What about God?

For a long time I didn’t know how to relate to God in the midst of my eating disorder.

I’d had a strong relationship with God since I was a little girl, something I didn’t find on my own. He had drawn me to himself.

My eating disorder began nine years ago.

For many years I grappled with the question of my guilt in the situation. There are so many messages out there about an eating disorder being a mental disorder, about it being a coping mechanism for a situation that I couldn’t handle, that I had shown strength by fighting, etc, etc, etc. At different moments one or another of those answers has helped me and encouraged me.

But also for a long time I felt so, so guilty. I remember making choices not to eat. I remember going against my better judgment. I remember being told, “I was playing with fire” and simply not caring. How was I expected not to blame myself when I clearly had screwed up?

Little by little, I had to learn to let go. To stop blaming myself regardless of how much I had made a mistake or not. Feeling guilty and blaming myself over and over again was only feeding the negative thought patterns rather than helping me move forward.

My therapist often challenged me, “You need to talk to yourself internally with the same love and care you talk to the little kids you used to nanny.” I would spit back an answer, “They don’t know better and I do.” I didn’t know how to have mercy on myself, be understanding towards the challenges I had faced, or how to stop being angry with myself for my culpability (however great or small it might be).

Somehow I seemed to think that if I could really truly blame myself. If I could convince myself and everyone in my life who knew that it was all my fault it would somehow make it better. In a large part, I think that desire was fueled by an avoidance of accepting the other factors at play in the development of my eating disorder. It is hard to accept what was hurting so deeply inside that it was easier to feel piercing hunger than face that emotional pain.

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Over the summer, after my therapist couldn’t continue to see me I had to turn to God. What had begun a few months earlier with my meeting with a spiritual mentor and her encouragement to “see myself as God sees me” turned into a full-blown need to rely on God. I needed him. I couldn’t do it on my own. I found myself on my knees begging for his strength.

The months that have followed have been a journey of letting God into my life. He has gently and insistently asked me to let him into those parts of me that are wounded. I have gone over them in therapy, acknowledged the hurt, permitted myself to feel the emotions… but now God wants to touch those parts of me.

“Are we willing to have our capacity to receive from God expanded?” -Bob Schuchts, Be Healed

I have been reading the book, Be Healed. I spend a lot of time on my knees asking God to help me trust him, help me to allow him into the experiences I have had and to heal them. And I have begged for the grace to trust that he can and will heal the hurt I have experienced.

Yet, all the while, in the back of my mind has remained the doubt. Do I see this eating disorder as sin? When I give in and relapse how can I dare to present myself before God? How can I talk to God when I know I am not doing all I can do? And little by little I am learning to see myself as he sees me.

Last week I found an answer in prayer. God is not looking at the past or trying to point a finger about what I am or am not culpable for. On the contrary, I can see the opportunities when I am strong enough to choose as opportunities to love him. It is not about looking at the past as sin or not sin, guilt or not guilt… It is not about beating myself up when I fail now… It is about turning the moments when I am strong enough to make the right decision into acts of love.

The nuance is slight… but the perspective change is huge. My recovery can be an act of love. And when I am not strong enough, it is not because I don’t love. I am weak. I am frail. I need God. So I praise him through the moments I find the necessarily strength to love him through my weakness or through my progress.

“Do you know what it feels like to be healed by Jesus; pierced to your depths by his gaze; deeply touched by his kindness; comforted by his authority; and relieved of your longstanding affliction by his powerful anointing? … My heart raced with fear, wondering whether I would lose control if I allowed Jesus to heal the deeper places of my heart. Can you relate to any of these experiences?” -Bob Schuchts, Be Healed

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Gone…

I used to (may be still do on occasion, don’t judge) lie in bed as a little girl with my mind wandering on what would happen if I died. There was something about imagining this world without me. Invariably I would end up crying and changing my train of thought. Imagining my own funeral always put me over the edge. It wasn’t about sadness for my absence. It was sadness because of the imagined sadness of others.

Reading Gone Girl brought back those memories. It isn’t a spoiler to share that it is about a woman who disappears from one day to the next. (You discover that in the first page of the book.)

I often tell my students, “If God stopped thinking about you even for an instant, you would simply cease to exist.” It is difficult to imagine a world without myself. I used to think of this more frequently at a point in my career when a lot rested on my shoulders and it had been a while since I’d backed up my computer. I would drive home thinking, “If I crash and my computer doesn’t make it out of the rubble, they are really going to be in trouble at work.”

