I vividly remember the first time I purged. Fifteen and feeling the turmoil of life--my fathers infidelity, the passing of my favorite uncle, the chaos and confusion of high school--I wanted something to suffer with. I scared myself with bright red staring back at me from the toilet basin, I had strawberries for lunch.
Next came laxatives, and my parents finding them stashed in a cubby. Then came graduation, college, and new coping mechanisms that came in glass bottles from dimly lit liquor stores.
My toying with disordered eating waned until I found myself walking back to my dorm room Freshman year. It was eerie yellow orbs of light fighting back the pitch dark, frosted grass, and me, fingers clenched into my palms, a hollowed out feeling and "oh my God" playing on repeat through my head. It was rape.
I tucked tail and went home for the summer after the school year ended, the intensity of finishing the semester out left me blanched and edgy. That's when my eating disorder hit a fever pitch, when starvation and negative calories filled my days. That's when I lied to that pale faced woman with her psychology degrees for 2 hours a week at $150 a pop.
I went back to college at the end of the summer, armor so thick no one was allowed the get through. It was vodka and black painted finger nails and never letting a man close enough for even a boozy late night kiss. Again I replaced anorexia with alcohol.
Eventually I did find someone to let in, and we equally built each other into new people for four years, while also pushing limits aggressively and tearing at the fiber of our beings. It was chaos and love all rolled into one.
I had started binging and purging as the negativity of the relationship hit full swing. Now I realize what started at fifteen had morphed into a coping mechanism. The years ticked by, the relationship ended and my bulimia hung to me like craft glitter--you hardly notice its there but you can never scrub it away.
Various things transpired throughout the time leading up to the present, but I totaled a decade of disordered eating and bulimia before I stopped.
My entire life I haven't had a very intimate relationship with myself. I let the world around me dictate who I was, what I liked, and the trajectory of my life's path. I believe my eating disorder stemmed from feeling a lack of connection with who I was, and an underlying stress of not feeling in control of myself and my life. The emotional cost of both of those things is enormous.
Now, well over a year into recovery and many years of trying to learn who I am, I've realized what nature provides for people with disordered eating. Nature and outdoor recreation (of which there is plenty where I live in Crested Butte, CO), provides a backdrop and a framework to learn how to see your body in new light.
Before it was all negative body image and fat thighs, and a lack of connection with myself. But outdoor recreation allows me to make choices of what I like to do (trail running, hiking, SUP, landscape photography), and what I don't. It also helps me see my body as a vehicle for experiencing nature.
I've learned to judge myself not on how my thighs look in running leggings, but instead take notice of how much farther my legs can carry me than they did two weeks ago. I congratulate myself on pushing peaks, instead of ripping myself apart for the way my legs rub together in my shorts.
There is no doubt looking at outdoor recreation like this takes a significant amount of mental work. There is always self-judgement when you're not as strong as someone else, or you feel like an impostor when you first start exploring. But if done properly and with supportive friends, outdoor recreation can be used as a tool for ED recovery and deep personal growth.
Because when you're out there among staggering peaks, wildflowers, waterfalls or alpine lakes, there's really nothing else to think about but beauty and your bodies own ability to get you there.