Even When I Was Paralyzed by Shame, That Was Never My Name. My Name Was Beloved.
My eating disordered behaviors began when I was 12, but my eating disordered thoughts began when I was 5 or 6 years old. I was 16 years old when I was admitted to the hospital due to bradycardia — abnormally slow heart rate. I am thankful I was under 18 at the time so I had no choice in the matter. I was so entrenched in my addiction, I was so deep in denial, and would be for quite some time — I couldn't see what my body and life had become. After I got out of the hospital, I went to an eating disorder treatment center. I was shaking the entire flight from Massachusetts to Arizona, shaking in fear; yet, a small part of me believed that maybe, just maybe I could recover someday.
Now at 26, I no longer struggle with an eating disorder. It is a part of me but it no longer controls of my life. I firmly believe that I would not be as recovered as I am without my faith to comfort, guide, and strengthen me. There were many times in the early years of my recovery where I kept repeating over and over again: “Perfect love drives out fear, perfect love drives out fear, perfect love drives out fear.” However, I believe that more often than not, people who have a mental illness should not be given Scripture or prayer when they are struggling. My addiction wasn’t a demon, it wasn’t a sign of too little faith and not enough prayer. Saying, “I rebuke anorexia in the name of Jesus” did not make it go away. It wasn’t about disliking my body and it certainly wasn’t and is never a diet. It was a result of trauma, a reaction to events that transpired when I was 3, 5, 10 years old. Somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that my addiction was wrong but I didn’t know how I got there, and I didn’t know how to stop, and frankly, I didn’t want to. The eating disorder was a drug, it gave me a sense of control and satisfaction. When everything else was in chaos, starving myself made me feel calm and at peace. I was the quiet, reflective child that felt abandoned and neglected. My eating disorder gave me a sense of identity and belonging.
When I was in that place, when I felt so worthless and alone and ashamed of what my life had become, I needed people to sit with me in silence and hold my hand. Most of the time, no words could have been said that could ease my pain. I just needed to know that when I was in the pit, I had people who would crawl down there with me, who would carry me when I didn’t have the strength to walk. In those moments, I needed to know that I was loved and accepted, and that I was not alone. I needed to know I was loved on the days I truly wanted to die, and on the days I thought I had the courage to say goodbye to this nasty monster we in the recovery community call ED.
I have found it is very easy for me to talk about my victory over anorexia, and I talk about it every chance I get. It is empowering to talk about all I have overcome, the battles I have fought, the hours (no, YEARS!!!) of therapy I have done. I love telling my story in the hopes that it will encourage someone else; that is why I do it. There is so much stigma surrounding mental health and I know that when one person shares her story, it can encourage others to feel to safe to do the same.
Yet, I don’t often talk about the current struggles I face, how the ED thoughts resurface from time to time, and how anxiety is a battle I still wage. Many days, in fact most days, I don’t hear the ED voices at all. And then some days, they are shouting in my ear telling me lies over and over and over again. Of course, the voices always reappear at the same time — when I am feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, or when something is going on in my life that is outside my control. My voices are an inward sign to me that I am feeling overwhelmed by life’s stressors and that I need to engage in a little more self-care.
And here’s what I have learned about eating disorders and anxiety and recovery: It happens, it exists, it is real in my life. I still experience panic attacks but I am not ashamed. Mental illness a part of me and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It has enabled me to be an incredibly empathetic, compassionate person, which I know is incredibly useful to me in my social work career. Additionally, it was incredibly freeing when I began to accept that my mental illness was not something I could control. My temperament is one that has made me susceptible to an eating disorder and anxiety — and that’s okay! The anxiety comes, life happens. But I have learned to accept it for what it is, not fight it or pretend it doesn’t exist. And I have learned how to cope with it. Instead of engaging in self-destructive behaviors, I find immense joy in exercise, reading, cooking, having meaningful conversations with good friends over coffee, hiking, and photography.
I am so passionate about social justice because of my own mental health journey. I know what it is to feel weak, to feel broken, to feel poor — poor in my body, poor in my mind, poor in my soul. And there is something beautiful in accepting gifts from God and from your loved ones that you know you didn’t deserve. Jesus sought out the ones like me — the ones who had nothing to offer him, the ones who were overcome with disease, the ones who felt neglected and forgotten. Yet, Jesus saw me. He immersed himself in my human reality, and so I know that is what we are to do with others who are struggling under the weight of their loads. Even in the depths of my addiction, I was not defined by it. My name was never addict or anorexic. Even when I was paralyzed by shame, that was never my name. My name was Beloved. And forever and always will be.
I am loved
I am enough
I am free
And I am the Beloved.