What It’s Like to Be Recovered

I have recovered. I’m at my happy weight, where my body naturally lands when I generally eat healthy and exercise but don’t think about it too much. I choose my food in terms of deliciousness and energy-giving rather than how it will hit my hips. I don’t purge, binge, starve, cut, weigh myself, or count calories. I don’t even think much about eating disorders unless I run across an article or overhear someone talking about the caloric content of their salad.

But recovery isn’t what I thought it would be. I’m not a glowing goddess of health and happiness. I’m just me, dealing with the bumps and bruises of life as best I can. And sometimes my best sucks.

Like, I don’t know about you, but sometimes I ping-pong back and forth between work and netflix so fast I have no space for actual human relationships. Sometimes I create crises like not paying my taxes on time or not vacuuming my room for three months or not doing laundry until the underwear situation is dire. And sometimes I drink coffee right before bed just for the hell of it.

In fact, I made a whole angsty list about why recovery isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Why Recovery Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

  1. An eating disorder is a small world with clear rules and clear punishments and clear rewards. The real world is very big and very confusing.
  2. I’m behind. Everyone seems to know what music they like and what they do for fun and where they lean politically, but I spent my growing up worrying about my food, not my life.
  3. I don’t remember much of my teen years, and what I do remember isn’t fun to retell. People swap stories about their wild youths, and I’m just like, “There was this one time I ate a whole cake.”
  4. Cooking healthy meals is a lot of work.
  5. So is remembering to take my vitamins.
  6. So is doing taxes.
  7. Sometimes recovery is really boring. I just – live. Work, eat, sleep, hang out with friends. There’s no crisis. No labyrinths of deception. No looming suicidal thoughts. Just life.
  8. Other times things get really shitty and I have to feel it all.
  9. When I was bulimic, I didn’t expect anything from myself except to continue being bulimic. It was a great excuse. “I’d finish college, but I’m crazy. I’d pay my bills, but I’m crazy. I’d get a job, but I’m crazy.” Now I have goals. Expectations. Desires. All of those things are stressful and require me to pause netflix and put on pants.
  10. When I failed, I used to blame bulimia. Now I’m scared I’ll try hard things and find out that I really can’t do them. Not because I’m crazy, but because I’m just mediocre.

This is the part of the post where I should probably stop telling you all the reasons recovery is hard and tell you why it’s worth it. But I think you already know that it is. Otherwise you’d be googling thinspiration instead of reading this.

If you’re recovering and like me are finding out it’s not all about exuding health and finding love, know you’re not alone. Life is hard. In some ways, complete meltdown is easier. But even if life is harder and more painful without bulimia, I’ll still take it. And I bet you would too.

Why Self-Esteem Isn’t the Answer

An eating disorder is a pride problem.

What? We spend hours every day raging over our shortcomings, we haunt mirrors in disgust, we pinch our fat, we write pages and pages of self-deprecating nonsense, we hate to go places for fear of being seen, we can never empty our heads of biting chatterchatterchatter- and that’s a pride problem?

C.S. Lewis wrote: “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” So pride isn’t thinking more of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself more. Pride is about who’s on the screen in your head. Who are you watching? Who are you listening to? Who are you thinking about? It doesn’t matter if you hate yourself. If you’re obsessed with yourself – whether your weight, your brain, or your feelings –  the problem is pride.

If pride is the problem, then high self-esteem, for all its positive affirmations and cheery promises, can never solve it. High self-esteem changes how you look on that screen, but it can’t change the channel.

Pride is self-consumption – we’re eating ourselves (remember that line: “it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you?“). We munch ourselves into nothingness, like Shel Silverstein’s Hungry Mungry, until we’re just teeth snapping on air. We might love ourselves, or we might hate ourselves, but either way we’re going to run out.

