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...