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.”