Can I go back without going back? Would it be possible to live a healthy life and actually be happy too? I had thought that continuing to be well would necessarily mean that I had to change each and every single thing that I was doing while I was sick. But how long can you really expect to keep a fish out of water before it dries up and dies? Was I being too black and white in my thinking when I decided that I couldn’t work in the industry that I love or participate in the sport that has always made the sun rise in my life?
The world had become a very dark place when I tried to look at my life in recovery. A job in a new industry, a new sport, new friends, and a new place to live. All safe, all without passion, all entirely too pedestrian. Would I really be able to claim that I was living my life if I found myself living someone else’s? Would I really be able to claim that I had been successful in recovery if I was starving myself of all of the people and things that brought me joy? Recovery is supposed to be about being able to do the things that you love and about living the life that brings you happiness. How could I call myself recovered if I lived in constant fear of the only life that ever brought me happiness?
Am I running away from my problems by being here in L.A.? Or am I running straight back to them by thinking of returning home? Am I taking the easy way out by returning to my industry or am I choosing the most difficult path imaginable? I have no answers. I have ideas, I have theories, I have thoughts, but I can’t be certain of anything except for the fact that I do not want things to be the way that they were a year ago, or even six months ago. I want things to be different than they have ever been and I want it all.
I don’t want to settle for a life filled with things that I must avoid and things that I cannot do. I want to live a full life, a life in which I can do anything that I dedicate myself to. I want to conquer my fears. I want to breathe fire and burn down the obstacles that stand between me and my happiness. I want to feel certain of my motivations, but I don’t feel certain at all.
There is no doubt that the industry is not safe. It’s dangerous. It’s filled with people who have disordered relationships with exercise and with their bodies. It’s filled with people who will want me to be the climber that I once was, with people who will wish that I was still crushing my opponents on the race course, with people who will never understand that I have moved on in an effort to save my life. The industry is filled with temptations to be thin and to exercise until it hurts and I can’t see straight. The industry is filled with painful memories.
But the industry is also filled with the people that I love. The industry boils over with the only real happiness that I have ever known. If only that happiness weren’t so intimately intertwined with so much misery. Could I do it? Could I put my feet in the ocean without being crushed by the waves? Maybe. Maybe not.
There’s no going back, not this time. There’s no going back to the darkness and the industry may be a land of shadows. Could I be the guy that works at a shop but only rides occasionally? More importantly, could I survive in that environment without riding at all? I’m not ready to get back on the bike, not yet. That’s a long way off still. I still haven’t made full peace with my body and the temptation to tear myself apart with chainrings and pedals would be too strong to resist on some days. No, for now it’s best that I torture myself with running four times a week. I hate it so much that exercise is actually a chore. This sport has no redeeming qualities. It gives you what cycling gives you, only in doses so small that you can barely taste them, and at the cost of every joint in my body south of my waist. It feels awkward and wrong and I know that I could never love it. It does not capture my heart with its mystery, I am not intrigued. I don’t want to know people who participate in such a vile activity and I’m nowhere near calling myself a ‘runner’.
But I’m nowhere near calling myself a cyclist any longer either. My tan lines feel out of place, badges of honor for a war where the fighting has stopped and daisies have sprung up out of the ground, fertilized by the souls of the dead. So what am I? How do I identify myself now? I’m just a boy, a boy who lost his way. Have I found my way home? Am I thinking clearly now or am I completely delusional?
How would things be different than they were before? I have changed, there is no doubt of that. But would it be enough? I can’t expect the world to adapt to me, I must adapt to my surroundings, but I’m not entirely sure that I would be strong enough to adapt to those particular surroundings. Maybe I’ll never know until I try, but trying could be a nail in the coffin of my recovery and I thought I’d hung my hammer on the wall for good.
I only know that I am excited about something for the first time in six months. I feel hopeful that I might actually be happy when I think about returning to parts of my old life. I feel empowered by the thought of triumphing over sickness and pursuing the things that I enjoy rather than withholding them from myself out of fear that they will overwhelm me. I want to believe that it will work. I want to believe and trust in myself enough to know that I can handle that place and those people again, but I can’t be sure. Is it too much to risk? It’s a high price to pay if I fail. But my god, the reward would be well worth the risk if it actually turns out.
It all comes down to me. I’m going to weave stories and play tapes in my head no matter where I work. I will still be comparing myself to all of my coworkers and customers and I’ll still be competing in my own private competition to be the thinnest, the smartest, the fastest, the funniest, the cheeriest, the hardest working, the most trustworthy, the most responsible, the best, the best, the best. Unless I can press the stop button. The place of employment won’t stop me from spinning my stories and inserting meaning into the words that people say to me. I have to rise above all of that no matter where I go.
So why not go someplace where I want to be? Why not be excited about earning money? Because I don’t deserve it? Because I’m not strong enough to handle it? Or wait, because recovery is supposed to be the most painfully miserable thing that I have ever done and the only thing that really hurts me is saying goodbye to all of my friends and my passion for the rest of my life? Maybe that’s it.
Maybe I assumed that recovery meant sacrificing more than just my eating disorder. Maybe I assumed that recovery meant constant suffering, that it meant wandering through life always feeling as though a piece of my soul was missing because that’s certainly what it feels like now. It feels like I’m missing my right arm and I can’t even write my name with my left hand.
What do you want to do? I want to be healthy and happy.
What makes you happy? Bikes. Bikes make me happy. Bikes have always made me happy and for a long time I felt guilty about it, but now I’m wondering if it’s not such a terrible thing to be passionate about something.
How are you going to stay healthy? That’s a good question. I don’t have a complete answer just yet. Something about doing things differently than I was before. It’s just a matter of how much differently. What changes and what stays the same? What can I keep and what do I have to leave behind?
What’s going to stop you from going right back to doing what you were doing? Me. Only me, and that’s a scary thought. I don’t really trust myself to be well. I don’t trust myself to take care of me because I’ve done such a poor job of it historically.
I want this, I just don’t know if I can have it. I don’t know if I’m allowed to be happy, if I’m really allowed to have everything that I want or if living a healthy life must necessarily mean that I live a life deprived of the things that make me tick. Sometimes the worst ideas bring the best results, but sometimes the best ideas just don’t work out. I’m not sure where this idea really falls. My heart says it would be best, but my mind is telling me to pull my head out of the clouds and check back in with reality. Maybe I really could be different. I’m already behaving differently. I haven’t picked up the phone yet to see if I could have my old job back. I haven’t walked into a new shop and walked out with a job. I’ve stayed still. I’ve sat and thought, and thought, and thought, and thought. I’ve weighed my options, looked at the consequences and thought some more. Still, the solution is unclear. I may have to jump to know where I’ll really wind up, but will I be able to crawl back up to where I am if I jump and fall too far?