2 Corinthians 12:10 “That is why I take pleasure in my weakness, and in the insults, hardships, persecution, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (NLT)
I was recently honored to be asked to speak at the inaugural Project Heal Gala at The Ohio State University. Initially I thought this would be easy. I have shared my story at the Greater Cincinnati National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) walk and bits and pieces of my journey or testimony with my church family. Sharing with my brother’s and sister’s in Christ is the best because I can pour out praise to the Lord for using what Satan meant for evil for the glory of The Lord! However, sharing in a secular situation, while honoring my savior proves to be a little more challenging.
I was also facing the challenge of a recent “flare” of my chronic neuralgia that brings me into a great place of trauma and despair. It is in these moments that I question if I even want to work my recovery just to live in this pain and torment. I remember that it is also in these moments that I can call on God and his sustaining grace. I pray about it and God suggests that if I don’t speak, then Satan has essentially silenced me. “Trust me!” I hear him say. “Let your test of anorexia become your testimony and I will take care of the rest.” Yet, I needed to figure out how to share my story honestly and responsibly.
My final challenge was to find my advocacy voice and facts and figures to support it. I felt called to not just share my testimony, but to clarify why I support Project Heal and their effort to raise funds for those who can’t afford eating disorder treatment. My simple repeat performance was rapidly becoming more involved, and I was tired, in tremendous pain, and my depression was curling in on me like a wave waiting to knock me off my feet. “Oh Lord,” I lament, “What have I gotten myself into?” “First of all my daughter you are not in this alone, WE are in this together. I will give you the words to speak. I want you to speak. My grace will sustain you.”
Isaiah 6:8 “The I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” and I said, here I am. Send me!”
God doesn’t need me to be perfect or you to be perfect; he just needs us to be willing to say, “Send me!” So, despite all my doubts, questions, and imperfections I said “Okay Father…Send me.”
Before I dove into my story, I decided to share with the audience some comments I read or hear every day that are made to friends, collogues, or loved ones with eating disorders.
“Why didn’t you say something about relapsing?”
“How could you even think about dabbling in the Eating disorder behavior again?”
“What are you doing to yourself? You are in recovery, you should know better?”
Then I had to come clean and tell them that these are comments made to me every time I stumble through my recovery or even backslide a little or a lot. Lately, I feel like I am backsliding more than stumbling, yet I think in my spirit I still believe in my recovery even when I don’t feel it. I wish I could share with the audience that, although very real and very strong, our feelings can sometimes be misleading. I don’t always feel God’s presence, but I know, because I know God’s character, that he is with me. Honestly some days I find comfort in this, but other days I do not. I suppose that is why it is called FAITH!
I shared this with them because to stand up and report that recovery is glorious (and it is), but to not come clean with the truth that I do struggle with relapses into eating disorder behaviors, and body image issues, would be a lie.
This would leave me feeling a great deal of shame, and what do you think someone with an eating disorder does with shame? Well…I can’t truly speak for others, but I know I tend to circle back to the eating disorder. So, by being honest that I still have my days of struggle, shame has a more difficult time drawing me back into the eating disorder.
From there I dove head first into my story of relapse, recovery, and God’s grace.
I also shared with them my initial reaction to learning that a loved one was struggling with her own eating disorder “How could you, you should know better?” Yes, this is really how I reacted!
I began with this so that you know that I am not perfect in recovery, or even reacting to a loved one’s struggle. I am learning to offer myself grace for doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing. I am learning to accept my humanity. I am also learning to offer grace to those that say or do the wrong thing to me.
People may say well-meaning words like, “You look awesome!” which quickly translates to “fat” in my eating disorder mind, or “Did I look bad before?” The most painful words I have heard were “thank God you have gained all your weight back!” I feel the intense need to explain that I am still below where I was when I lost the weight. I want to say, “shut up! No one has the right to comment on my body or anyone’s body.” I, instead offer them grace, and simply say, “thank you, recovery is difficult and I am not very comfortable with my body right now, but I am working on it.” I wonder if there is a way to speak the truth in love and tell them to please not comment on my body? I wonder how long my success in re-gaining some of the weight, will continue to feel somehow like a failure?”
People are also oh so quick to offer all kind of suggestions to distract myself from my chronic nerve pain. I want to answer with some quick-witted sarcasm, “Have you ever been on a water board before? When you have…then we can talk. Until then kindly keep your opinions to yourself,” but I do not (most of the time). I am trying to accept their humanity because I too make the same mistakes with others. I remind myself that most people are inherently, good and mean well, but lack empathy.
It is too uncomfortable to sit in someone’s pain so they desire a way to fix it. I am guilty of this offense. I have discovered that empathy is a skill that is learned and practiced. For many, including myself, it doesn’t come naturally. I am learning to accept my recovery as a flawed, clumsy process. I am learning what empathy looks like for others and myself.
I am able to comeback to myself and say, “Liz what you did today…. was bad, but you are not bad.”
I can go back to my loved one and say, “I love you, I am sorry, I handled your confession poorly and in this case I should have know better. Please forgive me. How can I help?”
