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The Word That Helps Me Overcome My Need to Run in Eating Disorder Recovery

Running — away from or toward myself.

I have only one tattoo. It’s located on the inside of my left wrist and simply says, “stay.” I got it immediately after leaving my first eating disorder treatment center at 18 years old and I haven’t gotten another since. It’s the most important message from myself, to myself. It’s also the reason why I feel like shit today.

I recently went on a trip to Hawaii, my first trip since being back from living abroad about nine months ago. I was so excited. Many things happened on the trip, but one thing in particular turned my world upside down: I went for a run.

Let’s rewind a bit. When my eating disorder (ED) began at age 14, I had been playing soccer my whole life, but suddenly I felt the need to take up cross-country. Needless to say, as my ED developed, so did my solo exercise career. My days were consumed by running alone for hours on end until I finally collapsed from exhaustion. It has been years since I went to a gym and in the past nine months I have eliminated exercise completely, mainly to help with weight gain. So when I began running in Hawaii, I didn’t expect I would last long, maybe only a couple of minutes, since I hadn’t ran in a while. But I was wrong. I ran much longer than I expected.

After that, the days were a blur. If I could have, I would have run 24/7. All of a sudden, my craving was sky high. No matter how many miles I ran, I never felt satisfied. It was back: the unquenchable thirst, the bottomless well. The more I ran, the more my body hurt the next day and the only thing that made it feel better was to keep running. So I did. Until the blackout spells got longer, the muscle spasms more frequent, and eventually fainting became a daily nuisance.

After all of these years, I didn’t think I still needed my tattoo to remind me never to numb my emotions with running. But here I am now, four days run-free and the only thing keeping me from sprinting out the door is the word engraved on my left wrist, which I am repeating over and over: “stay, stay, stay.”

Stay!” I command myself. Stay here. Stay in this moment, this precious moment. Stay present with your emotions. Stay steady. Stay strong. Stay because you cannot run from yourself.

It is scary how quickly I fell back into my “addiction.” The illusion that my running obsession is “under control” has been shattered and a new awareness has set in. Fighting the urge to run is exhausting and not worth the small “escape” it provided while I was on vacation. Looking at my tattoo is helpful, but it does make me regret not having done so a week ago, before taking my first run. Despite this, I am 100 percent committed to turning this into a learning experience rather than allowing guilt or shame to take me down.

For those who can relate, my heart goes out to you. I am with you now, living from moment to moment, praying the urges subside the more I ignore them. I know there is someone else out there experiencing this exact same thing, in this exact same moment, and that knowledge strengthens me. I am not alone.

If such a person happens to be reading this right now, here are my parting words are for you:

We can do this. We are doing this. We are becoming who we are meant to be and we are improving the world by doing so.

Follow this journey here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Thinkstock photo via svedoliver