What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by an anonymous reader.
I want you to know that eating disorders are not easy. Or glamorous.
There is nothing sexy about eating disorders. You will never have the right curves. The weight will never be lost from the correct areas. The number on the scale will never be low enough. You will never be beautiful enough. Or skinny enough. Or model-esque enough. Or glamorous enough. And that’s the way eating disorders work. It’s never enough.
It doesn’t happen the way movies or books describe it. There is no active thought one day, “I think I’m going to be anorexic.” Committing to an eating disorder is hard—recovering from one is even harder. You don’t get to just decide to stop. You don’t get to just decide to sit down for a normal meal one day and defeat your disorder. It’s not even as easy as going to a therapist. There is nothing easy about eating disorders, whether it be falling into one or recovering from one.
To make a long story short, I will simply tell you that the only background information you need to know about me is the fact that starting from 4th grade, my life was filled with a mess of dramatic (to an elementary schooler) friendships that chipped away at my self-worth until I was left with nothing. Friends that decided when, how, and if I could be their friend. Friends that decided I just wasn’t smart enough, cool enough, pretty enough, or skinny enough. As my self-worth was reduced to nothing, the flames of self-hate grew until they consumed my entire being. As a perfectionist and control freak of my own life, I was completely not okay with being a failure. As I entered high school, I became increasingly “emo” and depressed. On the outside, I was cheerful and perky, but on the inside, I brooded and pondered on how to be better. My sophomore year in high school, as I struggled to be perfect in something, to be the best in something, to be in control of something, I realized that while I couldn’t control my looks, or my intelligence, or my cool points…I could control what I ate. And so the downward spiral began. It started off with eating less on weekends, then less for dinner, then less for lunch. By the middle of my junior year, I was eating half a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch, half a bowl of rice with a few veggies for dinner, and nothing on the weekends. I also played basketball at my church on Sundays and relished in the lightheaded feeling I got when I played too hard with no food in my stomach. It meant I was working hard—it meant I was succeeding.
Falling into anorexia was hard and messy. Days I “failed” at starving myself were the messiest. I didn’t even realize I had anorexia until my freshman year in college, because it didn’t begin as an intentional eating disorder. It didn’t start off as an “I’m too fat” thought, but rather, an obsessive, “I need to do this better” thought. It was a way for me to exert some sort of control over a life that I thought was spiraling away from me. It was a way for me to be good at something, to fix a fault that others had pointed out in me. All my life, I thought eating disorders only “afflicted” people who thought they were fat. The movies and textbooks in health class only warned us of dangerous thoughts about weight. I thought I was safe, because while I thought about my weight, it wasn’t the reason I wanted to eat less. There is no way I had an eating disorder.
But I did. And I never told anyone about it beyond my friend, Melissa. She alone knew of my struggles with identity and self-hate. In the middle of my junior year, she approached me with a care package. Among many other things, a yellow rubber duck was included. On the bottom of that yellow duck, she had written, “quack! You are fearfully & wonderfully made! [A verse from Psalm 139] I love you.” The duck was a reminder of something her mom told her once that she had passed on to me. She told me, “Be like a duck. The way water rolls off of ducks’ feathers…let others’ thoughts, opinions, and words roll off of you.” And that marked the beginning of my road to recovery.
My senior year, I struggled to “fix” it myself, alternating between hating myself for failing at anorexia, hating myself for falling into it in the first place, and hating myself for failing at fixing myself! The temptation to starve myself continued to plague me. Unlike most people who will eat when they’re hungry, I had to forcefully remind myself to eat. My body no longer registered what hunger was. When I entered UT as a freshman in the fall of 2008, the freedom of college ended up being too much for me and before I even knew what was happening, I was keeping a food diary again and skipping meals. I was no longer at home, so there were no family meal times or school lunch times, and because my body still wasn’t realizing hunger, meal times were often forgotten. And I felt bad, too. Because Melissa was right—I was fearfully and wonderfully made. God knit me together carefully and lovingly in my mother’s womb. He created me purposefully and perfectly imperfect. Who was I to say that He had made a mistake on me? With each food entry logged and each meal missed, my guilt ate away at me. I felt like I was spiting the God who had sent His only Son to die for me—ME, His imperfect child.
Easter Day rolled around and the pastor of my church in Austin, Austin Stone Community Church, gave a sermon about bringing sin to light. At the end of the sermon, he showed a video called “Cardboard Stories.” Stories of healing and recovery. Stories of people who had been redeemed by bringing their brokenness to light! That afternoon, I told my family about my anorexia for the first time. Then I told some mentor figures. Then I told my closest girl friends. The ugly sin of my self-hate was slowly being brought to light. And darkness cannot exist in light. But was that it? No, no it wasn’t. It wasn’t a magical off button. It was an uphill battle, but slowly, ever so slowly, I began to heal.
I was supposed to be the perfect church girl who never messed up, but the truth was, I was so damaged. Almost to a point where I thought I could never be “fixed.” I was ashamed of who I was. But the beauty of the Gospel is that there is no shame in being broken. God reached out to us in our brokenness. Romans 5:8 says, “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus was fully aware of our imperfections and He died for us anyway. Actually, that’s why He died for us. And it’s with this knowledge that I can even talk about my own anorexia. I don’t need to be ashamed of the experiences I’ve had. Christian or not, there is no shame in being messed up. People of this world, please stop judging us. It is hard enough to get help for something…we do not need your judging eyes, too. You have messed up, too.
There is nothing simple or glamorous about eating disorders. There’s only a lot of pain and suffering and tears and self-hate. But there is hope. There is always, always, always hope.
[Note: I don’t write this with the intention of saying that merely telling your friends is enough. Eating disorders are serious business—get some help.]