For a time, I was very concerned with how poorly I was doing at staying on track with my meal plan. Over and over again, night after night in my journal, I would assure myself that tomorrow would be the day that I would find myself back on track but day after day I found myself unable to voice my struggles to her and unable to stand up for the things that I needed in order to maintain the shred of a recovered existence that four months of treatment had given me. I wanted so badly to show her that I was all better, that I no longer needed to be cared for and so instead of reaching out and asking for help when I needed it, I kept my struggles to myself and believed that I was strong enough to put myself back on track in her absence.
The slide back into darkness was slow at first, but as the ounces and grams steadily melted away from my body, the attachment and addiction to losing those ounces and grams grabbed me tightly and refused to let go. But despite my struggles, despite the knowledge deep inside that I was betraying myself by not fighting harder for what I knew to be right, I walked through a perpetual high on life in those days that followed finding her again. I felt invincible and as though anything was possible so long as she was by my side. I felt as though my fight to win her back and my efforts to be near her always were valiant and noble as they were based in a love that was pure and true. I felt that so long as she was a part of my future, I could not fail. I focused myself on these grand illusions and allowed subtle signs of my eventual relapse to slip by unnoticed or at the very least unattended to as I settled into a routine of life that I would grow accustomed to over the next few months.
I worked for Mike's Bikes in Walnut Creek, and she lived in Orangevale, just outside of Folsom. She was a full time student and was working to pay her own way. I was living with my step-dad for free and making better money than I'd ever made in a sales job before as I was getting my first taste of commission sales. As this was the case, I never expected her to visit me in the Bay Area and it seemed only natural that I would do the traveling to be near her and to keep our relationship alive. I never minded the traveling, it was completely worth it in my eyes and a small price to pay in order to be near her as often as possible. And so I began to lead two lives, one in the Bay Area and one in Folsom. I worked Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, telling my managers that I had classes the other days of the week and after therapy every tuesday, I loaded my bikes and drove to Folsom where I would be with her until the weekend rolled around once again. In those months, my hopeless attachment to my compulsions to exercise were less apparent as I had ample amounts of free time that needed to be filled with something. Of course, I chose to fill that time with miles and hours alone on the bike.
As summer approached, I could see the difference in my appearance and as I was still being monitored by a medical doctor regularly, I resorted to water loading once more in order to stabilize the number on the scale. I reasoned that the loss hadn't been drastic and that what had been lost was no cause for concern. As such, I convinced myself that hiding this minimal loss from the professionals so as not to cause any alarm was perfectly reasonable. I told myself that I had everything under control. But this was far from true and as the months wore on, urges to binge found me more regularly and with more intensity until I found myself unable to fight them one day after a visit with my Dietitian.
A binge is a funny thing in that the urge that strikes you is an impulsive thing but the actual act of binging is far from impulse by the time it actually occurs. It's nearly always the same, the thought crosses my mind sometime in the morning hours of a day with little structure. The thought comes to me as a complete scenario played out from beginning to end. At once I am able to see where it will happen, when it will happen, and precisely what it will entail. In times of pure sickness and darkness, I would not strike these thoughts from my mind or view them with fear but instead would welcome them into my heart as I believed that acting upon them would bring me some relief from the pain which I felt. That day of the Dietitian visit, I tried to exercise these thoughts of binging from my mind, telling myself that I would come home from my appointment and get on my bike, as I had originally planned. But a thought, once thought, cannot be unthunk and as I rode the BART train to the appointment and lied my way through the visit, weaving a story of how well I felt I was doing nutritionally and how positive I felt about my relationship to my body and exercise, I could not find separation from the now refined plan that occupied my thoughts. By the time I left her office and made my way to the corner liquor store for a Diet Pepsi(which I had completely stopped consuming in the months since I had started working at Mike's), I had stopped fighting the thoughts entirely. I knew then that the plan would come to fruition and that trying to resist it would be a futile effort. So, I stepped away from myself and watched as I threw months of work and resistance down the drain in the span of no more than a couple of hours.
After, when I came to and made my way back to the world of the living, I fell apart and finally came to terms with just how poorly I had been doing for months. I realized that a change was needed if I stood any chance of surviving the rest of my life. I don't know why in that moment I decided to single out my bike as the scape goat of all of my troubles, but I did and I decided that I would stop riding and that if I did that, somehow everything would just get better on its own. It was the beginning of June and I was to start a summer course at Folsom Lake College in a few short days and I felt as though I was losing control of the perfect little world which I had constructed with so many months of ample free time. I lasted only a few days without my bike before I came to terms with the fact that I could not live a life without it. I thought then, as I still believe from time to time now, that the only memories of true happiness that I had were of moments alone with my bike and I told myself that I would ride less, but that riding simply had to be part of a well-balanced life for me. The moment I stopped riding, I started to chew a pack of gum every day and began drinking liter after liter of diet soda once more; as if my bike were my only motivation to keep myself in check in any measure. My motivation to care for myself plummeted in those days off the bike and thoughts of drinking and taking drugs filled my mind. Why not? Without a bike, I had no real reason to maintain any sort of real health or to even pretend that health was indeed what I wanted to maintain. These thoughts frightened me and after ten days free of pedaling, I crawled back in the saddle, determined to keep my exercise in check as I opened a new chapter in my life and returned to school. I reasoned that I could look at my bike like a binge food. Like a binge food, I enjoyed it thoroughly and just as with a binge food, my bike in moderation was actually a healthy thing. I told myself all of these things and I may have been motivated to redefine what it meant to me to be fit, but I refused to address the fact that I was completely unwilling to let go of the body which I had been constructing in the months since my treatment.
