Confessions of a Steroid Addict
Credit: Photograph by Eric Ogden
Twenty years have passed since I found my way to the psychiatrist who set me free. Minutes into my rote recital of symptoms, he pegged my condition as panic disorder and prescribed a new medication that quelled it. My appetite returned, and some portion of the old vigor. I went back to training after years in exile and slowly, gratefully built a body out of battered parts. My shoulders were shot, torched by bursitis; my elbows whinged after preacher curls, and anyone fool enough to time me in the mile would have needed to pack a flashlight and a lunch.

But bit by bit I saw it in the health-club mirror: the pound or so a month of hard-won muscle; the medial delts rounding into view. Eyeing my reflection, I wanted to cry. That torso reminded me of me at 20, the kid I'd mistreated and done grave harm to before he had a chance to really live. His immune system is ravaged and can't be fixed (I have asthma, arthritis, and a list of allergies longer than the healthcare bill), and his neurology hangs together on pantloads of Paxil and too much Xanax when he flies. I'm doing what I can now to make it right – egg whites, long walks, light-rep sets – but I owe this body more than I can pay. And so, four times a week, I load up a bar and strap my weight gloves tight. It isn't about size now, or the attention of women. It's the reward of those first, clean, humming strokes: the arms firing up like piston rods, the air going out in metered breaths. By the fifth or sixth rep, I'm halfway stoned on a deep-brain dopamine flush. Pain and exhaustion melt away, and all I hear, as the breath goes out, is that pins-and-needles buzz in my ears. The last couple of reps are soft explosions, the pulse in my eardrums roaring up as I rack the bar, depleted. I lie there, spent but whole again, alive in a deep way, waiting for the next set to start.