If you've read wiTHIN, you know that ringette was a big part of my life growing up. I love this game. Being in a cold arena and having callouses on my fingers from constant tying skates was normal for me. In my adolescence, nothing else mattered in my life during those two 15 minutes periods other than the game. It had a purpose, I knew what I had to do, and I was working with others to accomplish it. Sometimes, it would go our way, sometimes not. I knew I found a large piece of my identity there, but to this day, I am still learning what it brought to my life back then, and continues to bring to my life now.
Recently, I connected that what I liked about this sport was that it brought people together... it didn't matter what religion you were, or where you went to school. It didn't matter how you identified yourself sexually or in gender (although it was originally created for girls as a counter-part to the once male dominated sport of hockey), or whether you were short of tall, thin or big. Shy or outgoing, insecure or confident, the point of the game was to play as a team and put the ring in the net and to be sportsmanlike in doing so.
I stopped playing ringette for a few years after high school. Having lost this outlet, the purpose for my muscular body, and the uncertainty of the future with starting University, I developed an eating disorder. During those years, everything that didn't matter during the game all of a sudden did. How I thought about my body, sexuality, weight, calories, grades, and so on took priority. It's not that those things didn't exist before, however they became the main focus in and outside of sport/exercise. This became the new 'game'... one that took from me more than it gave. One that had serious health consequences, where engaging in any movement or exercise was not recommended, encouraged and, in some cases, permitted.
Keep reading and following wiTHIN to read how the rest of the journey turned out, however, what I want to focus on is the important of returning to sport post-recovery (after being medically cleared and after many chats with your therapist). For many years during my recovery, everything I did was 'recovery' orientated in some way. The people I hung out with were mainly those I had met in program or had their own mental health struggles. My vocabulary and topics of conversation largely revolved around therapy, eating disorders and recovery. It consumed me... And, at the time, it was because I felt this was the only aspect of how I could relate to other people... This huge life altering course of events occurred that profoundly changed how I saw the world and myself in it. I struggled with relating to those who could just eat normally or didn't have to plan when/where they would have their next meal or snack. I didn't know how to relate to my peers who appeared to be having fun with University and related activities... I didn't know how to just 'go with the flow' in anything. And, in the beginning, I suppose it was more than just not knowing... I needed life to be like that. I needed the structure and the sense of belonging so I could focus on being and staying well.
Over time, I lost sight of life outside of my mental health issues. Re-entering exercise as i navigated through the many stages of recovery was tricky. Most of the exercises I did weren't for pleasure or fun, rather done out of guilt, obligation or punishment. As I continued to move forward in recovery, challenging my motivation for why and when I exercised along the way, I eventually returned to ringette. It wasn't smooth sailing. I was so hard on myself for not performing at the same level I did when I left. I wasn't 18 years old any more and had completely destroyed and, was in the process of rebuilding, my body and mind. I needed to learn who to play for fun again.
I had to evolve. And it was scary. The first year of returning to ringette consisted of telling my, at the time, roommate how I didn't want to go before each game, then coming home with a sense of being glad I did (what a repeat of Brownies this was... although I never moved up the ranks... couldn't relate to dancing around a mystical mushroom and the talk of fairies). It took awhile before I branched out to grab food with them after a game. Sometimes, I catch myself smiling at how I used to talk with my teammates in the beginning. It was always about such serious matters... my version of 'shooting the breeze' because that's all I knew and what my life consisted of for so long. They were respectful and listened. It took awhile to realize and be comfortable with having friends where mental health wasn't our main connection. I needed to learn that there was more to me than my recovery from an eating disorder, depression or OCD. And, when I would fall in and out of my mental health issues over the following years, they were there to support and listen, relating as best they could... but their main encouragement came with helping me get back to the game. I'm so grateful.
I've found new sports to engage in for health and pleasure over the years that has no connection to my eating disorder. I also engage in some sports where I tread a fine line, where I must stay vigilant in making sure my motivation doesn't get corrupted by old eating disorder thoughts. I won't be able to play ringette forever as my body's ability and strength will change... and what that just means is... I will simply find something else to do for fun :) That will fill my social, spiritual, physical, mental and emotional needs like ringette did and still does...