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The healing power of sport

October 20, 2012

From age 10 through age 20 I was Bulimic. Many of you who know me know my story, I am extremely open about my eating disorder and my recovery. I don’t feel that my recovery should be viewed as some miraculous achievement, I have a lot of shame surrounding it. Why? Because in the end I chose to do it, it didn’t happen to me. Others who suffer from eating disorders may feel differently. Why we develop them and why we recover or don’t recover is highly individual in my opinion.

I now work with Teens Living With cancer. When I was their age I was flushing my health down the toilet. They would have done anything to have the health I had. That’s why I feel such shame about it.

I started binging and purging because my friend taught me how. We were dancers and I wanted to have the beanpole body of a 16 year old dancer, which at ten years old was just unrealistic. It wasn’t for lack of parenting that I felt this way. trust me my parents did everything they could to promote a good body image and promote a good self esteem.

We would diet all week long and on Fridays we’d binge and purge. Simple as that.

Then she moved away. And my grandmother died. It was my first experience with death.

Then the slippery slope began. That was my coping skill.

Eating disorders begin as a body image issue, then they morph into something entirely different. I had a tumultuous relationship with my brother which fueled the fire of my eating disorder. See when you have an eating disorder…. at least Bulimia…… vomiting is the way you get RID of feelings you can’t deal with. Or in my case you don’t know how to deal with. Anger. Frustration. In my case….. normal life issues. My parents raised me with good coping skills, I just chose not to use them and sought out sticking my fingers down my throat as a means to an end.

I was also hell bent on killing myself. Which I almost succeeded at.

My friends in high school staged interventions. I stopped talking to them. I quit dancing and became a swimmer so I didn’t have to look in the mirror. When my parents learned of my EDO (this is the abbreviation we edo’ers use) they put me into therapy, we joined support groups…… they did everything they could. I have good parents. I just chose a bad path.

I found healing in the water. I began to crave that feeling…. and I still do….. of that first push off the wall. Arms in streamline, the water rushing over my body and nothing but the sound of water in my ears. I shake my head at athletes who use earplugs and underwater radios, the sound of the water is miraculous. Listen to it sometime.

The feeling of weightlessness. The feeling like I am flying. I feel at home there.

I recovered well during my last 2 years of high school. I played by the rules. I attended the therapy.

When I got to college all hell broke loose. I made sure to go where no one could find me and I relapsed quicker than quick. I found solace in the pool and that was about it. Again…… all of my choosing. I had the resources at my fingertips.I chose not to use them.

My college swim coach was my saving grace. He knew of my EDO, confronted me. Gave it to me straight. Allowed me to continue on the team even though he watched me make myself sicker and sicker and sicker. He told me that he wanted to kick me off, but kicking me off the team was like kicking a drunk out of a bar. I would just stay sick. And at least there I was under his watchful eye. Which was a good thing, because when it came down to it…. the man saved my life.

I ended up coming home, hitting rock bottom at about 110 miles an hour. Sometimes in these situations the only way to get better is to hit the bottom. In my case it was a big bottom to hit and like I said, my coach saved my life. And so did my parents. What I put them through was unreal, horrible and terrible. They did everything they could to help me. I threw it back in their face.

I came home and put a pause on college for a while. I had been through all the therapy in the world. I could talk my way off any couch. I started working as a nursing assistant and got into the profession of helping others. It was my father’s idea and it was brilliant. For forty hours a week I took care of other people, and it was the exact medicine I needed.

I needed a place to live and answered an ad for a room available in a house in the university area. In a weird twist of fate I moved in with five guys who essentially were my brothers. The first night I was there I made a potato for dinner and they freaked out. That’s all you are having? They taught me how to eat. They became my family and between them and my work, I began to get pulled out of myself and the dark hole I was living in (and just for the record, I never hooked up with ANY of them. They were family. I hit the jackpot). Recovery was going well but I still could not string together 7 days without binging and purging. Despite the close call I had been through.

