I decided to become anorexic while riding the bus one morning in the spring of sixth grade. I hadn’t heard that word before and wasn’t sure what the requirements were, but all of the glamorous eighth grade girls sitting in the back were talking about becoming it, too. They said they needed to get bikini-ready. Maybe I could convince my mom to let me wear a bikini if I was “ready”. Every day I’d look back at those girls in awe, longing to be like them.
No one looked at me in awe during my sixth grade year. Or my seventh or eighth for that matter. I was a lanky kid with a disproportionate body. I had freckles (But not the cute kind), a tangled mass of frizzy hair, and a huge gap in my really huge teeth. (But not the intriguing kind models have. More the, “oh somebody get that girl some orthodontia!” kind.)
I was determined to get a new look. Even though I didn’t really understand the concept of dieting, the glitterati had leaked a secret and I WANTED IN! No one was allowed to sit in the back except the beautiful people of the eighth grade, so I settled a few rows up straining to hear the rules. I overheard, “never eat lunch” and “drink a lot of…” and a few other chopped up phrases I couldn’t make out.
“Never eat lunch” was all I had to go with. That was my plan and I began with great gusto.
Unfortunately for my “new look”, it was tater-tot-Thursday in the lunchroom so I fell off the wagon less than five hours after I began. And I never thought about a diet again for the next ten years.
A friend asked me earlier this week, “What was it like when you had an eating disorder?” And so I’ve been thinking really hard about how to answer that.
I don’t really like the word disorder. I like to say I had some eating "confusion". It’s not as if I went to bed healthy and woke up sick. It would have been super helpful if a runny nose or unbearable toe pain had accompanied my condition. I might have thought to call someone about it. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was quiet and slow. So much so that I wasn’t sure anything was wrong… until it was.
I confused the fact that food kept me alive with the idea that food was my enemy. I forgot that eating was an every day thing. And three times? It felt like overkill.
I ate to make myself feel better and I starved to make myself feel nothing and I couldn’t remember how I’d gotten there. But I knew I didn't want to leave.
It was terrifying and intoxicating.
I was confused when people would say, “You are too thin! You should eat!” and I thought perhaps people were playing a trick on me. Clearly this was a plot to make me fat. I could see myself in the mirror- couldn’t they??
“I am really worried about you.” My friends talked in serious, hushed tones, and Matt always had sad eyes when he looked at me. Before long, everyone was trying to help but no one was helpful.
You see, I was so confused that I didn’t think I needed help. What I needed was to stay in control. I thought I was happy and headed towards healthy. (After I lost a few more pounds…) I forgot that my size didn’t make me worthy.
The other day I came across a quote I love. Albert Camus says,
Don't walk behind me; I may not lead.
Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.
That. That is a picture of how I began to heal.
All of the people in front looked back at me offering milkshakes and disappointment and judgment. I was afraid they were right about me. And so I was angry with them.
And those who were behind me? They’d fallen back, deciding I wouldn’t change. In their minds, I could get better if I wanted. That scared me too.
But there were a handful of friends, steady and constant. They didn’t tell me what to do; they didn’t give up on me. And finally, when confusion gave way to reality, I felt safe enough to whisper a “help”. They heard me and came rushing in.
You guys, if this is you, you aren’t alone. You’re just a little confused. When you are ready (You already are. Trust me.) Look to your left and your right. See who is there. These are your people. It doesn't matter if you are confused about eating or marriage or faith or even fashion. (Because, priorities!) Be brave and let them love you into wholeness. Into who you were created to be.
My entourage stayed the course in the difficult months ahead. Day after day they loved me and did all the wonderful things. They were terribly clingy with their overly healthy selves and I hoped they’d find someone new to help, but THEY WOULD NOT BE MOVED.
They reminded me that Jesus thinks I’m worthy, and that is enough. They did this one million times a day in case I forgot again.
I still get confused sometimes. But my people are always right there, keeping an eye on me. I am telling you, one misstep and THE SAINTS COME MARCHING IN! I can’t get rid of them. It’s better this way, though. For me, I need friends beside me to help me remember the truth.