Staring in awe at the verdigrised feet of the Statue of Liberty, my stomach growls. “Not now,” ED says, “You have so much to see while you’re here. You don’t have time to waste on food.”
My brain–as swampy as the unseasonably warm November air in New York Harbor–can’t create a coherent thought outside of how fat I am compared to the girls posing for selfies with Lady Liberty. “Think of how many people have your fat body in the background of their photos. You’ve completely ruined their vacation memories,” ED whispers maliciously.
When was the last time I ate? It doesn’t matter. I have things to see and a conference to attend—I’ve never been to New York, after all. I unzip my blue fleece, and take a step forward; my knee giving way slightly due to my arthritis. “See?” says ED, “If you weren’t so fat, you wouldn’t have these problems with your knees.” She’s right, I concede, and continue my way around the island; ED berating me every step of the way. At the literal feet of freedom, I continue to be enslaved by my eating disorder.
A few days later, while aimlessly tracing the intricate designs of the conference hall carpet with the heel of my stiletto, I call my friend Jenni in Texas. I know I have to tell someone about this months-long relapse, and I know Jenni will know what to do. ED assures me that I’m fine. “Fat girls can’t have anorexia. Besides, you ate today, didn’t you? You’re fine. Quit over exaggerating, and hang up on Jenni. She’s a busy woman who doesn’t have time for whiner like you,” she hisses.
Ignoring ED, I tell Jenni everything. The pause before her words feels endless. Maybe I am wasting her time? Taking a deep breath, Jenni says, “You say you don’t want to be like your patients. But can’t you see, Rhea? You are them. You are just as sick as your patients. As much as you try to deny it, you are just like them and you know it. You’re a smart woman, and I know you know this.” The reality of her words hit me hard. “I know I can say this to you,” she continues, “because you are smart and strong. You know exactly what you need to do. Now do it.” Jenni is right—she always is—but what do I do now?
Two weeks later, curled up on my therapist’s black leather couch instead of Black Friday shopping, I hear, “I think it’s about time we looked into a higher level of care for you.” In the six years I’ve been seeing my therapist, she has never spoken these words…until now. What have I done? This can’t be happening. Not now.
“She’s lying,” ED quips, “She doesn’t think you’re sick and she never has. She’s testing you. She’s trying to get rid of you so she doesn’t have to see you anymore.”
“You can’t be serious,” I state aloud.
“Oh, I’m quite serious,” my therapist replies, “I’ve never seen you like this. You’ve lapsed before, but you’ve always gotten right back up and kept going. I’m not seeing that right now.”
Crap. What have I done? I can’t go to treatment. My jobs, my kid, my students, my life…they’d all be lost. How did I let this happen? I leave her office, head spinning, unsure of what to do next. Where do I go from here?
Two days later, I’m sitting by the ornately-carved gothic fireplace at school struggling through admitting my relapse to my friend. Through tears, I choke out that I need her help; that I can’t do this alone anymore. Julie takes me in her arms, and makes me feel less broken. She promises the walk me through this as long as I’m willing to come alongside her. She institutes adult lunch box buddies after school; wherein we eat lunch prior to me heading off to my second job. Both she and I hold myself accountable for completing nutrition, and examining thoughts/emotions I am feeling when I do not complete.
One week later, she takes me to our church’s healing prayer gathering. Instead of ED’s voice, I hear the voice of God urging me to put my ED at His feet, follow Him, and I will be free (read that story here). On February 25th, Julie and her husband Patrick baptize me into the Kingdom.
The buds on the trees are starting to bloom and the birds are gleefully singing. It’s late March, and I’m working the hardest I’ve ever worked on recovery.
“I don’t know how you pulled this off. How you turned it around so quickly. I was certain you were going to have to go to a higher level of care to get this far in recovery. I was ready to hand you off, and see you again when you got back,” my incredulous therapist states.
“Honestly, I don’t how I did it either,” I reply, “You’ve known me long enough to know I’m the most stubborn person on the face of the planet, and I was not going to let this eating disorder take my life. My stubbornness–combined with a whole lotta Jesus—is what got me here.”
I have a long way to go in my recovery, and I am making progress every single day. I can, without a doubt, state that this is the strongest I’ve ever been in recovery. After 22 years spent in illness, I no longer yearn for the days I spent in my disorder. ED has nothing more to offer me. I no longer turn to her for the comfort only Jesus can provide. Eating disordered thoughts still pop up in my head—they’re not called “automatic negative thoughts” for nothing—and I now know I can choose to act in line with my values; acting opposite of what ED commands. I always thought I would have to live with at least some aspect of my ED forever; that I could never be fully recovered. And yet, here I am. I am recovering. I know I can exist without ED. I can draw my strength from the Lord. I know I can fully recover. I know I can live.
The Parable of the Wandering Sheep—Matthew 18:12-14
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish.”