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It feels so good to be back in the gym!

My relationship with the gym has been a tumultuous one but I am so happy to say that it is back to being a healthy one, instead of a toxic one! Woo Hoo! I must say I am pretty freaking excited about it!

After over ten years of not going to the gym, due to it being a very unhealthy place for me, because it was a huge part of my disordered eating and body dysphorphia, it is exciting to be back.

Over those ten years I have worked really hard to heal and work on my recovery. I made the decision to avoid the gym because it was too easy for me to slip back into unhealthy behavior.

Working out was a part of my life from a very young age. Playing club soccer starting when I was nine years old, among other sports like softball, volleyball and later running track and cross country. Not to mention my mom was a professional volley ball player and my biological father played professional football. Needless to say working out and competition were a very normal part of my life.

And for the most part my relationship with exercise was pretty healthy considering I was a competitive athlete from a family of multiple pro-athletes. Yep, you read that right. Its not just my mom and bio-dad there are actually a bunch of them, but I will leave that for another time.

My relationship with exercise and the gym didn’t go sideways until high school. It was then that I realized that exercise fit in perfectly with my eating disorder and body dysmorphia, obviously I didn’t think of it like that, but that was the reality of it. I had an ah-ha moment, so to say, that I could use exercise to try to “fix” the things I didn’t like about my body, and lets just say that did not come from a healthy mindset or way of thinking. 

And what was even better (in my distorted and disordered thought patterns) was that no one questioned me spending countless hours in the gym and exercising, because that was normal to my family of athletes. It also, helped explain my size, no one thought twice about it. I know because when I told people years later about my eating disorder no one had any clue, which was exactly what I wanted. 

 

Things really got out of hand when I went away to college. I had no one watching my eating or exercising and after I was raped they were my only coping skills. I can remember it so clearly and I can perfectly visualize the YMCA that I tortured my self in. I was in so much pain and denial. All I knew was that going to the gym helped me feel numb, so that I didn’t have to deal or think about anything else in my life and how out of control I felt. Beating myself and my body up made me feel in control, so that is what I did until it stopped working.

It hit me hard. I had so many injuries, I was dealing with on top of my chronic illnesses, and I was only 20 years old. Everyone said I was way too young to have so many issues with my body. It felt like a complete and total failure. My tool for feeling in control when my life felt most out of control and my most valuable coping mechanism’s were killing me.

It was absolutely terrifying.

I knew being 90 lbs, not eating for weeks at a time, and spending five hours in the gym everyday was not sustainable if I wanted to keep living.

At first, I thought I could still go to the gym, but I quickly found out that was not the truth. The truth was the gym was like a drug for me and at that time my addiction was so strong I had to totally avoid it, if I was serious about my recovery and saving my own life.

It was not until four years later that I set foot into a gym and it was just on a day pass. I went a few times and I could feel my old habits of pushing too hard sneaking back in. I could hear the voice of my ED and BDD pointing out all my flaws, so I decided I was not yet healthy enough and far along enough in my recovery to be back in any gym.

You know what they say in recovery: people, places, and things and it is so true, no matter how much we don’t want it to be.

So, I stayed away from the gym, happy with my yoga practice, as it was doing a great deal to help me heal and recover. It was on my yoga mat I realized everything doesn’t have to be a competition. Which may seem like a no brainier to you, but it was quite revolutionary for a competitive athlete from a family of athletes. It blew my mind. It was like a huge weight had been lifted off of me. It was ok to just enjoy something for the sake of it, I didn’t have to turn everything in my life into a competition!

I am so grateful for that realization because that is what has helped me get back into the gym in 2020 in a healthy way. I have been able to go and work out without the obsession, the need to push my body to its limits and with out using exercise to punish myself.

Instead, I have been able to use the gym to help my body feel better. My intentions are totally different now. I can say that the gym is a fun place to be again. I leave feeling good knowing that I listened to my body and did my best to take care of it. I know that may seem simple, but for me it is a huge victory.

Time has an amazing ability to help us heal and being back in the gym I am once again connected to my original love for exercise.

I share this because I want other people who have struggled with similar things as I have that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just because you are struggling with something now doesn’t mean you will struggle with it for the rest of your life. Sometimes it just takes awhile. For me it was eleven years. We all do things in our own time.

Be patient, understanding, and compassionate with yourself. I’m guessing whatever you are struggling with didn’t develop in a single day and recovery is the same it takes time.

I am so proud of you for making the Choice to face your struggles head on instead of pretending they don’t exist. I believe in you. You got this.

All my love,
Ali