I am 24 and have been struggling with anorexia and bulimia for 12 years. I am finally graduating from college in a month. It has been a long struggle to get here. I have been in six different Psych wards and one eating disorder program for a short time before insurance ran out and I left before I was done. I went to a Christian treatment center in Washington and did not feel it was the place for me to be. I felt like I completely lost all sense of who I was when I was there. I was not allowed to talk without someone around, among many other things that completely made me scared to do anything “wrong” in fear of punishment. I know that those people there that tried to help me meant well, but it just felt horribly wrong. They were constantly talking about others in the community who did not believe in what they believed. I was not allowed to get letters from my family and friends. When I came back to my parents’ house I found all these letters from friends. I was supposed to be on my break, but the director said that if I came back, I had to promise to not go back to my family and stay in Washington working for the ministry. I ended up deciding not to go back. For the first time I was starting to learn who Jesus really was and I was in no means judging them. I just thought that they were not loving other people the way Jesus would. Now I need treatment again. My weight has been up and down all the time. I was running track, but was told by my doctor to stop because I kept getting injuries and they were not healing. The doctor then started asking how I was eating and I had to be honest. I had to quit the team. It has been so hard. I went for an assessment at a treatment center near my home. The team thinks the best treatment would be in-patient, but I have no insurance. I even struggled just to get the blood work done that I needed. I was going to try to do an IOP program, but they do not know if I will be able to. I am struggling more with bulimia now. It is so bad that I wake up in the middle of the night and binge and purge for hours. I do not sleep much at all. I am afraid. How can I stop doing this? Why can I not stop doing this? Is God punishing me? The people in Washington said He would if I did not come back. I have been in some very abusive relationships since then and wonder if it is because I did something wrong. I know logically that I am not overweight. I think I might have to gain some. But I do see that I am overweight honestly when I look at myself. I went to that treatment center hoping that they could help me. I was ready to completely put my life on hold for however long to get this under control. But without money, how can I get better? I know this may all seem like a lot, but I just am looking for anything right now that I can do to get past this. This life I am in right now is a living hell. I want to be free, from it but honestly do not feel I have the strength to do it on my own. – Just Want to Be Free
Dear “Just Want to Be Free,”
Thank you for writing and asking for help. As I read your letter, my heart broke for your pain and the long battle you have had with an eating disorder. But I also felt a great deal of “righteous anger” for the experience you had while in a Christian setting.
Obviously there are two sides to every story and I don’t want to attack a group of people whom I’ve never met. But the Christian environment as you describe it seems to have little in common with the Gospel and life of Jesus Christ.
I don’t fully know your situation (finances, insurance, family, etc.), but I would encourage you not to give up. You can’t give up without it costing your life and health. Many other women have been in your shoes; a history of treatment centers, out of insurance, and short on money, but have found healing and a sense of hope. Keep knocking on doors, making phone calls and seeking treatment. Specifically, you need to be in a program that specializes in eating disorders and not just another psych ward. It may cost you all you have, but it could save you everything.
Additionally, your struggle with maintaining recovery, though influenced by your environment and treatment team, essentially comes down to you. You need to take a long and hard look at why you have not been able to cross over the threshold of recovery. Eating Disorders have a powerful pull on your life, honesty and willingness. At this point your many experiences with therapy and treatment centers have likely become an integral part of your story and struggle with recovery. When you enter treatment again you need to begin by doing a timeline of your treatment history and identifying the obstacles that have hindered you in the past. If you do it with honesty it will be very uncomfortable and risky, but may lead to a renewed commitment and humility on your part (two essential aspects of recovery).
In my experience treating eating disorders, the longer you practice an anorexic or bulimic way of life, the more it seems to become an essential part of your personality. You lose your sense of self and become more and more your disorder. Like Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies, your every thought and action are bent toward the thing you find most precious. It becomes your very identity.
There is only one hope for your freedom and that is discovering where your true identity lies. On this point I applaud your efforts because I believe it is only in Christ that we discover who we really are. To continue that effort, I want to make a couple of recommendations to you. Pick up the book Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning. Also, go to this website and listen to the sermon by John Lynch on Romans 8:1. If you like it, there’s a whole series you can listen to.
Combining competent treatment with a biblical understanding of identity will start you on a path of hope and healing.
Unfortunately, the taste of Christianity you described is far from the Good News proclaimed in the Gospel. Christianity is not some Hallmark sentiment that God loves you and you can do whatever you want. At the same time, it would not be good news if we learned that God is out to punish us until we get our acts together. He is not punishing you.
The incredible news of Jesus Christ is that no matter what spot we are in, no matter what we have done or are doing, we are more loved than we can imagine. God knows who you are, inside and out, warts and all. He sees your self-protective behaviors for what they are and He still loves you immensely.
So, to imagine that the suffering in your life is punishment is to place on God motivations that are anything but Godly. If anything, your sufferings will be redeemed by God to lead you on a path to discovering His great delight in you and to a place of freedom.
Keep seeking treatment and, above all else, keep seeking Him. He is seeking you.
Travis Stewart, LPC