On Saturday, Derby Day, I won first place in my age group (40-44) for a 5k running race. And while nobody covered me in a glorious blanket of 564 roses, I was given a medal, an actual hang-around-your-neck medal, my first—my first for running, anyway–but perhaps my most meaningful as it was the first time back competing in a race since I had to bow out, most unceremoniously, five years ago because I was emaciated, suffered from irregular heart rhythms, and hypotension, all by products of anorexia. But on Saturday, under clear blue skies, in crisp morning air, my legs prickled with goose bumps, breathing in and out, in and out, glad to be alive and there, I stood at the starting line with all the other runners ready to run.
Let me say that again. Ready to run. Not ready to win. This is important and something that I am still learning in my recovering from all of IT’s manifestations—Anorexia, Bipolar Disorder, Alcoholism, Self-Injury. Ignore the voice that says: Be Perfect. Be the best. Anything else is shit, is failure, is grounds for starvation/ruminative self-loathing/drinking to excess/cutting. That’s how Anorexia works best. Lose 10 pounds. Now another 10. Now another 10. You are still too fat. Still not good enough. Still not the thinnest in the room, in the hospital. Worthless if you are just mediocre, finishing fourth, or worse, always second.
I can turn anything into a competition—usually against myself since I no longer play team sports. I time myself at little tasks—I have to unload the dishwasher before a round of commercials is over on TV. Ridiculous, I know, but when I hear the third commercial begin, my chest tightens, and I pick up my already frenetic pace. I justify this by telling myself I’m making mundane chores interesting, but really, it’s compulsive. Like shaving my legs in the shower—again, part of a time game—so, no shaving cream = precious seconds saved to come in under my five minute goal. There’s the grocery store game where I’ll given myself x number of minutes to get in and out depending on how many items are on the list and whether the kids are hanging from the cart. All of this is to say it is very hard for me to turn off the voice in my head that is always competing for The Woman Who Could Chug the Most Beers (Won that one in Jamaica on Spring Break one year), The Woman Who Had Fast-Track Admission to the Psych Ward (Well, almost, but everybody did know my name…), The Woman with The Most Scars on Her Arms (100+ but fading now so what does that mean when they’re gone?).
But I wasn’t thinking about winning at that starting line. Instead, I was filled with gratitude. How lucky I was, and am, to be connected again to my body which is healthy. Unbelievably healthy because truly, I should be dead many, many times over. I have tried to kill this body with deliberate means. I have woken up in emergency rooms and in an intensive care unit rescued by strangers from my suicide attempts. All of the alcohol my body has processed and recovered from (not to mention my brain). All of the wounds my body has healed because that’s what it does when it is trying to recover from my best, competitive attempts to die. All of the pounds lost and regained and lost and regained and lost and regained and lost and finally, hopefully for good, regained. This body standing in shorts and a tank top and sneakers, ready to run because it was healthy. A healthy body in the middle of a pack of what looked like other healthy bodies, other people ready to bolt into the wind and sunshine, ready to run the course.
I’ve won medals before, and trophies. I’ve played sports my whole life, but with the attitude of DO OR DIE. Competitive tennis from the age of five to eighteen, bruises purpled my shins because every time I flubbed a shot, really screwed one up, I’d whack myself in the shin with the tennis racquet. No joy in the playing, because there was no playing—there was just me executing a perfect performance and when I failed, as I always did, I enacted penalties.
Ready to run. I ran. Without expectations. Just do what you can do, I told myself over and over. Of course, it was a race, so I wasn’t going to lollygag and keep vigil at the dead possum or chit chat with other runners. I was there to run my best, which meant with all I could give, but which also meant without IT’s voice. So when I crossed the finish line and saw that my time was faster that I imagined, because I’d been feeling a bit fatigued by the long hill, I was already elated. And then when they posted the results and I saw my finish, and later still, when I received the medal, I knew what the medal was about: ready to run into my life and into hope.
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