Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Wounds Cease to be a Source of Shame

My facebook and twitter have been louder than normal this week. At some point (I'm not sure when), I tired of pretending that I don't have a serious mental illness. At some point, I decided that my story was worth sharing and that people need to know that eating disorders can destroy your life. At some point, I let the skeleton (pun intended) out of my closet.

I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa a week after my 25th birthday. I had been struggling with a sub-threshold eating disorder for years and had been -- for many months prior to the "official diagnosis"-- very, very sick. I didn't recognize it at the time, of course. You never do. In fact, anosognosia (the inability to recognize that you are ill) is extremely common in anorexia. It is biological and brain-based, like many of the seemingly "strange" behaviours people who are malnourished exhibit.

I had a nightmare once. It was one of the few nights when I was deep in my disorder where I was tired enough (and perhaps had enough nutrition in me) to sleep deep enough to dream. I woke up in a panic, my heart racing. What was so terrifying, you ask?

I dreamt I had eaten fried chicken.

I clutched my pillow when I woke up, gripping it for dear life, trying to assure myself that it was only a dream. I had to walk myself through the previous day, accounting for everything I ate, everything I drank, everything I bought. Had I bought fried chicken? Had I eaten fried chicken? In my dream, I had eaten fried chicken out of the refrigerator downstairs. Did we have fried chicken downstairs? It took everything in me not to run downstairs at 3 am and check the refrigerator. I checked every inch of my body, trying to be sure that I hadn't accidentally consumed fried chicken, hadn't accidentally ballooned overnight.

I had no idea I was sick. I had no idea that counting every calorie wasn't normal. I didn't know it was not normal to cut celery into exactly four pieces, carrots into exactly eight, cucumbers into exactly eight, and that your total number of vegetable sticks must always, always be twenty-five. I didn't know that everybody didn't measure out their cereal and soy milk and perform exotic rituals with it every morning. It seemed perfectly normal to me to drink gallons of diet soda everyday in an attempt to keep up my energy, long since sapped from months of a starvation diet and sleepless nights.

I grew accustomed to broken sleep, the muscles in my leg cramping for minutes at a time, the pain enough to wake me. I grew accustomed to staying out past midnight so that I could get in my hours at the gym after long days at work and church. I grew accustomed to lying, to telling the people that I love most that I was fine in an attempt to allay their fears.

Nothing about those years was normal. Nothing about those years was healthy. And while I may wish for that small, androgynous body again, I certainly don't wish for the cracked hands, hair falling out in clumps, bruises forming simply from sleeping. I don't wish for the depression and anxiety, the utter hopelessness and emptiness that overshadowed every day. I don't wish for the worried looks, the shattered friendships, the broken trust.

It's hard, some days, not to be nostalgic for the eating disorder. And if you're early in the recovery process, you need to have an idea of how to deal with those days. I call friends, go to Starbucks, and remind myself that I don't ever want to be getting up at 5 am for vitals again while spending my days in a treatment facility. I create art, and read books, and eat "safe" meals until I feel like recovery is worth it again.

And it is worth it. If you're struggling with an eating disorder and wondering if you want to give it up, you should know that it's much better on the other side. It's much better even in this wilderness land I'm traversing now -- not yet "healthy" or "recovered," but miles away from the sickness I lived in for so long.

You should know this isn't even half of my story. To be honest, I haven't got my "story" all figured out yet. But I know that this is part of it. I know that part of my story involves telling it to others. It is part of my calling, to share my wounds with others in an effort to help them heal. As Henri Nouwen says in his book, The Wounded Healer:

"Nobody escapes being wounded. We all are wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally, or spiritually. The main question is not “How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but “How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?” When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.

Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed. Jesus’ suffering and death brought joy and life. His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love. As followers of Jesus we can also allow our wounds to bring healing to others."


My story isn't over yet. Neither is yours. 26 Feb - 3 March 2012 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. If you think you or someone you know is struggling with disordered eating, call 1.800.931.2237 to get referrals and resources for help. There is no such thing as a small eating disorder and it is never too late to attempt recovery.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why Weight?


