Saturday, January 26, 2013

Arriving At Today Part 2

She had never really left my thoughts, though I hadn't seen or heard from her in three months. I still thought of her, of him, of them, indeed of us and of everything that had all come crashing down around me on that cold November night and I would wonder how things could have been different for all of us had I not been sick. I would wonder how my life would have been better or worse had I never struggled with these demons. Would I have ever even met her had I not come home from Cannondale in order to put my life back into order? These of course, are questions to which I could never have the answers because things did happen the way that they happened. I was sick, I did come home, I did meet her and fall in love with her, then mistreat her and push her away when she threatened to take my world away from me with her love. And through me, he had discovered her too, realized how valuable she really was, and found himself falling for her as well. And of course, with my sickness pulling me away from them both, they eventually found each other, leaving me feeling abandoned and betrayed by the two people who I loved more than anyone else. All of these things happened, whether they could have been avoided or not and finally I decided that it was too painful to place myself in their presence and I distanced myself from them both for what I thought at the time would be the rest of my life. I never thought the hurt that I felt would heal and never thought that I would want them both back in my life but after graduating my program, I found myself all alone in the world without a friend whom I had known for longer than the four months that I had been in treatment, and suddenly I found myself wanting them both back, at any cost.

I quickly realized why the treatment team had strict rules against patients interacting with one another outside of program once I was no longer there. It's incredibly easy to build close relationships with people who can relate to you and who share a common struggle. In forming these new relationships and becoming so very comfortable in them, it's also very easy to neglect your established relationships with people whom you feel just don't understand you. I felt that I had entered my recovery process with two close friends who actually did understand me, or who at least wanted to understand and support me as I grew and changed and healed, but I had lost both of those people in my journey and began to establish new relationships with the only people that I came into contact with; the other patients in the program. We broke the rules constantly and interacted outside of program all the time and while I was in program and seeing them everyday, I felt fairly good about my newly established friendships.

Once I left program and found myself in a position where I didn't see my new friends often, I began to yearn for the familiarity and safety of the two closest friendships that I had known in my adult life. I came to a number of decisions within two weeks of graduating program: I decided that best friends are something that you don't find very often, I decided that these two people were once very important to me and that they still were despite what had happened between us and I decided that I was willing to do whatever I needed to do in order to have them(or at least him) back in my life in some capacity. The way that I went about acting out my decisions seemed strange to me, but I began by finally writing about what had happened that night months before and in so doing I felt like I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that they had not acted maliciously toward me. Then, I felt that I needed to contact her and to speak my truth to her for the first time. That truth initially was shrouded in pain and hatred but once I had shared all of the hurt, what was left was a desire to rekindle a friendship which had been lost and missed while it had been gone. She told me that she missed having me around and a sense of joy washed over me. I was wanted by someone. We decided to meet up and though it was unclear what the purpose of our meeting was, I lied and told myself that a dim hope of rekindling something more than a friendship didn't reside within me.

I reached out to him and asked if he wanted to go for a bike ride. I intended to tell him that I missed him and that I wanted to be a part of his life again, that my life didn't feel right without him in it and that I was willing to put in the work to make things right between us once more. I intended to tell him that I missed my best friend and I wanted that friend back. I didn't tell him that I planned to meet with her right after our ride and though I knew that it was entirely possible that they were still together, I didn't ask either of them if this was the case.

I don't remember what was said on that bike ride. I do remember grinding him into the ground and feeling proud of myself for doing so. So childish. It is clear to me now that I was still holding onto resentment for him even though I had told myself that I had let go and moved past the hurt and the pain. I may have mentioned that I wanted us to be friends again, but I certainly didn't mention anything about my intentions to see her that evening. It seems to me that I didn't say anything either because I had no idea what my intentions were in meeting up with her or because I knew too well what my intentions were and knew that they were anything but noble. I had a chance to ask if they were still together and I avoided the topic because I was so terrified of what the answer might be. Still, I felt safe and comfortable in his presence and as I rode away from him to meet up with her, I felt confident that I had made the right decision in wanting to bring him back into my life. I remember repeating over and over again as I rode to my mom's house, "We're going to be okay, we're going to be okay", and this thought brought a happiness to me which had been absent for months.

