Have you ever found yourself staring in the mirror, thinking why me? Why am I the one who has big hips? Why am I the one that has this inconvenient zit on the tip on my nose on the day I have an important interview? Why am I the one who is the biggest out of all of my friends? Why can’t I be beautiful? Why can’t I be enough? If you are anything like me, you’ve been there. You know what it’s like to not feel skinny enough, pretty enough, or worthy enough to have any sort of value. I get it, I’ve been there, I understand. This week I have been compelled to speak and respond to the issue of eating disorders and the common misconceptions that are often made due to people’s lack of knowledge.
This week, February 23through March 1, is NEDAweek. A week that has been set aside to dispel the misconceptions and myths about eating disorders and the connotations that come along with this mental health issue. This year, the theme is, “I Had No Idea.” This theme has been set in place to raise awareness about the effects that eating disorders have on people’s lives and the significant damage that could be done while someone is battling this disorder. A statistic from the NEDA website states that 30 million people will be impacted by an eating disorder at some point in their life. 30 million people. Your mom. Your friend. Your little brother. Your big sister. Your uncle. Your teacher. All of these people may be impacted by this harmful and life draining disorder. How will you respond? How will you handle it? Will you even know it’s slowly killing them?
As a college senior who is about to graduate, I have been wrestling with what to do with this pressing issue that God has placed on my heart to speak out about. While I am really good at speaking to people about things that I believe to be true or about opinions that I hold with high value, there is one thing that I have remained silent about for many years.
I have been on a journey for most of my life that has been filled with several highs, lows, twists, turns, times of celebration, times of mourning, moments where I am motivated to seek help, and times that I am committed to stay in my little rut because it’s the most comfortable place.
By now I am sure that you are assuming this is going to be another blog post that has a writer who is seeking your sympathy and in need of your pity; but it’s not. I have been participating in NEDAweek this week on Instagram, Twitter, and Tumblr. I have used this week to reflect on the past, to explore the present, and to gain hope for the future. While I am still processing, learning, and accepting things in my own life, I have felt the need to speak truth and to bring a message of hope to those who are in the midst of struggle and in need of someone to say, “I get and I understand where you are coming from, but hold on, because it gets better.”
I invite you to walk along side of me as I tell you about my journey. I’ve come to realize that the more we speak what is true, the more we understand the process that is taking place within us.
With that I am going to share my story of redemption and hope; these two things that have gone hand and hand as I explore the freedom and peace that comes with recovery. Know that the picture of a person struggling with an eating disorder that is in your head is not always accurate. Skinny or large, boy or girl, young or old, all of these people are affected by this issue. It’s not limited to the skinny girl who is in her teens. Set all of your assumptions and stereotypes aside. Who knows, by letting go of those you may just save the life of someone crying out for help.
Growing up I was a bit of a girly girl. I loved princesses and all things pink. (Those of you who know me, some things never change). Glitter was a must, and frills and clicky shoes just like my mom’s were a necessity. I loved to dress up and spend hours singing into my hairbrush to the latest songs on the radio. I was a little girl who was in love with dressing up and performing. For the most part, that’s how I spent my early years. I never realized that I was different from everyone else, until my cousin took me shopping one afternoon and took me straight to the little boys’ section to buy jeans, because I wasn’t going to fit into the cute girly jeans with glitter and designs on the pockets.
I remember crying in the dressing room because I wanted to be skinnier and smaller, because I wasn’t going to agree to wear those ugly boy jeans to school. People would know, because all of the other little girls were wearing cute jeans. This is when I was sent down a path of struggle, disappointment, and silence.
At just the age of 8, I knew that I wasn’t skinny enough to fit into clothes like all the other girls; I knew that there was something wrong with me, and I didn’t understand what all that was. Why was I feeling so bad about not being skinny? I had heard in church time and time again that God makes all of us in our own unique way and we should be happy with that.
As time progressed, I started changing who I was by changing the type of clothing that I was wearing. Looking at it now it’s so silly, but then I didn’t have to worry about the size of my jeans and could wear bright colored pants that didn’t have a number or a boy fit to them. I would wear athletic sweat pants to school everyday, and had every color of Adidas shoes to match the sporty brightly colored pants that I owned. (Some of us have more than one awkward phase, so if you’re like me and have more than one, I feel you there).
