Anorexia almost took her life. She was a slave to negative thoughts, perfectionism, control and shame. Not any longer…
I grew up in a Christian home, where all my physical needs were met, I learned about the Lord, and knew I was loved, but somehow in the realm of human brokenness I was wooed by the lies of perfectionism, approval, fear, shame, and control. The voices in my head never stopped, “You’re not good enough”. “You don’t measure up”. “You’re a failure”. Work harder”. “Do better” “You don’t matter” “You’re bad”. The hamster wheel never ceased; always striving to live up to unrealistic expectations for what I thought would make me acceptable to others, satisfy my longing to be “good enough”, and desperately needing to remain in control to avoid pain, vulnerability, or exposure. It was exhausting.
I came to know God personally when I was 13 years old. I knew I was a sinner and in need of a Savior and that Savior was sent by my Father in Heaven because of His great love for me. I knew that God’s redeeming love saved me, but I was not living as one who was set free. I know now that beyond that I had a very skewed and naïve view of God and little understanding of who He really is.
At 13, shortly after I became a Christian, I lost two very good friends of mine to two separate tragedies. I wondered how a good God could allow this to happen. How could He? And why would He? I became angry, confused and conflicted. I had no idea how to deal with what I was thinking and feeling. Was God really a rescuer and protector? Did he really love his children? Why didn’t He rescue and protect them? Was He really good? He died for me so He must be, but he allowed this. What would he allow in my life, why has he allowed such grief, and what does He think of me? These tragedies triggered the lies in my head that I had about God and myself and made deep lasting wounds.
The voices of perfectionism and control spoke with more persistence and gave birth to self-hatred, shame, fear and failure. What began as a loss of appetite in the true grieving for the loss of my friends became a full blown eating disorder; a tool to make me feel in control, punish myself in the shame, and anesthetize the pain I was feeling. Food and weight became the measure of my success or failure. To be honest there were moments in the beginning where it felt good to be thin and in control, to feel numb, but that’s when the lie takes hold in the depths of the heart and mind. It was ALL A LIE. I had been deceived. No number was ever low enough, more foods leapt from the acceptable list to the non acceptable list, my regimented eating rituals became more restrictive, purging more frequently throughout the day, food, weight, exercise, and disordered thinking controlled my every thought and action, the voices became louder, and I felt in more emotional and physical pain than ever. By 20 years old I was in complete and utter internal conflict (living in denial and numb or desperate to be free feeling anxious, depressed and angry) and enslaved by those voices (lies) in my head. Rational thinking gave way to obsessive thinking. My identity completely consumed by it. My body was failing from years of abusing it, but I didn’t care. I cared only about the eating disorder and did whatever I had to to respond to it. Thankfully my Father in heaven continued to pursue me even when I had been ignoring Him. The truth is we are stubborn, prideful beings and sometimes, for some of us, it takes hitting the pit before we realize our way isn’t working and we need God.
I knew I had to surrender to the one who could rescue me from it, but would he? No amount of my own will power was freeing me from the murk and mire and I felt an enormous amount of shame. How could I go to Him now? But I knew in the depths of my soul, He IS my Savior. I cried out to God, “I don’t understand all your ways, but my way isn’t working. I know now how very much I need you. Help me Lord. I want to live and I want to be free.”
For the next 10 years I followed God faithfully, he poured out his blessings that I did not deserve nor earn, but he showed me how to look beyond food and weight to determine my happiness, peace and joy. I finished college, got married, got a job, and had children, and was actively involved at my church (living happily ever after with the white picket fence). I don’t think I was truly free of my eating disordered thoughts at that time and even struggled with overeating, but I was looking more outward toward others instead of inward and self-consumed. It was good, but God wanted more. He wanted me to look beyond “doing what was right” and look up intently to really know, experience and trust Him intimately. He would do whatever it took so I could have that kind of gaze upon Him.
On my 30th birthday I felt massive pain in my lower abdomen and soon after was diagnosed with a chronic illness that was not life-threatening, but certainly life-altering. The lies and voices rushed in, the internal conflict and need to control began again. The illness, its lack of a cure and good treatment, and intense pain triggered the eating disorder that had lie dormant for years. Fear of food reared its ugly head and I believed the lies that I was broken, had to control and anesthetize the pain. It was not long before full blown restriction of food, a disdain for myself and my circumstances, and, let’s be honest, wallowing in self-pity, became the norm. The weight poured off and everyone knew. There was no hiding what had enslaved me again. The Lord pursued me relentlessly and provided a friend and my husband that did and said the hard things instead of living in fear, denial, guilt or anger of their own. They refused to accept my lies and deceit, and seeing beyond the behavior of the disease and into my heart they met me with love and pointed me back to Christ. My control was at stake, but so was my life…again. I was angrier than I ever had been before, but this is what true love looks like and I could not see it beyond my addiction.
I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and could not believe that I had become completely unrecognizable physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt empty. No passion left, no energy, no dreams or desires being fulfilled. On one hand I wanted to be free of the incessant torment of my body, mind and spirit and on the other I feared giving up what had become a part of me again. I closed my eyes and saw my control, my perfectionism, my need for approval, even my fear and shame like a security blanket that I clung to. But then I saw the reality of how that blanket was no security at all. It was truly suffocating me. I needed to let go…forever. This was not my identity, how God intended for me to live or how He made me. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy but Jesus came so I could have life and have it abundantly. I cried out again, “Lord Jesus, I need you. I feel so alone, so trapped in my thoughts and afraid to trust you, ashamed of being here again. I want to be free. Teach me how to be free in you.” He is faithful that when we seek Him we find Him. He met me with grace and love. Immediately scripture came rushing to mind and the truth… “You may run from me but I will never leave or forsake you. My love for you is unconditional and when you are weak then I am strong. Then next, a quote I had read, “In the battle between flesh and spirit the one that wins is the one you feed the most”. I realized my flesh was winning and my spirit was grieving so I began to feed my spirit like I never had before, praying and reading God’s word to know more about my Father and Savior, more about me, his beloved child, and who he created me to be for His glory.
I learned that we live in a fallen world, made good in God’s image, but not exempt from the fall of sin. We are going to be hurt and hurt others. Our bodies will fail us. Tragedy will happen. It is inevitable, but we don’t have to walk it alone. It is in those times he draws us to himself and we see his holiness, love, and grace more significantly. He heals our wounds, brings truth, and comforts our soul. We see how he truly sees us as his child and our bodies are his dwelling place. I needed Him. I revered Him. I wanted Him more than ever!
In the realm of human brokenness I know I will always battle my flesh and the negative voices in my head, the lies I don’t want to believe about God, myself, others, and my circumstances. Those lies will always tug at me, but they don’t have to enslave me. I know there is freedom that only my Lord can bring. He is good. He is Lord. He is everything!
Today God uses the brokenness, pain and hurt I walked through to help others and draw them to Himself. He wastes nothing. It is all for His glory.
“We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good as it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do, no, the evil I do not want to do, this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work; when I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law, but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my member. What a wretched man I am. Who will rescue me from the body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” Romans 7:14-8:2
“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed, perplexed but not in despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed…Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-9,16-18.
***Leigh-Ann Brisbin is the Director of Women’s Ministry at Cuyahoga Valley Church in Broadview Heights Ohio and truly desires to connect with other women! You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, the author of My True Reflection; Freedom from Eating Disorders and has been living in the grace and love of Her Savior and free of the eating disorder for 11 years. Send her a message, she would love to connect!***