The book is well written. The story line is enticing. So enticing in fact that despite my distaste for the sexual content of the book, I continued reading because I was hooked and wanted to find out what happened. The characters are well developed.

I would not recommend the book – so strong is my distaste for the sexual content – but it did leave me thinking… What is my place in this world? How authentic am I in my daily living? What is the impact I am leaving on those around me? How do I treat those I deal with in my daily life – particularly those whom I deal with on a daily basis who I can become more accustomed to seeing?

The truth is this life is brief. Last October I lost a friend. He was 27 years old. I drive by the exit where he was found dead on the side of the road without cause. I wonder when my moment will be. We have to move on. But the truth is people do not simply disappear, because their legacies live on.

What legacy am I leaving? And how aware am I of the precious time I have with those I love?

The Maze

They go out every day. They run the maze that changes every night, mapping it – trying to find a pattern – avoiding the Death Eaters that come out at night. Racing, they must be back within the [apparent] safety of the walls before the doors close.

I recently finished the Maze Runner trilogy. I have yet to read the prequel, but I will get there.

In some respects the trilogy appears to be a poor attempt to recreate something like the Hunger Games or the Divergent series, but lacks the depth of the questions and personal struggles of the characters of the above mentioned series.

Let’s face it, having characters whose entire memory has been wiped is hard to identify with. They happily live a life without the complexities we all face that deal with past experience. It is very hard to relate to.

Well… that and the fact that the character’s brains are constantly being meddled with so you really can’t begin to understand what their true personalities and identities are.

What I did take away was a great distraction. It is always nice to travel away to a land far, far away and immerse yourself in a different world for a while. (Even if it is late at night when I should really be immersing myself in sleep.)

There is also something to be said for Thomas’ untiring fight to survive not only for his own sake but for those he loves. That is to be admired, along with the way the author accomplishes this. Even though Thomas has no recollection of the past, he exhibits that desire to thrive and live is etched within the very nature of each human person.

Further, his interaction with Newt, faced with Newt’s hopelessness, can also be enlightening. Thomas sees the value in Newt as his friend, but Newt simply loses the will to live faced with the path he knows lies ahead of him.

The need for a meaning for suffering is evident and lacking. Our society also often shares this view that doesn’t value suffering.

“Within each form of suffering endured by man, and at the same time at the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, about the purpose of suffering, and, in brief, a question about its meaning.” – St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris

For the runners in the maze, there seems to be no solution. Often we do not find answers to the questions of the heart, the questions shared by all of humanity, but with the same persistence of the runners we forge ahead, day after day, somehow certain that there is a solution.

Seeing with the Heart

Spoiler alert… I’ve bought my dad a pop up book of The Little Prince for Christmas.

He has always talked about that book.

Maybe even in French.

So I need to write a letter to go with the book.

The problem…

… No inspiration.

None.

Zero.

So maybe if I blog, I’ll come up with something.

I annotated the book. Which seems a little like a sacrilege.

There are so many truths in this book… seeing with the eyes of a child… how things aren’t always what they appear to be… satisfaction… perspective… the universe… about seeing with the eyes of the heart.

“But eyes are blind. You have to look with the heart.”

There is so much I want to tell my dad that I can’t. I can’t because I don’t have the words. I can’t because he doesn’t know the half of it. I can’t because of my mom.

My mom is bipolar and half of the things I would want to say to my dad I can’t because he needs to be there for my mom. He is treats her like a queen. She is his queen. And I would never take that away from him.

“What makes them beautiful is invisible!”

The truth is there is so much beyond appearances. There is so much that no one sees – so much that I never saw.

“In those days, I didn’t understand anything.”

Over the years how much pain there has been. How many unanswered questions – that still go unanswered.

“It’s so mysterious the land of tears.”

But above all it is learning to see beyond, to recognize the hidden that is right in front of our noses. And knowing that there is something much bigger than us out there.

“The Christmas-tree lights, the music of midnight mass, the tenderness of people’s smiles made up, in the same way, the whole radiance of the Christmas present I received.”

Merry Christmas, Dad.

On Loving Myself…

The amount of self-loathing that we seem to have for ourselves as Christians never ceases to break my heart. Our inability to love ourselves may be one of the biggest problems in the Church today. For until we learn to love ourselves as God wants us to, our ability to love others will be limited and deformed.

