A couple of weeks ago, Ray woke up with gumption. He and I got in the Mini and took off to his gym, a 24Hour Fitness that’s about two miles from the house. His intent – to use the membership he is paying for, and in order to achieve this – add me to his plan. He wanted to use me as a motivator to get him back into his workouts, back into the art of movement, and out of his headspace that was starting to consume him.
We’ve gone a few times now, and today, I’m going to be doing the third workout of a beginner’s 28-day plan that I found online.
What brought me to writing here, besides the fact that I haven’t shared a post here in a while, is that this feels legitimately better than any other gym experience I’ve ever had. In the past, when I’ve been to the gym, it’s been with a sense of desperation and anxiety. I went to workout, not only to just lose weight and feel better, but tucked in the recesses of those platitudes was the real reason I was there: control. I have a long-standing tradition of taking out my control issues upon my own flesh.
Almost twenty years ago, I had fallen into a steep and ugly depression. It was my sophomore year of college, and I hadn’t come out of the closet. I had left my family behind me, a situation that was fresh off an ugly divorce of my parents, and taken off to college, where I was surrounded by energetic and enthusiastic people of all stripes, who all seemed to have this joy about them that was missing in my life. I faked it, for the most part, but something was off with me. I was heavy, and had used food as a means of coping with anxiety and stress about the things in my life, not least of all was my questionable sexual identity. Somewhere along the line, though, I had the idea that if I just changed my physical appearance, then things would be better. Changing like that meant taking control of an aspect of my life that I’d never really paid attention to, apart from when I was actually made fun of for being heavy. I, in short, stopped eating. When I did eat, I forced myself to expel most of the food I had put in my body using any means necessary.
At first, it felt weird, but after a week or so, and noticing some of my weight falling off, it became it’s own feedback loop. The more I starved, the more I lost, the better I felt. I started to mix in going to the gym as a means of speeding up the weight loss, and as I wasn’t fueling my body at all, apart from an occasional coffee and a few bites of oatmeal, and the weight just kept falling. For the first few months of this control push, I found myself with new-found confidence. I was carrying myself around with a head held high, all the while, keeping my eating and fasting and purging habits tucked deeply away so that no one would notice. I knew what I was doing to myself was wrong, but the results spoke louder, and the starvation addiction grew stronger within me.
Eight months of this was hard on my body. I lost nearly 100 pounds through starvation, expulsion, and exercise. I was sick, and it was a lovely young lady in an English Lit class who finally called me out on it. She suggested I get some help, and I did. By that point, I was looking really rakish and pale. I’d been getting the occasional, “How are you doing, Thom?” from people around me, but like always, I remained upbeat and said I was great. I had become masterful at hiding what was really going on.
I got the help I needed. I also came out of the closet, and was able to move through my darkness into something better. Still, along the way, in moments of chaos and crisis, I found myself turning back on my own body as means of regaining control. After each boyfriend I’ve had prior to Ray, I spent weeks either running or weight training. It’s how I coped with the loss of my first boyfriend, Thomas. It’s how I responded to the termination of my marriage with Nathaniel. It’s how I reacted to the failure of my relationship with Caleb. Time and time and time again, turning inward and inflicting stress upon my body in order to reshape and reform myself has always come when the world around me is in total chaos and I felt like, somehow, at least being in control of my physical form would re-establish some sort of order out of it all.
Today, though, with this renewed attempt at fitness, and moving towards health, the backdrop for it all is markedly different. I’m in a loving and stable relationship. I live in a stable and supportive home. I’m not having a crisis of identity. I’m not feeling the pressure to change my form simply to fit in, or to give myself a false sense of power. Today, with this re-beginning at the gym, it feels better. It feels honest. It feels more real? I’m at a loss for words about it all still because it’s both old and new to me. I know that I’m doing something good for myself.