An Open Letter to My Friends Struggling with Eating Disorders

An Open Letter to My Friends Struggling with Eating Disorders

Dear friend,

I want to take you back 20 years, to when I am thirteen years old.

I am a pastor’s kid standing in a hospital room with clumps of hair in my hand.

My nails are splintered, and you can see the outline of my braces through my cheeks.

I weigh sixty pounds.

The room smells like Lysol. Nurses say I’m dying.

I was brushing my hair when it started to fall, and I tried to catch all the falling pieces and put them back on my head.

Today I ate for the first time in four years — truly ate, everything on my plate, everything they put before me — because even though I still don’t think I have anorexia, I know this isn’t normal.

To be purple from hypothermia and unable to run or lift objects, and to have your friends cry when they see you. This is not normal.

It will be another twenty years before I can admit to having a mental illness, but today is a start. Because I saw her on the way to the hospital. A woman, jogging, and she was muscular and the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. She seemed fully alive.

And I realized, then, in that moment, that I was hungry for more than food.

I had been starving long before I ever refused my first meal.

I had no idea about anorexia nervosa. We were preacher’s kids raised singing hymns and memorizing Scripture and homeschooled at our parents’ long wooden table. The only TV we watched was a black and white one we found at the dump. We pulled it up from the basement once a week for Sunday night Disney. I wasn’t allowed to take dance classes or look at fashion magazines because Mum, who was a nutritionist, thought they might trigger an eating disorder.

But darkness, like light, leaks in through the cracks.

And if we’re forced to deny our sin from the day we’re born, we’ll never realize we need a Savior. We’ll only ever punish ourselves for not being what we feel we’re supposed to be: perfect.

I had only ever been a good girl, quiet unless spoken to. I took care of my younger siblings. I spent hours on my poems and my pictures, hoping to earn the attention of a father who spent most of his time at the church or in his office.

I was never asked what my favorite color was. I didn’t know my favorite color until I was married, a seemingly small thing until you realize it’s not just that — you also don’t know how you like your eggs done, or your steak, or what your favorite shampoo is because all you knew was that it had to be inexpensive.

It’s the small things that eventually add up to become the big picture of why you don’t love yourself.

And when I was thirteen and standing there in that green hospital gown, Mum telling me in her soft British accent that nurses said I was a miracle because I was still alive — I should have died — it felt like God reaching down and cupping my cheeks and saying, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

It was my heavenly Father reassuring me there was more to life than rules and liturgies. There was joy — and it tasted good.

Friend, have you tasted that joy?

I finally knew, in spite of the pain of my childhood and the clumps of hair in my hand, that God loves me — because he made me. And even more, because he died for me. And suddenly my body was no longer just skin covering muscle covering bone. It was a vessel, and God wanted to pour his love into me so I could pour it into others. We are not just physical beings. We are spiritual, and part of me always knew this, and this is why food was never enough.

But it took relapsing one more time into anorexia as a young married woman to not only acknowledge God’s love for me, but let it fill me. Because joy is not found in a perfect life. Joy is the peace that transcends all understanding as we look into the eyes of our Maker and see that we can trust him, in spite of the pain around us. God is trustworthy.

Leftovers

I used to think the famous miracle in John 6 was all about bread, fish, and five thousand empty stomachs that needed dinner. Yet I always found myself perplexed about why Jesus would allow such waste — why he’d create twelve baskets of leftovers.

But that’s to miss the point. The story is not about bread or fish.

As Jesus later explained to the crowd, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).

Jesus is the Bread. He is the eternal sustenance for the hungry soul. In him our souls no longer go hungry or thirsty. The leftovers in the story are a picture for us, reminding us every time we read it that he is more than enough for you, and more than enough for every need in my life.

To feed on Living Bread is to find Christ sufficient for every hunger pang I feel in my soul, to let his grace and goodness fill all of the empty, aching places inside of me, to nourish and grow me strong in faith and love.

Friend, do you know this Living Bread?

Five Truths

I know, it’s not easy: when the world tells you that you are what you eat, or what you weigh, or that you’re only as good as your calorie count or the number of followers on social media.

