Many times I won’t always focus on my bipolar per se, but rather the damages it’s caused or the problems from others once they find out about it. In 2008 I developed and eating disorder, anorexia.
The National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDA Awareness), Feb 20-26 by the National Eating Disorders Association has a mission statement.
Their mission: “Our aim of NEDA Awareness Week is to ultimately prevent eating disorders and body image issues while reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders and improving access to treatment. Eating disorders are serious, life-threatening illnesses — not choices — and it’s important to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the disorder.”
Did you know as many as one million men in the US struggle with an eating disorder? My masculinity is not measured or achieved by not telling my story of pain and struggles. More and more males are developing eating disorders these days. My fatherhood is not compromised by moments of weakness.
Easier said than done. There were countless time I struggled my self-image as a husband, a father, as a man in general. But the eating disorder wasn’t something I could just put down.
Eating disorders take on a life of their own. A personality if you will. No matter what form; anorexia, bulimia, over-eating, or whatever, it becomes your new best friend and your new worst enemy. “Ana” is there to keep you isolated. “Mia” is always there to remind you who is in charge. Eating disorders are the epitomes of the “love-hate relationships.” Our very life sustaining substance becomes the death of you. Foods become a set of numbers. You become controlled in your quest for control.
I remember the day it happened. The day it clicked in my head. Finally, something I had control over. While in the midst of my chaotic world back in 2008 during the full force of false child abuse allegations, DHS Child Protective Services investigations, two child custody disputes, dealing with my ex-wife, the public attacks of my current wife’s ex-husband and his wife, the stress from work and graduate school and all of their tolls taken on my relationships, especially my marriage, I was past the point of feeling controlled. I was controlled. If there was ever an example for the stigma of divorced fathers and step-fathers I was him. I had already been labeled every divorced dad, step-dad, mentally ill, and disabled stigma you could think of. It was as if part of my life was taken each time I was denied my own children. I could physically feel my heart ache each time I was told my children would be kept from me.
I felt like a puppet, a marionette, a puppet on strings. That was me. I was constantly being manipulated by many puppeteers. My life had to be open for the world to see. Scrutinized and judged. I was controlled by the courts. I was controlled by my ex-wife. I was controlled by DHS. My own marriage almost crumbled. I was at the mercy of my own ever changing emotions and moods from my bipolar. I was controlled by my own drinking. At that point in 2008 I had already been drinking for at least 3 years on a almost daily basis. I had attempted quitting on more than one occasion; unsuccessfully.
I hadn’t drunk anything in a month. I wanted to lose a few pounds that I had gained from the drinking. Not much. So I watched what I ate. That was it; nothing more. I weighed myself frequently, but again no success. “Crap! Why can’t something just go the way I want it to?” By then I never did care about being in control. I was just sick of being controlled. One day I weighed. I had been reading the scale wrong….two weeks…13 pounds! “I did that?” “I did that!” “See what I can do!”
It was mine. It was something I could control. No one could take it over or take it away. And better yet, it affected my body, the very core of what no one could touch. The distance I felt between my children and I was unbearable. They caused that. The silence from the loneliness was so loud it was shattering. They caused that. The tension in the home I was trying to build was so tight you had to fight for your voice to be heard. I didn’t get help with that. The boundaries and limits placed upon me as a dad were more restricting than my soon to be eating habits. At that moment the thought that I would one day contemplate entering an eating disorder treatment facility never crossed my mind.
All eating disorders speak the same language using their bodies to tell of the hurts and needs rather than one’s voice. They are a disease of silence, silently screaming for something: healing, love, help, escape or forgiveness. For some, like a foreign language they don’t know how to translate the messages of the sufferers. For others they simply brush away those that are suffering for any number of reasons; “You’re trying to get attention.” You just want to be popular.” “You just want to look good for sports.” Maybe they themselves lack the strength. In any case, the sufferer is left out in the cold. Many would fare better to drown their troubles in a bottle or succumb to a drug addiction. Society, even loved ones, claim it’s more acceptable to be a drunk or a crankhead, or stoner, or pothead, or crackhead than it is to have an eating disorder. Contrary to popular belief the majority of eating disorders are not birthed and maintained out of wanting to look pretty or fit in. The outward physical appearance is only the ends to a mean. It is a “finished” product; the result of a job well done. But truthfully, it’s the mask of inner turmoil.
