I love watching the Summer Olympics. It is such a pleasure to watch the athletes, who clearly have so much passion for their events. It is also motivating to see how perseverance and stamina lead an athlete to the ultimate prize, an Olympic medal.
This is the fifth Summer Olympics since I was diagnosed with anorexia. I remember watching in 1996, just healthy enough and thinking maybe I could somehow try to qualify for the 5000m in 2000. This has been my event since high school- 5k, 3.1 fast miles, over and done in a flash. In the fall of 1996, just after the Olympics and just into the college cross country season, injury forced me out and kept me out. It was the first time, even through the worst of the anorexia, that I had been forced to take serious time off from my passion. Any budding thought I had of trying to qualify for the Olympics was squashed.
This time off could have been productive; instead, it threw me back into the eating disorder. It filled me with anger- at myself mostly, for having lost so much time and health to anorexia. I started smoking cigarettes. Even though I was exercising daily, and running as much as possible, I still smoked. I’d smoke a cigarette on the way to the gym, take my inhaler, work out, get back in the car, light up a cigarette, and drive home. I smoked before and after every run. For me, ever since my diagnosis it’s been one addiction after another: eating disorder is better? Okay, now you’ll become addicted to cigarettes. Finally quit smoking? Great, now you can get back into running and once again become addicted to that. There seems to be no end, no period where I have been able to just BE, free of any vices. This reality is very tiring. It takes a lot of self-encouragement and strength to dodge addictions while trying to move forward with my physical and mental health. It also makes me wonder daily: if it weren’t for these addictions, if it weren’t for all these obstacles, what great things could I have accomplished? What could I accomplish in the future? Will I ever really know?
In 2000, the year I had hoped to be an Olympian, I quit smoking cold turkey. Despite the injuries that continually plagued me I was able to keep running. My old fitness came back, and I eventually started to run- and win- 5ks again. Racing a 5k is a delicate science, and I have run so many now that I can do it in my sleep. You can’t go out too fast, because you will burn out halfway through. You can’t go out too slow because you will not have enough time to pick up momentum. Your last mile has to be faster than your first. My race is methodical, and conservative right off the starting line- I have no problem being middle of the pack off the line, but I have a huge problem not being first at the finish. I will let other runners go on ahead, and one by one I will pass them until I am at the front. Then, if I haven’t made any pacing mistakes, I will blow through whoever is left at the end. In recent years, this method has made me a formidable competitor and I have been the top female consistently. I even beat out most of the men, which doesn’t make me too popular!
Watching the Olympics reminds me of my athletic accomplishments, but more than that it reminds me that in recovery it is essential to have a goal, a plan, and a pace. Though running has certainly become an addiction for me, something that I need to be careful about, it has given me a good metaphor for recovery. I think this applies to all of us- what is our goal? How will we get there, and when do we anticipate arriving? Many times I use visualization to help me make a plan and stick to it. This is another gift from running- in high school I was taught how to visualize winning, how to mitigate pain from my injuries into an advantage. It worked, and it works for me now when I am trying to reach a goal. I see myself where I want to be, successful and happy. And then I notice how I got there. This helps me make a plan, and it becomes a delicate balance just like the 5k- can’t go out too fast or too slow, but rather find a good pace that allows for a surge of power close to the finish line.
Athletes have stamina and perseverance. It takes a lot to get out of bed in the morning and work toward a goal until you are physically and mentally exhausted. It takes stamina to stay the course, and perseverance to push through obstacles. Likewise, it takes stamina and perseverance for those of us in recovery. We wake up everyday and work hard to reach our goals. There is pride in this process, and there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel- recovery. You are in control of this process, and you can use affirmations and other tools to help you. You are never alone, and you do have the strength, stamina, and perseverance to make it. Recovery is your prize!