When I reached the end of my elementary years, my mom started having me go to Curves with her. I didn’t just hate it; I really, really, really hated it. I was forced to walk on a board and use equipment with women who were double my age. They would all praise me for working out at such a young age and would often make comments about how tight and muscular my calves were. They were supportive and encouraging and my mom just wanted me to get in the habit of working out, but I was so negative and unpleasant about the experience that it caused me to have a bitter taste in my mouth about exercising and all things weight related. I would go week after week for weigh in’s and watch my skinny mom drop the inches and pounds, as I stayed the same and gained weight, because they said muscle weighs more than fat. I wasn’t meeting the weight goals and the inches were staying on my hips and thighs. I didn’t get it. I was there often working out, against my will, and still no results.
I entered middle school, (look out, here comes another awkward phase) where I was in a new place with new peers and teachers. My tiny little class met up in middle school with several other elementary schools to make up one middle school. There were so many new opportunities and experiences to be had in this exciting and terrifying environment. There was basketball, volleyball, and cheerleading, scholar bowl and so many clubs.
When time came for cheerleading tryouts, I knew for certain that I wanted to be one. I loved to cheer and the idea of wearing an obnoxious bow all the time sounded so appealing to me. Well, I tried out and I didn’t make it. It was by far the most awful and embarrassing experience that had happened in my 12 years of life. I didn’t make the one thing that I really wanted. What was wrong with me?
Well, as every preteen girl does, I came up with a million different reasons as to why I didn’t make the team. The two that I really held on to were, one: that I am not skinny enough and two: that I am not pretty enough. All of the other girls who made the team were super skinny and beautiful. I had figured it out. I wasn’t like them and because of that I didn’t make the team of skinny and pretty girls.
My parents were so supportive and encouraging. Sending flowers to the house for me and letting me know that I would always be their cheerleader. While it was sweet and the flowers were beautiful, I was so upset that I didn’t make the team. In my best efforts to get over it, I decided that I would try out for basketball.
In the week that passed after cheerleading tryouts, I began to skip breakfast and lunch at school, but would eat dinner at home in the evenings. I don’t know about you, but running mountain sprints on an empty stomach was not one of the best choices that I have made in life. As we were doing drills and running a lot, I suddenly became really dizzy and sick to my stomach. I asked the coach if I could take a break. Of course, he said yes and I headed upstairs to my social studies teacher’s room. I was lying on the floor and telling her that I wasn’t feeling well. She made me get up and sit on the stool next to her. She handed me a bag of Teddy Grahams and told me I had 3 minutes to tell her what was going on.
In those three minutes, (which by the way, felt like hours) I remained silent and didn’t say a word. Finally after waiting for a while, I told her that I had been skipping meals and the expectations that were set for basketball tryouts weren’t fitting well with my eating habits. I begged her not to tell my parents and she finally agreed, only after I promised I would eat every meal.
As the weeks passed by, she would periodically come down into the lunch room and walk by, not saying a word, but making sure that I had a tray and that I was actually eating the food that was placed on it.
Looking back on that year, I am reminded of the constant struggle of wanting to please my teacher and desperately wanting to be skinny and pretty. It was a struggle that would follow me throughout the remaining days of seventh grade and into eighth grade, where things began to pick up and the habit would be formed.
There was this little part inside of me that wanted to stop this secret life that I was living, but another part of me loved the control and the thrill of hiding it from those who were closest to me.
I entered high school with this habitual behavior. I lived this life of devotion to the God of the universe and a worshipper of a disorder that was quickly taking over my life. From the outside, I looked like I had my life together. I had sensed a call the summer before my freshman year to enter into full time ministry and was devoted to studying and learning about God and His will. I didn’t go to parties, I didn’t get in trouble, and I was certainly not struggling; true Christians don’t struggle.
Inside, I was literally hungry all the time, disappointed in my looks often, and engrossed in this idea of being perfect. I didn’t want people to see my struggle, because then maybe they would get the wrong idea of God and that’s the last thing that I wanted to do.
While daily it was a struggle, I had to keep up my image. I didn’t want people to catch on. I made sure not to change my eating habits around my family. I would still eat when my mom cooked and would often eat snacks to keep my cover, but would later feel so guilty.
I was in this sick cycle of perfection, lies and fakeness. I would strive daily to look a certain way. That messy bun on top of my head had to be perfect, or I would spend half the morning fixing it, and if my bow didn’t look right or the color was off, I would stress until I achieved what I was in need of.
These behaviors continued to happen and I began to get really good at hiding things and covering up when people started to catch on. It became a game, a thrill of sorts. This would continue and eventually lead me to my junior year of high school, where I yet again tried out for cheerleading.
This time, there is a better ending to the cheerleading tryout fiasco. I made the squad and was so excited. I was finally going to be a cheerleader and all of my work had finally paid off. This time, I had finally achieved my goal, and I thought that maybe this time I would fit in and everything would be great.
