My John 22 Story (Bulimia)
My John 22 Story
I became a Christian at three years old, staring up hopefully at my mother as she spoke of Forgiveness right before a spanking. At ten, I was baptized in my neighbor's hot-tub. I was raised on theological discussions in the kitchen, bedtime questions with answers stretching out until midnight as dad talked luminous wisdom above my head and I wriggled my toes in his hands, and mom reading aloud bible and missionary stories while my little brother and I took turns massaging her shoulders. Jesus was just as real in my life as peanut butter and dandelions.
But when I turned thirteen, my life became consumed by an eating disorder, a god much less merciful than Yahweh that has enslaved me for the past five years.
We had just moved. Pennsylvania was only two hours away from my old home in Jersey, but it was uncharted waters full of strangers - Here There Be Monsters. Puberty was squeezing and plumping my body in terrifying directions, there was more time for fights over vacuuming and washing dishes than for growing my parents and I's friendship, and I suddenly cared about brushing my hair and applying lip gloss.
Food was a quick fix for a bad day. A handful of chocolate chips here, a bowl of chips there, and a rush of sugar would spike my mood. And as my depression grew heftier, so did my eating, until I was indulging in full-scale binges when nobody was looking.
Mom and Dad were busy with school, so they didn't worry as I began to isolate myself in my room, grow dark circles under my eyes from insomnia, and start gaining weight.
Then we moved to Pendleton. New place, new habits, right? But I was addicted. Again and again I dug into the pantry and the refrigerator. I felt revolting and hid my face behind my hair, but my hair couldn't hide my weight.
One day I was lying in my bed, my covers pulled up to my nose so I wouldn't have to look at my body, when I decided that if I just lost weight, I'd be happy. Maybe even beautiful. In order to cope with the wild elation of this realization, I binged.
But I didn't let that crush my resolve. I started tracking my calories and jogging after lunch. After a few weeks, someone commented, "Hey, have you lost weight? You look great." The spark of pride was nothing to compare with the high of a binge. Besides, it's not like I tasted the food I binged on, it was shoveled too fast down my throat. But this pride? Oh, I tasted it.
But then I binged. And binged. And binged.
Furious at myself, I vowed to compensate for my failure. I restricted my calories to 1,000 a day, then 800, then 300, then 0. I wouldn't even allow myself vitamins - each capsule is 5 to 10 calories, after all. I snuck out at 5am every morning to run two hours, keeping it secret so I could run again after lunch without anyone picking up on my new obsession. I lost 30 pounds in the first three weeks. I was victorious!
At parties, I always knew where the food was, how much I had eaten, how I could avoid eating anything else. I dreaded sleepovers, because there were always m&ms and Fritos. I spent hours calculating and recalculating my calories, adding extra because I was sure the packages had the numbers wrong. I went vegetarian and started the South Beach Diet so that I could concoct separate meal plans for myself and eat alone (enabling me to hide food in my room or dump it out when people turned their backs).
But I didn't think I had an eating disorder. Weren't these behaviors normal? My body grabbed back control and I started binging wildly. I'd pretend to be sick so I could stay home and just eat and eat.
Then I forced myself back on the scale, and the number horrified me. I did sit-ups until I gagged and forced myself to restrict again. But I'd introduced a new cycle of binging and restricting. Every day I was either binging and overeating, or pouring soap in my cereal so I wouldn't eat it and hiding sandwiches in vases. My weight fluctuated wildly, keeping me in a frantic wrestle between elation and dysphoria.
My eating disorder had taken over. I started cutting myself to regain control, but I became addicted to pain and blood as well. I'd cut words into my stomach, FAT, STUPID, DIE. My arms and legs looked like zebra flesh.
It was only then I realized that my actions were not normal (no kidding), that there was something wrong with me. I found an article on Bulimia Nervosa, non purging type (meaning no use of vomiting or laxatives), and realized that I fit every one of the criteria.
I broke down told my friend Grace everything. She was very supportive and gentle, and with her love fueling my tiny desire for recovery, I picked up a notebook and dubbed it my Recovery Notebook. I wrote it in every day, my obsessions, my rituals, my emotions. Strings of calories and weight tracking made their way into the margins, but I struggled to keep it focused toward reclaiming my life. But as time went on, the effort seemed more and more hopeless. I stopped cutting, but the more determined I was to smother my bulimia, the more it smothered me back.
I was out on my run at 6am when my mom texted me, "Where are you?" I casually replied that I couldn't sleep and had trotted outside for a quick walk. She asked me to come home. When I did, I learned that Grace had told her parents about my cutting, and her parents had emailed mine. I collapsed into tears and confessed everything, showed them the remains of my scars, told them I was bulimic. I thought my life would be saved, but it wasn't. My parents, understandably, were furious and terrified and miserable. They would be sweet and gentle, then act out of fear. And they told me to stop, or else. I can't imagine any adoring parent acting differently, but it crippled my heart.
I scrambled to find normalcy to appease them, but bulimia wasn't something I could just choose to stop - I was dependent on my habits. I didn't realize this, though, so every relapse drove me into deeper self-hatred and tears. I started restricting again, and lost more and more weight. I was in the "healthy" range, but I truly thought I was obese, and saw that in the mirror. My reasoning was something about my frame and my body fat percentage.
I was out of control. I'd eat in bathrooms. I'd throw food under my little brothers' chairs and hide it in my sleeve. I'd steal marshmallows from friends' pantries. I started vomiting, sometimes to purge binges, sometimes just lunch. I'd gain thirty pounds, then lose it, all in the same week.
I couldn't go to my parents, they had given me an ultimatum. I was afraid to face the further isolation, the fights, the accusations, the threats to take me to the ER, the awkward shame around my "...problems...", dad talking at the pulpit about how he thought he'd have such good God loving kids but even though it wasn't his fault that was broken forever. I wanted my parents to be happy. I wanted them to love me. And my secret betrayed me as the most selfish, disgusting, unlovable person on earth.
But I came to a moment, a beautiful moment before it was obscured again by the clogged mind of an eating disorder, when I realized that I wanted Jesus more than I wanted to lose weight. And you don't understand what losing weight meant to me. It was more than buying new jeans and looking trimmer. Thin meant happy, worthwhile, cherished, intelligent, loved. Thin meant becoming beautiful. Thin meant becoming a woman worth fighting for.
But I wanted Jesus more. He had already fought for me. He had already called me beautiful. And he was offering freedom.
I don't consider myself completely recovered. There's still days I eat too little or eat too much. But when I choose to fixate on my body, I lose my ability to love. I'm so focused on how my stomach is hanging that I don't notice the people in front of me. And I hate that more than whatever fat cells stick to my bones.
I'm sick of myself. I choose Jesus. I choose to let Him be enough, like food never will be. I choose to be satisfied in His love, rather than trying to earn love from myself and those around me through my weight (which wouldn't work anyway!). I choose to trust His forgiveness rather than sinking into graves of shame. I choose to worship Him through mood swings and to trust His love enough to confess my shames. I choose to surrender my "control" to the God who has crafted my destiny. And I may not be thin, but I am treasured by the Creator of the universe.
Call me crazy, but that's enough for me.
The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
...Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
"Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you."
- Isaiah 35: 1-4