School posed a new threat to the comfort of my world and rather than take two summer courses which in reality I should have been capable of managing, I settled for only one as this choice would afford me the opportunity to continue to lead a relatively stress free existence in which I could still ride more if I chose to do so. I made an agreement with myself at the beginning of summer. I had accepted the fact that I was struggling and I knew that if I continued to struggle in the ways that I was, I was never going to be free of my sickness and so I agreed to give myself the summer to try to turn things around and if I had not been able to put myself back on the road to recovery by summer's end, I accepted that I would return to treatment in some capacity to regain my footing. I knew on some level that I was too far gone by that point to put myself back on track and I know now that I had never truly been on track in the first place, but being the hopeless romantic that I am, I told myself that I still had the strength to fight for the life that I wanted to lead. And somewhere between these thoughts and the actions that would have supported these thoughts, their meaning became lost and I continued down the same road which I had been on leading into the summer. Each night, I would promise myself that tomorrow would be the first day that I would turn things around and each morning I would put off changing my behaviors until that afternoon which would then lead to another night of empty promises.
And so it went. I did fight on occasion but I see now that the thing which I was fighting for was not health even on my most determined days. I see now that my perception of what it meant to be healthy was so skewed from the beginning that even if I had been completely successful in winning my battles, the thing which I would have won would and only could have been sickness in the end. I see now that even on the best of days, I was fighting for a dream which in the eyes of the waking world was nothing more than a nightmare. I limped on through the rest of summer in complete denial of the severity to which I was actively relapsing, holding out for the day when I would relocate to Sacramento so that I could be closer to her. I came to blame my traveling for my stress, and my stress for my struggles. I would believe anything, so long as I didn't have to examine the truth. I convinced myself that if only I could hold out until my transfer went through at work, then I could finally find the stability that I needed to get back on track.
But my move to Sacramento proved to be the straw that would break this camels back. Sick with fear of gaining weight and worry that I would lose my fitness by moving from the hilly terrain of the Bay Area to the flat terrain of the Sacramento Valley, I modified my already too meager compensatory exercise exchanges even further so as to ensure that weight gain would be impossible. I had lost all hold on reality and my distortions ran wild in the days after I moved and settled into what was to be my new life. I told her that I missed my friends in the Bay, that I was worried about making less money at a lower dollar location in Sacramento, but the truth of the matter is that I was terrified of what this move might do to my body and the number of calories that I was burning while riding. I only missed the certainty that I would remain thin that came with living in the Bay Area. I would never share this with her of course, would never let her see just how sick I really was and just how distorted my view of myself and the world had become. I could no longer decipher what was real and what was fantasy and I was completely convinced that I was gaining weight by living in Sacramento which prompted the first true intentional restricting since graduating from treatment. And then, as if it had happened with the flick of a switch, I saw myself in reality for the first time and I loved what I saw in that moment. My love for that thing that I saw looking back at me in the mirror was enough to allow me to completely let go.
I stopped fighting back, stopped waging any sort of war against sickness and instead found myself embracing whatever sort of behavior would maintain this new found love that I had for the body which had so long been hated. I found myself completely addicted to the high of accepting my body and with that euphoria clouding my vision, I completely lost sight of everything which I had been working towards in the months spent in treatment. None of those things mattered any longer; the only thing that was important, the only thing that had ever been important was the thing which I had right there in front of me and I would do absolutely anything to continue to feel the way that I felt then. I was lost, completely enslaved by compulsion and addiction once more and little else in life mattered; not my love for her, not my hopes to one day become more than the thing that I was, nothing.
There were moments, even in that euphoria, when I recognized just how hopeless it all was, when I could see that the way in which I was living was a dead end road and that it would end in my own despair, but I pushed these thoughts from my mind with more lies and denial, telling myself that I was living a healthy and maintainable existence all the while knowing deep down that hope was lost for me. There was no moment of realization that came to me through some significant event, no brilliant flash of light that allowed me to see through the darkness of my ways. Instead it was a slow building of scattered moments of recognition of the truth of my situation that led me go back to Berkeley to visit the director of the program where I had graduated months before. I think that I knew or at least that I hoped that she would call me out of hiding and tell me what I already knew in some deep corner of my heart to be true. I hoped that she would tell me that I needed help because I still could not utter the words myself. And she did. She hid nothing from me, she looked at me and saw right through the lies that I tried to tell her about how well everything was going in my life and in that moment I wanted to cry as I breathed a sigh of relief and final acceptance of a truth which I had known all along. I admitted to her that I knew that I had to let it all go if I truly wanted to recover. I admitted to her that I had to say goodbye to my oldest, truest, and dearest friend if I wanted something more for myself in life than a battle with sickness and as I left her that day, I felt for the first time in my recovery, that I knew what it was that I had to do.