We were created to feast on Jesus, to drink His blood and eat His flesh. (If that sounds weird, that’s okay, when Jesus said it scores of followers left him and his disciples berated him for bad marketing).  Trying to live on ourselves instead of Jesus is like trying to live on grass. We just can’t digest it. We’re eating, but we’re starving. Instead, we can nourish ourselves on His word, on His love, on His promises. Our souls respond to Him with fullness and delight, like a marvelous, guilt-free Thanksgiving. We turn from being self-centered to being God-centered, from pride to humility.

Humility, not high self-esteem, is the cure for your eating disorder. Recovery isn’t about feeling great about yourself, or knowing you’re thin and pretty enough, or realizing that you have so much inner beauty that you should stop worrying about the outside – it’s about Jesus. It’s about turning off that screen and following Him out into the sunshine.

How can you get humility? You ask for it. Get on your knees. Confess your pride. And just ask.

Wondering how to quit the self-esteem game? Read this!

Delight

The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.

– Zephaniah 3:7

The Lord delights in you. He delights in your you-ness, in both those things that make you you like nobody else and those things that make you human like everyone else. He delights in your passions, your skills, your loves.  Even when you are crouched and broken and ugly, even when you are stuck in disorderland and worshiping your thigh gap or a chicken sandwich, even when you have nothing but numbers in your head and nothing but acid in your stomach, He loves you so deeply that He sent His Son to be crucified to renew you. You starved yourself to death, but you didn’t die. He died for you. And then He came back to life, bringing you with Him.

Man does not live on bread alone, He whispers, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. (Matthew 4:4)

I will beautify the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4)

I delight in you. He sings it soft as a lullaby, then as fiercely as a war cry. I delight in you. (Zephaniah 3:7)

What is the proper response to a love like that? Not to hide our faces, not to cry that we do not deserve it – because of course we don’t – but to turn that delight back to Him.

Delight yourself the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. (Philippians 4:4).

May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, ‘God is great!’” (Psalm 70:4)

God delights in our delighting in Him. (Check out this article by John Piper if you’re intrigued by that idea). A relationship with God is a dance of delight. He delights in us, so we delight in Him, and He delights in our delighting in Him, and we delight in His delighting in our delight in Him… It’s beautiful. And it’s beautifying.

It’s hard to feel delighted in when you are stuck in addiction. But look out the windows. Disorderland is just a cramped dark room, there are universes of suns outside the door. Even better than that: there is the Son. And He doesn’t just hand you a get-out-of-hell-free card and leave you standing over the scale, He begins to heal you, to grow you, and to increase your capacity for delight.

Why You Should Quit Purging Before You Quit Bingeing

I’ll quit purging as soon as I stop bingeing. 

Bingeing is my real problem.

I would never purge if I didn’t binge.

If you’ve caught yourself thinking like that, you’ve fallen for another ED lie designed to keep you trapped in the b/p cycle for the rest of your life.

When you purge after a binge, you allow the binge.  If you had a child who tore apart his room every day, knocking over his bookshelves and shaking out his clothes drawers, but you came in every night and cleaned it up for him, do you think the behavior would stop? Even if you yelled at him, as long as your behavior didn’t change, neither would your child’s behavior. You have removed the consequences.

So even if you hate yourself for bingeing, if you “remove” the consequences by purging, you will never stop. What you have to do – and this may be the scariest thing you do in your entire life – is stop purging after bingeing. You have to hold yourself to your behavior. You can’t give yourself a way out. You have to feel the binge all the way through – what it does to your body, how it hurts, how it makes you feel the next day. That is the only way you will stop. And you know you need to stop.

You will feel bloated. You will feel fat. You will feel thirsty. You will feel angry, depressed, and betrayed. You will have a food hangover. It will suck.

But you will have victoriously defeated another recovery roadblock, and you will be that much closer to a big, fat, juicy life.

How to Quit Pro Ana

Most people who are addicted to the world of pro-ana and pro-mia aren’t there because they believe eating disorders are lifestyles. They’re there because they’re hungry for understanding, for community, and for someone to make them believe that they aren’t crazy.

But there comes a point when we realize that pro-ana isn’t giving us what we came for. At that point, we’re so stuck in the world that it seems impossible to pull out.

Here’s five choices that helped me quit ana:

  1. Quit thinspo. Thinspiration is ana porn, leading you to objectify people, searching strangers for butterfly collarbones, and to have unrealistic expectations for yourself.
  2. Delete. Delete all documents, secret pinterest boards, blogs, tumblrs, memberships, and email accounts associated with your pro ana network. Unfollow pro ana blogs, bid adieu to ana buddies. Keep nothing.
  3. Resist the urge to lurk. Surfing the pro ana world without participating still affects you. Notice how you feel after wading through ana/mia propaganda for an hour. Empowered? Encouraged? Probably not.
  4. Distinguish fake love from real love. “Stay strong, lovelies” is the song of the day, and you do feel a sort of love for fellow ana and mias, but it is a selfish love. We are promoting potentially fatal choices. That’s not love. It’s a fondling hatred.
  5. Fight the fantasy. Transformation is the pro ana’s god, but if you visit the community again after five years, everyone will still be wrestling the same demons. Nobody will have transformed into a skeletal angel. There is no transformation, there is only an eternity of ABC diet challenges and reblogged waifs. And that’s no way to live.

I wish you the best for your fight.

Have you fallen for some pro-ana myths? Find out here: Pro Ana: Mythbusting Questions.

Pro Ana: Mythbusting Questions

I’m not pro-ana or pro-mia, but I used to be. Here are some answers to questions that I’ve heard bouncing around recoveryland.
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  • Does anyone who calls herself pro-ana or pro-mia have a real eating disorder?  Many people involved with the pro-ED community are just searching for companionship in a disorder they aren’t willing to give up yet.
  • Then why do pro-EDs call eating disorders a “lifestyle?” Personally, when I was involved with the community, it was comforting to believe that bulimia was an easy choice like vegetarianism or minimalism. I was already the queen of self-deception – “It’s not exactly lying to throw my pancakes under my little brothers’ chairs” and “stealing food doesn’t count if I purge it” – swallowing that lie was easy.
  • But aren’t there fakers that think anorexia is a diet? Of course. But how long do you think someone would last on an anorexic diet without either a) becoming anorexic or b) eating a pizza and moving on with their lives? (I wish recovery worked like that). Also, many “fakers” are just people trying to switch disorders, often Binge Eating Disorder for anorexia. They say they’ve already got the hell, so why not the body?
  • So are you saying we should allow pro ana and pro mia? No! Pro ana is wrong. It encourages people, often very young girls, to starve themselves to death or commit suicide trying. All I’m asking you to do is to soften your eyes when you look toward the world of ana/mia.

Above all, be compassionate. Look at the people, not just the problem.

Any more questions? Just ask!

Are you stuck in the world of pro ana or pro mia?  Check out How to Quit Pro Ana  or talk to me.

Addiction: Choice or Disease?

The destructive world of addictions touches almost everyone. Whether you’ve personally struggled with an addiction or you love someone who has, you are almost certainly emotionally involved with addictions. Friends struggle to find a way to approach an addict’s battle in the most nonjudgmental, healing way possible. Addicts fight to find the root of their problem. But no matter how addiction has impacted you, you know the discussion of addictions matters.

When I was eleven, I descended into a long fight with bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder. As I reached out for recovery years later, I was faced with two interpretations of my addiction. One claimed that my eating disorder was a disease, the other that it was a choice.

Addictions are all consuming. Though part of you longs to be a whole, healthy person again, you feel powerless to change. You become a slave to your cravings. So the disease interpretation wasn’t just comforting, it seemed true. It said I had a choice to start that first diet, but I didn’t choose to be addicted to hunger, to weight loss, or to food. I had been infected by my circumstances, and now my disorder was attacking me from the inside like a virus, injecting disease into healthy thoughts and multiplying.