I began teaching fitness classes, got accepted into a nursing program and found my way into running, as a compliment to swimming. I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon as part of the Leukemia Society’s Team in Training, thinking I would be paired with some cute 7 year old bald kid with cancer. Instead, I was partnered with a 30 year old man. Who changed my life.

We met for lunch one day and he told me his story. He battled Leukemia in his early 20’s. It got dark for him. Real dark. I remember sitting with him and thinking….. this man was fighting for his life at the exact time I was wasting mine. He was trying to live and I was trying to die. He would have done anything to be in my shoes. And I didn’t want to be in his.

I remember blocking out 16 weeks and promising myself that as long as I was running this marathon for him…. I would not binge and purge.

I made it 16 weeks.

The day after I finished the marathon I signed up for the program again, because as long as I was running for him, I wouldn’t binge and purge. I made it a year. I loved being healthy enough to do what I was doing. The guys taught me how to eat and I very slowly and very surely solidified my recovery.

I found my way into triathlon and began to move up through the ranks. I relapsed a few times and put together that if I wanted to be good at this, I had to take care of myself (I know….. genius I am). And I found healing in triathlon.

I didn’t have any trouble with being pregnant. I trained the whole time. I swam and spun the day I delivered like every other triathlete mom. I had a 17 hour pure as hell labor and a beautiful son to show for it.

Three days later is when you have the trouble. Your stomach is boggy at best and with a fourth degree tear I hopped on my bike. Let’s just say my doctor was expecting that. I took four weeks off, as I had newfound respect for my body. I struggled with feelings of my EDO but I had a little person to think about. The world was no longer about me.

18 months later I did my first Ironman. 100% of my best performances have been since I became a mom. And I have been holding steady at about 15 years of recovery.

For me sport is healing. Sport is where I can find the outlet. I have had sport taken away from me twice and I was ok. I don’t’ freak out…. but I know enough to find the outlet for my energy (I have a lot). Being a nurse, a triathlon coach, a yoga and spin teacher  focuses my attention on other people. I love to watch other people find what I have found in sport. I love to be part of their journey.

People often ask me where I get my energy. Where I get my intensity. I spent ten years of my life trying to kill myself. I am making up for lost time. I didn’t enjoy my youth because I chose not to. I turned away friends who loved me. I threw away the help my parents gave me.

I hold people intensely now. If you are in my life you probably see that. I take nothing for granted. I live and play hard. I love hard too.  I mean what I say and I will never hold back. People have tried to impose rules on me and quickly learn that they can’t. I spent a long time living in a black hole and won’t do that again.

My husband gets that and I am so grateful for that. He lets me be who I need to be. I am who I am directly because of the balance he gives me.

My recovery from Bulimia is not textbook. It’s probably questionable. People come to me all the time to ask how I did it. It’s not something you can replicate. But is any recovery? Is it possible to recover before you hit rock bottom? For me…. no. But that’s me. I am in or out. Up or down. On time or not coming.

I don’t know if that’s the case for others.

How can you hep someone you love? You confront them even if it means losing their friendship. You have to love someone enough to lose them. You go to them with a plan. For example if you confront a friend, have a therapist selected and offer to drive them. Don’t accuse and then leave them hanging. Expect them to be mad and even hate you. But it’s worth their life in my opinion. One day they will thank you. It took me 20 years but I went back and thanked them, and man did I hurt them bad at the time.

Like I said before…. I carry much shame about my eating disorder. For me…… and I emphasize…… for me…… I remember the very day I chose to stick my fingers down my throat. For me it was a choice every single time. For me it was a hole I put myself into.

Which is why I fight so hard for my teens. They would have done anything for the health I threw away.

If you struggle with an eating disorder, know this…… there is a way out. I don’t have the answer, I don’t have the protocol, I don’t have a formula. I just know there is a way to the other side. We just have to find the right path.

And a fabulous dentist.

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2 comments

  1. Powerful story to share…


  2. Been there, done that. Got the mouth full of crowns to show for it. Grateful for my recovery, for endurance sports that motivate me to stay healthy and for you being willing to share your story.



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