Half the time in California was spent with Suzy, including a gorgeous bike ride along the coast to Venice beach, and two hot yoga classes (“This is my community!” Suzy said). The other half of my time was spent walking by myself along the beach, looking in shops, and reading and writing outside.
I used to have so much chatter, introspection, confusing thoughts, and deep thinking about the eating disorder going on in my mind during my alone time. Now, there’s not much left to think about in terms of my recovery. I’m just content.
Yes, there are still difficult days (especially with travel, even). I don’t have easy access to all my “safe” food, and I’m faced with food I haven’t eaten in a long time. There might always be that challenge. But I continued to remind myself that even if I did gain a few pounds from a trip what did it matter? My clothes may be a little tighter, but they would still fit. No one would think differently of me. I know how to trust my body, and having it fluctuate slightly is healthy and normal. I could partake in all the experiences in California without spending so much time and energy focusing on the food I was consuming.
It’s nice to have vacations like this away from home because it forces me to relax. It forces me to find fun activities throughout the day to keep me exploring, keep me discovering. I’m still daring myself to do things that are uncomfortable for me—like yes, traveling alone. The eating disorder doesn’t want me to travel. It wants safe foods, isolation, and more weight to lose.
I just don’t listen to the voice anymore.
After a few days with Suzy, my final destination landed with a friend I had connected with by chance over Instagram. We had known each other in the distant past, and realized what a perfect opportunity it would be to meet and catch up again—especially when we discovered we both dealt with an eating disorder.
“I’ve barely told anyone what I’m going through,” she said, when I arrived at her home. We sat for about an hour catching up, trying to understand where each of our eating disorders began. We had similarities in that sports fueled our eating disorders, and differences in how we used our bulimia (in terms of purging through vomiting or exercise). In this we concluded that eating disorders are not only tricky to find because you can’t determine an eating disorder by the size of the person, but also that eating disorders have different rules and routines between people. I noticed this years ago when a friend had an eating disorder, and her fear foods were very different from my fear foods.
In the little time we had together I tried to explain my recovery process and what I eat on a normal basis, but reassured her that it was all written down in the book too (which makes me even more thankful I have this available to everyone).
My friend was expressing many of the same concerns I remembered having back in the depths of my eating disorder. My heart was crushed when I realized how alone she felt in all of this, what with lack of support and her struggle to understand herself through the disorder. It makes me thankful to be where I am, but confident to know that she’s on the right path, taking all the right steps, and will be at healthy place someday, too.
When my friend told me how she wondered if she would ever get better, it made me recall how I used to think I was going to be that one person recovery never worked for. I remembered thinking I would always be broken, that my body just made everything so complicated for me, when really it was never my body’s fault in the first place.
I wanted to hug my friend again and again, wanted her to feel I was there for her, that I understood, and that she was never alone. It’s the same way I feel for any email, text, or letter I receive from anyone dealing with a mental illness.
Suzy expressed similar feelings when I returned home from the Hollywood visit. Suzy had mentioned a live video chat she participated in recently.
“I read on the screen, over, and over, ‘HELP.’ In capital letters. It just crushed me,” Suzy said.
I remembered thinking that. I remembered feeling that. I felt my own heart crumble upon hearing this from Suzy, realizing how many of us are clawing for HELP.
I returned to the dreary Michigan weather later the next day, overall refreshed from the trip, but reminded of how much work we still need to do as a community in mental health. I’m thankful and blessed for all the people I’ve met through this book publishing process, taking me as far as trips to the other side of the country to visit not just an Olympic athlete, but also one of thousands fighting so hard to claim their life back.