A post on Facebook from the Public Health Education department (a department that shared offices in the county building where I once worked for a couple of different county departments) put up a link to an article this morning reminding me that it is “Eating Disorders Awareness Week.”
Thus sayeth Val: Be Aware.
Seriously. Be aware.
I don’t know if there is a “ribbon” for Eating Disorders. Maybe there should be, maybe not. I know cancer survivors who cling fiercely to their respective ribbons. I suppose it is their right. Personally though, I’ve always paused to wonder what clinging to a ribbon really means. Maybe I’m just dense on this one, but wouldn’t being able to wake up in the morning and know the day and live life be reminder enough that one is a survivor? And what does being “a survivor” really mean anyway? Are you promoting your own strength or thanking God for his grace and mercy? By no means would I dare discount anyone, but…the more I think about it, the more I agree with the idea that the two components of a human life are “dust” (the earthly, mortal, part) and “soul.” Our dust has little strength of its own against the creative forces of life and death. Seriously. I’m a survivor too…but I take no credit for it. Soli Deo Gloria — to God alone be the glory.
Cancer ravages the body before it steals your life. Eating disorders steal your mind and your soul before they ravage what is left of your body. It’s no way to live, and it is an incredibly painful way to die — by torture and assassination of the soul.
All eating disorders work similarly, but anorexia nervosa is the one I’ve seen up-close, a devil I know well — I will thus frame my awareness in terms of and with reference to anorexia nervosa. Anorexia is not about food — it never was about food, it will never be about food. The food issues are merely an outward manifestation of a much deeper problem. As the body wastes for lack of food, it is only following in the footsteps of a soul dying for lack of love on the deepest level.
The soul goes first.
It’s not about food, it’s not about being thin, it’s about self-control being run off-the-rails in the direction of self-destruction. There is an evil element to that which defies description. The most basic truth is that where there is a VAST space left in a person’s life (usually “girl’s life” in the case of anorexia nervosa) , great darkness moves in and takes over.
What anorexia nervosa does to the mind, soul, and body (in that order) is among the closest things in life I’ve ever witnessed that could arguably be classed as “demon possession.” The audio and video feed of every failing and inadequacy you’ve ever experienced in your life (anyone who is not a narcissist has this) never shuts off and eventually takes over. I say we all have this? We do, but honest perspective and love can usually shut it off. Anorexia comes where that love is absent, moves in, and whispers that it will keep you safe from everything in the world that can hurt you — your strength against the weakness of hunger will help build your strength against the pain, emotions, people, and situations that are trying to destroy you. You need it, trust it — don’t be weak and let the hunger, the emotions, the pain win.
It’s all a lie, but it comes in a very pretty culturally-endorsed package — if “thin” is beautiful and “exercise” makes you “healthy,” why not worship on that altar? The air-brushed and drug-soaked fashion and celebrity universe seems to support it, why not?
Because it is a lie.
I once heard a speaker remark that a person with anorexia is the kind of person who, if she resolved to drink eight glasses of water a day, will stay up until midnight to drink eight glasses of water in the last ten minutes of the day if she forgot just because she resolved to do it. Not everyone suffering from anorexia nervosa is a Type-A personality, but if there is a Type-A personality suffering from an eating disorder, I won’t even bat an eye to leave any wiggle room for possible speculation: 100% of those individuals are battling anorexia, it’s the only one that appeals to a tidy, methodical, meticulous nature.
And that’s the cruellest part — the type of person who gravitates toward anorexia nervosa is typically an extremely intelligent, capable young woman with a lot of talent, potential, and often leadership ability. Were their heads on straight for self-perception and self-care, these are women who could justly and capably rule the world. Anorexia nervosa snuffs out the best and the brightest by design.
I don’t know if there is a patron saint for those suffering from eating disorders. Mary Magdalene, however, comes to mind as a potentially just and beautiful choice. She was healed by Christ from seven demons. It doesn’t say much more than that about the nature of the situation, but here was a woman who we got to quietly follow through various little snippet accounts in the Bible as a person who did not forget what Christ’s compassion, love, and healing did for her and meant to her life. She followed Christ’s body to the grave. She was given the beautiful gift of being the first person to know of Christ’s resurrection.
Stop. Just stop. Stop and think about that for a minute. This was no random thing, there are no coincidences. This was not her good luck — one lesson to learn in the Bible is that God doesn’t work in terms of “luck.” Just stop and consider that of all the people Christ loved who loved Christ, he picked Mary Magdalene to be the first one to encounter his resurrected self. That’s huge. Not Peter, not John, not his mother…Mary Magdalene. If you want an argument for “least” being “greatest,” there’s one. Now, there is a lot of weird mythology around Mary Magdalene (I believe none of it, and neither should you). The three explicit references were that she was healed from seven demons, she was present at the crucifixion and followed the body to the grave, and she was the first person to learn of the resurrection. That is what we know. What we also know is that this is a woman who understood — and never forgot — how much Christ’s compssion and healing had restored her to life. She loved Jesus of Nazareth and became his disciple. She was favored with the honor to be the first to experience the wonder and joy of the resurrection. That’s huge. This is a woman who got up every day with the knowledge that Christ was the one who gave her both life and hope.
I can’t think of a better person to flesh out the hope of a life healed from something like anorexia nervosa.
But while we’re on the topics of saints, I need to make one thing absolutely clear: anorexia mirabilis is made-up and garbage. There is no “holy” absence of hunger, but anorexia nervosa can actually phisiologically re-wire a person’s brain to “turn off” hunger. There is a sub-class of ascetic saints who suffered from this “holy” disease with some pretty disturbing behaviors and outcomes. There is no starving yourself to death for the glory of God, it just doesn’t work that way. I have no love for the veneration of these particular saints (Catherine of Siena among them). I cannot venerate the faith of anyone willing to worship at the altar of death.
If you’re reading this and looking for answers, maybe you’ve found them and maybe not.
Maybe you’re the one who is suffering, maybe it’s someone you know…or maybe you’re just one of the wonderful friends God has blessed me with in my life who makes it a joy to get out of bed in the morning.
I have a friend who is one of my confessors and prayer partners, she is custodian of a very large piece of my soul and I love her very much. I was praying for her and for her family as I was waking up this morning. She is a grandmother and has another grandchild on the way. I was praying for this little one a prayer that is the best prayer for all children — that they may live a life where they always know (and never, ever, ever doubt) that they are loved. If I am praying for your children or grandchildren, that’s one of the things I’m praying.
The alternative is — quite literally — a living hell.
If you or someone you know needs help, please…do something. Praying is good, but this kills and destroys in horrendous ways. Please get help.
I’m just a pilgrim, but I’ve battled my own Apollyon, as it were. Survivor? Yes. Recovered? Yes. Perfect? No. Loved? Without question. I am not a therapist, I am not qualified in any professional capacity, just a pilgrim. But I also happen to know that the fishy site is one of the most praise-worthy and amazing places on the web for resources. They have support boards there too, it’s wonderful. The site is well-run and well-moderated. The fishy site is the real deal (though by no means a substitution for help in real life). For more information: