The majority of my adult life has been consumed by addiction.  I struggled with my eating disorder for 10 years and alcoholism for even longer.

My eating disorder started in combination with my alcoholism; when I left my sheltered small town life to a college many miles from home.  I had my first drink with my college best friend and was instantly hooked; I loved the feeling of being someone outgoing and carefree.  I loved the feeling of my head spinning and the time passing without being lost in my own head.  

My eating disorder was triggered within a year of that first drink.  I had started shutting out my friends and turning inwards.  Details aside, I had started disconnecting from the person I thought I was and disliking who I had become.  I felt extremely alone.

I found the online community, Xanga, where other girls my age wrote about their daily food and exercise intake and marveled at their success at losing weight.  The skinniest girls with the lowest weights were the most popular in the online community.  These girls shared tips and tricks for losing weight and how to hide it from others.  Xanga became my world.  

I spent the next 10 years in a cycle of binge drinking, starving, and over-exercising, which created more problems and relationship distress in my life.  It seemed like an endless cycle because whenever something would happen while I was drinking, my shame led me to drink and starve even more.  

I decided to quit drinking and focus on losing weight.  It worked: my friends and family noticed and made comments.  I started counseling at an eating disorder treatment facility and after several months, I checked into their inpatient treatment house for women.  However, after around 30 days my therapist increased my meal plan and I wasn’t ready and willing to accept it, so I checked myself out.  

A few months after leaving inpatient, I then moved into a transitional living home for women with eating disorders.  Since I was quite anorexic at this point and nothing was improving, my treatment team eventually came together.  They told me my life was on the line since I was starting to have heart problems from my eating disorder.  They discussed the option of forced commitment to a treatment center.  However, I’m very stubborn and prefer to make my own decisions so I agreed to go to a treatment center of my choice for 30 days.  I chose a facility in Southern California, near the beach.

I ended up staying there for 4 months, followed their outpatient program for another 4 months, and by a short return inpatient after starting to relapse.  I cannot praise their program and staff enough; they were the reason I stayed this long.  They were patient with me and let the decisions become consequences that I had to choose between.  

After that, I returned home to Minnesota.  I was frustrated about leaving California, my new treatment friends, and having to return to finding a full-time job.  I became depressed and startin drinking again.  Fast forward another 2-3 years, I hit a breaking point and decided to seek alcohol treatment.  I promised myself to do “90/90” (that is 90 AA meetings within 90 days) along with attending outpatient treatment.  I’ve been clean since then.

Soon after getting sober, I met my current husband.  I also started feeling unsettled, like I needed to go somewhere new.  I applied to new jobs and we took a position in the Southwest.  My husband started telling me about a backpacking trip that he had done years ago, how it was one of the most amazing things he had done.  He wanted us to go there and do the same backpacking trip together.  We started researching, buying gear, and planning to hike Paria Canyon in Utah/Arizona.  That backpacking trip was a complete eye-opener for me and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.  I loved being outdoors, wild and free, with only myself (or husband) to rely on.  I didn’t spend a minute thinking about work, home, cleaning, chores, or any other worries.  It was the ultimate escape.  

Ever since that backpacking trip, I have craved the wilderness, outdoor adventure, and travel in my life.  Planning for a new trip, getting to the woods, using my body’s strength; these are the things that keep me healthy now.  Drinking will keep me locked up indoors.  Starving will make me skinny, not strong.  As a petite and small-framed person, I’m already at a physical disadvantage in the outdoors.  Because of that, I have pushed myself to work up strength and that makes me feel empowered.  I don’t want to be a flimsy waif; I want to be self-reliant, strong, and healthy.  I appreciate my body for the adventures it is able to endure.  In the last few years, I’ve taken kickboxing classes, martial arts, and crossfit (all in moderation!)  

Today, my goals are different.  My goals are not a weight.  My goals are not a calorie count.  My goals are to take care of my body so that I can accomplish bigger goals; I want to backpack and hike more.  I want to hike the Superior Lake Trail in Minnesota.  I want to travel to Norway to hike the Pilgram Trail and meet my relatives.  Maybe, one day, I will hike the Appalachian Trail.  

I wanted to share my story in case it helps anyone.  You don’t need to be raised with an outdoors family to love the outdoors.  Your size doesn’t determine if you can do a hike or backpacking trip; but your health does.  There’s a lot more adventure waiting for me and I’m able to do these things because I can trust my body.

Check out Rachel's blog at www.backcountrypetite.com