Psalm 139:14 “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (NIV)
I tell myself over and over again ” You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” But as I slip into my swimsuit this past weekend and again today, I am not convinced. My body, in this moment in time disgusts me. Those of you with out eating disorders or body image issues, look at me as if I am “fishing” for compliments, or trying to make you feel bad (or worse) about your own body. This is so far from the truth as I see past your bodies and see your brilliant minds and beautiful hearts. I am sorry that the disdain I feel for my body causes you to scrutinize your own. I try to be selective to share my discomfort only with the people that understand my struggle. Although I am selective, I know that this still may hurt you and I am sorry. Just as my suicidal ideation reaches out like the far reaching tentacles of an octopus and touches those I love, so does the eating disorder. I will try to be as careful with you as you have tried to be with me even as my illness reaches out and touches you. This is tricky to try to accomplish. I try to remember that any illness that friend or family member may may struggle with, be it mental or otherwise, can spill over like boiling water splashing and burning those those around them .
Admittedly, as I have tip toed into recovery, I receive compliments on my figure all the time. Now this creates a mental challenge for me. The first issue is that when those of you who have walked through my struggle with me comment on how “good” I look, all I hear is, “Wow! You have gained weight,” “and yes I have and it scares the shit out of me! thank you very much!” is what I want to say. Wouldn’t it be nice if people understood that this weight was much more difficult to add to my frame than just eating donuts and milk shakes. Anyone can gain weight, but it takes an enormous amount of time, effort, and heartache to let go of an eating disorder. I would rather hear, “You look well. You must be proud of all the hard work you have done. It must be difficult. How are you feeling?” I could answer with a simple, “Yes, recovery is a tough journey, and somedays I still feel the pain of the illness. Thank you for your concern.” You see, the weight may say my body is out of danger, but there are remnants of the illness still coursing through my brain. I may look well, but often don’t feel well. The anxiety and depression still sneak up and consume me. Sometimes I feel like the cancer patient waiting for the final scan the says “Yep, you are cancer free.” Alas, I don’t have such a scan, but acknowledging that eating disorders are about more than just the food and weight, but about the person behind the illness, can help recovery feels less unnerving.
The second issue is that not all of you out there even know about my struggle and when you say “You have a rocking body (for a 51 year old),” I feel like a fraud by simply saying “Thank you!” because I know what I have put my body through to look this way. I know how ferociously I worked to become skeletal, and how I battled with myself to allow the weight back on. I know the price I have paid to look this way and still I am still at odds with this “rocking body” most of the time. I also don’t want to unwittingly perpetuate the myth of the thin cultural ideal. Eating Disorders suck, and suck the life out of you. I want people to find their identity Christ not the size of their jeans. Yet, here I am knowing who I am in Christ, but receiving and believing is a tedious process.
I begin today asking God to forgive me for disliking his fearfully and wonderfully made creation. I don’t know if it is what I feel about my body that depresses me or that “It” still still hides in the folds of my brain taunting me. I wonder if changing my mind and transforming my thinking needs to happen before I can be okay with food and this “wonderfully made” body? Or do I push past the food and body image issues in order to transform my mind? I would prefer to have God just perform a miraculous transformation of my mind. I am tired! I have worked so hard and wonder, “Where is the pay off?”
Today I swim outside in the cool, almost cold water of the virtually empty pool. I swim my 3,200 meters and plan to relax for a little while in the first warm day of summer. When I go to change out of the practice suit, I can’t help but to see my refection in the surrounding mirrors. I am less than thrilled by what I see. I see my body as thick and encircled in excess layers of fat. For some reason the image of a slice of layer cake pops in my mind. I cringe as I survey my waist and flank. I think I even see back fat seeping out the straps of the suit. Is this image accurate? Do I really look like this, or is my image distorted by the remnants of the eating disorder. I really am getting sick of “It.” I slip into my two piece breath and tell myself that I am okay, but I am not. The ambivalence I feel eats away at me and I find myself afraid to eat and afraid to not eat.
Once again I wonder how I got to this place again, and how can I escape to where “It” is not? “It” has a way of always following like a bandit in the shadows waiting to take me out. I see myself in the mirrors surrounding me as I unfurl my yoga mat in the steaming hot room. I wish the mirrors would fog over so I could avoid my reflection. I close my eyes and try to reflect on all those things that I am besides the eating disorder and this body, yet it is still the body that takes precedent as it is reflected back at me from every angel. I see my breasts, and they are fuller and actually quite lovely, but a reminder of the weight I have gained, and the slow surrender of my friend the eating disorder. There is also flesh in other places that, in my opinion, is not so lovely. I am sure people can see my flab and rolls. I then look around the heated room and wonder how my body measures up to the other women. I decide I am not too bad considering my age. Then envy those that seem so comfortable in their own skin. Are they really comfortable? My guess is most are not.
My body’s reflection sends me such mixed messages. I don’t look sick, but my therapist, and new nutritionist believe, that like a child dipping her toe into the pool before jumping in, I am just testing the water’s of recovery and not quite ready to take the plunge. My nutritionist points out how forward the eating disorder is. I remind her and myself that she has no clue how far I have come as she has just began her work with me. She is looking for the signs of its life, and I am pointing out the parts that have died off. She asks me to consider how much time it still robs me of daily. “A Lot” I confess, and in this moment I feel like I am climbing a mountain and what I thought was the summit was just another blind pass. She talks to me as though I am a child. God I hate this! I know she is still getting to know me, but being sick doesn’t make me ignorant or child like. As I leave she tells me she is a breast cancer survivor and knows her body isn’t perfect, but she is grateful to just feel good, healthy and alive. Shame rises from my core and radiates through me like a menopausal hot flash. She has survived cancer so her body image is no big deal. I, in theory have my health, and should be grateful, but am worried about my body image. I certainly have no clue if I have my health after years of this illness, but I say nothing. She works with eating disorders all the time, but seems to minimize the illness. “Live as if you didn’t have it,” she says! Friends if I could, I would, and by the grace of God one day I will. Today I will live with it, but press on because I believe He will restore. Am I fearfully and wonderfully made? Yes and so are you.