far from the former scenario as I could get.
I still had high anxiety about the food. The MM and I talked about it on the way there and on the way back. But the difference was that I had freedom.
At the height of my condition, I couldn't think for myself. I listened only to the dictator in my head (called "Ed" in eating disorder circles) who told me what to eat, think and believe at all times. He orchestrated my actions, and, like a compliant prisoner, I did whatever he said without question. I believed everything he told me about failure, safety, value and control and centered my life around behaving by his rules.
I won't take the time to explain all there is to know about Ed and to reassure you that I'm not bipolar, but I will say that there is a new heroic rebel in my head who is refuting Ed's lies and showing me that I don't have to believe them anymore. The still, small voice of the Lord is breaking through and telling me the truth: I'm not a complete failure if I eat pie, and I don't have to run 10 extra miles to make up for it. I can choose for myself whether to either eat it or not and know I will be loved and valuable either way. That kind of change is monumental even if it's still in process.
Another big change from a year ago? I can hold down a high-energy job. Before, all I had the strength to do was run, sit and sleep. Maybe go on a quick errand. Definitely not play outdoor games, keep up with kids or do anything physically demanding. Now I can stand on my feet for 6 to 8 hours, carry around multiple gallons of milk, clean large machines, make whipped cream and mocha and boss it out on the espresso bar. No way I could have done that a year ago. I would have quit after the first week. But this is life, and I now have the freedom to choose it.
There's so much more, too. I can eat out now. I can sample new things. I can eat a handful of popcorn at the movies with my hubby if I want to. No, I don't always choose to, but I realize it won't kill me if I do.
That's the thing. I've still got so far to go. Every day I battle the eating disorder patterns and emotions. I still struggle every time I'm presented with a menu. I still panic at the thought of not being able to run for a day. But the difference is that now I'm working through those fears more often instead of just quick-fixing them with eating disorder habits.
So, there you go. One year after stepping onto that plane it's clear to see I'm not who I was. The Lord has and is changing me--freeing me. And today I'm celebrating the victories. In fact, I'm even going to rejoice over the missteps and say that they're all part of the learning process. One foot in front of the other, right? Do that long enough and you eventually look back and realize how far you've come.