After that initial “ah ha” moment on the scale I likened my anorexia to a stalker. She, “Ana,” was always there. What I had set out to control now had me in her strongest grips. Fueled by feeling like I was being controlled by so many external forces my eating disorder grew strong rather quickly. I read in my journal in October of 2008 how I had restricted myself to no more than 300 calories a day while burning more than 3,000. I had rules; rituals. They were mandated and to be followed. What little I ate I purged sometimes. What I didn’t followed with guilt and anxiety and promises of less food and extra workouts the next day. Every calorie was counted and planned for the day. Food was not eaten for its enjoyment. It was eaten for its caloric count. Foods are known of two groups: forbidden and allowed. Obviously I lost weight. It was never enough. My face sunken, thin arms and legs, hair began falling out, and I was constantly cold.
Eating disorders are give and take relationships. It takes everything you don’t want to give. And it gives everything you don’t want to take. It takes your strengths, your joys, self-esteem, freedom, and so much more. It takes all those things you thought was already taken. Like the Tinman you realize you had what you thought you lacked. In return it gives you family struggles, perfectionism, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and unrealistic standards. You are in a “give and take” relationship with “Ana” with which you have no say.
It was up until three years later I struggled with my anorexia by myself. While I sought God’s help for both the drinking and eating disorder as of that night, by His sovereignty He chose to deal with them differently through Celebrate Recovery. After a night in jail I no longer have had the desire to drink. But the recovery for my eating disorder has been a healing process. A struggle physically, emotionally, psychologically, and even spiritually. The body physically forgets how to eat.
Fighting my anorexia consumed me. It was almost all I thought about. I thought of it more than I did the drinking. Alcohol is not goal oriented. Eating disorders are. And if they are then you would assume it carries two opposing components: success and failure. But ironically when it comes to an eating disorder there is never success. Thin is never thin enough. Low weight is never low enough. High reps are never high enough. And so on. Not only did my anorexia take all my energy physically, it did emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I never had anything left to give. All my strength had already been wasted. All of my attention had already been devoted.
Isaiah 58:9 says, “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer you; you will cry for help, and He will say: Here am I.”
There were many times when I questioned why I still struggled with my anorexia after that night. I thought, “Why not take it away like You took the drinking away?” It was then that I would have to remember and repeat my initial prayer when I cried out to God in that jail cell, only to hear His answer, “Sometimes we are our own worst enemy.” Then one day it dawned on me of why God would handle each situation differently. I used them for different reasons. My goal for my eating disorder was for control. I wanted some form of control in my life. And I wanted that control to be what I wanted it to be. But God couldn’t just remove the anorexic habits without me learning that He is in control.
One of my biggest problems with myself is forgiving myself. It is much easier for me to forgive others than it is for me to let go of a mistake or bad decision I have made. God had to get it through my head that His work in my life was not going to be dependent on what I can or cannot earn, but in what He gives.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
How else do we break out of that habit of trying to earn control and make it happen? The ultimate contradiction of self-sufficiency, that is control, is abundant grace from a God who is in sovereign control.
While healing can sometimes come instantaneously, eating disorder recovery is often if not always a long and complicated process. Oh my gosh!, it is a long and complicated process. Eating disorders are not disorders characterized by patience. Fortunately, God is patient with those struggling. As with any recovery, relapse is inevitable, but so is God’s patience. It’s frustrating. It’s been over two years since I cried out to God and gave it all up. I’ve come a very long way. While the kindling that fueled my eating disorder may all but be burnt up, the ash and smoke damage are left behind, the physical effects.
The experience of healing begins with allowing God to have a greater role in recovery. While I no longer seek some forms of control nor do I feel controlled by so many, or any, puppeteers, still I find my thoughts drifting to old thinking every now and then. Once you see food as caloric numbers it’s almost impossible to do otherwise. I no longer pick up a beer bottle and struggle with it. It does not give me life. More importantly I do not encounter it at least three times a day. But food, I need it to live. I need it numerous times a day. Shutting off how I see a piece of food and what it will do to my body is just not that easy. For a while it was my enemy and recovering means to look at it in a new light. In a different way. It was with God’s help, that I no longer see my ex-wife as my enemy, then by His grace I can see food as it truly is. (I will blog on the healing process and forgiveness towards my most vicious enemy at a later date)
Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”
God’s love is one of the few things in life we can count on, rest in and receive every minute of the day no matter what we’ve done or said and no matter what has happened to us or around us. If there is one essential truth I have learned, that’s you don’t have to FEEL loved in order to BE loved. On February 18, 2010 in the county jail I cried out to God, not because I was there, but because of why I was there…my drinking and anorexia. That day I began recovering from my anorexia.
I wear a tattoo on my left forearm that I designed. It represents my struggle with my eating disorder. It’s the partially colored National Eating Disorder Association symbol intertwined with the red beaded pro-ana bracelet. It symbolizes the struggle for control.