Looking Up Again: My Perspective of Eating Disorder Recovery - Lucie Hanes
As I work to learn more about the magnetism of my eating disorder, I have noticed that recovery depends in large part on breaking habits.
One particularly sticky addiction of mine — that developed in parallel with my illness — deserves credit for putting up the most profound fight of the process so far: a hardy tendency to look down at the ground while spending time outside.
Around the same time that my mind began to welcome in my eating disorder’s favorite distortions, my eyes found a new focal point.
I first recognized the change during a climbing trip to the New River Gorge in West Virginia over my spring break from college. Our group had picked one of the furthest sections along the cliff line, which made for a pretty long and strenuous hike before we even got to the cliff.
I was sweaty, tired, and covered in nettle stings by the time we finally arrived – but most of all, I was surprised.
While my friends dropped their packs and admired the sandstone, I could only stare back at the path we’d taken and at the looming rock wall that had flanked it for at least a half-mile. I hadn’t even noticed the rock beside us.
On that day, and many others before and after it, my body was out in nature while my mind walked in circles around the house.
I didn’t pay attention to the weather, or the wildlife, or the feeling of fresh mountain air moving through my sinuses. Instead, I stared down at my boots and thought about myself.
I thought about what image I presented to the world around me, what I could change about myself to fix that image, what I could do to make people like me or to make me like me. My outdoor adventures played a role in that train of thought, but only as the lowly means to an end.
The more steps I took and the more energy I expended, the worthier I felt.
It turns out, though, that there’s never actually a finale in these sorts of games. The ends keep moving further away, and the means keep growing more extreme.
Before long, those hikes and runs and climbs and paddles weren’t enough to please me anymore. I needed to try harder, do more, be better, because I was sure that waging such a constant war would set me on the road to real satisfaction. I used the outdoors to punish myself with relentless exercise, the fuel that my eating disorder liked the best.
All the while, I never looked up from the ground.
80-foot climbs and ridgeline treks had the same dull effect on me as trudging through a vapid concrete tunnel.
I remember realizing on one stunning autumn day that I had completely missed the leaves changing on the lawn at my school. I wouldn’t have known at all had I not tripped over a pile of those fallen leaves and ended up on my back in the grass for a few seconds of forced rest. It was one of those literal stop-and-smell-the roses moments that I’d left behind.
Somewhere along the way in my pointless efforts to make a better me, I’d lost something that actually holds value for me — my love for the spirit of the outdoors.
Nature doesn’t ask for perfection or ceaselessness or exhaustion. In fact, I think it would probably be offended by those assumptions. I had been abusing it over the years by using it to abuse myself. It wasn’t fair to either of us.
Lately, now that I made the choice to resurrect my health, I think of that bad habit as a warning sign. When I see more dirt than sky in a day, I must remind myself of something important: the natural world beyond me is so much bigger and brighter than anything that my mind could invent to tell me otherwise.
In the grand scheme of things, quietly watching the clouds holds greater merit than immediately sprinting up the next peak. Taking a look around at the top of a climb matters more than rushing down to fit in another round. Admiring the canyon walls that rise up along the riverbank makes a much bigger difference in my life than worrying about how to paddle the next rapid perfectly.
I’m slowly discovering that there’s a distinction between simply being outdoors and actually experiencing it.
Looking up instead of down has started to transform me. I’ve found a crucial connection between body and mind, as changing my physical perspective works wonders on my mental viewpoint at the same time.
This means allowing my eyes to choose the awe-inspiring rather than the mundane, so that I can let go of control and learn how to pause.
It’s a work in progress, and probably always will be, but each morning that I wake up more excited to let some trees and breezes inspire me serves as a success.
Like everything else in nature, this is how we grow – day by day.
Lucie Hanes is engaged in recovery following treatment at Eating Recovery Center.