The choice interpretation does acknowledge a corrupting disease, but that disease is not alcoholism or anorexia: it’s sin. The blame is shifted from outside factors to the addict. I was called to take ownership of my choices and repent.

I had to choose, because each interpretation had a different path to healing, and only one could lead to freedom. As I examined both options, I discovered that the truth was clear: addiction is a choice, not a disease. Factors like a disordered brain can influence an addict’s choices, but they can’t make choices for him. The consequences of sin impact the brain and the rest of the body, but those are only the results of the problem, not the problem itself.

The disease model of addictions blames physiology, childhood, abuse, and a myriad of other factors as if they have the power to infect a person with addiction. Calling an addiction a disease sounds attractive, because you’re off the hook. You’re just a puppet tied to a kite, flopping and leaping wherever the wind tugs. Popular psychology prescribes that you cut your puppet strings and step free of the factors that made you an addict, but puppets with cut strings aren’t very lively. You lie on the grass, wooden, and after you muster all your self-esteem, still wooden. If a person is powerless to choose evil, a person is powerless to choose good.

There is no logical option for full recovery within the disease model. The addict can change her circumstances. She can take medication to fill the holes in her circuitry. But as soon as bad things happen, or as soon as her medication falls short, she spirals back into addiction. We can’t blame her for it; her disease has just flared up again like a stubborn cancer. The recovered addict is forced to live in constant fear of relapse.

Outside factors can only influence choices, not make them. Because the addict chooses to engage in their addiction, they are not suffering from a disease, but choosing to sin.

“[An addiction] is something we do rather than catch.”

-Edward T. Welch

Within addiction you do become a puppet controlled by your appetites, you are powerless to choose good – but through the recognition of sin comes the possibility for repentance. And through repentance God breathes life into wood, transforming the addict into His free, alive child.

What about the brain?

 “At its core, addiction isn’t just a social problem or a moral problem or a criminal problem. It’s a brain problem whose behaviors manifest in all these other areas…The disease is about brains, not drugs.”

–  Dr. Michael Miller, past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine

If our choices are merely the products of our brains, where the reward circuits dictate whether or not we fall in love, go to work, or eat a chicken sandwich, the addict is the logical one. They opt out of the complicated networks of choices that may or may not lead to brain-satisfying results and hack into their brain’s pleasure system. If we are our brains, non-addicts are equally enslaved to pleasure-releasing behavior as an addict. The non-addict just chooses more socially acceptable means.

The addict really lives the life the neuroscientist thinks we are by nature born to endure.

– Alva Noë, professor of philosophy at Berkeley

As soon as you isolate the brain as the only factor, you destroy what makes life fruitful and beautiful. To choose, to love, to worship, or to fellowship becomes a function of chemistry rather than an outflow of the heart. And addiction is no longer a disease, but a logical evasion of the brain game. But this is not true. Addictions are created from the involvement of the whole person, through your brain, your history, your emotions, and most of all, your worship.

When you look an an addict, do not do him the injustice of seeing merely an abusive childhood or misfiring synapses. An addict is a multi-faceted human being with a shattered soul, struggling against the flesh, thirsting for escape, and hungering for wholeness. Addicts are sinners. But they are sinners with a chance for full redemption.

This is the greatest comfort you can give an addict, not blamelessness. The freedom of accepting addiction as a sin is overwhelming. Instead of living in fear of outside events or brain malfunctions triggering a relapse, the addict is secure in repentance. Instead of trading one brain game for another, he has the potential to be renewed from the inside out. He is not only recovered, he is redeemed.

3 Ways to Quit the Self-Esteem Game

 

1. Stop monitoring your “self-care.” Sure, it’s wonderful to take a cinnamon bubble bath, read the Witches by Roald Dahl, knit toe socks, and otherwise nourish yourself, but self-care is a side-effect of enjoying God and glorifying Him, not the goal. Self-care is the fruit, not the tree.