As I said, I convinced myself that I had no idea why I was going to see her but I know that even in believing that lie I was still holding onto a thin shred of hope that some sort of spark would still be there when we saw each other that night. Her whole life had changed since I last saw her. A new job, a new apartment, college, and I hoped a new direction in relationships had been established as well. A hug, pleasantries, a tour of the apartment, tears at the sight of my wrists and forearms, and then, before I could stop myself, I was sharing exactly why that night had been so painful for me. I was sharing that that night had only hurt so badly because what I felt for her then and what I still felt for her now was so real and so strong. A kiss, and within moments it was as if we had never been apart. It was every bit as good as it had been before in some ways and even better in others. I was home, I was safe, I felt I was exactly where I belonged and any regard for him or his feelings for her left my mind as I immersed myself in the joy of her presence. I drove home that night singing at the top of my lungs. In that moment with her on the couch and in the hours that had followed, everything was perfect, everything made sense, and it seemed that everything was going to turn out just fine.

I was high off the feelings of those moments and I would not allow myself to ask the questions which would find me days later and plague me for weeks to come. What had I just done, had I just betrayed him in the exact same way that he had betrayed me, was I justified in acting the way that I did, what about his emotions, what about his feelings, what about our friendship? These questions hit me like a ton of bricks in the days that followed as I tried to mend the relationship which I had just crushed with him. But again, I lied to myself. I told myself that I was justified in my actions because I had acted out of love for her, never considering that he may have loved her just as much. I told myself that I had righted a wrong and set the record straight by doing what I did, forgetting what every five year old child knows: two wrongs don't make a right. I convinced myself that she and I had done nothing wrong as she had decided that she couldn't continue their relationships days before she and I actually met as a direct result of reading the words that I had written about that November night, as if the words I wrote weren't a powerful wedge designed to come between them. I told myself all these things and many more because I knew the truth all too well and the truth knotted my stomach and kept me awake at night. I had just stabbed the most important person in my world in the back and twisted the knife just to hear him scream. I didn't want to admit it then, I still don't want to admit it now, but on some level I knew that I had just gotten my revenge and with all of these thoughts swirling inside of me, I moved forward in my rekindled relationship with her while acting like an arrogant, selfish asshole toward him. I told myself that he would get over it and that he and I would be fine, but deep inside I knew that the wounds I had just inflicted would never heal and I knew on some level, even then, that what he and I had once had would never be rebuilt.

I put my thoughts of him out of my mind and swam through a river of self deceit so that I could sleep at night but in the same moments I was happy. I was happy to have her back and I believed that I had paid a high price to find her once again, but I believed that it had been worth it. I don't know what to believe now. In the midst of all of the relationship turmoil, I began working at Mike's Bikes and found that the pressure I imposed upon myself to look a certain way and play a certain role within my work community along with the disgust that I felt for myself and the barrier that it established in intimate moments of my new relationship, made it increasingly difficult to feel positive about following my prescribed meal plan. I knew full well what I was supposed to be doing according to the treatment team in order to maintain my health but used social situations and work hours as excuses for missing exchanges more and more often until I began to notice the difference in my appearance and at that point; I recognize now, that all hope was lost. I thought that I had established a somewhat healthier relationship with myself and my body during treatment, but being in close and intimate contact with another person highlighted just how unsatisfied I still was and always had been with my appearance. It was as if I had lied to myself throughout treatment, telling myself that things were okay when they really weren't, that I could learn to love this new body, when I knew that I really never could, and that eventually I would let go of all of the hate and expectations that I held for my body when I really knew that I would only let go when those expectations had been met once again.

I can say that I never woke up in the morning and thought to myself, "Today, I will restrict my calorie intake because that will make my whole life better", but to say that I wasn't fully aware of all of the 'passive' ways that I was cutting calories is also entirely bullshit. However, whether I maintained my weight or not is really a mute point because the fact of the matter is that I had not taken any necessary steps to change the way that I felt about myself as a human being while I had been in treatment. I could've followed the meal plan to a T and never lost an ounce and I'd find myself stuck in exactly the same place that I was a year ago, still trying to convince myself that recovery is about being this or that weight, and still believing that I could grow into a healthy individual while holding onto everything that made me an unhealthy one to begin with.

I was still living in the Bay Area and working at Mike's in Walnut Creek, but with my new relationship I found myself splitting my time between Sacramento and the Bay. I struggled to trust her and I made sure to be near her as often as I possibly could in order to calm my anxiety. I felt certain at times that they were just playing a trick on me and that she was still seeing him behind my back and so rather than working more hours, or going back to school as I had intended, I lived half the week with her and worked only when absolutely necessary. I completely dedicated myself to two things: my bike and my relationship. Everything else seemed unimportant by comparison. Everything, including my recovery.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Arriving At Today Part 1

Where have you gone? What happened to you? Where did you run off and disappear to now? It's been four months since I left my life behind in search of something entirely different than the world I had come to know so well. It's been four months since I left the safety of the familiar and set out to become someone other than the person that I was.

