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Thursday, November 17, 2011

part of my story: running and self love

I began keeping a journal when I was in the 8th grade and I wrote in it nearly every day through my college years.  I still have these books and when I read them I am reminded of the young girl I used to be.  It is a fascinating thing to witness the emotions and thoughts of the me from over half my life ago.  While sometimes it can be sad and painful for me to read, it can also be hilarious and heartwarming.  I'm so glad that I kept these journals and that I saved them - that I was so honest and open with myself in them - because I know that it was helpful to me to work through things at the time and now it is my hope that as my children mature I will be able to remember at least a smidge of what it felt like to be a teenager.  I want to be there for them in any way that I can be.

As a 13 year old girl I was mostly focused on writing about what was happening at school - who was "going with" who and other kinds of pre-teen gossip - and sharing the latest and greatest news about my soccer team and how awesome we were.  I was confident, goofy and happy.

Once I started high school, though, so many of my insecurities and self-criticisms started developing.  Most of this criticism was with regards to my self image and my weight.  How I measured up to my peers purely from a superficial standpoint.  I wrote about all of it and poured my heart into these books.  If you saw me from the outside you probably would not have ever guessed that on the inside I was so cruel to myself, that I did not love myself.  I was an athletic, active, and happy teenager as far as anyone could tell: involved in sports year-round, a good student and very social.  I had amazing friends and got along with everyone at school and I had a boyfriend, Seth, who was also my best friend and who I dated very seriously.  From the outside, you would think I had it all and that I would be extremely self confident.

But I wasn't.

I remember at 16 years old, during the winter of my Junior year of high school, I had this idea that I would "stop snacking" so I could lose a few pounds.  I did not have any intention of letting this get out of control.  But it got very out of control.  The next thing I knew, everyone was concerned about me.  My family, my friends, my boyfriend - everyone was making comments about how I didn't eat enough, how skinny I was. My journal entries from this time are astonishing - I truly honestly did not understand why people were freaking out.  I thought I was fine.  I remember going away on vacation with my family that Spring Break, and my mother encouraging me, begging me, to eat some pretzels on the airplane.  I did not want to eat them.  She was scared and upset and told me that if I did not start eating she was going to have to take me to the hospital when we got home.  She needed me to see how I was hurting myself.  How serious this was.


smiling, but hurting. wasting away.
me with my beautiful sister, Alissa
I still couldn't see it.  But when we returned from this trip she put me on a scale and stood me in front of a full length mirror.  My mother was crying and gripping my bony shoulders.  And that was when I saw it.  When I saw my mother's face - filled with fear and sadness - and looked into my own tear-filled eyes, I understood.  It was one of the saddest moments of my life.  I could not believe how much pain I was causing my mother, and how much I must have been hurting everyone I loved by doing this to myself.  I ached to make it all better, to stop hurting the ones that I loved.  But even still, I did not recognize that I was punishing myself.  That I was not loving myself.

That took some time.  A lot of time.

I went to therapy, I went to a nutritionist.  I reached a healthy weight again but struggled every day to feel good about myself and about my body.  My college years were the darkest time in my life, for a lot of reasons.  I feel like I walked around with a big heavy weight in my heart.  I was incredibly depressed and developed some pretty awful, self-loathing habits like smoking cigarettes, drinking too much, sleeping all day, eating horribly.  My weight fluctuated a lot during those years.  I just had no idea how to take care of myself.

My journal entries from this time reveal how much I struggled to find inner peace and happiness.  I began to pray a lot and to write about how I wanted to break free from the trappings of my physical body.  I was finally aware that I needed to learn to love myself, and I wanted, SO MUCH, to figure that out.  It was not only about self acceptance, but about self love.  I had spent so much time criticizing my body and defining myself by how much I weighed or how I fit into my clothes.  It was time for me to shed that way of thinking and to begin to love myself for who I was on the inside.  It was time to begin to believe in myself.

And this is when I started training for my first marathon.  I was 23 years old.  I was one of those people who had no idea how many miles a marathon even was, yet I wanted to do it with every ounce of my being.  I researched and researched (and yes quickly learned that a marathon is 26.2 miles!) and I put a training plan together for myself.  It was not about losing weight or about wearing a certain size of clothing.  It was about doing something so incredibly hard because I needed to believe that I could.  It was about taking care of myself from the inside out.  Running took me to a place deep within myself and introduced me to parts of my spirit that I did not know were there.  I remember thinking to myself that every time I went out for a run by myself, I was getting to know the real me.  I began to respect, love, believe in and feel proud of the person that I am.

Running saved me from depression and it taught me how to truly love myself from the inside out.

I am forever grateful.

8 comments:

I have to admit I was shocked to hear this bit of your past when we ran last week. I'm so glad that you found your way and yourself in the process. You are truly amazing. Hugs!

Great post, thank you for being so honest. It is amazing how a simple sport of running can save so many lives, mine included.

Stories like this make my heart ache. I have gone through this as well, and know the pain associated with disordered eating. While I wasn't diagnosed with anything, I definitely had 'issues' - and like you, it took a lot of focus to make things right!

You are beautiful inside and out. <- Just in case you needed the reminder :-P

You have most definitely found your strength and are still cultivating it. Thank you for sharing this story. I ran my first marathon in my early 20s, and it was a huge turning point in my life, too. I'm glad to have "met" you, Jess!

Amazing Jess. Thank you for sharing. It's fascinating how many of us in this "blog world" have similar experiences, feelings, backgrounds, etc.., You really help people by writing honest posts like this...

i think i just read my life story from another person's perspective. My serious self destruction started in a very similar way in highschool, and by the end of my first year of college my parents pulled me out of school and put my butt in treatment. Yet they didn't quite know what to do with me. I wasn't thin enough to be AN. I wasn't binging enough calories to be BN (although I was purging several times a day). And thus got lost in the world of ED-NOS. I was an exercise addict who exercised through broken bones and did permanent damage. And somehow running saved me (although I was 21 when I started training haha). It taught me to love my body for what it could do, not what it looked like! I've been wanting to write a post about it for a year now but was scared. thanks for the courage! It will be up soon!!!

Awesome post. I love your honesty. i've never kept a journal. My blog, I guess, is the closest thing to it. I'll have to say, I think running has really changed my relationship with food. I think a lot about what I eat and how it will affect my energy for running, not how it will make me look (well, I probably think about that, too, sometimes).

I don't know if you keep a running log, but I think you'd like this one from Believe I Am (http://believeiam.com/featured/training-diary/). Its has helped me so much, especially with the mental side of running.

Beautiful post. Thank you so much for being so honest and sharing this!

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