*Also published on The Sola Network
Not too long ago, I was discharged from a partial hospitalization/intensive outpatient eating disorder (ED) treatment program.
It was a very emotional moment, especially given the fact that I’ve processed so much and tackled some of my greatest fears there.
When we are discharged, we are asked to reflect on where we were when we first started treatment, everything we’ve been through, what we’re going to leave behind us, and who we have become now that the part of the ED has been chipped away.
Part I: Where was I before I started treatment?
I was “Very Sick with an Eating Disorder.”
At the time, I had felt like I sounded so dumb. I couldn’t explain why I couldn’t eat. I just could not eat. And the times I did eat, I would feel guilty for eating and get so mad at myself. And then I’d get mad at myself for being mad at myself over something as “simple” as eating, and the cycle would continue.
The fact is that eating disorders are serious mental health disorders that are scary and painful to experience. They have the highest mortality rates out of all the mental health diagnoses.
I was not at a good place. My journal entries were filled with calorie counting, precise notes of my weight as it fluctuated during the day, records of extreme workout plans, calculated doses of laxatives/weight loss pills, and pages upon pages of words just bashing who I was, my self-image, and the flaws I saw in myself. My outpatient therapist was telling me she saw me disappearing — both who as was as a person, and physically, as I was losing a significant amount of weight each week.
I felt despair, powerless, and like hope was something I could never attain. What was the purpose of my life and how could I get better if I felt like what I was doing then, was never enough?
I had no doubt that I was saved. I went to church my whole life and called myself a Christian. I believed in God and that He loved me. I didn’t want to die, but I was so tired of trying to fight what felt like a losing battle. I felt like I was doing something wrong because I couldn’t fix myself and I felt like I was disappointing God. I also felt so mad at myself for “lying” to everyone around me for saying I’ll eat and then not keeping my word. It’s not like I didn’t mean it. I genuinely tried. I just couldn’t keep it up. I was weak.
The week before I was admitted into the partial hospitalization program, there was a period of time where I literally stayed in bed for 3 to 4 days straight without eating or drinking anything. I didn’t speak a single word nor touched my phone. Everything felt dark, heavy, and meaningless. I’d stare into space, and time would pass. I cried out to God and felt like my words were falling on deaf ears. It felt like God didn’t care.
It was at this point where my therapist told me there was nothing more she could do, and that I needed a higher level of care for my ED.The next week, I walked into the treatment center.
Part 2: Why did I go?
I wanted to glorify God to the best of my abilities, and knew that I couldn’t while I was that sick.
I knew that what I was doing was harmful to my health and the body God gave me. I knew that this was no way of showing God my gratitude for the things He provided for me in this life.
I hated that so much of my thoughts were filled with weight-loss plans and food, when I wanted it to be focused on other “normal” things like my faith, school, graduating from college, church, family, friends, work, and planning my future.
Yet none of this was possible because the disorder was so deeply wired into my brain. I couldn’t “just eat”. I didn’t know how to get myself out of this hole nor how to deal with the intense emotions that were associated with eating. My friends and church leaders didn’t really know either.
I had gone to God in prayer with this struggle so many times. It’s not that God wasn’t capable of getting me out or healing me instantly. I knew he could. But I also believe God has a purpose for all of our life experiences. I believe that He heals in different ways.
For me, healing looked like going to treatment. I firmly believe that God can use mental health professionals as His extended hands in which His grace can work, just as He does with doctors.
God is the one who led me towards treatment, as I found the center through a Google search. He’s the one who connected me with a scholarship and the funds I needed to go (because treatment payments are no joke as it is, and I was a broke college student in debt). And once I was admitted, He was the one who connected me with a therapist who genuinely cared about me and helped me through this challenging season.
The mental health care system is still developing and is imperfect in many ways. It’s tricky finding therapists and professionals who are reliable and trustworthy. But they ARE out there, and we have a reliable and trustworthy God who cares about you and wants to heal you.
Part 3: Who am I now?
I’m leaving a lot behind me as I move forward into this next season of my life. Eating disorders are very complex and emotional. I now know that my struggle wasn’t just with simply eating or body image but with a pain that was so much deeper, caused by several traumas and adverse life experiences that were in NO way my fault.
Currently, I no longer struggle to eat like I did before. I don’t know my weight, and I’m okay with that. Recovery isn’t linear— God is still healing me and occasionally I have my moments where the eating disorder thoughts get really loud again because they get triggered when things get emotionally difficult. But the difference is that I now know how to fight and get through them.
The core of who I am inside hasn’t changed. I’ve always been a saved, loved child of God. But what has changed is the life I live as a child of God. Because the eating disorder no longer consumes me, I’m able to use my time and resources to focus on trying my best to glorify God in all that I say and do. Right now for me, that looks like nourishing the body God gave me, connecting with loved ones and community, and sharing my story of how God truly restores and brings beauty from the ashes, so that others can find healing too.
We live in a broken, sinful world, and only God can truly redeem.
One of my therapists told me, “Life is messy, unpredictable, and won’t ever be always painless or easy. It’s just a fact that we need to accept right now. Hoping for a perfect life on this earth right now is useless.”
Which is true. But thankfully, we as Christians do have a perfect life that we can hope for- eternal life with our Lord. As John 16:33 states, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Trials do come in this lifetime, but by the grace of God we can overcome.