I still hate seeing pictures from before November 7, 2016. It’s not just because of how I looked. Of course I don’t like seeing the bones sticking out, the toothpick arms, and the hollow face. But I hate those pictures more because I see into the eyes looking back at me. I see inside the head and I know the lies she believed, the fear she lived with, the illogical choices she made and the hopelessness of a situation she was so deeply embedded in. I see the Eating Disorder in those pictures and I feel the isolation and I remember the fear. I remember fear. I remember so vividly that I have to fight the urge to hyperventilate. It’s a fear that strangles my heart.
I remember . . .
Benj telling me he made an appointment for me in Minneapolis at an eating disorder treatment facility without asking me first
when he told me I’d have to pack a bag because they had told him I might have to stay
planning how I was going to lie my way out of a diagnosis of an eating disorder like I had been lying my way out of it for 17 years
saying good-bye to my boys and pretending that it was only going to be for a day
hugging my mom as Benj and I left Sunday dinner and she told me she was sorry if she had done something wrong to cause the eating disorder
the 4 hour drive to Minneapolis, staring out the window, convincing myself I wasn’t really that sick
when the doctor asked Benj to step out of the exam room so she could tell me that I had anorexia and she strongly suggested I stay at Melrose in the Intensive Residential Program
Benj’s crumpled face when he came in and she told him what she had just told me
when the nurse went through my suitcase to see if I had any pills or anything that I could use for self harm
the moment Benj had to leave and I watched him out of my room’s window as he walked away, knowing he was crying as hard as I was
feeling intensely lonely and out of place amongst strangers
feeling like a 40 year old child who had to ask permission to go to the bathroom or get a drink
I remember the fear and it is a physical reaction. Even as I write these memories, I am fighting for air. I can’t breathe and my fingers drag along the keyboard, willing me to stop writing. I don’t want to write these words. I want to forget them. I hate them with an intensity I cannot compare to anything else in my life. It’s the fear. The deep, ugly fear of having my fingers pried off the ledge one by one as I cramped them tighter, knowing the futility of my grip. I feel myself slip. I see the dark pit below me, my eyes wide in sheer terror. I feel control slithering through my fingers and my stomach leave my body as I fall.
I fell. Deeply and profoundly. I fell to the bottom where no one ever wants to be. We can’t see the bottom and that’s the greatest fear of all. The not knowing. The loss of control.
But, friends, that is the beautiful irony of God’s love. He needs us to fall into that fear so the only word we can scream into the darkness is his Name.
And that is what I did on November 7, 2016. I lay in my hard bed in the middle of the night in the Intensive Residential Eating Disorder Treatment facility and I only remember crying, “God.” And he came. He came for me. He caught me. He carried me. He crushed my fear like an ant beneath the boot of a giant. Against all logic, in a place that should have been a nightmare for me, he came and brought me joy. The joy I had in recovery was the greatest joy of my life.
I remember fear, but Joy Today is my legacy.
Joy that shines bright against the fading dark of fear.
I love written words. I can express myself in writing better than any other form of communication, but I don’t think any words I write will ever be able to accurately portray the fear displaced by joy I felt in treatment. I should never have loved it there. I should have hated every minute. I should have fought the rules and food and restrictions that were placed on me, but instead I embraced them. Only by the grace of God. I understand joy because I experienced fear first.
The shift happens here. I will not dwell on the fear because God conquered it and now I am here. I am on this side of it. After three years, the rhythm of daily life is still woven into the fabric of joy. I eat Cheddar Grooves everyday for lunch partly because I still revel in the fact that I can. They are not off limits to me because of ED’s ridiculous rules. I enjoyed a hamburger almost every weekend this summer when we camped because for 17 years I never allowed myself the pleasure. I eat a few M&M’s after lunch because I love the taste of chocolate instead of the fear of calories. I eat eggs. I love casseroles. I add cheese to every meal I can. Foods that I refused to enjoy for so long no longer cause the fear. They are part of the joy of living.
No matter how much I remember fear, Joy Today is my legacy.
So today, on my 3rd birthday, I want to marvel at the joy of living. No more fear. God is not a God of fear. He is a God of love, of hope, and of a joy that echos off that bottomless pit and shoots light into the darkness. I get to live free of fear, free of my eating disorder, free of ED. That’s not to say fear doesn’t creep up every now and then. Satan doesn’t give up that easily, but now I have the tools and knowledge and truth to combat the lies he uses to control and manipulate. When I start believing those lies, I can stop myself and remember what is true, what is lovely, what is admirable, right, pure, noble, and excellent. In other words, I speak joy instead of darkness to myself.
How I Have Learned to Speak Joy
“I feel fat” is just that, a feeling, not a truth.
The size of my body does not equal the size of my happiness.
People will not be talking about my jean size at my funeral.
Relationships matter more than my agenda.
Balanced nutrition matters more than the number of calories in a slice of bread.
A healthy heart is motivation for exercise, not the number of calories from dessert.
Community is essential in order to thrive.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength.
Satan can’t read our thoughts so telling him to get lost out loud is mandatory (and maybe a swear word is okay for emphasis when he’s being especially nasty and evil).
God will always come when we cry for help.
God is faithful and his mercies are new every morning.
Recovery is possible because with God, all things are possible.
Today is for joy. Just like yesterday, just like tomorrow, just like last November 7, like the year before that. Emotions may try to dictate my day, but my choice as far as I am able, is for joy. And God will meet me where I need him to make up what joy I lack because of my sinful human nature.
I humbly ask that you join me in my Joy Today. Celebrate your own truth in who God created you to be and the power he yields to bring you to his heart. Let’s be swallowed in the light of his joy and reflect it wide open! Let Joy Today be our choice and our prayer!