I would like to thank Madison for asking me to speak at the Project Heal Gala despite the fact that I am….Yes, a Spartan. I am Michigan State Spartan fan. I promised her I would leave my all my Spartan attire at home, but as I thought about this I realized that no matter whom you cheer for on the field or on the court all of us who are courageously waging a battle for ourselves or a loved one must put on the armor of a Spartan and arm ourselves with weapons to fight the formidable foe of Eating Disorders.
We need to arm ourselves with information from (NEDA) on the warning signs and symptoms of eating disorders.
We need to take the offensive in our schools with programs like The Body project to shield our young people from the constant barrage of unhealthy body images launched at them like grenades from the media.
We need to arm ourselves with the tools that will help us slice though the red tape of our insurance companies that, like mine, will pay for my cardiology appointments, but would not pay for my psychotherapy and treatment that could have averted the cardiac condition to begin with.
We need to know where to call for back up; How to apply for funding from organizations like Project Heal, and where to find NEDA network partners such as the Tri-State Eating Disorders Resource Team that offers free support groups. We need to advocate and fight for our lives, and our loved ones’ lives.
I am so fortunate and blessed to be able to afford to pay for the treatment I need that my insurance won’t cover and this is why I am here to support Project Heal.
Every one deserves the same opportunity that I have been given to receive treatment. We don’t turn away dying people from our ER’s or look at them and say, “Just stop having that heart attack,” but that is essentially what happens to eating disorder patients every day.
Who, I ask that had or has an eating disorder has been told to “just eat, just don’t eat, or just stop throwing up?” Wow! Really? I wish I had thought of that!
Today we know, or should know better, that it isn’t that simple. Research has shown that this is a very complex illness. There is no quick and easy fix. Treatment options have drastically improved since I developed anorexia as a teen shortly before Karen Carpenter’s tragic death brought eating disorders into the spotlight.
I am hopeful for you all that are just embarking on recovery, because your chance of being one of those that can achieve full recovery has increased significantly. NEDA reports that 60% of those seeking treatment will make a full recovery. Yet the best treatments mean nothing if we can’t access them or pay for them.
And, how much more could we know about effective treatment if eating disorders received the dollars for research proportional to those afflicted? Just to sight one comparison for you in the mental health care field; According to NEDA, Schizophrenia has a prevalence of 3.4 million people and in 2011 received 276,000.00 dollars in National Institute of Health (NIH) research Money. This equates to 81 dollars per patient. Eating disorders has a prevalence of 30 million people and received 28,000.00 dollars of NIH research money. This equate to .93 cents per affected person. This is an egregious discrepancy! According to a recent post from The Alliance for Eating Disorders Awareness “Every Day at least 23 people will die as a direct result of suffering and eating disorder.”
I am honored and humbled to work with Paula Brunner, Chairman of The Tri-State Eating Disorder Resource Team, who lost her daughter Katie to an eating disorder. She is an amazing woman who has the courage to fight for better resources and treatment options for eating disorders in the greater Cincinnati area so that lives are spared and families are spared the grief of losing a daughter, son, brother, sister, mother, father, or friend to this deadly illness.
And yes…It is an illness not a choice. No one wakes up one day and chooses to have the most deadly of all mental illnesses. I know I did not, and I am pretty sure Katie did not. To paraphrase Dr. Cynthia Bulik Eating Disorders are an illness not a choice. Once a person that has the pre-disposition, genetics, etc begins to diet, their anomalous biology leads them down the Eating disorder path. So, while the illness isn’t a choice, somehow those of us suffering with an eating disorder have to CHOOSE to recover.
Dare I say, almost 28 years ago, I entered out patient treatment that laid the cornerstone of my initial recovery, and from there I built upon this, a full foundation of recovery as I worked through a 30 day residential treatment program. My recovery lasted 20 years.
Whenever I am asked to speak at events or in schools, I always ask for time to think about it and pray about it because honestly there are sometimes when speaking isn’t in the best interest of my recovery and I may need to listen to that still small voice that, for me, is God telling me to say no.
So, here I am 28 years later sharing my story and, celebrating some 20 years of recovery, that yes, I still celebrate despite a recent relapse, because I know recovery is possible. Today, although new and often fragile I once again celebrate recovery and the lessons I have learned along the way.
I have learned that I need to find my identity in something other than my eating disorder. I believe this is true for so many, but not necessarily all of us with eating disorders. We begin to find our identity in our illness instead of our own truth about who we really are; whether we find it through yoga, meditation, relationships with family, friends, or in my case God, it is an identity beyond the eating disorder we search for.
I always ask my therapist, and clinicians “Am I recovered enough to share my story?” All of them suggest that only I can make that call. So, because it is what I do, I meditate on it, and pray about it, and decide that, yes that TODAY I am recovered enough!
I have worked hard, as NEDA suggests, with an awesome support team that includes my therapist, my physician, and dietician and persevered through this labyrinth I call recovery. Not only am I recovered enough from this relapse, I am enough! And I would not be standing here today without the love and support of my husband who is a true example of loving for better, or worse and in sickness and in health.
Please continue to follow my story on this Web Site, and my Facebook page Eatingbyfaith.com and I am excited to be in the final stages of publishing my book Eating by Faith: A Walk With God. My Eating Disorder From The Inside Out.