How I found identity and freedom by feeding my soul
I am a survivor of childhood physical and emotional abuse, childhood emotional neglect, and anorexia/purging type (severe). I am also a beloved child of God that strayed off the path I believe He set before me.
I am 56-years-old and wore the cloak of anorexia from the age of 14 until my early thirties when I felt I had achieved a place of recovery. Awesome, right? It was… until it wasn’t! At 47 years of age I slipped back into the cloak instead of putting on the full armor of God. Oh, to have remembered to “Stand firm then with the belt of truth buckled around your (my) waist and the breast place of righteousness in place…” (Ephesians 6:14; New International Version (NIV)).
I felt cornered by the demands of my parents to take care of them, due to poor choices they made throughout their lives. They believed that I was obligated to financially, and emotionally dig them out of the hole they had dug for themselves. I said “NO!” and just like that, I was once again, not a good enough daughter and the boundaries I had held for years were challenged daily, and eventually breeched.
I realized that I was part of the “sandwich generation,” taking care of my declining parents and my children. This meant subjecting myself once again to the emotional abuse and neglect of my mother while my dad allowed her to wound me.
How ironic: I was a member of the sandwich generation, yet I could hardly eat a sandwich most days, and if I did, I couldn’t keep it down. Fifty years old and I was dealing with my adolescent illness, once again.
Fear of my mother’s wrath became bigger than my faith in God’s promise, “That in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 (NIV) I turned away from my truth, God’s truth, my faithfulness and took my life into my own hands. I was drawn back into the eating disorder that I had recovered from 20 years earlier.
I now grasp that flirting with one of the deadliest mental illnesses was as crazy as the Israelites choosing to wander back into the desert instead of entering the Promised Land, but that is just what I did. I wandered into a desert. This wasn’t intentional. Just as the Israelites didn’t plan on spending 40 years in the desert, I didn’t plan on a six-year relapse; just a temporary detour.
I was no longer treating my body like God’s temple. I hoped its frailty could say the “NO!” that my parents could no longer hear. I ignored the warning of The Holy Spirit telling me to step back on His path in faith. I didn’t realize that the eating disorder, being an illness, had strength of its own. The eating disorder sat like a predator in the shadows, waiting to pounce on me. The very thing I thought I was turning to for power ended up weakening my strength all together.
I gave it the opportunity, and it took on a life of its own. It made me sick. It made me tired. I was void and vacant. Anorexia became my identity shaped and formed by the lies that were woven into the very fabric of my being.
Anorexia is not a choice. To paraphrase Dr Cynthia Bulik, “Eating disorders are an illness not a choice. Once a person that has the pre-disposition, genetics, etc. begins to diet, their anomalous biology leads them down the eating disorder path.” This isn’t a choice, nor is it a result of unconfessed sin, as I have been told by “well-meaning” Christians. It isn’t conscious rebellion against God. I have been a Christian since I was nine-years-old, yet I succumbed to this illness twice. So, while the illness is not a choice, those of us who suffer from an eating disorder have to somehow make the choice to recover.
Many people with eating disorders are experts at shaming ourselves, believing that we are inherently damaged goods. We believe the lies that are fired at us and forget the Lord’s promise that, “Those of us who look to him are radiant, our faces never covered in shame.” Psalm 34:5 (NIV)
This illness is not a sin, but I do believe that as we fall prey to the illness it can become a strong hold or form of bondage. It weakens us physically, emotionally and spiritually, making us more vulnerable to lies about who we are and to exploitation. We believe the culture’s message that denial of hunger is somehow a virtue.
I believed I was less than, never good enough, and always falling short. Self-doubt, doubt of God’s great love for me and self-loathing fed the eating disorder while I was unable to feed myself. I believed the lie that I was damaged beyond repair. I was angry with God and I believed he was angry with me. (He wasn’t). Even in my anger I continued to seek God and he continued to seek me. You see, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13(NIV)
I continued to seek to really know God and his character. The more I knew, at a heart level his great love for me, the more I could trust him with my life. This included the anorexia and believing He knew the perfect weight for me. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11(NIV) When the volume of the eating disorder increases, I keep this scripture in my heart and on my lips. Anorexia cannot promise to do no harm, but the Lord can.
