I need to be honest with you about something. Come clean, if you will…
I joined a gym.
Since I have been fully recovered, I haven’t belonged to a gym. Having seriously abused exercise – and actually had become addicted to it – during my disease, and much of the early years of my recovery, I have always been a strong component of a “no gym” lifestyle for myself. Just too dangerous of a mine field for my recovery. Kind of like how I don’t own a full length mirror.
But, truth be told, when I was home with my mom for those eight months during her stroke recovery, we would take walks on the indoor track at her gym, where we’d talk and do speech exercises.
Fast forward to this winter, being back in NYC, I just couldn’t handle taking a walk in the bitter cold for 30 minutes like I had in the past. My tough “New Yorker exterior” had been softened by those cozy, temperature controlled, indoor walks, and well…I bit the bullet and joined a gym.
And even though I am 10 years strong in my recovery, I still have to resist the urge to stay longer than I should on my treadmill walk.
A practice in self control, if you will.
Although, I will say…I have yet to break a sweat. hahah I’m just a walker.
New York gyms are…depressing. I’m not going to sugar coat it. With space being at a premium in Manhattan, — unless you want to shell out $350/month to belong to Equinox — all the gyms are in basements, with no windows, and are literally a cement room with as many cardio machines crammed in as they can fit. Couple that with all the meat heads who are one creatine shake away from popping a bicep, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a workout experience.
So this week, I walked in and, as per usu, there was only one treadmill left. I get on, start my walk, turn the TV to HGTV, and get settled in.
To my right, was this 80 year old woman. Extremely thin – we’re talking gaunt – and absolutely drenched in sweat. She was wearing a gray t-shirt and the entire back was completely soaked through. You know how you can tell on a gray shirt? Well it was waterlogged. She had the maximum incline all the way up and was just power walking like you wouldn’t believe. Nearly doubling my speed.
I was kind of taken aback, if I’m honest. Something just felt…off. You know how you can just feel the energy that someone is giving off? Well, there was a franticness about her.
And, unsettled, I kind of glanced over to her machine out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, she had been going for 120 minutes. Two hours.
I tried to lose myself in Chip and Joanna’s shiplap paradise on HGTV, but I just couldn’t escape from the constant pounding attack on the machine next to me.
After my 40 minute walk, this woman was still going. Max incline. Breakneck speed. My heart was heavy, and I needed a conclusion to this situation. So I went over to the mats to stretch. I could still see this elderly woman just absolutely hacking away at the treadmill.
And after coming up with every possible stretch I could remember from elementary school PE, I gave up after 30 minutes, and went home. At least three hours and 10 minutes in, this woman was still going.
Now, I’m not one to judge, maybe she was training for a marathon, but as someone who had a severe addiction to exercise during my anorexia…I feel that I possess a certain authority of spotting “foul play” when I see it.
My heart broke for this woman. And as I’m sitting here typing this, half wondering if I should even be talking about it, I find myself lifting her up in prayer.
Because that woman is hurting.
Not physically, although, I’m sure her muscles are too. But her spirit is hurting. That display at the gym is a symptom of what is going on inside.
Which is why I decided to share this.
Eating disorders can happen to anyone.
I think there’s a stereotype that only rich, white teenage girls develop an eating disorder, but the fact is, it is a mental illness that doesn’t discriminate. ED doesn’t care what gender, religion, race, background, public school/private school. Anyone. And as I witnessed that day, even an 80-year-old woman can have an eating disorder.
I remember at inpatient, there were one or two older women there. I was the youngest in the adult program at 18, and most were in their 20s. But there was one woman in her 40s, another in her 70s. And I just remember seeing those women, struggling for 20 and 40+ years respectively, in and out of dozens of treatment facilities, I decided right then and there that I needed to get this thing out of my life once and for all. From the roots.
That is my plea. That’s why I wrote my book, Bloom. If you or a loved one is exhibiting signs of disordered eating, now is the time to get help. Not tomorrow. Not in a couple months to see if they can “snap out of it.” Now. Because like any addiction, those habits get ingrained so deeply that it becomes harder and harder to break free.
I wanted to talk to that elderly woman at the gym. Hug her sweaty back and tell her that she is enough. That she doesn’t need to strive. That her worth isn’t found at the XX-Minute-Mark on the treadmill. That she can just collapse into Jesus’ arms – the One who saved me from myself, and who will save her too.
May she – and all of us – seek out the Face of the One who wants us to rest in Him. Rest, knowing that we – broken and hurting – have worth and are loved, just as we are.
And next time I see her, Lord, give me the words to open up a conversation to show that I am a friend and someone who could be an ally.
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