I must be 60 feet from the ground. No... 100 feet. My legs are shaking like each of them drank their own french press this morning and there's enough sweat in my palms to wash a cat with. I'm nearly to the top but I don't think I'll make it there in this state. My arms are pumping with acid as I paw desperately at each chalked hold, none so good that I might stand up and catch that glorious jug just out of reach. Why am I up here, anyway? Why did I think I would be so strong as to get on this wall. Only fit people rock climb, not me. I don't belong here. I should be at home with my cat and coffee.
This is not an uncommon dialogue that runs through my head when I am rock climbing. The feelings of weakness are undeniably intertwined with panic and uncertainty. They are emotions that have accompanied me through many processes of life, not the least of which has been my recovery from disordered eating.
Just saying "disordered eating" makes me cringe a little bit. As a title, it is so specific and simplistic that it misses the joy-sucking, life-debilitating, career derailing tragedy that it is; as if it were just about "eating" and having some preordained "order" gone askew. It is so much more insidious than that. It is its own identity that has hijacked the otherwise healthy, vibrant soul of the body.
At its very heart, it's about control. I don't consider it a random coincidence that I developed this obsession during a time when I had very little control over some of my most basic needs. In four years time, I had lived under a friends bed, in my '92 4Runner, five different guest bedrooms, and a "Harry Potter" closet under the stairs. I was constantly "the new girl" at work, training to do the same service job at a different location. I had no established home or job and I felt a desperate need to establish some semblance of order. So I gripped food and exercise like it was my lifeline. As long as I didn't let it out of my grasp, I could control my strength, my confidence, and my reputation as a diligent and disciplined athlete. But the security of control survives only briefly, if at all.
Maybe you've found yourself in this false sense of control in your obsession with your body like I did. While it comes as a comfort to do whatever you can predict your outcomes, it ultimately limits your potential to only those possibilities that fit within the framework of your desired expectations. The daily diligence to decisions made around food and exercise become toxic to all the other parts of a joyful life because, unless you're going to climb the same route every time you go outside, you are going to be challenged to make moves that are insecure and unpredictable.
When you're on the wall, climbing leaves you two options at any moment: keep climbing or fall trying. Since neither of these options offer a sense of control, I often see my clients come to a challenge and fix themselves rigidly to their position - too afraid to go up, too scared to fall, and too ashamed to give up. For some reason the mind misleads us to believe you can stay exactly where you are, frozen in a vertical plank, as if there is some aspect of control as your grip slowly fails you, your strength quickly slipping away.
For years I held my body in a place of control, constantly monitoring calories in/calories out and constructing a rigid schedule around food restriction and exercise binges. After a few years my body started failing me, despite my perceived control over its' functions. I lost my period for over two years, suffered multiple stress fractures, and developed an insatiable appetite that ultimately lead to rapid weight gain. I was stuck holding onto everything that I knew I could control while my body deteriorated along with my quality of life and overall well-being.
Looking up at the wall above me, it can seem like moving up is actually impossible. I don't see any clear path ahead of me or any positive holds that might illuminate one. Often times I find myself checking the same bad holds over and over again - No, that's not good, that's not good either, maybe the first one was better... no it still sucks, what else is there? At a certain point, you just have to commit to an insecure hold and move! Choose any hold, the worst will do, and power to the next best looking opportunity. It's improbable, at best, that I'll catch the next hold, but when I'm willing to take the chance I know I've exited fear and entered into a whole new version of myself filled with empowerment and adventure.
These were the kinds of moves I had to make in order to flow through my recovery with disordered eating. Keep moving on even if you didn't make the best decision for dinner, skipped a workout, or spent all day in front of a computer screen. Keep moving. Pursue a new career even if you're "damaged". Go on that date even if you feel bloated and ugly. Not all the conditions are going to be perfect for you to reach your fullest potential, so take the risk and see what happens. Curiosity mixes well with taking risks and while the outcomes are unpredictable, the exposure reveals parts of yourself that your soul has been searching to discover.
That is not to say you won't fall trying. In fact, it's likely that you will fall and I hope that you do! I've noticed that beginner climbers want to do whatever they can in their power to not fall. They have convinced themselves that falling is the most dangerous part of climbing, and while I'm not disagreeing with this, it is an essential part of climbing and life. At the risk of sounding cliché, falling is where we learn and grow as individuals. The scariest part about growth is that is requires change, and change is not cultivated in an environment of control. We have to be willing to let go.
Change Theory suggests that there are six stages to creating new habits, and it revolves in a cycle. Briefly, the first five are Precontemplation, Contemplation, Determination, Action, and Maintenance. These are concepts I cover much more in depth during our Body Positivity clinic in August, but for now I want to specifically look at the last stage of change, which is Relapse.
If every route you get on is a process of growth and change, then every fall you take is a beautiful and insightful relapse. It's the point in your journey that you succumb to your weaknesses and discover the most about yourself. It's where you learn to fall gracefully and fearlessly, knowing that each fall is a part of the process to becoming more in tune with your body. You begin to find yourself more comfortable with not knowing what the outcome will be, maybe even excited.
My recovery from disordered eating has been a spiraling series of lessons in relapse. Going through the process of building motivation and determination to take action for change is hard work. It is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done. Just when I feel like I'm finally getting somewhere I get faced with another challenge and I fall off the wagon (or fall off the wall, shall we say?). Now that I have learned to fall, I am comfortable with it. When I go out to climb I mean to get on routes that I will fall all over. Over and over again, until I figure out a way up the spiral.
In my long journey of recovery, the rock walls - sitting silently in crags and canyons - have been my gentle guide to remember who I am and what I believe in. Without climbing, I would watch my life lessons recycle themselves over and over again without casting an enlightened perspective. But within the humility of climbing, I am reminded of the immense amount of courage that is required to face the unknown: to let go; to fall; to rise again.