2. Stop sweating to win. Guess what. There are people better at life than you. There will probably always be someone better than you. And even if you are the world-proclaimed champion of this-or-that, you’ll always be terrified that people will realize that you’re just you. So jump out of the game now. Stop faking strength or hiding strength, be honest about where and who you are, and start doing what you do for the glory of God rather than the glory of you.

3. Read Job or the first few chapters of Hosea. God is not comfortable. The self-esteem game pursues what you need for your recovery – a faithful significant other, a cookie, or alone time. But Jesus doesn’t preach healing through comfort and happiness, though He does promise healing. When we submit to Jesus, our lives fall apart. Old routines split like plastic grocery bags, spilling treasured dreams like eggs in the middle of the parking lot. But it’s only through the process of losing ourselves and our comfort that we are forced to rely on Jesus, and it’s only in His arms that we find healing.

Why isn’t self-esteem the answer?  Here’s what I think.

What do you think about high self-esteem? Is it really necessary for recovery, or is there a better path toward healing? Spark the conversation with a comment!

Aloneness (Response to a Video)

This is a beautiful video. I love how she treasures solitude and embraces silence. The practice of aloneness is easily crowded out by lists and assignments and the feeling of unwantedness that often comes attached to aloneness.  But if I release fear and allow myself to be alone, I make space to not just act, but to listen.

Often being alone means I’m free to binge/purge/cut/otherwise engage in stupid behaviors. But do I use bulimia to hide me from the intimacy of solitude? Am I afraid of being alone because I’m afraid of facing myself in all my messiness, and worse, being naked under the piercing Light of my Creator?

In the Bible, worship practiced in solitude is contrasted with religious pomp, which today could look like running VBS, singing on the worship team, leading a bible study, going on mission trips, and joining all the camps and conferences and retreats that come your way (Matthew 6:1-34). But when you close your door and strip away all performance, you are able to be humble and still. 

I have begun to walk alone in the mornings, and I have been called to be single for this time in my life, and I have not yet found my “group” at college, and I am glad in all of this. Not because I’m “happy in my head,” but because I’m joyful in my soul, for my stillness has become an openness to Jesus, and my solitude has become a quiet sanctuary for worship.

I want to continue to practice being alone with my God, my holy sweetness. To stop barricading my heart with noise and fall still and open.

How do you feel about being alone? Answer in the comments!

The Three Pitfalls of Intuitive Eating

1. Slavery to hunger. Every time your stomach feels a pang, you drop everything and fix yourself a snack, terrified that leaving hunger unwatched will push you into a binge. You eat a little beyond the full point, because you’re afraid of starving yourself (understandable, especially if you’ve suffered with anorexia or anorexic behaviors in the past). You obsessively check in with yourself – am I hungry? Am I hungry now?

2. Slavery to the rules. You wrote the rules all over your kitchen, freezer, pantry, bedroom door. You chant them to yourself before you eat. And when you break them, you feel so guilty that you say, “I can’t even do intuitive eating. I’m a failure” and give up.

3. Slavery to fullness. You use the stop when you’re full statute to skimp on your meals. Instead of eating until you are satisfied, you take the minimum bites to ease your rumbly belly. You feel hungry, but you tell yourself you’re not sure if it’s “real hunger.”

Life happens. You’re at a birthday party, or you’re watching a movie and munching popcorn and milk duds, or you forgot to plan and ended up without lunch. It’s okay. Remember the definition of normal eating? Trust your body to make up for lapses.

You’re still figuring this out. You’ll make mistakes. Just examine yourself, recognize the pitfalls you’ve tripped into, and crawl back out again. You’re okay. You can eat normally, and intuitive eating can help get you there. Believe in the process and persevere.

Do you struggle with any of these pitfalls? Have you found a trick that helps keep you on track? Let us know in the comments!