It’s my pleasure to introduce to you our newest contributor, Alicia Hunter from Turquoise Grace. Today Alicia shares her story of battling bulimia and how God’s grace has worked in her life to bring her to a new place of health. I hope you’ll read it and encourage Alicia for sharing her story so candidly!
I’ve never really talked about it.
While it’s not the best ice-breaking conversation starter, and tends to be rather personal, it’s not that I’m embarrassed. I’ve just never had a desire to, really. Or maybe I never had the right words.
Once I moved long past it, I buried it deep, choking any thought of it seeing the light of day.
In time, in what I can only attribute to the Lord working in my heart, I began to feel this slight, gentle, persistent nudge.
To get to know me is to know my story – ugly details and all.
So, hi. I’m Alicia. It’s time to share my battle with bulimia.
I was 5 years old when I first thought I was fat.
I remember it clearly. Maybe I simply grew faster than my friends, but I always felt enormous compared to them. I remember twirling with my friend in my pretty blue dress when I suddenly realized how much smaller she was. In my 5 year old mind, I thought that something must be wrong with me.
I was 10 years old when I first began skipping meals.
We went to daycare, and while I told my parents I was eating breakfast at daycare, I told daycare I was eating breakfast at home. That opened the door to the concept of skipping meals, which I did regularly from that point forward.
I was 15 years old when I first made myself throw up.
I read a magazine article about a girl who battled bulimia. She shared her story – why and how she got started, and how she eventually recovered. And I had a light bulb moment. What the magazine intended for discouragement, I used as my own personal bulimia how-to.
I hated my body as a teenager, and spent my days desperately wishing for the “fat” to melt away. No matter how skinny I was, it was never skinny enough. The promised satisfaction of zero ingested calories and 5-mile runs never came. My stomach always needed toning, and my love handles needed to disappear. My face was fat – oh, how my face was always fat! I was convinced I had chubby chipmunk cheeks.
I began throwing up once a week, then twice a week, then once a day. At my lowest point I was throwing up at least four times a day, sometimes more.
I toggled back and forth between eating and throwing up everything I ate, to starving myself for days, binge eating when I could no longer handle it, and throwing up everything I ate. I punished myself for not being perfect. I punished myself for feeling ashamed over what I was doing to my body. I punished myself because I felt guilty for being blessed with a normal life when so many of my friends were not.
But what began as a way for me to control my body, myself, and my circumstances soon became the very thing that controlled me.
This addiction was deeply rooted in my mind. The darkness exponentially spiraled out of control. I became obsessive and depressed. Anxiety regarding food, throwing up, and social situations consumed my life. All I could think about was how I could avoid eating. If I had no choice but to eat, I would be in an absolute panic until I could figure out where I would be able to purge. It took over my life, isolating me from my family and friends.
I couldn’t stop and was absolutely terrified at the thought of stopping. Throwing up was a release for me. As far as my body image, I was terrified I would get fat if I quit. So I didn’t. And the longer I was stuck in this cycle, the firmer its grip on my life.
I know if you’ve never dealt with anything like this, you have an intense desire to shout, “Snap out of it!” I get that, because in hindsight, it’s all so clear to me. But believe me when I say anyone who’s dealing with an eating disorder is not thinking about anything else. It’s consuming their every thought. It’s a very dark, scary, lonely place to be. Until they are ready to hear it, nothing anyone can say will help them see reason.
When I was 17, I told my mom that I was dealing with bulimia and couldn’t stop. I knew that what I was doing was wrong. After all, I was raised in a Christian family. As a Christian, I knew my body was supposed to be a temple, and I was not treating it as such. I knew I was harming myself, but I also knew I couldn’t stop on my own. By confessing to my mom, a subconscious part of me was asking for help.
My parents were worried. Mom promptly took me to a doctor and sent me to see a therapist. We were blessed with a Christian therapist who saved me. I wasn’t able to stop right away, but I had reached a place where I wanted to get better, and I was willing to seek help.
This is the part that is so hard for parents, because it is the phase of Simply Waiting. It’s frustrating, it’s challenging, it’s perplexing, but it’s effective. Any pressure on me to “just get better” would have sent me reeling in the opposite direction.
My turning point was my first pregnancy. I believe God uses people and circumstances in life to nudge your heart, and while carrying my son, He nudge it in a big way. The blessing of carrying a child transformed my perspective. I now had a greater purpose. I was going to be a tiny person’s mom! I had someone to take care of besides myself, someone who needed me to be healthy. It wasn’t just about me anymore.
I finally allowed God to work in my heart. I finally heard Him through my graceless, negative, harmful inner chatter. And while it didn’t happen overnight, I began making small baby steps toward getting healthy.
Looking back, it was not low self-esteem that drove me to this eating disorder. In fact it was quite the opposite. I believe my selfishness – my sinfulness – revealed itself in the form of an eating disorder. I placed my desire for perfection above everything else. During that time, I certainly wasn’t focusing on anyone but myself. And I certainly didn’t have my eyes on Jesus. God used something big – my precious child – to open my eyes to this sin, and to remove the focus off myself and on to Him.
As many are who have body image and eating disorder issues, I am a competitive perfectionist to the core. I wanted nothing more than to achieve the perfect body, eat the perfect diet, and be in the best possible shape…until I realized that this is not possible! There is no such thing as the perfect body. Even if I were able to achieve this so-called “perfect body” (by who’s standards, anyway?), I know from years of yo-yoing that if I continued in this way of thinking, I would always find something I didn’t like about myself. It is impossible to have the perfect anything.
I had to change my perspective. I had to free myself from the shackles of perfectionism. I had to surrender my need to control. I had to lay it all at God’s feet.
But I have one last confession. While it’s been years since I’ve had an “official” eating disorder, I still struggle with food and my body. At different times, and for different reasons, but I still struggle. I know better than to push it with the latest fad diets, cleanses, clean-eating challenges, or even exercising. These are my triggers, and could potentially transport me right back to this tendency of controlling perfection through my body.
See, it’s a delicate balance. It’s a blessed grace. It’s a daily decision of choosing where I will place my hope.
Some days, if my priorities are out of whack, that hope is placed in my food choices or in perfecting my body. Some days, it might be placed in my children. And some days, in my husband.
But the truth is: all of these things WILL fail me. They WILL let me down. They will never bring me the perfect peace that I am craving. There is only One who can do that, and that is Jesus.
Honestly, if it were up to me, I would have kept my eating issues – my story – trapped inside. After all, it’s not easy to write. It’s probably not easy to read. It forces me to a place of uncomfortable vulnerability. My struggle is ugly, it’s messy, it’s humbling. It’s anything but perfect.
But I have felt this slight, gentle nudge to write what’s on my heart. So today, that is what I’ll do. I’ll bare my heart – messy imperfections and all – with the hope that it might encourage one person. That it might give one person hope.
Maybe that’s a teenager challenged by her own overwhelming eating issues. Maybe it’s a mom struggling with her body after pregnancy. Maybe it’s a parent who’s feeling helpless in the phase of Simply Waiting.
Whatever your story, whatever your reason for reading…Hi. It’s nice to meet you. This is my eating disorder story. This is me.
And this is why I share.
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
Alicia is a Jesus follower, wife, and boymom of three busy little guys. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys lots of rain, lots of coffee, and a little reading. She writes about all things faith, contentment, and motherhood over at Turquoise Grace, where she offers up a little dose of grace for the mommed-out heart.