That time of year when every other commercial and advertisement on TV, radio, or in magazines is for low-calorie snack foods, diet pills, diet sodas, weight loss centers, gym memberships. And really, why wouldn't that be the case? Losing weight and getting fit are among the top five New Year's Resolutions in the United States. Any product that isn't taking advantage of that is simply doing bad business. If their marketing departments weren't pumping out advertisements for their products that capitalized on the ready-made market in January, someone higher up in the company would be looking for a new marketing department.

Fine. Whatever.

I recognize the fact that as someone who spent most of the past year in intensive treatment for an eating disorder, I'm slightly more sensitive than the general public to messages on weight and shape. I recognize that on any given day, I'm analyzing the messages that the media is sending me about what weight I should be, at what weight I'll be beautiful, about how great I'll feel when I lose that last 10 pounds. (For the record, I lost that "last 10 pounds." And then some. It was hell.)

So yes, I'm sensitive to weight loss messages. Yes, perhaps the feminazi bitch in me gets angered on a daily basis at the messages we're sending to our wives, daughters, nieces, friends. And yes, perhaps I'm a little jealous that it's okay for other people to lose weight, while I have to maintain or gain to keep myself from winding up in the hospital.

But I don't think any of that is in play here. I think anybody should be outraged at the message Special K is sending this year.

According to Special K, just by losing 6 pounds in 2 weeks, you could gain JOY! SASS! CONFIDENCE! PEP! DRIVE! SHINE! PEACE! HOPE!

I'm sorry?

I can't have those things at my current weight? I can't have those things if I gain the weight needed to reach my target weight? I can't have those things simply by focusing more on the important things in life? (Which, in case you were wondering, don't include: your weight, your pants size, the fact that your thighs touch, how much you can bench, how many miles you run each day, etc. etc. etc.)

Ladies, you're beautiful.

You deserve to have JOY, PEACE, HOPE, SASS, CONFIDENCE, PEP, DRIVE, and SHINE NOW. You don't have to lose two pounds, or six pounds, or twelve pounds to have those things. I didn't find them when I lost 10 pounds, then 20, then 40. I don't think you will either. To be honest, a relationship with Jesus has been the only way I've found any of those things.

And Jesus doesn't care that my thighs touch.

So what are you waiting for? Give yourself permission to have those things NOW. To be those things NOW. You're worth it. You deserve it.

You are more than some stupid number.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Dirty Truth

I'll be 26 soon. And I'll be honest - my life looks nothing like I thought it would. To be further honest - I'm tired of lying about it. Tired of lying about what my life looks like on the outside when sometimes, on the inside, things are falling apart. Heck, sometimes on the outside things are falling apart (please reference the last 6 months of my life). Tired of pretending that life is all puppies and rainbows and I'm awesome and life is great and I love Jesus.

Sometimes, life is crap.
A lot of times, I'm not awesome.
Most of the time, I don't love Jesus all that well.

Months like the last few have reminded me why I named this blog what I did -- it is a long, hard road. It is a long, hard road where sometimes you can't even see the end. Sometimes, you traverse the same 100 yards back and forth and back and forth. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times), I question the "good, good end."

A friend asked me the other day if I trust God. Like, really really trust Him. Ever since I came back to the church 3 years, I've struggled with the trust issue. My answer to her was that I trust Him for some things, but not for x. Oh, and maybe not y either. And sometimes I struggle to trust Him for z.

It seems like the longer I've been a Christ-follower, the harder it gets to trust. Maybe I'm just given bigger things now and maybe that's a vote of confidence on the part of a God who sees things in me that I don't see. Maybe the "honeymoon" phase has worn off and it's time to get into the nitty-gritty of my walk. Maybe it's both of these things.

So there it is: the truth. Sometimes I don't trust God. Sometimes I hold things back from Him, convinced that I can do it better. (Altogether now: How's that working out for you, Jess?)

Am I the only one with this problem? How did you all learn to trust God?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Picking Up the Pieces

People are messy.

Maybe you already knew that, but I'm learning that. I have spent a lot of my life trying to avoid my own mess, which has necessarily meant avoiding other people's messes, too. If you keep things always on the surface, your mess isn't exposed and you don't have to deal with this person or that person's mess either.

It's convenient, really. It is also very, very unfulfilling. You never get to know anybody truly and nobody ever truly knows you. So a while back, I started digging a little deeper with folks. Excavating parts of myself that were normally kept under wraps. They followed in suit.

