I recently began a new and important journey.
It is a long-awaited journey of healing.
I am choosing to share this because I am proud of the changes I am making and because I believe my struggle is one that is shared by many.
As the Parable of the Servant in the Gospel of Luke (12:36) illustrates, much is required of those to whom much is given. I have been given my fair share of problems and struggles, but I have also been given a passion for sharing and thinking through words and writing.
I have considered sharing this aspect of myself before, but I have been too afraid, too embarrassed, and too much of a procrastinator. But the role of a servant, of any human soul or beating heart, is to worship and struggle and strive to grow in the here and now—not tomorrow.
So here it goes.
It is difficult to define the point at which my battle began. If I had to put a date on it, it would be in the fall or winter of 2003. I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade. Perhaps it was getting glasses and braces in the same year that did it—or maybe it was just becoming a woman in a world where appearance is highly important. Whatever the trigger was, it was strong enough to break down my entire hierarchy of values and replace it with one primary concern: being thin.
I stopped eating for about six months. By my 13th birthday, my family had begun to notice that my weight loss was intentional and excessive (thank God for Mama and Anne). My family gave me two options: I attend intensive outpatient psychotherapy and eat as I was instructed to do so—or I would be sent far away, to an inpatient treatment facility for girls with anorexia nervosa. I chose to stay home. I chose to eat. I chose to gain weight. More importantly, I chose to live and be fully alive.
Many people know this part of my story; many people observed it themselves. But I have not advertised the next part. Somehow, the next part feels less heroic.
I never stopped valuing thin. I never stopped admiring anorexic supermodels. I never stopped considering every calorie that I put into my mouth. I never stopped hating myself every time I gained a pound. I never stopped viewing food and my body as things to be altered and manipulated, punished and worshipped. I even had a year of chemotherapy, and I still cared about being thin. I celebrated the weight I lost during chemo.
And so for over a decade, I have lived with this battle inside of me. Gaining weight then losing it, binge eating then dieting, allowing the number of the scale to define both my happiness and my self-worth. And while there have been many amazing things happening in my life over the years, this was always going on in the background, sometimes as a whisper and sometimes as a storm. Therapy sessions, self-help books, promises to myself and to my friends and family. None of it worked because I was never ready to commit; I was never ready to let go of the control and the obsession. I wasn’t ready to take a leap of faith.
I have had moments of being ready throughout the past few years. When I got through my cancer and regained my health again I felt ready. When I fell in love with the most amazing man I have ever met I felt ready. When I began to take on the role of a physician I felt ready. And now, as a wife and as a future mother (not pregnant just eager to adopt one day) and future doctor, I am finally ready enough. I am ready enough to stop checking my weight every day. I am ready enough to risk gaining a few healthy pounds. I am ready enough to take responsibility of my own healing, to put time and effort into therapy and journaling. I am ready enough to realize that my thoughts about food and my body are at complete odds with who I am and what I stand for.
After meeting with the most wonderful therapist I have yet to work with, she challenged me to write a reflection about our talk. It is everything that I am feeling now.
Today, I realize more than ever before that my relationships with food and my body have not been in alignment with my values. They have been in complete opposition of everything I stand for.
I stand for love and compassion towards others, for understanding and acceptance. I am comfortable with uncertainties when it comes to my faith. I am comfortable with diversity despite my Southern Mississippi upbringing. I have felt at home in Hindu temples and Indian buffets, in European Cathedrals filled with relics, in Buddhist meditation workshops, and in labyrinths and prayer gardens. I have felt at peace in yoga sessions and in nature, in art galleries and nursing homes. I have been able to find God and hope in the midst of children dying of cancer and as I walked the line between life and death. I am able to sit next to the sick and the dying and feel their sorrow with them as I help them to feel less alone on their journeys. I am able to make meaningful connections on every journey I take and never exit an airplane without a new friend, whether I know their names or not. I am courageous; I take leaps of faith because I know that failure is easier than never reaching for my goals. I feel at home when I am caring for others- physically but especially emotionally. I feel at peace when I am surrounded by people, these magical beings filled with the gift of love. I believe that love is the most beautiful and pure thing in life, and that love is evidence of God and evidence of an afterlife or some kind.
I love to laugh and make others laugh and was once recruited by an entertainment agent to perform stand-up-comedy. I love cooking without recipes so I can add whatever feels right in the moment. I love playing the piano, but only when it’s songs I write because then I can play what I’m feeling. I love to do arts and crafts, even though they never look like what I set out to create. I love dogs- their innocence and trust and willingness to love completely without judging. I love the feeling I get when I am watching a horror movie and have no clue what will scare me next. I love to dance with my husband, who is also my best friend in the world. I love flowers and gardens and would like to build my own fairy garden.
And none of this—none of who I am or who or what I love—is reflected in the way I feel about my body or the things I have done with food.
My relationship with my body and food is cold. It is filled with hatred and guilt. It is built of rigidity and rules. It is black and white, all or none, good or bad. It is a number on a scale or a size in a pair of jeans. It is about comparisons and competition, about winning or losing, but I can never win. That eating disorder part of me is not understanding or compassionate; it is judgmental and critical. It does not love anyone or anything except control. It hates laughter and social occasions. It is afraid of love or hope or taking any risks at all. It is lonely and afraid, but instead of reaching out for help, it pretends that it can control the whole world by the way she eats. My eating disorder believes that people should be punished—that I should be punished—for imperfection.
I realize that even after 12 years, there are two parts to me. The eating disorder is still there, expressing her thoughts and opinions and punishing me whenever I choose to listen. I no longer want to make room for her inside of me. I want to be all the things that I value and all the things that I truly am.
I want to learn to eat with compassion for myself. I want to learn to bathe my body and exercise and get dressed in ways that are gentle and loving and not judgmental and fueled by hate or shame. And once I am free, I want to teach others to be free, too.
I sat in mass this evening, and for the first time, instead of praying to have more control over my eating, I thanked God for my body. I listened to the words of the Eucharist and noted all of the symbolism in the Body of Christ. I realized that food and the body are not separate subjects from God or categories of sin. They are outlets through with God often acts. They are miraculous portals that allow humans to connect with God. To hunger and thirst, to taste and become satisfied, to touch and to be touched. These things are inherently beautiful, meant to be savored, not controlled.
I have begun a new journey. I hope that I will allow this journey will be as Holy as my destination. Thank you for being a part of it.