7 years ago today I was routinely winning competitive half marathons, was at the very top of my graduate school class, held a premier business internship at Disney, was publishing case studies in international marketing textbooks, worked a semester at Harvard and was living in Orlando, FL – the “happiest place on earth.”
Upon reading all of that, most people might think “What a life! I’d love to have been there when I was 23 years old.”
Yet despite all of those things, I was living in the midst of a ferocious eating disorder. I was depressed and dreaded waking up every morning.
And October 1, 2011 was hands down the worst day of my eating disorder. That’s because at the end of that day, after running a race, I stood on a hotel balcony and contemplated making it the last day of my life…
The morning before the race, I had forced myself to go on a 10 mile run with sprints sprinkled in as soon as I woke up because I “had eaten too much” the night before. I then returned to the hotel and had a major binge and purge episode after I’d “crossed the point of no return” at a breakfast buffet.
To punish myself for such an act of failure, I walked around a park the entire day and didn’t eat a thing until dinner – after which I again committed the same act and ended the night hovering over my toilet.
The following morning – half marathon race day – I punished myself again for those unforgivable actions from the night before and performed a 90-minute CrossFit workout in the hotel gym. I forced myself not to eat until 2:00 p.m. With the race beginning at 10:00 pm, I locked myself in my room to avoid any temptation of food.
My eating disorder convinced me I was “successful” in this endeavor, and I eventually dragged my exhausted body to the start line. Barely able to keep my eyes open, at the sound of the start gun, I did what I did best – run as fast as I could (from my eating disorder).
After starting off surprisingly well, I met “the wall” at about mile 8. Immediately, my pace went from about a 5:50 per mile to a 13:00 per mile for the remainder of the race. My body literally could not move in a straight line anymore. My tired legs buckled beneath my weight.
Despite these physical warning signs of exhaustion, I remember the voice inside my head saying “You better not start walking. You’re such a failure. I can’t believe how awful you’re doing right now.”
But somehow, I crossed the finish line. And immediately my body collapsed to the concrete.
I awoke to people around me trying to give me water and bananas, which I refused because I felt that I didn’t deserve any food or water after such an awful performance.
Following two more hours of walking around the parks, I decided to go to my hotel room. I was so mad at myself that I started to cry a little – which in my mind was the absolute weakest thing in the world.
“You are absolutely pathetic. I can’t believe you’re crying? You just ran your worst race ever after you binged and purged three times in less than 24 hours. You’re disgraceful.”
Fighting back tears, I opened the door to my double-digit floor balcony and stood there. I don’t even know how long I stood at the railing, just looking down.
“I could just end all of this pain right now,” I thought. “I’ll never have to binge and purge again. I’ll never have to exercise to justify eating food again.”
Based on the way I was living my life at the time, jumping sounded preferable to me. It sounded peaceful. No more torture. No more eating disorder.
But with no other reason than my Guardian Angel being beside me, I turned around and stumbled back into my room, collapsing without recollection of anything other than that.
7 years later…
As I reflect on this now, I am literally at a loss for words. Thinking of the things I would have missed – my best friends (that were not even in my life at 23), my two nephews and a niece, a job I love, weekends of traveling to beautiful places and of course, the most beautiful wife and best friend I could’ve ever imagined.
What I experienced over the course of these 7 years is indescribable. And while some of those experiences are painful, I’m honestly ecstatic that I am able to feel that pain and emotion.
Because when I was in my eating disorder, emotions were nonexistent. They were shut out, whether they were good or bad.
Yet despite the pain of going to treatment and the pain of feeling sadness, anger, and other emotions, the positive emotions far outweigh them. I’ve come to learn that life isn’t black and white. It’s not good vs. bad. There is so much in between and it all happens so randomly that I feel like I am constantly riding a roller coaster.
I remember thinking 7 years ago that life would never get better. It wasn’t possible. There was no hope. Today, I can confidently say that could not have been farther from the truth. Life can, and does, get so much better.
Believe it will get better
If someone had told me this 7 years ago, I would have called that hogwash. When I was in my eating disorder, there was no way you could have convinced me that my life would improve. There’s no way you could have convinced me that being alive was better than ending the torture.
People around you may or may not know everything you’re going through. They might see a 23 year old in a Florida graduate school who “has it all.” But you know that it couldn’t be farther from the truth.
The only thing I can say to that now is that you have to trust that it will get better. Because summed up – you deserve it. Recovery is not an easy process. But it is possible.
One thing I came to learn is that I was not alone. There were others who were wearing a mask that hid their suffering too. And more importantly, there were people who legitimately wanted to help me get better. I just had to be willing to authentically accept it.
It felt impossible at times. There were countless moments when I wanted to (and almost did) quit. But I always kept telling myself I had to put that critical voice in the corner and trust myself. Trust that it would get better. Trust that people were willing to help me and not judge me or criticize me for my flaws. And most importantly, trust myself that I was going to be able to do it. Because I deserved it.
Call it dumb luck. Call me naïve for trusting “nothing.” But I am 100% positive that without that belief that it would get better, there’s no chance I’d be here today. And I’m sure glad that I believed that life could – and would – get better when I was at my lowest.