If you have never met Emily, hold on tight, for you will never be the same.
Emily Wierenga is a wife, mother of four boys (two of whom are hers), artist, and author of 'Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder' (Ampelon, 2012) available here. For more information, please visit www.emilywierenga.com.
The Weight of Fear - Confessions of an Anorexic
The nurses murmured to each other under fluorescent lighting as I lay shivering on the metal hospital bed, cold. Later I would find out they couldn’t understand how I was still alive. I’d learn of them marveling at my hypothermic, sixty-pound sack of bones, reasoning, ‘She should be dead.’ I was a breach of science; a modern-day miracle.
Yet in that profound moment, all I could think was: “Why can’t I lose any more weight?”
After four years of slow and steady starvation, I had finally quit eating altogether. No longer was I striving to be thin; I knew I was thin. Rather, I was trying to stay thin. Afraid of losing control and gaining weight, I ate less and less every day. And every time I saw the lowered digits flashing red on the weigh-scale, a warm hand rubbed away the fear in my chest letting me ‘go’ for a little bit longer. The cycle was sick.
Laying there that autumn day in 1993, purple under the green sheet, I knew I’d done all I could. For some reason my body was refusing to let me shed anymore invisible pounds. And in some strange, sad way I felt relieved. I was tired of fighting my family, friends, and my heavenly father. I was exhausted from fighting fear.
In those quiet minutes I gave in to the love which had spared my life, and decided to become ‘normal’.
For most, food is a desirable necessity. For me, it served as a temptation. From the age of nine, fear was my master, ordering me not to slip up on the scales of life.
I say nine because that’s the age when I entered public school, after being taught at home with my brother and sisters. It was then that I met my enviably thin peers, and I began to force myself into a mold several sizes smaller than my competition. The more weight I lost, the better I felt: It was a severe addiction.
Baptized at eight into my Dad’s church, I believed in the existence of God, and knew I was created to have a personal relationship with Him. Yet He wasn’t real to me. It was all ‘head knowledge’. And, as I began to dabble in the anorexic occult, my faith became nothing more than a precarious piece in the puzzle that was my life. It was just another element to be controlled.
Everything had to be tiny and orderly: I scheduled what I wore, journalled every step of my day and prayed for everyone I’d ever met for fear they wouldn’t be saved. I had, in short, deemed myself their Savior.
My teachers’ eyes hurt trying to read my handwriting which was microscopically small. My siblings’ ears hurt from the wars which waged between my father and I, and my mother’s heart shriveled up as I refused to hug either of my parents for two years.
Meanwhile, I continued to pray -- a listless length of names recited nightly out of soul-less duty. And for all I knew, my prayers were merely bouncing off the ceiling back into my bedroom where my stomach growled endlessly.
I had completely missed the ever-revealing point: Faith is nothing if not expressed through love. As Galatians puts it, the law is summed up in this: Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I hated myself. I was my own worst enemy, a dictator ruling with a fear-shaped scepter.
When I realized God had, in His grace, saved me from death, I got it. Faith touched my heart, and love transformed my life. Fear was no longer my defining feature. I figured the least I could do was serve the One who’d saved me twice: Once on the cross, and once in the fall of 1993.
For the next decade my disease lay dormant. I re-trained myself to eat, watching people who I deemed ‘beautiful’ as they dished up at potlucks or family functions, mimicking their actions like a mindless shadow. I was a copy-cat infant when it came to knowing how to eat.
Similarly I nursed at the breast of God, who reminded me daily of my identity in Christ.
Those were happy years, filled with mission trips, boys and a restored relationship with my family.
Then, like a clap of thunder on a sunny day, “it” reappeared, rearing its ugly head, awakened by a comment.
“You’ve gained a bit of weight.” It was that one remark from an unaware observer which regurgitated four more years of the same battle. Only this time, I was married, and my husband wasn’t able (or willing) to sit back and watch as I destroyed our lives in an attempt to fit the ‘perfect’ mold. And this time, I knew what I was doing. I’d been through the routine before, and realized what I was risking: A wonderful, godly husband who loved me more than life itself; the hope of having children; a ministry to teenage girls who looked up to me, and most importantly, a maturing and fruitful relationship with my heavenly father.
How much worse is it for the person who embraces Christ and then later rejects Him, Scripture says. Perhaps it would have been better for him/her to have never claimed to know God.
The heart of the problem lay here: When recovering from my initial bout of Anorexia, I had failed to train myself in nutrition, to educate myself, finding a healthy lifestyle which suited my body type. Instead I’d settled for mimicking those around me -- which, ironically, was what got me into trouble in the first place. Thus, with the slightest tremor, the flimsy scaffolding I’d tacked together crumbled.
There came a point in the spring of 2006 -- a very dark and deathly point -- which defined my destiny. It happened on the streets of Alberta where, during an ear-splitting fight with my husband over food, I nearly drove our car into oncoming traffic -- on purpose. Our lives were marked by hurt feelings and power struggles. Food was the issue gluing our tension together. Both involved in ministry all day long, we saved up our tiredness and worries to dump on each other at night. I was exercising every morning, skipping breakfast and lunch and drinking six cups of coffee a day. I became an insomniac, unable to sleep for a year and a half.
It was on that breezy Spring day in the middle of the Albertan highway that my husband gave me a choice: It was him or food. He couldn’t do it any longer.
And would you believe that it took more than a minute for me to choose him? But choose him I did, rejecting, once again, the fear which was swallowing up my life.
We ended up dropping everything and leaving for Korea where we taught English. Surrounded by everything foreign except the comfort of each other, we re-mastered marriage. I studied nutrition, and developed a balanced menu for myself. I learned how to eat organically, in a way that hurt neither myself nor the earth. My husband was my rock, the one who helped me on days when anxiety began to re-emerge. The grace of God was our mortar, sticking everything back together.
Once again, love transformed my life, and faith became more than a mental trip.
Every day I continue to battle. Despite being prayed over, counseled and trained, I still struggle with feeling ‘fat.’ The Bible says that if we resist the devil, he will flee. I believe this -- but I wonder, How long will it take?
Every morning, it’s a matter of waking myself up in my Christ-identity, of silencing the negative whisper which sounds through television ads, magazines and song lyrics, of tuning in to the affirming words of Scripture. While God assures us that we are beautifully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139), He is also quick to remind us that true beauty comes from within: the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit. (1 Peter 3:4)
If you or someone you know is struggling with “a weighty fear” -- afraid of not being perfect, of losing control or becoming fat -- consider this: Shouldn’t we be more afraid of missing out on life as He intended it to be? As often as we mess up, He forgives, but “Don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom” (Galatians 5:14). No one knows the hour in which God will bring us home.
What does God desire? “Faith expressed in love” (5:6). When we have love, we have no need to fear. Christ loved humanity before time began -- before the first calories were counted or mirrors reflected our vanity.
So rather than striving for the perfect size, hunger for perfect love. Then, life will no longer be viewed from behind a thin veil. You will see yourself for who you truly are: A beautiful child of God.
I have never struggled with anorexia, but coming from the opposite side of disordered eating I'm embarassed to admit I often wished that I had. How often we suffer the sharp pointed arrows from the enemy - whispering, singing, shouting that we are never good enough.
If you need to read this book (and I believe everyone does) or if you know someone else who would benefit, Emily and the publisher are graciously sponsoring a giveway. All I ask is that you say a prayer for those who walk through the pain of disordered eating and then leave a comment telling me you have done so. Leave a trail so I can contact you. A winner will be selected at random.