I thought that four months in the gym had gone a long way toward conquering my fear, my embarrassment, my (dare I say it?) loathing of my appearance, but that wasn't the case as I headed down Hughes Road toward Dublin Park. As I was stopped at the next-to-last red light before turning left onto Old Madison Pike, I stopped for a moment and gave my thoughts their objective, silent, frightening due:

I'm not sure I'm ready for this. Sure, I've lost 18 pounds since January. I've gotten better at taking compliments from friends or strangers, but it still hurts to look in the mirror. Maybe, no matter what my weight or my fitness level, it's always going to be like this.

Even after doing all the preparatory work, and spending the money necessary to get a swimsuit (good-quality), goggles ($14, but the best-fitting of the lot), gym bag (cheap - $9), flip-flops (cheaper - $2), and little bottles to hold extra shampoo and conditioner (cheapest - $1 for two), I was still prepared to turn the car around and go home.

Physical recovery from an eating disorder is, for the most part, a simple equation: calories in, calories out. Getting your body fat percentages into healthy ranges. (For most of those who are recovering from an eating disorder, the challenge is to raise your body fat percentage; I have the opposite problem.) Mental recovery is a different story. The body may well heal long before the mind can do the same.

Mine whispered, Take your half-finished excuse for weight loss and go home, little girl. Just go home. You don't belong here and you know it.

It took a few moments of a green light before I reminded myself of what I kept muttering back in January:

You have a choice, Amy. You've always had a choice. You can give up, go home, live a safe life where you never take a chance and never get hurt, or you can go out into the big, bad world and say, "Here I am, you sons of bitches. This is what I've made of me, and you can love me or hate me or just ignore me, but I'm never hiding again." You just have to trust that the joy is worth the pain, the fear, and the uncertainty, because the alternative is to hide, to not live, and to spend the rest of your life wondering how it might have been if you'd only been brave.

I hustled myself into the building before my courage ran out; signed the sheet, forked over the three dollars, and headed to the changing room. Clothes off, swimsuit on, bag tossed in locker #13.

I looked at myself in the mirror, suited up for what looked like some body-hugging Lycra war, and tucked my towel around my hips. Just because I'm brave enough to get near a pool doesn't mean I'm ready for people to actually look at me yet; it just means that my longing for the water has finally trumped my loathing of my appearance in a swimsuit.

I got in the water before I could lose my nerve, dodging kids and parents and heading for the lane markers. It was everything I remembered: chlorine tang, water chill, the slowing drag of the water on limb and torso. I got in the water and my fear went away, unlike so many people I know whose fear only begins the moment they land in the water; I got in the water and knew I was slow, and clumsy, and far different than I was ten years ago…but I was home.

My muscles, worn out after weightlifting, only had enough strength for me to do one lap. One measly lap. I wanted to hate myself for it, but instead I picked a quiet spot near the wall and let my body float in the current, and I discovered that the water was stronger than my self-hatred.

I closed my eyes.

Twenty minutes later, I changed back into street clothes, laughed at the chlorinated mess of my hair, and walked out of the building. I had gone swimming. I could swallow the terror of letting people see my body as the half-finished, still-chubby thing it is now, because I was right: my longing for the water trumped my fear.

It was time to buy a pool membership.

On the way home, I picked up my cell phone and called a couple of friends, and in my words there was not fear. There was life, and there was joy.

I returned to the pool. I thought of Angel's chronicle of recovering from knee surgery, run along now. In it, she talks about starting again from scratch, with a small effort that's the best you can do, and gradually increasing it as your body recovers.

My first day, I did one lap. Today I did three. Next time…we'll see. In time, all things are possible.