So I found myself at the base of this intimidating mountain, the summit extending infinitely skyward, obscured by clouds; up and up it goes, rudely puncturing the atmosphere on its way. Straining my neck, I knew the peak must be in the darkness and calm of space, if it is there at all. And to my right is this deep gaping ravine, threatening to swallow the earth around it and all the little things clinging to the soil. I wondered, if the infinite ravine got hungry enough, would it swallow up the mountain?
I knew I was going to face this conundrum at the beginning of college. Do I climb or should I just jump and be over with it already? I wanted to climb so badly and yet the part of me that was the disease teased me, telling me I could not succeed so why should I waste time trying, only to fall even farther when I did.
And this is when the periphery of my assertion began to form. If health was not my ultimate concern, I would stumble.
I had the privilege of backpacking for two weeks before the beginning of my first semester with other incoming freshmen as a sort of orientation trip. I flew across the country and found the strange statue in the airport, our meeting point, and looked for the other confused kids with oversized packs. I looked forward to the adventure, the new places and new people, yet the greatest discovery I made were pristine territories inside myself.
When you hike for a very long time, even with people you do not know, there is eventually the inevitable silence of people in deep thought. Even having just met, after a few days we had exhausted our inquisitions, songs, and stories for each other and turned inward.
I examined piece by piece how it had come to this. How I was here. The truths I unearthed terrified me. The mosaic of my disease ceased its formlessness. I was not alone in intense reflection on this trip. One day, we intentionally hiked alone, spread out along the trail, for a mile. I went first and when the second person caught up to me at the meeting point, I asked what he had thought about. He replied, how much I hate myself. It was strange to see this person later at school, living so boisterously and so hard, appearing so big and confident, unable to forget what he’d said.
The universe conspired, in a fit of synchronicity that the trip’s leader, the head of the outdoors program at my school, would who I needed to meet: this tiny wild man, an ultra-runner with aspirations of being a missionary. Our first morning in the mountains, we awoke having camped in this beautiful meadow, saddled between two peaks. He got our whole group running around the meadow, leaping into the air to “catch love.” And we did this for about twenty minutes and it was wonderful. During the course of the trip, he continually yelled at me for constantly apologizing. He said it was like I was apologizing for my existence, and suggested that when I felt the need to apologize that I instead say “Fuck you.” In fact, he insisted on this. I felt so uncomfortable not apologizing, and even more uncomfortable saying this, I kicked my habit.
It was filtering water one day, using my inner thighs to push the pump, in and out, over and over again, the soft sloshing sound of this activity hypnotizing, speaking with him, that I dissolved all my boundaries. I told him everything I could think of about my eating disorder. I told him how scared I was to go into this new place where I felt something so forcefully trying to push me into the ravine once and for all. He told me it would be okay, he told me knew I could overcome it. He revealed to me eventually that he too had at one point been an addict, and that I too could reclaim myself. And there in the woods I knew I could climb, forever if I had to.