In Matthew 6:25 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
For years, I read this verse as a directive or admonition and felt a sense of shame and condemnation because the eating disorder pulls me into worrying about the very things Jesus tells me not to worry about. I began to read this verse and pray to learn about how this applied to my life and my life with this illness.
I began to wonder if, instead of seeing this as a directive or admonishment, I received this as an invitation; an invitation to let go of the bondage of anorexia and live in the freedom God desires for me? This transformed everything for me, where instead of being drawn to see condemnation, Jesus wants me to see an invitation to grace and freedom. As I continue to walk out my healing and my faith, I offer myself grace and receive His grace to be perfectly imperfect in recovery. I walk in these truths:
- God will never stop loving and fighting for me
- God is always good
- God sees my pain and will use it for His Glory
- God answers prayers, but he isn’t a great vending machine in the sky
- His healing may look entirely different than what I imagined
- Trusting God with healing arises out of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, not religion
Today, I am no longer defined by the weight of my body, but the weight of my soul. Today I find my identity in Christ. After years of self-loathing, feeling worthless, unlovable and not enough, I am finally free to look in the reflection in my mirror and say with confidence and clarity, “I am God’s treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 7:6 “for you are a people holy to the Lord you God. The Lord has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”
Dear Lisabeth, l am very touched by your story. I have a similar story where my faith disappeared and anorexia took over. I felt unworthy in the presence of God and compared myself so much to other Christians and believed l was never going to be a good enough Christian. I used to wonder why l left Church feeling worse than ever, and would cry all afternoon in my bedroom alone. I thought God’s expectations were beyond me, but really they were not from God, but from the illness which took over my mind and body and took away everything that was good for me. In a locked psych ward with five beds for eating disorders, one day l looked into nowhere and said, “God l know you are there, if you really care please show me”. I peered out of the tiny bit of window and saw a blue patch of blue. I said, “God, thank you for the blue sky…” Tears rolled out and down my face, but that was the beginning of me regaining something to truly believe in and turn to. Something to help me fight and find the truth and after many years… find myself for the first time ever. Learning to love what l find, be surprised at what l can do, and begin to trust the angel team God continually placed around me from era to era.
Fear of God was not right, but l also realised l heard God the father as if it was my father’s harsh voice. Then anorexia became fatherexia with my father’s harsh abusive voice as well. How dare he! Such cruelty! My journey is day-to-day, but l know God will never leave me, and can see that all of my life, he has placed angels there in all shapes and forms to keep me surviving. Thank you for sharing. I do not know the word of God, but l know it through songs sang in Church. They often come back to me out of the blue and that’s God’s voice. Beautiful, beautiful, Jesus is beautiful, and Jesus makes beautiful, things of my life… carefully touching me, causing my eyes to see, Jesus makes beautiful, things of my life Xo
Thank you for your precious story. I too love to hear God’s word through song. I can almost follow my journey through the playlist I have made over the years. He is so good and as the scripture tell me He is faithful even when I am not. 2 Timothy 2:13 “if we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot disown himself.” Do you have a bible? If so open it and begin to read and become familiar with his promises and write them in a journal and then on your heart. Don’t worry about memorizing, but just focus on knowing Him. Since we are preparing for Christmas, I would suggest the book of Luke. Read it and keep your heart open to all the promises he fulfilled to Mary, Joseph, and Elizabeth as they trusted in The Lord. You need not seek to be a biblical scholar, only to know him better through His word. May you be richly blessed in your healing journey.
Thank you so much for responding to my response. That means a lot to me, have a beautiful Christmas and stay safe xo