The Valley of Bitter and Sweet

Habakkuk 3:17-18 “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive tree crops fail, and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior.”(NIV)

My nerve pain flares and my body feels like it has been hijacked. I am no longer in control of it as the pain and unusual sensations take over, forcing me to go, sense, and do things I don’t desire. At the same time, I am barely holding on to my recovery from the eating disorder as I enter into the holiday season of food, family, and house guests. I am suspicious about my ability to muster up the energy to rejoice in the Lord and battle for recovery.

After spending the majority of the summer tuning out the voice of the eating disorder, I am hit with a virus that takes me out of my final race of the season on Mackinaw Island with my best summer friend. This virus nudges my weight down, while unexpectedly turning up the volume of the eating disorder. I desire silence, but the emptier I feel from the days of nausea and vomiting, the louder the voice of the anorexia begins to grow in volume and prominence. No longer small, the anorexia looms over me. It is so big and so loud! It is my Goliath.

Unlike David, I don’t confront the giant, taking it down by a simple sling and a smooth stone (by faith.) I cower in the corner of my mind, just as used to cower in the corner of my room from my mother’s wrath, begging it for mercy. It is merciless. “Lord, Lord,” I cry out, “where are you?”

I don’t understand how a simple virus can challenge my recovery. I am feeling a bit ripped off that two of the most basic needs of a being human, food and pain response are warped in my life. I find myself angry with God, and questioning his fairness. How often do we feel like God owes us something when through His son, he has given us everything?

I turn to prayer and The Lord gives me Habakkuk 3;17-18. I read the scriptures and I am graced with an “ah ha” moment that it isn’t God that is letting me down, but Satan whispering in my ear, “God is ripping you off, he isn’t fair.”

I take a labored breath into my lungs, the lungs that God gave me, and exhale a confession of faith that I do not necessarily feel. “I will rejoice, I will – I will choose, in my despair, to not allow Satan to “rip me off.” God may be allowing this, but it is to sift me, as he did with Peter and Job, that my faith may be enlarged. A sense of guarded peace flows through me answering my question, “Where are you?” His presence is now palpable.

It has not been easy the past few weeks to rise above the nerve pain, the eating disordered thoughts, and the ensuing anxiety and depression. I struggle to figure out how to allow great joy in the midst of great sorrow, while finding the space for deep sorrow in the midst of great joy as I watched, quite literally, the circle of life enfold me. I celebrate new life in my nephew, the death of my surrogate mother (my best friend’s mother), and the marriage of my niece.

My mother lies in the nursing home. She misses the festivities, but truthfully, she isn’t missed. Dad, although gone for four years, is missed. His presence is as enormous as the void left in his absence. I find myself climbing the hills of joy, rolling into the valley of sorrow, then attempting to scale my way back to joy. I rise, I fall, landing in a valley of bitter and sweet. I am temporarily zapped of all my strength but have this blessed assurance that in my weakness He is strong and a place of refuge. Isaiah 46:1 “God is my refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” This season of joy and sorrow leaves me troubled and my recovery in jeopardy, but He is ever-present.

I rest in His promise to be my ever-present help as I listen to a Ted Talk by Dr. Laura Hill, PhD. She nails it as she plays a recording of how a patient with an active eating disorder has a constant dialogue in one’s head as they try to go about the business of life, especially after eating raises our already elevated serotonin to the point that eating doesn’t have a calming effect like it does for most people. Eating, instead, sets off a frenetic dialogue of censure “Eat this, don’t eat this, you are fat, you are lazy, it is just cookie, put it down, pick it up, exercise, run, spin, purge, ugly, stupid, etc., etc.” Yes, it is a mental health issue, but it is also neurobiological based, according to her studies.

I am so intrigued by her research that I call the center she established, The Center for Balanced Living. “Why has this virus nearly derailed my recovery?” I ask the voice on the other end of the phone. She puts it in simple terms that I can comprehend. (Thank you God). I would like to add a disclaimer that this example is my understanding and not an exact representation of the neuro/biological research of Dr. Hill’s. So, as I understand it, let’s just say that my brain and body are wired to work in a recovered state at 125 pounds and a 19.5 BMI (random numbers). Having suffered from anorexia, if my body intentionally or unintentionally, i.e.: virus, slips below these parameters, my mind defaults to anorexic thinking and behavior.

Although I didn’t choose to jump into this pit, I am in it, cowering from the giant. I am oddly hopeful and believe that God has set this information before me. Could this be my missing puzzle peace? Could it be your’s?

I feel emotionally and spiritually quite solid, but the food and weight piece taunts me! I am exhausted by the constant effort it takes to suppress the eating disorder’s voices. I am not discounting the emotional or trauma pieces that have contributed to my illness, but what if this biological piece is the final solution to my anorexia puzzle?

Dr. Hill’s Ted Talk enlightens me as to why I was able to recover before by my brain being re-wired, of sorts, due to pregnancy hence; was able to live in a fairly stable recovery for over 20 years. I have a greater understanding of why I relapsed so easily at 47 years old. Great hope rises in me that I can and will re-establish my recovery despite losing some valuable ground in this battle for recovery. Knowledge + Faith = my sling and my stone.

She speaks of neuro pathways and the plasticity of the brain. She appears to confirm what scripture tells us. Romans 12:2 “…But let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” (NLT) How miraculous it is when science points directly back to the Father! Being very analytical I search for proof behind the scriptures and love when I find it, or in this case finds me.

As we enter Holy Week, I am reminded that He is faithful, He is just, and it wasn’t “fair” that Jesus had to die a horrific death on the cross for me, but he did. Happy Easter!

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