And they're messy. I'm messy. We're all really, really messy.

Sometimes, I hate it. It puts me face to face with the limitations of my being only human. It makes me feel painfully inadequate to get a phone call from a woman I love and to hear her fret over not being able to pay her light bill. I drive over there, knowing full well that I cannot pay her light bill for her, and all I can do is give her bus fare to get to the crisis ministry in our city. I listen to her heart, which is scared and frightened, and I have no words to soothe her, but I pray. It is messy. My mess entangled with her mess, my words entangled with her words, prayers to an unseen but very real God. We don't know how he'll clean up our messes, but he will.

So sometimes, I love the mess. It reeks of Jesus, of his redemption, of his glory. It is one chapter in a book that was finished 2,000 years ago, when death and sin were defeated. The mess, when you are reading it and living, is painful. And yet, there is hope.

We are messes, each of us.

We are also redeemed.

I think sometimes we just need to be reminded of how we are human and messy and faulty. So then God can remind us how he is glorious and beautiful and gracious.

I love how God does that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dream House

Every morning on my way to work, I pass a small house with a "For Rent" sign. It doesn't appear to be very large, maybe one bedroom, one bath, a small kitchen and living space. It's not far from my parents' business, in a rather industrial, run-down part of town. The majority of the people in the neighborhood are minorities -- and I often get looks being a small white girl driving a big truck down the road. I've checked on rent in these areas, in the event that I ever have the financial ability to move out of my childhood bedroom - a mere $300 a month.

This is not, in a nutshell, a "good" part of town. Not a part of town where my parents would like me to live, not a part of town that is safe for a single female living alone. When my church was involved with the Justice Project last year in a fragile neighborhood in our city, I wanted nothing more than to rent a house, move in, and love people from my front porch. My father was not a fan of this plan and at any rate, I was too broke to move out.

And I know what it looks like - privileged white girl "slumming it" and trying to move in and save the neighborhood!

Really, though, it's not like that all.

In these run-down, impoverished, broken neighborhoods, I feel at home.

I understand brokenness. Understand what it is like to be poor in spirit and poor in finances. I appreciate those people who wear their brokenness on their sleeves, not as badges or prizes, but as expressions of who they are. They are not afraid to show their brokenness, their unlovely-ness, their flaws and struggles and pain. And that is beautiful.

I am tired of running in circles where people say that everything is fine when it is not. Tired of hiding struggles and pain as if that somehow makes me strong. It is my brokenness and my flaws that are the essence of my beauty and the essence of Christ's strength in me.

This sort of honesty and vulnerability is terrifying to so many people. And that is understandable, given the way that our culture has ever-new and varying ways of beating people when they're down, of making them ashamed of their lives and their pasts and their choices. And maybe they weren't great choices, but they can still be redeemed. They are being redeemed.

At the end of the day, I just want to be among people who aren't afraid to speak the truth.

Sometimes, everything is not okay.

And that is okay.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

My Father's Daughter

Most often, the follow-up to the "What are you doing with your life?" question is the "So, what do you do for a job?" question. Because, in case you were wondering, following Jesus doesn't always pay the bills and this girl's got a degree that she'll be paying off until she's 90. Give or take.

When I left my job at the end of July, I sort of floated for a while. I filled my days with an internship at my church, my evenings with friends and long runs, and took some time to catch up on sleep. To be honest, it was necessary. The past year has been, in a word, difficult - and while I don't have any desire to unpack that here, the time off and reduced schedule was so very necessary for healing body, mind, and soul.

So I rested for a month, worked at church, and finally started applying to jobs. And got rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to hire me. Toward the end of September, I started to get nervous. I have never been one to doubt God's provision for me in physical and financial matters, but I was really starting to question whether or not He would show up "on time" - which is to say, before my bank account hit zero.

Then, one Monday morning, I got a job offer. It went a little something like this:

Mom: Jessica! Come downstairs, please!
Me: [grumble, grumble, grumble, stomp, stomp, stomp] Whaaaaaaaaaaat?
Mom: So you still don't have a job?
Me: [grumble, grumble, grumble, way to rub it in, lady] No.
Mom: Well, your father and I would like to hire you at the office. I'm going to be working out of the office more and we need someone to take care of cleaning, invoices, answering the phone, and eventually start doing electrical drawings.
Me: Okay.
Mom: You start Wednesday.