It's been four months since I have slipped on a pair of cycling shoes, strapped a helmet on my head, and heard the satisfying click of a cleat as it snaps into a pedal during the first revolutions of the crank arms. It's been four months since I first tried to say goodbye and I still find myself struggling to utter the words and really mean them. Why? How? What for? Why would you say goodbye to the one and only thing that seemed to bring you any happiness or satisfaction? Why would you try to leave something that has always been there for you, through pain and sorrow, through triumph and joy? Why on earth would you say goodbye to your best friend and set off into a world of unknowns? I had no choice.

It is true that I have said goodbye to the one thing that I could always rely on, indeed to the one thing that brought me joy and gave my life a sense of purpose and meaning; but it is also true that things are not always what they seem and the life I was leading was filled with emptiness and leading me nowhere. I had to leave because somewhere deep inside I wanted more for myself than the life that I had built. Four months, that's roughly 6000 miles for those of you who are counting. 6000 miles and countless feet of climbing and descending through winding country roads, alone with my thoughts in the wilderness, millions of pedal strokes, gallons of sweat, and countless hours spent digging my own grave. I have pedaled not one mile since September 19th, 2012 and these have been by far the longest and hardest four months of my entire life.

Things were not going well. Things had not been going well for months by the time I decided that a drastic change was needed if I stood any chance of surviving. I graduated from my Intensive Out Patient eating disorder treatment program back on January 25th, 2012 and I felt confident in my ability to maintain what I had come to know as my recovery. How could I feel otherwise? I had everything. I had my health, I had knowledge of myself, my thoughts, and my emotions which had been lost for years, I had motivation to get my life back on track, and most importantly, I still had my bike. Armed with a meal plan and the knowledge needed to maintain a healthy body weight I felt certain that I could lead a balanced life in which maintaining a relationship with the sport that I loved could be a part of a well rounded existence. What I didn't have was a different relationship with myself than the one which had plagued me for my entire life.

Even after four months of intensive therapy and countless hours of work, I still hated myself, still loathed everything about my body, still longed with every fiber of my being to change, and mold, and sculpt it into something other than exactly what it was. I had completed my treatment program, and I had lied to myself and to everyone around me, convincing them that my relationship with my bike and with my body had really changed and become something healthy and maintainable, but I see now in looking back that I hadn't let go of a goddamn thing and I can see now that the lies I tell myself are the most dangerous ones because I believe them every time. How can I expect to change something if I truly believe that it is the right thing to be doing? I must admit that even I wasn't fully convinced that my relationship with exercise had really changed. True, it was more contained than it had been in years but even before I left treatment I could see that it was something more than just a piece of my life, indeed that it was still, as it had always been, the only thing in my life that truly mattered. I wanted to believe so badly that I had changed, that I had moved on, that I had let go of my past and that I really was moving toward a healthy future, but I somewhere deep inside I knew better.

Still, with everyone around me so thoroughly convinced that I was in recovery and fully capable of leading a healthy and well balanced life, I found myself unable to come forward and admit that I was still hopelessly devoted and attached to my compulsions to exercise and fully dedicated to creating a new body for myself. I pushed these thoughts out of my mind and instead adopted the position of my peers, that I would be the one in ten people who actually recovered from an eating disorder and that somehow miraculously I was going to do it while still exercising 20 hours a week. I believed the lie that I had worked so hard to sell to everyone else and so I set off into the world still holding on to everything that I had entered 'recovery' with four months earlier.

I didn't stand a chance. I began slipping almost immediately and found it more difficult to honestly follow my meal plan and easier to slip an extra 15 minutes of riding in here and there as each day passed. I started losing weight almost the instant that I was free of the confines of the program and in truth I had lost weight while I was there but masked the change with strategic water loading on weigh days. Looking back I can see that I never lost control of myself because I never had control of myself to begin with. The wild fire was still burning, it had merely been contained by going back to treatment.