When we love ourselves, we become less interested in what others think about us and more interested in what God thinks. When we love ourselves, we don’t do things just to get noticed or praised or accepted.

Learn to love yourself. Your ability to love yourself will have a direct impact on your ability to love God and love your neighbor. – Dynamic Catholic

For the longest time my therapist would tell me, you have to learn to love yourself. I thought she was crazy. I’d heard so much throughout my life about self-sacrifice, self-denial, etc. that loving myself seemed selfish. It took me a long time to understand what she meant.

She would urge me to see myself like I saw the little kids I used to nanny, to love myself as I loved them. I remember getting very frustrated and spitting out, “but they don’t know better and I know better.”  She just gave me the look – you know the one.

I read this book by my therapist’s suggestion. Then she had me read it again. It helped me to start understand how I talked to myself, how hard on myself I could be, and how it wasn’t fair.

I started to understand where that came from and how I learned to blame myself for everything. I started to accept that other people in my life weren’t perfect. I started to accept the hurt and to stop the hurt from defining me.

“Know that what happened to you was not okay. And no reason – no story – could ever be good enough to excuse your being discounted, made to doubt what you thought and believed, and forced to deny what you felt. And nothing you ever did made you deserve it.” – The Princess Who Believed in Fairy Tales

And so I’ve learned to love myself. And stop blaming myself. And I’ve learned to see myself as God sees me – even in my moments of greatest weakness and failure. And I’ve learned that not to do so would be to fail to see myself the way God wants me to see myself.

“You have always been good enough to be loved. Not because of what you said or did not say, or what you did or did not do, but simply because you are a child of the universe. The time has come to honor that which you have denounced for most of your life.” – The Princess Who Believed in Fairy Tales

And this is what I want to remember this Christmas, that I am loved as I am. I don’t have to be worthy to enter into that stable. In fact, I never will be worthy. But I am going to marvel in God’s love for me and I will try to love myself the way he loves me.

“We are saved from our loneliness because God is love and He can’t stand to leave us by ourselves, to ourselves.

That is the message of Christmas. The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.

The message of Christmas is that this world’s a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.

For unto us a Child is born.” -Ann Voskamp

 

This Moment

“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.” – Frederick Buechner

New week. New book.

And this made me cry:

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This moment.

This moment of complete frustration because of confrontation.

This moment of wondering what to do.

This moment of worrying about a friend.

This moment of complete joy for a friend about to get married…

… accompanied by the sadness of longing for a family of my own.

This moment of the kids of my second family climbing all over me – one dressed up as a horse and another threatening with scissors…

This moment of God holding me…

…reaching for me.

This moment of being ME… With the strengths and weaknesses I have right now… With my struggles and joys… With my failures and triumphs…

One of the hardest things for me to learn has been that there are good days and bad days. I want all the days to be good. I want each moment to be beautiful. But somehow in excepting the bad days – they find their own beauty. Each moment makes up a part of the mosaic of my story.

Puffy Coats

There is a great freedom to calling eating disordered thoughts by name.

Saying them out loud exposes them for what they are… For their ridiculousness, however based in reality they may be, somehow out loud they are put in perspective.

Having a friend who lets you do this is a God-send… Who doesn’t jump down your throat or look at you with disgust for thinking such a thing.

THE THOUGHTS WILL BE THERE.

But you just have to let them be there. I’ve spent a lot of time learning new ways of thinking. But I’ve learned that fighting with the disordered thoughts never gets me anywhere but frustrated. I just have to replace them with other, louder thoughts. I don’t invite in eating disordered thoughts, they are there. But I can invite in healthier, positive ways of thinking and focus on them.

And with time, I hope the eating disordered thoughts get quieter and quieter. 

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I used to spend up to half an hour a day searching for some quote online or on Pinterest that would motivate me. I have a hidden Pinterest board called, “Free One Day!” with all the phrases that have motivated me. I’m teaching my brain to think in a new way.

I was so motivated by this book – that showed me that it is possible to change the way I think. It was probably one of the most instrumental books in my path to recovery.

On Saturday night, my friend and I were talking about my North Face jacket. And there it was – the thought. “I like it because it isn’t so puffy that I feel fat.” Things like that sometimes just slip out. The truth is many people have that thought. But it can have a snowball effect in the mind of someone with an eating disorder that is dangerous.

I look at my friend and she looked at me and we laughed. We laughed at the shared experience, at the challenge, at the freedom of saying it out loud without shame.

The goal is to be free one day!

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