“I got it on the first try!”

My mother often tells the story of how I learned to tie my shoes. I was five, and very stubborn. I was determined to learn to tie my shoes once and for all. I struggled for most of a day to get my laces to do the loop-circle-pull thing that my parents made look so easy. It was a miserable experience. My loops never held. My circles didn’t quite go around. I pulled…but things unraveled.

Finally, after trying and failing and trying and failing, I quit. I tearfully gave up on the idea of ever being able to tie my shoes and went back to unchallenging but unappealing velcro sneakers.

Months later, I put on a pair of lace-up shoes, tied them, and proudly declared, “I got it on the first try!”

Which is true. I did get it on the first try. That time. But I had hours of struggle and frustration and giving up behind me.

I’ve been thinking and writing about recovery from the “I got it on the first try” standpoint. My most recent decision to quit binge-eating resulted in fast, relatively easy, and permanent recovery. But if I’m honest, the recovery effort began 23 years ago, with little-girl me on the therapy couch and in the Weight Watchers meetings because I “just can’t stop eating.”

It started again in middle school, with Lean Cuisine that I would chew and spit for lunch, and self-defense classes to “burn off” candy bars. And again in high school with Slim Fast and hard-boiled egg diets and dry veggie burgers with no bread and trying to force myself to run and then reading about feminism and sexuality and coming out and trying to feel at home in my fat, queer body (but never allowing myself to eat freely the things I craved or to pursue openly the pleasure I desired). Loop, circle, pull…watch everything unravel.

College, married life, pregnancy, and the postpartum period brought more of the same: decide I binge-eat because I “just can’t stop eating,” look for ways to just stop eating, loop, circle, pull…unravel.

So for a while, I quit. I gave up on the idea of ever being a “normal eater,” and retreated into disordered eating. I hated the binge/purge/diet cycle, but it was the devil I knew. I took my deep-seated fat-phobia and internalized misogyny and ran with it. And this is where the shoe-tying comparison thing kind of breaks down, because instead of wearing velcro shoes, I was “running with it” with my laces untied and trying to be cool with falling face-first onto concrete and knocking out teeth all the time.

So, yes. With my last attempt at recovery, I did “get it on the first try”—but only because I finally tried again, after years of painful, failed attempts.

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