I spent most of my adolescence desperate to be seen, but terrified of rejection. This caused me to never truly embrace how God made me. I instead looked to the world for what would make me valuable and worthy.
Lost and confused, I turned to diets and food to save me. The world around me told me that if I was smaller, I would somehow be more valuable. I might even be beautiful. Desperate for control and affirmation, I threw all of my energy into following food and exercise rules.
I never meant to develop an eating disorder.
It all happened so slowly. I didn’t realize each step I was taking was inching me closer and closer to captivity and further from freedom.
All I wanted was to feel safe. To be seen, accepted and loved. I instead wound up on a lonely hamster wheel of deprivation and shame, frantically striving without actually getting anywhere.
Yet, I am grateful for how God weaves purpose out of our pain.
More than a decade has passed since I found freedom from my eating disorder. I now have the privilege of guiding others back into light and out of the darkness of disordered eating through my work at Rock Recovery. In many of my encounters with our clients, I see an all too familiar pattern.
So many people are longing to be seen, yet their eating disorders keep their true selves hidden.
It is scary to be vulnerable.
I recently encountered a lovely woman who recounted a bit of her painful past at a church support group I was running. She tearfully shared how she only feels seen when she is sick; when her emaciated body seems to tell her story and show her pain to the world in a way her words cannot.
I was struck by her honesty and insight, and saddened that her beautiful desire to be known and loved had become twisted by a life filled with too much pain. The irony is that she feels the most seen when her body is the most unwell, which in turn makes her heart and spirit sick too. When her eating disorder gets louder, her true self gets quieter. This means people around her see a false self that is defined by pain, not her true self defined by God’s purpose.
God does not want us to wrap up our identity in our pain.
He wants to heal us so we can be seen for our true purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe God desires for us to be seen and loved amidst our pain. Countless stories of Jesus meeting people smack in the middle of their need and desperation that we read in the gospels show us this truth.
But God does not want our pain to define us or get the final say. He wants to turn our pain into our purpose, our mess into our message. When we surrender fully to God, something beautiful happens that we cannot predict or control. God brings beauty from the ashes.
As a culture, we are obsessed with before and afters. We love results.
Few things speak as loudly as stories of restoration and redemption.
Think of the satisfaction you get when you see Chip and Joanna breathe life into a dark or dull home. It’s like the dry bones have sprung back to life.
Nothing compares with the songs God gives us to sing after pulling us from the slimy pits we have fallen into along the way.
When I think of my own recovery, I am encouraged by Psalm 40. This is where Rock Recovery gets its name, and it speaks beautifully of the redemption God brings when he saves us from the depth of despair.
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
and put their trust in him.
God has given me a song to sing. He has one for you, too.
Christie Dondero Bettwy is the Executive Director of a small, DC nonprofit called Rock Recovery (Rock). Rock strives to eradicate mental health stigma and spread awareness around eating disorders and provides affordable and transformational resources to those struggling and their support networks. Since 2009, the organization has served more than 150 adults through affordable clinical outpatient recovery programs and educated 16,000 community members to seek help for themselves or their loved ones. Having gone through recovery herself, Christie understands the depth of support needed to recover and is passionate about spreading the message that complete freedom from an eating disorder is possible, and she loves sharing her journey with the community.
If you are ready to break free from your pain and struggle with disordered eating this holiday season, Rock wants to help.
You can start your journey to freedom in Rock’s six-week virtual holiday support group, Lasting Freedom (starting November 11th). For detail and registration information visit https://rockrecoveryed.org/lasting-freedom-holiday-recovery/.