This may be one of the hardest posts I will ever have to write.
Now that this blog is a few weeks old, and people have told me how great it is to read about how I overcame anorexia and excessive exercising, I have a confession to make.
My family and friends see me as a vibrant, healthy mother who has battled through and conquered the destructive effects of an eating disorder. My students see me as the strong English teacher who can lift a lot of weights and eats “healthy.” My children see me as the mommy who makes them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and tucks them into bed at night. I seemingly have everything all together. What many fail to know, however, is that while the intensely incessant eating disorder voice that troubled me throughout my young adult years has quieted down to almost a barely-there whisper, it still manages to sneak in and wreck havoc on my thoughts. And even right now, I’m battling that tiring and malicious voice.
It is humbling to say. The prideful voice in my head fears what my colleagues, acquaintances, and fellow gym-goers will think when they know that I still have appointments with a dietitian and psychiatrist to combat the lure to restrict.
But I need to share this struggle.
In fact, I MUST share. I must share that while the majority of the day I can distinguish between the reasonable, healthy me and the sinister anorexic thoughts, the eating disorder voice has found a way back into my brain (albeit not as ravenously as in years past), and that only good nutrition, talking with a doctor, and the grace of God can help me find true and complete recovery. After my initial diagnosis and stint in outpatient treatment with Kailey, I discovered true freedom in eating, exercising, and fulfilling the plans Jesus had for me. But then I found that during times of emotional stress, whether they be positive or negative, the anorexic voice would try to entice me back into its’ dark cave of restriction and compulsivity.
“Do you really need to eat that cookie? You didn’t work out today.”
“What’s 10 more minutes swimming at the pool? That’s only, like, 7 more laps.”
About 75% of the time, I’d turn to Jesus to help me combat against these irrational thoughts. I would pray to Him to help me ignore the compulsion to restrict or over exercise, and He would come through by giving me a great inner peace. Other times, however, I’d be so mentally and emotionally drained to start, that it was just easier to give into the eating disorder voice. One missed meal would soon equal two, and spending ten minutes after yoga class to “work on postures” ended up being another thirty minutes of asanas. Ultimately I’d find that a month later my clothes were looser, my normally clear thinking muddled to a grey hue, and my relationship with Jesus dwindled to three minute “Hey, thanks, yeah?” conversations before I went to bed. There are not many people that I confide to about my issues because understanding what it’s like to have an eating disorder is a foreign concept to many individuals. Case in point: During a conversation about this topic with someone I had considered a close friend, this individual remarked, “Why do you need to write a blog about all this? Can’t you just DO IT? I mean, just eat.”
Well, in fact, no, I can’t. Writing has always been therapeutic, and sharing my journey is one way the anorexic voice quiets down. Like I wrote about in a previous post, eating disorders thrive on lies and deceit. Answering co-workers with an “Everything is OK!” grin when we pass by one another in the halls, engaging in talk about nutrition and dieting with my gym friends, and hiding the fact that I still am fearful of eating certain desserts (uh, cheesecake) because I think I will get fat from them are ways anorexia is still in my life–and if I don’t do something about it now, then that insidious disease will just continue to grow and grow until I find myself shrunken into an eighty pound weakling.
Beside being open with others about my struggles, prayer is another action God has urged me to do more regularly. With this past month, it was through quiet times with Him that I was prompted to journal and talk with others about my continuing journey in eating disorder recovery. During one such moment I was meditating on Romans 12:1-2, and the idea that my body is an “act of worship unto the Lord” struck a nerve in me. When I picture true worship, I think of a person’s hands raised, eyes closed, her whole being opened up to Jesus–this individual is surrendering all to God so that she can fully step forward into the calling He has for her.
It was then that I realized I was only 90% living the life God had for me, and my worship consisted of me sitting in a chair, humming along with open eyes and folded hands. While I felt like it was ok to muddle through work, home, family, and life (basically just “getting by”), God spoke to my spirit that He wanted me to do more than just “settle”. I should be thriving, and I couldn’t do so if I was still holding onto any part of anorexia. I was reminded of the times that I spent running on the roads,performing asanas in back to back yoga classes, or swimming miles at the pool–I could have spent all of those hours playing blocks with my son, pushing my daughter on the swing, or sharing some laughs with my husband. The energy I could have used to journal and develop a deeper relationship with Christ was whittled away when my physical body deteriorated to a two-digit weight that was on the verge of collapse. The incessant eating disorder voice that would talk me out of munching on popcorn at the movies or drinking a milkshake with the kids invaded my emotional self so much that I had very little love to give to my family, friends, or the Lord.
It was that realization that I was not fully 100% “recovered” that made me break down in tears. I had had an inkling of this fact for awhile, and so attempted to “get better” in my own way and on my own terms. I researched how to gain mass the “right” way, aka putting on muscle size with limited fat accumulation, and I structured my day around what I could eat and when I could eat it. Ironically, this obsessive type of diet compelled me deeper into the eating disorder, and I was soon measuring out nuts with a serving cup, getting anxious if I didn’t eat a certain amount of protein at a meal, and refusing to lick a spoon I had just used to scoop peanut butter with.
It wasn’t until I saw a picture of my husband and I on Easter that the cold hard truth that I needed someone (namely a professional) to guide me to full physical, mental, and spiritual health manifested. Although I was smiling, my husband and I with arms linked around one another’s waists, there was a slight emptiness in that grin. I knew that on the outside I radiated happiness, but internally there was a sense of joy and freedom that was missing. I still loved Jesus, still turned to Him for help, but He was clearly showing me that trying to control my own life (planning and plotting meals, obsessively agonizing over missed workouts) was negating His power. If I truly trusted and had faith that He could (and would) help me, why not give all control over to Him? Matthew 6:25 specifically states to not worry about “…what you will eat or drink…Is not life more than food?”, yet I was attempting to take the reins away from the almighty God who knit me together in my mother’s womb and knows me better than I even know myself. I then heard Him speak loud and clear: Follow me. Wherever I will take you, trust me, have faith in me. And there you will find freedom.
To be able to share this part of my eating disorder journey is extremely trying, as many see me as having everything together. I am far from that perfect person, yet radiate that image so as not to make other people judge or pity me. Ultimately, I didn’t want my family and friends to think that I was weak, or that I couldn’t handle a problem that was seemingly resolved years ago.
I had, and still do have, a great deal of pride in this area.
Pride, however, is insidious, and thinking that I could mask my irrational “fat” thoughts or attempt to gain weight by merely adding in an extra scoop of protein powder or drinking more milk was ludacris. In actuality I was initially hesitant to seek God in the matter because doing so would require me to strip away all of the eating disorder’s lies, and then I’d have to face the real issues behind why anorexia would still have any strongholds in my thoughts.
This past week I challenged myself to break the mold and eat a dinner I wouldn’t normally cook or order for myself. The meal was at a well-known sandwich shop that specializes in exquisite desserts, and throughout the dinner I knew every bite of the pastrami sandwich on my plate, every lick of the chocolate mousse served after, was one step closer towards complete freedom from anorexia. I am going to continue to document on this blog all of the ups and downs of my journey to full and total recovery, the insights into why this negative anorexic voice reappears, and what it feels like to find total freedom in Christ from an eating disorder. Thank you for being a part of this journey and taking the time to read this post. This blog has turned into a very cathartic way to expel those anorexic thoughts, and hopefully you are also able to see and be blessed by God’s grace and faithfulness through my recovery story.