I set out to get myself back into college and signed up for late starting classes at a junior college in the East Bay but my plan was shaky at best. Each day I would wake up with a different plan for what my life was going to look like and I thought seriously about picking up the phone to call Cannondale and see about getting my old job back. I knew that the potential risk in that plan was too great for me at that point in my recovery, but being so frightened by the notion of starting off in a different direction in life was enough to tempt me. I settled instead for searching out a job in the only line of work that I know, the bike shop world. Looking back from where I sit now, I can see how very foolish it was to return to the toxic environment that I had become so sick in but I wanted to believe so badly that it was not the place, but rather the person(me) that needed to be changed, and I believed that I had been changed, reborn into a functional adult who could face his demons and be victorious. I wanted to believe that I was in recovery despite the obvious signs that I had only modified my sickness and I wanted to believe that I was making healthy decisions for myself and so I did. I believed every single lie that I told myself in the days that followed my discharge and I believed them whole heartedly.

Mike's Bikes was actually a great place to work and had I not been sick I have no doubt that I could have made a happy home for myself there. But I was sick, and I allowed the subtle pressures of the bike shop environment and culture to shape my behaviors in the months that I worked at Mike's. I started my new job at a healthy weight, following my prescribed meal plan for the most part, and eager to feel like a normally functioning human being again. I immediately let work get in the way of what I needed to do to maintain recovery, waiting too long to eat lunch and having a snack that was too small so that I had to compensate for missed exchanges when I got home to a late dinner. In other words, I restricted throughout the day only to find myself binging later on in the evening while still remaining in the confines of my meal plan which gave me all the justification that I needed for my behavior. It was a pattern that I was all too familiar with as it was exactly the way that I had lived the last ten years of my life and initially I fought back against slipping into my old routine. Initially I was fully aware of the effect that this behavior had on my mood and on my ability to function at work and on the bike and for a moment I fought like hell to maintain the routine that I had become accustomed to while in treatment. But the pull of the nightly binge and the escape from the anxiety of the everyday that it afforded me proved too strong to fight against for very long and eventually I told myself that so long as I stayed true to my meal plan by the end of the day, I was still doing what I needed to maintain my recovery.

Mike's was different than any other shop that I had ever worked in, and yet it was exactly the same. I came into that environment as the ex-pro ultra marathon mountain bike racer and with this title came the unspoken expectation that I rode more than anyone else at the shop and that I was stronger and faster than my coworkers and all of our customers. Part of this was an expectation that I placed entirely upon myself and part of it was made clear to me regularly by the people I worked with on a daily basis. I found myself tacking on the miles and the hours in order to flawlessly play the role that I knew so well. Who was I to let down my coworkers customers? If they expected me to be strong and fast and lean and fit and to train more than anyone that they knew, then by god that is exactly what I expected myself to be and do. I told myself that I was being more flexible with my exercise routine when I rode an extra 15 minutes here or there and I told myself that it would all come out in the wash since I was bound to cut off 15 minutes from time to time as well. But of course, I never did and before too long the additional time on the bike was not accidental but instead required. Before too long, a two hour ride really meant a two hour and fifteen minute ride so that I could be absolutely certain that I would not gain weight when I compensated for the ride by eating more throughout the day. And if I rode two hours like I was really supposed to? Well, then I simply ate a little less to ensure that the outcome would be the same. I suppose that I justified such behavior by telling myself that losing a little weight is part of the process when you leave a treatment program. I told myself that no one really expected me to stay at the weight that I was at upon leaving and that a few pounds were supposed to come off once I reentered the real world. And of course, I told myself that I would be happier if only I weighed a few pounds less.

And then there was the girl...

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Recovery

The world has been dark for so long,
The presence of light is scarcely recalled.
The soul, choked and smothered by blackness,
Leaving only pain.
The memory of happiness is fleeting,
A dream forgotten the moment the mind wakes from slumber,
A goal too lofty to be real, it slips away with each passing day.
Where once there was hope now dwells only despair,
An emptiness that fills the shell of what once was but no longer is.
The pain has become eternal.
Life has become nothing more than a waste of death,
But even death brings no peace for it too is realized only through pain.
And so it goes, an empty soul drifting through the night,
Lost and alone, broken and hopeless.
But the night is darkest before the dawn.
Faint at first,
A glimmer, a speck, a pinprick of brilliance in eternal darkness.
Unfamiliar, strange, even frightening,
This glimmer shines in the distance.
There is nowhere left to float in darkness but toward the light,
It's warmth and brilliance burning my eyes and searing my flesh.
It's beauty captivates me.
Though I try to shut my eyes, to look away, to retreat from the pain of the unfamiliar,
To descend to the comfort of darkness and familiarity of a pain I know so well,
The world has been forever changed.
The eyes, having seen the light,
Can no longer live in the dark.
The skin, having felt the warmth so long missed,
Can no longer live in the frigid cold.
The world has been dark for so long,
But the presence of light has been realized.