“What’s going on? What are you thinking? I can see something happening in there.” While I have only been with Tamara, my eating disorder therapist, for 10 months, it’s impossible to hide my feelings from her.
I let out a deep sigh, not wanting to share my thoughts. It feels ooky to say out loud what I am thinking. My feelings feel wrong.
“It’s–it’s almost like I want to stay sick. But that can’t be right. Who wants to stay sick … to not get better?”
My body is 100% recovered; my healthy voice is strong, loud, and powerful over the anorexia voice. But I was feeling sad. I didn’t want the anorexia to be gone. I felt a scary sense of “what now?”
Of course this question posed itself at the end of my therapy session. Gah! So I left with homework to ponder: If I am not anorexic anymore, what am I?
I was never my disease. Anorexia is something that I had… the way another person has diabetes or Lyme disease. My disease just happened to be in my brain–malfunctioning my mental faculties. While the disease infected my brain, thus affected my physical body, anorexia itself was a symptom of a much deeper problem. Perfectionism.
For the last 20 years I have identified myself as a “perfectionist.” On the surface I am someone who likes order, control, efficiency, and thoroughness. I am a quintessential type-A personality. All of my behavior, choices, and expectations are justified because I am a perfectionist. It’s “just how I am.” Through anorexia-recovery, though, God revealed, that I am NOT a perfectionist. I never was. It isn’t something He included in my DNA. Perfectionism is something I built to protect myself against shame. Essentially, if I have my crap together, keep everything under control and keep myself (and my household) looking, thinking, and acting in a way that is acceptable to the people, the culture, around me, then I will be acceptable to those people (teachers, peers, friends, my parents, my husband, neighbors, church peeps, etc.). I will fit in and belong–and I won’t be outcast and left to feel like I am dumb, ugly, fat, worthless, unsuccessful, and different.
Well guess what? Maintaining perfection is impossible. The world always wants more; there is no clear definition of what “good enough” is for our people. I kept trying anyway because I needed to belong, to feel loved, secure, and valued within the world. But, I needed something to help me cope with the pressure of trying to be something that has no definition of what that “being” is. I needed something that allowed me to feel like I was good enough, and something that made me look like I was good enough to be welcomed by my people. Some people drink. Some people use drugs. I fell into anorexia because it was useful, convenient, and powerful. I naturally cope with stress by not eating because all my stress balls up in my gut. Over time, hunger became familiar and safe. The weight loss showed me that I could both be in control (seemingly) and look acceptable because I could be skinny. Our culture equates skinny with beauty, reliability, validity, and success. Skinny means “valuable” in our culture. With my ultra thin body combined with my perfectionist, type-A personality, I was finally acceptable. I even had the verbal validation, the awards, the social invitations, and the power/position to prove it. Tada! (Although the media kept a thumb on me letting me know I could still be better.)
Perfection doesn’t come without a price. As with any drug, anorexia has side effects, including but not limited to social anxiety, panic attacks, broken metabolism, and death. When I was facing the choice of death or rehab, I chose rehab. It took many months for me to even believe I was sick enough to be in rehab because, again, for me to have anorexia I needed to be perfectly in line with what the world expects when they think of anorexia. I didn’t look like the textbook portrait of a girl with an eating disorder. Turns out culture doesn’t know jack about eating disorders (and neither did I). Once I learned what anorexia really is and recognized with certainty that I indeed had the disease, I felt like I safely, finally, and certainly belonged with anorexia and in rehab and with the people who struggle with it. Now I mattered because I was recovering from a diagnosed eating disorder. Tada!
My security only lasted a few months. God gave me a life-saving team and I have gotten better. I don’t belong in rehab anymore. Yes, I am still technically in recovery, and I still experience triggers and eating disorder thoughts; however, my healthy voice is so loud and powerful that I immediately pop into the right mind and heart space.
So in a moment of flailing around for security, I cried out to God: “If I don’t fit with the culture, and I don’t belong in perfectionism, and I don’t belong in anorexia, and I am coming out of the rehab because I don’t belong there… where do I belong?
“You belong to Me.”
You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a “whodunit” movie, and in a shocking scene you realize whodunit and your eyes spring open and goosebumps cover your body and you shout, “HOLY SHIT, IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!!” That’s the same feel I got when God said: You belong to Me.
I don’t need anorexia anymore because I belong to God. I don’t need perfection or people’s approval for the same reason. This sounds simple, and kind of “duh” for those who are Christians, but it is so profoundly huge that I have spent the last month trying to articulate what this really means in our culture’s “headline” language. It’s impossible; God is deeper than a headline. Given all the stress and striving I see, I don’t think Christian culture even truly understands what it means to belong to God–to live in the truth that our identity is in Christ and not just merely state it as an intellectual fact. God is still showing me, teaching me, what it means to belong to Him. I pray that in time He’ll give me the words to translate the message so you can understand.
I can tell you this much: When you belong to God, you are in the world but not of the world. This means there are no rules and regulations by which to live. If you adhere to the “shoulds and should nots,” you are striving to be part of the world. There is nothing to strive for when you belong to God because are already loved, valued, secure, and succeeding in your purpose by just being you. You are not merely acceptable to God, you are 100% perfect as you are right now–no matter how broken, sick, addicted, abusive, scared, large or small, beautiful or ugly, or perfect or imperfect you or our people think you are. You are 100% unconditionally loved by a God who knows and values everything about who you are, from the surface to your core–you belong to Him.