By Z Zoccolante
Accomplishing a goal, like climbing a mountain, requires consistency and forward momentum, despite the desire to remain comfortably in place.
At the height of the climb we’re privy to the breathtaking stars, the vast expanse of the world in panoramic sprawl. The compilation of each step draws us closer to planting our feet at the precipice.
Anyone who’s experienced the mountain of disordered eating knows the dangerous unbalance that lies there. There are warm caves to hibernate and places where fear holds us at low attitudes. We convince ourselves that the precipice is too far. We debate if we should forgo the journey and relegate ourselves to a life of longing.
For those who undertake the climb, the mountain holds a plethora of lessons. Along the path of healing from disordered eating, one daily challenge is to gauge when to keep pushing and when to relax.
Balance is the keystone.
By sixteen, I’d grown accustomed to pushing myself and ignoring my feelings. I pushed through pain in sports and hunger in my eating disorder.
On sunny afternoons, I’d force myself to run through the neighborhoods in the valley behind my high school. My M.O. was to propel myself on, despite the valid protests, because I must be skinny.
I believed there was a magical “place of there,” and that whenever I arrived at that place i could relax. Everything would be perfect, all the noise in my head would stop, and I’d finally be happy.
To my horror and dismay, I discovered that there wasn’t an end. When I got to that “skinny” place I’d held out in front of me as my carrot, there was no magical land of peace and rest.
The pressure to maintain this new stick body was a daunting task. My stick body felt fragile and always on the verge of fleeing, of morphing back into the old me, the weight clinging its fingers around my thighs, wrapping its palms around my hipbones I’d grown to like in plain view.
Success bred the pressure to maintain. There was more at stake. Now, if I relaxed, I’d lose all my “progress.”
When I started the diet that morphed into my eating disorder, it began as a happy goal. I’d been motivated and excited to get into shape. Secretly, I was using myself as a guinea pig for diets I was researching for a family member. At the same time, I accepted a co-worker’s bet to stop eating dessert for a month. Competition was my friend, and I watched the little pooch under my swimsuit shrink flat. My skin gleamed a warm shade of almond and tan lines crisscrossed along my back like a fractured road map. I felt elated under the warm sun, felt free under the expansive blue sky as my hair blew seven shades of blond in the breeze.
As summer came to a folding close, a new page flipped in its wake, and overnight my healthy way of eating was no longer fun. Sure, I had my almond tan and my teeth shone like polished pearls in my school ID card, but I had swam too far from shore and soon I’ be drowning.
The eating disorder took over. It slipped on my skin. It became a task that mastered me, that forced me to run to appease the chaos so I could be sane again.
My world became a teetering of loss and gain, for the more we have in life, the more we stand to lose.
For some, recovering balance from disordered eating can feel like a gain. For others, it’s a heartbreaking loss. For me, it was both, and I allowed myself to mourn and celebrate each.
Change requires us to be a little bit uncomfortable because it requires us to venture into the unknown.
It’s like setting off to climb our mountain. It’s clear to see that our injuries would be exponentially worse if we fell from a mountain than an anthill. But where’s the challenge, or the reward, if we only do the things that are easy? How can we grow if we fail to stretch ourselves beyond our sense of comfort?
Change and growth only happen if we refuse to keep repeating the past. It reminds me of something a friend said to me. “Wow. Think about us two years ago. Back then we had no idea how to do the things we’re doing now.”
When I first began recovering from the eating disorder, I couldn’t fathom a life without my disordered voice. I only knew that I was desperate to be free and happy.
So I began to climb my mountain. I met people along the way. I read books, went to therapy, and journaled like a fiend. My lungs grew accustomed to the high altitude of air. I began to like the change of scenery and the expanse of stars. I cried, grieved, and celebrated because each night I lay down my head, I wasn’t in the same place.
Sometimes it was exhausting and it felt as though I was crawling along like a snail. then there were other times when I’d stop mid-climb, secure my feet along a small mountain ledge, and lean back letting the wind sweep against my eyelashes.
I’d examine my arms, the muscles taut from pulling my weight. My hands contained little round calluses like baby moons. Below me, the village i’d come from spread through the valley like pepper flakes. I’d smile at the view because I was high above, inching my way up, toward the blue sky.
The mountain of my eating disorder taught me balance.
It taught me that forward momentum includes a good night’s rest, breaks, snacks, relaxing meals, knowing our limits, and being kind to ourselves and others.
It taught me that I can’t climb a ginormous mountain in one day, but I can reach the top by climbing a little at a time, every day.
It taught me to be open to friendship instead of being a loner hermit. Friendships are essential for connection, support, love, and laughter.
It taught me that possibilities are worth the fear and risk of the climb.
It taught me that we don’t need to know exactly how we’re going to get to the top. We just have to set out into the unknown with the sliver of hope that it’s possible.
There will always be the next mountain, with more to gain and more to lose. For today, wherever you are on your mountain, remember to take a glimpse back and remember, with gratitude, how far you’ve already come.
Z Zoccolante is an author, actress, and fairytale dreamer. She loves to laugh and is deeply fascinated by a good fairytale villain. Her debut memoir will one day help others, who are trying to recover from eating disorders, attain happiness and freedom. Her writing has recently appeared on The Huffington Post, Peaceful Dumpling, and Sweatpants and Coffee. Visit her blog at zzoccolante.com or connect on Twitter @ZZoccolante.