Danger! Danger! Danger!

One dichotomy of thinking that I have clung to in various ways for most of my life is a bit embarrassing to admit:

If I am thin, I am valuable; if I am fat, I am detestable.

This belief led to a certain degree of self-loathing in my adolescent and young adult years and then propelled me into the disordered thinking and distorted body image that supported an eating disorder and remnants of one for much longer than I would care to admit.

‘Thin’ as defined by me has meant a variety of things. Its worst definition was a denial of self — a refusal to care for my needs in favor of controlling my body to attain and maintain a particular size.  Over the years, the definition morphed into something more socially acceptable — a particular dress size, for instance, that could be maintained through regular exercise, an aversion to excess, and a more private critical eye that was still always trying to find a way to weigh just a little bit less.

‘Fat’ as defined by me has meant anything over a particular number on a scale, laziness, apathy, and a refusal to take charge of one’s life.  I had been ‘fat’ in my younger years.  I didn’t like myself then, and I wasn’t going back.  I had control over my body.  Fat people were simply ‘less than’ me.

See why I am embarrassed?  I had put myself into a category, ‘thin people’, and, in so doing, had positioned myself in opposition to those outside of that category.  Now, in my defense, this was not conscious.  I would have never admitted this out loud.  I pride myself in treating people fairly, not judging a book by its cover, but looking on the inside to find value and worth.

But, I’m admitting here that I have been a hypocrite. And, as with almost every other judgment I have made in my life, my judgment of ‘non-thin’ people has had more to do with what is inside of me than what is inside of them.

I know this because in the last three and a half years that I have been dealing with health issues, I have been slowly putting on weight.  It’s now up to twenty pounds.  My clothing size has changed.  The number on the scale has exceeded my ‘safe number’.  I don’t like how I look.  I don’t like how I feel.

I’ve been trying to accept it.  I have bought some new clothes.  I have done a lot of self-talk.  I have continued to exercise.  I have continued to watch what I eat.  I keep telling myself, “this is not a failure; it is a disease.” Or, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt.”

So last week when I went to see my doctor, I said, “My weight keeps climbing.  It edged up again this time, didn’t it?”  I think inside I was hoping she would say, “you don’t have control over this, you will have to adapt, it’s part of the disease.” But do you know what she said?  She said, “I want you to keep track of everything you eat for a while, so that I can see what is causing this.”

Gasp. You mean it’s something I am doing? I might be able to control this?

Danger! Danger! Danger!  All the alerts are going off in my head.  Keeping track of what I eat was a gateway to anorexia over thirty years ago.  Each day I tried to eat less and write down less. If I write down what I eat now, I will fall back into this disorder.  I can’t do that!  I have to let myself eat whatever I want.

Did you hear the dichotomy? Either I eat whatever I want, or I will have an eating disorder. It’s simply not true, but this is challenging territory.

Can I be attentive to what I eat without being restrictive? Can I assess what I am eating without the pressure to trim down? Can I trim down without dieting? Am I comfortable allowing my doctor to see everything I eat (or don’t eat)?  Am I willing to let her speak into this?

Before I could go too far down the rabbit hole, I blurted out in her office, “I used to be anorexic….” Phew! I got it out.  “Well,” she said, “we don’t want to get anywhere close to that, but we do want to make sure that what you are eating has a healthy ratio of fat to protein to carbohydrate.”

I didn’t initially want to follow her directions.  And then, I wanted too badly to follow her directions.  I started thinking, “well, I could lose those twenty pounds and get back into all of my old clothes….” That’s all it takes for me, really.  Just a quick thought and I am off and restricting.  Quietly.  In private.  Hiding my plans from others who might want to stand in my way.

For the first three days I recorded what I ate quietly on my phone app without telling anyone.  And, of course, I limited what I was eating so as to ‘eat less’ than the prescribed number on the app. Sigh.

Then, I told my husband about the app.  Now I am telling you.  I am not going to believe the dichotomy any longer.  I have value and purpose regardless of a number on a scale or a dress size.  My weight does not define me.  I can watch what I eat without being restrictive.

I can evolve past this dichotomous thinking.  God has so much more for me.

Romans 12:2

 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

I got it all wrong

I got it all wrong.  And I was just trying to get it all right!

I think this goes back to my early days of school.  I was a very strong student.  I loved to learn and I was pretty good at it.  Outside of cutting with scissors and penmanship, I scored pretty much straight As all the way through elementary and middle school.  I knew what I was doing and I was usually right.  This continued on through most of high school until I hit a wall somewhere in my junior or senior year; I just didn’t care any more.  Well, actually, I cared, but less about school and more about having a job and making money.

I knew that I would have to come up with most of the money I needed for college so I started working at age 15.  I started at a small dress shop on the main street in my home town, then moved over to McDonald’s in the neighboring town, and eventually added a second job at a day care center run by the public school system.

I was making money, putting a little in the bank, and spending the rest on clothes, shoes, food, movies, and all the other things that high school students spend their money on.  Meanwhile, I was pretty good at faking it at school and still bringing home mostly As with an occasional B.  Good enough. I knew what I was doing.

But not really. I have told this story over and over to my high school students, at least this next part.  In trying to earn enough money to pay for college (and not really saving enough to make a substantial difference) I lost my focus at school.  I was still in National Honor Society; I didn’t really want to be valedictorian or salutatorian anyway.  Though apathetic, I finished in the top 11% of my class.  Why do I know I was in the top 11%?  Because my college financial aid office had a large scholarship — almost full tuition — for the student who finished in the top 10% of her class.  Yeah, I was the top 11%.  I missed a huge scholarship because I was trying (poorly) to take care of it myself.

