On my twenty-eighth birthday, I double-knotted my sneakers, glanced out the window at the deep, inky sky and chugged the last of my equally black coffee. No calories in black coffee. No hurry. I was always the first person to the meeting place for our Thursday 5 a.m. runs. I stood and cinched my new a hydration belt, a birthday gift from my husband, as tight as it would go. It fell to the floor, my waist to skinny to hold it up. How did I get here, again?
My twenty-eighth year was one of the most painful, frustrating years of my long battle with anorexia. It was my third fall down the rabbit hole, my second relapse. This time was the worst because I was wedged between a rock and hard place, a lose-lose situation. Seeking help meant sacrificing the modicum of control I felt over my life. I would gain weight—what if I got fat? Regardless, I would have to relinquish my identity as one with steely self-discipline. But, to continue as I was—running hundreds of miles per month, begging off dinner dates, avoiding potlucks and friends’ homes, crying over dessert and my mind smoldering in the flames of anxiety—I didn’t want to live this way, either. I was in hell.
My first bout with anorexia began when I was 14, almost accidentally. I discovered a new cookbook with calorie counts and declaring the merits of fat-free food. To that point I didn’t even know what a calorie was. Suddenly, I became an expert. Comparing calories consumed to the number of calories I could expend became a game.
Everyone was my opponent. I measured myself against others by how little I ate and how much I exercised. I felt superior!
I spent my sixteenth birthday at Remuda Ranch, a treatment center for eating disorders located in Arizona. There, my “specialness” took on a different meaning. I was surrounded by 39 girls and women who were “special” the same way I was. When I looked at them, I understood they were sick. I began to wrestle with what became the ultimate conundrum: I didn’t want to be sick, but I didn’t want to be “average” either. Who was I without anorexia?
I left The Ranch almost well—at least in regards to my weight. But found myself there again for my eighteenth birthday. When I was discharged the second time, I went straight to college. There, away from the supervision of my concerned parents, I remained just healthy enough to function. Finally, I got my feet under me and managed to stay at the bottom of my weight range. However, I fiercely guarded my identity by counting calories and exercising compulsively. Even though my body looked well, my mind was hopelessly caught in the claws of the eating disorder.
Now I found myself at twenty-eight. “Oh God,” I thought. “Half my life has been wasted! Half of my life has been consumed by meaningless numbers!” Then I went running. That day, nothing “clicked” and enabled me to suddenly think clearly and take care of my body, but the most amazing thing happened: God didn’t give up on me. He didn’t say, “You’re right. For half of your life you’ve been self-obsessed and worshipped your own identity instead of me. You’re hopeless.”
That was six years ago; God has redeemed almost half of the time I wasted. When I was first sick, I remember my mother praying Joel 2:25 over me. “I will restore to you the years the locusts have eaten—“. Later, I read more of that passage: “You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed.”
Since full recovery, I have figured out the best word for that ultimate conundrum. It is shame. I feared losing my identity and I feared failing all those who loved me and wanted me to get well. How good is our God! Not only is He redeeming those years—giving me greater joy today than all the sadness of the eating disorder, but He has also delivered me from shame. Today, I am not ashamed of my story. In fact, God just enabled me to write and publish my memoir. Today, my story is an irrefutable argument for the grace of God.
Encouragement for Others
Additional 150 words: Stop searching for the cause of your eating disorder. For many years, through a lot of therapy, I looked for a culprit or something to blame. My turning point came when I gave up on yesterday. I believe that Jesus offers abundant life and complete joy. I cannot relive yesterday, but I can believe Him for the future. He has promised to take perfect care of me and to meet all my needs. He created my body and when I daily seek to obey Him with food and exercise, He can be trusted to perfect me.
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