Wrong! All of the cheerleaders were skinny and flexible and had been together since seventh grade. As the season went on, I started being more focused on what I looked like and how I fit into the uniform than anything else. I was forgetting why I wanted to be a cheerleader. I was focusing on the looks and not the joy of cheering that I had fallen in love with.
Around the same time, I joined an ecumenical choir that was devoted to making Christ known and letting God’s truth reign in the lives of its members. I met some of the most incredible Jesus loving, truth seeking, and humble people. Over the next two years, they would pour out wisdom and speak truth that caused me to think about my life and the need to let go.
I would continue to live this double life of perfection and brokenness. I would continue to do behaviors that were unhealthy all the while trying to live the perfect life. I finished high school still struggling, still broken, and still in need of help.
Coming to Greenville College was a step in the right direction. I was placed in the middle of a small town where I was forced to understand what it means to live in true community. It was a transforming experience that allowed me to grow in ways that I never thought possible.
I had friends, professors, and community members that showed me God’s love. While the concept of God’s love has been one that I have yet to fully understand, I am resting in the fact that these people were placed in my life to allow me to see truth.
They sat with me and held me as I cried, reminded me that eating is a good and healthy thing, and showed me grace and love on the days when I didn’t feel like getting better. While I still didn’t want the world to know, I began to open up to a select group of people who began to work with me and process this dark cycle of pain that I had been living in for so long.
I progressively got better. I began to see food as necessary and started to forget that eating was such a huge issue. I watched this redemption story take place right before my eyes and somewhere between 2010 and now, I had this transforming experience that has caused me to seek truth, understand true beauty, and to embrace the life and body that God has given me.
Today I stand before a life of opportunity and freedom. While I am nowhere near completely healed, I am slowly making my way to a spot of acceptance. I have allowed myself to be given grace on the days when I am too overwhelmed and don’t feel like doing ministry.
To the people in my life who have loved, supported, and have never given up on me, I owe you so much. You have allowed me to understand things in new ways and have explained the importance of honoring my body so that I can honor Christ in all that I do. Thank you. Thank you so much for being Christ to me and for loving me when I was the hardest to love. You have shown me what it means to sit in the trenches with people who are struggling. It brings tears to my eyes to know that you all are in the real world or soon to be, and you are changing lives daily.
While I am in a better place now than what I was 10 years ago, it is still a daily struggle to choose freedom. I have to remind myself on the daily that eating is a part of life and it’s okay. I have to remind myself that I am a woman of Valor and that I have worth, I matter, and someday I will be speaking truth to those who are in need of hope.
There are days where I don’t eat and I choose to sit in a rut and allow myself to dwell on the past. I sit and think about how much farther I have to go before I am truly free of this. But, then I am reminded of what I have come from. I’ve grown so much. I’ve learned what joy and hope and redemption and grace can do for ones soul, and I am truly content with not being okay some days because that causes me to have to rely on my community.
So, I say to those of you who are in need of a message of hope, take time to seek out people and talk about what is going on in your life. It’s not okay to suffer in silence. While you may feel like the only one, 30 million people will be affected by an eating disorder in their lifetime. You’re not alone. You aren’t the only and there is hope in the grace and peace that only comes when we fully decide to allow Christ to transform our lives.
It’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to need to rely on community. It’s okay my friend. It’s okay. Don’t dwell in the past, but instead dwell in the present. Get help, ask for guidance, and seek truth.
In honor of NEDAWeek, I hope that you all take time to pray for those who are stuck in this vicious cycle. It’s something that is often not talked about and there is a real need for honesty and surrender. If this is you, ask someone to pray for you and seek out someone who has gone through this before.
You are loved, you are valued, and you are cared for by this community. While these words have become my benediction for Vespers, I pray that this week and throughout the rest of your lives, you will see that you are loved, you are valued, and you are cared for by your community. God allows us to experience community to grow and learn with each other.
My faith has been rocked by the soul fact that when I come to the scriptures, I am reading it through the lenses of a girl who has struggled and is in need of this God who is far greater than any eating disorder. I’ve brought my struggles before the Lord and have asked him to place people in my path that will help me grow and learn, so that I can do the same in return. When we see how God shines His light on this topic, we begin to understand the true redemption story. Christ came into this world, so that we may have freedom. Freedom from sin and bondage. If you don’t understand what that means, I encourage you to ask someone. There is something so beautiful about honesty and
Let this not be a conversation that lasts 10 minutes, let it spark a talk that leads people to truth and freedom and ultimately Christ, because in the end, He makes all things beautiful in due time.