Why do I bring this up today?  I’m 48 years old and long past high school and college. (I’m also long past paying the student loans I took out to pay that tuition.)  I bring it up because I was thinking this morning that this is my life pattern.  I see the situation, formulate my own solution, assume I’m right, and find out years later that I got it all wrong.

Let me give you another example.  While I was independently figuring out my finances in high school, I noticed that I didn’t have the petite little figure of many of my classmates,  so I decided to join Weight Watchers.  I would lose weight and become more like them.  As a matter of fact, weight loss consumed many years of my life.  Diet after diet turned into anorexia nervosa and doggone it, I became petite like my high school friends.  Yeah, I lost weight, I just couldn’t drive a car without getting in an accident or maintain any relationships outside the dedicated few who hung with me through thick and thin. (Not too punny, I know.) It took a long journey to realize I’d gotten it all wrong.  Trying to be like everyone else wasn’t the answer; learning to accept myself was the answer.

The ‘got it all wrong’ topic for today? Parenting.  I welcomed those little babies into my arms and into my heart with the intention of doing everything right.  I read books, I took classes, I built schedules, I had structure. I was going to get this right.  And, you know, I did a lot of things right, by the grace of God.  But I got some things wrong, too.   Now that my kids are all 19 and older, I am starting to reflect and notice the good, the bad, and the ugly. The things I did right and the things I did so very wrong.

But that is not the lesson for today.  Nope.  My lesson for today is that life is good, bad, and sometimes ugly.  Making the decision to work in high school didn’t ruin my life.  In fact, I learned a lot of life skills working at McDonald’s. Balancing two jobs helped me figure out how to schedule my time and how easy it is to use and misuse money.  Losing out on that scholarship showed me that there is more than one way to pay for college.  Having an eating disorder did not damage me; it shaped me.  My parenting ‘mistakes’ didn’t ruin my children, but it did allow them to see my imperfections and to recognize (hopefully) that they don’t need to be perfect either.

So am I embracing my imperfections?  I might as well!  One thing I have learned, that I know I am right about, is that I am not perfect.  I do stupid stuff.  And, yet,  miraculously I have a college education, a fairly healthy self-image (finally!), four wonderful children, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter (!!!).  Even though I got it all wrong.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his mercies never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Cry out!

 When the righteous cry for help,

the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.

Psalm 34:17

That’s it?  We just call out for help and we’re delivered? Seriously? I think so.  I’ve been running a little experiment.  I spent a significant time on this earth trying to figure out my own problems — my own troubles.  Ummm….after analyzing the data it appears that my attempts to ‘figure out my own problems’ have resulted in actually making the problems — the troubles — grow in significance. Yeah.

So, you want a concrete example, huh?  Well, let me see what I’ve got.

My freshman year of college, I felt life spiraling out of control — I had broken up with a long-term boyfriend, I was putting on weight, and, most importantly,  I didn’t know who I was in the sea of faces who looked like they had it all together, knew exactly who they were, and knew exactly where they were going.  So, I cried out for help, right? Nope. I took matters into my own hands.  I embarked on a strict regimen of diet and exercise that would get my life “back under control” and “solve all my problems”.  It worked, right? Nope. Oh yeah, I lost weight.  A lot of weight.  I got all kinds of accolades for being “so skinny”.  But that didn’t make me feel better, it just put me under more pressure to maintain my skeletal self.  I hadn’t solved my problems, I had buried my ‘self’ even deeper under more issues.

In fact, it wasn’t until the weight of all that pressure and confusion almost crushed me that I cried out, “Help!” As God would have it, I cried out in the presence of a nurse on my college’s campus and “just like that” I was being delivered.  Her phone call, a friend’s transport to an appointment, a season of therapy and re-learning, and I was on the path to discovering who I am and what God has for me.  It might have been easier if I would have cried out to God a little earlier.  But here’s the thing, God uses “all things”.

Since that time in the mid 1980s I have shared my story so often that I feel like the whole world must know it by now.  Certainly many of you who are reading this right now are saying, “Yeah, yeah, the anorexia bit…blah, blah, blah.”  But I won’t ever stop telling this story. Ever.  Because every time I tell it, someone comes to me later and says, “Really, you had an eating disorder? Can I talk to you?”  “How did you recover?”  “What is life like now?”  “Would you mind reaching out to my daughter/sister/friend/cousin?”  God uses “all things”.

Just today I woke up to find a message from a former student.  She had interviewed me during her senior year for a film project on eating disorders.  She’s been struggling through her freshman year of college — trying to figure out who she is.  She remembered my story and wanted to let me know.  She said, “sharing your story with me has inspired me and has let me know that everything will be all right.” Yup, it will, my dear.  But, don’t do what I did, cry out for help, now!   You will be delivered.

I am a slow learner; you’ve figured that out by now.  That lesson was in the 1980s and I am learning it again now — in 2014.  When life started spiraling out of control several years ago, when I was in a new situation with tons of stressors and very few outlets, I was overwhelmed!  So, I cried out to God, right? Nope.  I soldiered up and worked harder, faster, longer, trying to work everything out on my own.

I’m beginning to realize that my strategy made my problems bigger — marital stress, family dysfunction, and guys, two medical professionals have hinted that my health issues may be the result of prolonged stress. There, I said it.

Why do I have to get to this point before I call out for help? He says, when we cry for help He delivers us.  Well, kids, I’m crying out for help — for my health, for my family, for our future.  And, I am confident of this He will deliver me.

Psalm 27:13

I remain confident in this: I will see the goodness of the Lord…