So that is how I came to work 35 hours a week in a dusty machine shop, breathing in particulates that are probably considered carcinogens in the state of California, and picking up lunch orders for the most insatiable carnivores I have ever met.

I joke that my job description is that of "glorified gopher" - but the truth is that I am incredibly blessed. Incredibly blessed to have a job at all, incredibly blessed that my parents have a business that is doing well enough that they can hire me on for a season. It has also been an incredible blessing to have this simple, daily connection with my family again. I was running around at 100 miles per hour for the past year, rarely seeing my parents, the three of us like ships passing in the night or trains passing in the suburbs or... something.

Now, I see my parents every day for hours a day. It is a reminder that I am a part of a unit, something bigger than myself. I am reminded of that every time I pull open the file cabinet and find the files written in no fewer than six different scripts - both parents, plus all of the kids having done their time at the family business over summers or school breaks. I am learning the business. Learning what my father does. Learning what that symbol on an electrical drawing means and how to strip furniture. Learning the inside language of machine building and how to draw up packing slips and invoices.

In short, I am learning to be my father's daughter.

And in all the quiet moments, mundane activities, and challenges that present themselves, I am learning to become my Father's daughter as well.

This season is a blessing on so many levels.
I am trying not to waste it.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Grand Life Plan

Something about being 25 years old and three years out of school means that most times when people see me, I am asked one question:

So what are you doing with your life?

I guess it's a question that is valid enough. From the outside looking in, I'm really not doing much.

I don't date, so I'm clearly not on the "married with kids" track.
I work for my parents because nobody else on the East Coast will hire me, so I'm not on the "high-powered career" track.
I spend my free time running, reading, and volunteering, so I'm not particularly "ambitious."
Furthermore, I'm not in Africa, so I don't look at all like the "missionary" I thought I would be by now.

I think people probably assume that because I'm not on the mission field now, I misheard - that missions was never really the plan. And I don't fault them for that thought at all. Heck, *I* thought I misheard.

I didn't. I'm more sure of that today than I was two years ago. I'm called.

But here's the thing: I'm also human. So when God speaks, it gets filtered through my own desires and wills and sinful nature and it ends up looking like a schoolyard game of "telephone."

God might be trying to tell me that to "go to Canada next summer to meet the love of your life."
But by the time it is filtered through my fear of looking ridiculous, my insatiable desire to "be successful," my need to so something bigger than myself, and my [totally God-given] desire to serve, I might hear something more like, "hop a train to Mexico and build houses for the rest of your life."

All this is to say that I didn't misunderstand. I'm called. I'm not in Africa now, but that doesn't mean I'll never be. And it certainly doesn't mean that the last two years has been a waste - the process of applying for missions and the subsequent counseling they suggested have brought out the best and worst parts of me.

These years have highlighted just what tight grip I hold on my illusion of "control" and how desperately I need to let that go.
They have left me floundering, looking silly, taking major hits to my pride - and realizing that it was never about what everyone else thinks of me to begin with.
They have taught me what it means to be flawed and broken and painfully messy.

These two years have been God dragging me into the wilderness (kicking and screaming, to be sure) and stripping me naked. It has felt like an act of violence, but in the end has been the purest act of love.

So now what? Now, as I'm finally coming out on the other side of two of the most gut-wrenching years of my life? Now what's the plan?

To be honest, I've rejected any plan. This seems strange for someone who was, at age 12, planning how to get into Harvard Medical School. But I simply don't know what to do anymore. My plans certainly haven't been working. So I quit.

I'm following Jesus.

I'm getting up each morning and surrendering my crap.
I'm praying and learning to listen for replies.
I'm obeying in the best way I can.
I'm accepting the fact that I probably look really foolish to a lot of people.
I'm learning to give myself some measure of the same grace that God gives me.

It's not perfect.
Most days, it's not even pretty.

But the yoke is easy and the burden is light.
I'm following Jesus.
THAT'S what I'm doing with my life.

That's all I can hope to do.