The world weighs with numbers; the Lord weighs with grace, and you owe him nothing, friend. Everything and nothing. He has paid it all. He wants you to rest and trust him. He’s got you covered.

Here are five truths I want you to tuck into your heart, today, and carry with you.

1. You have a voice.

I know your eating disorder seems to be in control right now, and you can’t stop thinking about it — yet, the truth is: In one breath, you can surrender your eating disorder. It does not control you. You have a voice, and you can use it to stand up against anorexia in the name of Jesus. But until the issues which are driving this eating disorder are addressed — the longing to be seen and heard and held, the pain of being hurt by people who say they love you — E.D. will remain a deceptively safe place. A wall to hide behind.

Please know, it’s not what it seems. God sees you, he hears you, he is holding you. You are free through the power of Christ to declare victory over your eating disorder, right now.

2. You can be free of anorexia forever.

There is a lie circling the planet which tells us: Once mentally ill, always mentally ill — and I believed it for years. I relapsed because of it, and then one day I realized, no — the Bible declares us to be a new creation in Christ. It says the old has passed away, the new has come. It talks about being transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

We no longer need subscribe to the rules of the world. Yes, we do have to be aware of our triggers and careful of temptations, as does everyone; we cannot be foolish, but we can also trust Isaiah 54:17 which says no weapon formed against us shall prosper. We can be free of our eating disorders — completely free — forever, because of the power of Jesus Christ at work within us.

3. You are more than your eating disorder.

You, friend, are not your eating disorder. I know you cling to it for protection, but your identity is being consumed, versus identified. Your E.D. has become your idol, and it’s only when you see it for what it is — a lie, from the enemy, who wants God’s sons and daughters to die — that you will be free to pursue the dreams God has for you. Eating disorders are a spiritual battle, and I believe Satan attacks young men and women who have been called by Jesus to move mountains with him. I believe you, friend, have been called to do something mighty in your life, and Satan is using this E.D. as a distraction so that you cannot step into the plans God has for you. You are more than your E.D. You are more than a conqueror in Jesus (Romans 8:37). Your identity is now defined and determined forever by your union with Christ.

4. You are not crazy.

I know you feel like you are. All of those voices, warring in your head, and you’re so tired of hearing them, you wish life could be over. Please don’t give up. You’re not going crazy. You’re just hungry — hungry for food, yes, but also hungry to know why you’re alive and what your purpose is. You long for spiritual worth and meaning. Those voices can be muted by one soft whisper — the whisper of a God who will fight for you if you let him. Call out to Jesus, and he will silence Satan’s control over your thoughts. Read Scripture, and remind yourself of the truth of who God says you are, as declared by Zephaniah 3:17 — you are delighted in, sung over, and quieted with his love.

5. The rest of your life is not determined by this moment.

Friend, I know it feels like this is it — like your life will be marred by this period of time spent battling anorexia — but it doesn’t have to be that way. When I was thirteen, doctors said I probably wouldn’t be able to have children due to the damage I’d done my body. When I turned 27, I was prayed over by a pastor that I would be able to conceive a son within the year, and I did. I now have two little boys and am pregnant with my third.

When you serve the Almighty Creator, nothing is impossible — he can give you the desires of your heart. But you need to surrender — you need to invite him in, to begin the healing, so that every single one of these days can be restored.

The Ache

This world is not our home, friends. It’s the ache that pulses within you — the cry of the Spirit of the Son for his Abba Father.

We’re homeless beggars, leading each other to the Living Bread, and I’m walking there, with you. Can you feel me, holding your hand?

We’re almost there. Step by shaky step.

Your friend and sister — a former Anorexic, who now defines herself as a Victor in Christ,

Emily

Emily T. Wierenga is an award-winning journalist, blogger, commissioned artist and columnist, as well as the author of five books including the newly-released memoir, Atlas Girl: Finding Home in the Last Place I Thought to Look (Baker Books). All proceeds from Atlas Girl benefit her non-profit, The Lulu Tree. She lives in Alberta, Canada with her husband and two sons. For more info, please visit emilywierenga.com. Find her on Twitter or Facebook.