When Running Goes From a Healthy Hobby to a Dangerous Obsession
If you haven't yet heard this story, brace yourself for a kind of crazy you typically only see in the movies...
I decided to move to Hawaii standing in the Kailua Beach ocean midway through my week long visit to see Joe. I was supposed to be there for just seven days, but instead I took the one and only risk of my life, and I never went back home. I never got back on the plane. It was supposed to depart on the 30th of January and instead, me and the contents of my suitcase decided to throw caution to the wind, and just stay. No plans, no job, no home, and only a suitcase full of whatever I thought I needed for the week. My boss and my mother were quite literally pissed, but something was telling me that I needed to stay in Hawaii and leave Pennsylvania behind.
Joe and I fell quickly in love that year and in those 12 months, I didn't give a single thought to calories or fitness. I was preoccupied by the man that would eventually become my soul mate and all the deliciousness and peace that Hawaii had to offer. I was living a dream. We got engaged four months after the plane touched down, and married seven months after that. It was a year for the record books.
I remember finally going back home to Pennsylvania at the end of his tour. It was a quick stop to see family before we moved to our next duty station in California.
It was just he and I at the time so we flew home from Hawaii, purchased a "family" car in PA, and headed west. The weather was so incredibly different on the west coast as one can imagine, and it was my first real experience with wearing actual pants on a regular basis.
Joe and I ate and drank our way through one state at a time, and with each new destination I was noticing that less and less of my old winter wardrobe was fitting me. In fact, by the time we hit Las Vegas, I completely shredded my favorite pair of jeans. Apparently using brut force to pull them on day in and day out eventually irritates the clothes enough until they finally shout, "NO MORE WOMAN".
It was there in Las Vegas that I finally noticed how drastically my body had changed since living in Pennsylvania just one year earlier. Fat and happy is apparently not just a saying. Who knew?
When we finally made it to our new home, I settled in quickly and resided within myself to get back into shape. The Universe, chuckling at me from wherever he hides, decided that he had other plans. Just five pounds into my weight loss journey, we got pregnant with Emily.
Glutton for punishment and on a mission to get through the baby phase, we then got pregnant once again just six short months after Emily reared her tiny head on this planet. We are insane. Have you picked up on this yet?
Fast forward through another pregnancy and another two moves, and this time, the weight gain was not lost on me. I saw and felt every pound I had put on. The weight, the stretch marks, the soft skin, the hair loss...it was more than I could handle. It sounds utterly ridiculous, but I just didn't realize how much worse my body would become after babies. I didn't realize that we lost our hair. I didn't realize that stretch marks could be so deep and so painful and so purple. I didn't know skin on a grown woman could feel so soft. It was a shock to the system to say the least.
When both kids were earth side and we had settled into our new home, it was my mission to lose the weight. I could't control anything else about my appearance so weight was my in my crosshairs.
At first, it was completely innocent. I wanted to look better and feel better. I wanted to get healthy and not be winded after chasing a toddler for ten minutes. I ran, I took classes at the gym, I was eating better, and I was feeling so good. The weight was coming off and I was fitting into all my old clothes again.
I cannot for the life of me figure out what shifted my behavior, but as quickly as one turns on the light, the shame came tumbling in. One slip off my new healthy lifestyle at a time, I became angrier and angrier. Suddenly, what felt an accomplishment just weeks prior, suddenly felt like failure. A missed run, a run that didn't go long enough, a glass of wine, a burger with family and it was enough to send me into a Brene Brown style shame spiral of epic proportions.
Around month five of my journey, I was the skinniest I had ever been. Skinnier than I was in the 9th grade. I was so skinny I had to go out and buy a brand new wardrobe because suddenly all those clothes I wanted so badly to fit into looked horrible on me but for completely different reasons.
It still wasn't enough. Every glance in the mirror infuriated me. I was trying so hard, but all I saw were flaws. On Instagram Beach Body was at its peak in popularity and the before and afters of these women who were succeeding at something I so desperately wanted to achieve killed me. Post after post, woman after woman, rail thin and not an ounce of apparent fat on them.
Why was I so different?
So, I upped my workouts. Instead of working out once a day, I was working out twice a day. Instead of running three miles a day, I was running five, six, seven miles a day. I even signed up for my first half marathon.
It's so funny to look back on this picture. I am clearly thin, and at the time I distinctly remember not feeling thin. I vividly remember only seeing flaws.
Race day came and I ran. I ran all 13.1 miles without stopping once and as I crossed the finish line, I looked around to see if I could find my husband or my family. He was home with the kids but thought perhaps that he would come and surprise me at the finish line. Congratulating me on my latest accomplishment.
I looked and I looked, and I saw no one. He wasn't there. Defeated, I passed by all the other finishers with tears in my eyes and limped all the way back to my car, completely alone.
Why was I doing this? I thought. Why am I running and pushing myself so hard? Why am I missing out on dinners with friends and glasses of wine with my husband at night. Why am I spending hours of my day sweating when I could be doing something that really filled me up? Why was exercise consuming my life? Why was nothing I did ever enough?
I realized on that walk home that I wasn't losing weight for me anymore. I wasn't running for me. I was running so that I could say that I was a runner. I was losing weight so that I could proudly display my own before and after on the internet for all the world to see and admire and be envious of. I so desperately wanted to be someone. I so desperately wanted to be noticed. I so desperately needed validation that I had completely took a dive into a few of the most unhealthy months of my entire life...all to prove to other people that I was enough. I the time my own opinion of my achievements or hobbies or image meant nothing.
That 1/2 marathon was pivotal moment in my life. When I got home that day, it all just stopped. I stopped because I knew what I was doing was unhealthy and I stopped because I had no idea how to move forward.
The next few months I did just did absolutely nothing.
That takes us to this year. I've spent a lot of time these past few months realizing that there is so much more work to be done. Self worth is something I continue to struggle with and I have a real problem with life in the grey. I go hard or I do nothing at all, and that mentality is leaving me stressed and overwhelmed and completely stagnant. I know I have so much farther to go in order to know my inherent worth. I know this journey into fitness must be one of grace and patience. It must be a journey I take for me and it's a journey to let go of the incessant need to prove and protect. It's about letting go of perfection so that I can embrace being good. It's about finding my why.
There is beauty and bravery in the every day. There is magic that happens on walks and over glasses of wine and chocolate cake. There is magic to living life to its full capacity and to embracing the phase of life we are in and all the amazing things that make us want to get up out of bed in the morning.
Obsession. Guilt. Shame. Prove. Perfection. Success...these are just some of the words I am choosing to let go of. Our worth isn't something that is achieved or earned, our worth is inherent because we are here. So, the journey continues, and my focus for the year is simply, grace.