Breathing Room

Lord, I need breathing room.

That has been my prayer the last couple weeks. When my therapist breathed those words out and I breathed them in– breathing room– a weight I didn’t even know I carried, lifted.

Breathing room. Space. Leeway. Margin. However you say it, I need it.

I’ve never had breathing room. I’ve lived the last 8 (at least) years in a confined space, a box, a little square drawn in the sand. I’ve lived stuck. Stuck in a tight spot. Claustrophobic but afraid.

Eating disorders, many mental illnesses and compulsive behaviors leave no breathing room. They are the tightest-of-tight boxes and the smallest-of-small spaces. There is no room for anything but the rules, the expectations (of self or others), the behaviors. There is no bending from anorexia to go to a birthday party. There is no pausing over-exercising, self-harm or purging just because there is an opportunity to travel. No. No, because there is no breathing room in any of those situations. There is no room for error, no room for a change in plans. You do not stray from the black line. You do not change plans. You do not change your mind. You simply do not, because there is no room for that.

There is no room, because room, margin, leeway. They all mean mistakes, errors, mess-ups, mishaps — failure. Room to breathe means room to fail. And I have never allowed room to fail. Perfection, yes. Failure, absolutely not I’d rather die.

Perfection leaves no breathing room. Anything outside of the realm of perfection, of the expectations placed upon us, is utter catastrophe, sending the world into a dizzy.

I grew up sticking myself in that little box out of fear, desire to please, perfectionism. No one had to put me there. I didn’t need anyone to draw those black lines of my “allowed square inch.” I did that myself.

Strangely enough, I have always hated tight things, anything that confines me physically. I am seriously claustrophobic, yet I am drawn towards this tight confining life. The life that says when and what you can eat, who you can see, what you can do and say, unwritten rules galore.  Rigid, unrelenting, changeless, unforgiving.

So when I heard those words — breathing room, give yourself breathing room– I thought “Can I? Can I really?” All the confining I had done on purpose. All of the restricting I had inflicted upon myself. All of the rigid rules. I did those things. I inflicted it, enforced it. I gave myself a life of confinement, a life without air, without any room to breathe, to fail.

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I gave myself that kind of life, but now I’m choosing to give myself a life that breathes. I need  to give myself room to have hard or bad days. I need room to get overwhelmed and cry. I need room to be imperfect. Because life is not perfect. My family and friends are not perfect. College will not be perfect. There will be overwhelming, hard, straight up bad days where I just want to throw my hands up in defeat. Without breathing room those days are too much, unrecoverable. Those days are failure and make me want to quit. But, insert some breathing room, stretch that square inch a bit, and that same day can be called good. I can laugh at that day. I can pause, breathe deep and say, “this too is good.”

That extra room means that what would have been failure in my teeny-tiny perfect box can instead be called grace, growth, good. That extra room means release of the pressure to be good enough, an end to the proving and the living up. That extra room means God has room to move. Room to change me, bend and break me, mold and challenge me, love and grow me. In my confining life there was no room for anything “else,” not even God.

As I have thought and prayed over this need for breathing room, God gave me this — You don’t need more breathing room. You already have all the room you need. I gave you all the room you could possibly need on the Cross. Just take it. Use it. 

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(image via Pinterest)

Talk about dumb-struck. Of course I have all the room I need. Jesus gave me all the room in the world to fail and fumble and fall on the cross. He gave me so much room, grace (unmerited, undeserved favor), to mess up that I will never be able to use even half of it. It’s immeasurable the grace He has bestowed upon me. James 4:6 says, “But he gave us more grace.” He didn’t just give grace, He gave more grace and even more on top of that. His grace has no constraints. It is freely given to all. Titus 2:11 says, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” Not just the good or the perfect or the tall or the thin or the pretty or the smart or the talented, but to all. Yet this grace was not given because of something I did. No, this grace is a gift. It’s a gift that God gave in His Son. It’s a gift that cost more than we will ever be able to comprehend. And it’s a gift that we choose to breathe in and live out of daily.

I will leave you with this question — do you need to use more of your gifted breathing room?

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Remembering: Two Years Later

Two years later. Two years older. Two years changed. Two years different. Two years stronger. Two years braver.

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It’s been two years since I first began treatment. Two years since I shuffled through the doors of Renfrew Center for Eating Disorders. Two years since that became my home away from home. I remember that first day, like it was yesterday. Walking in to unfamiliar faces. Having to sit down with these strangers and face the unthinkable. Then being forced to talk about how it went. Did you enjoy the food? No. What did you not like? All of it. Were you afraid? Uhhh…yes, out of my mind. Did you use any behaviors? Of course I did. I didn’t finish that disgusting cottage cheese that you evil people are trying to make me fat and ruin my life with. That was the gist of that first day. Curled up on a chair in an “illegal” position, journaling my fear and hate while avoiding having to speak.

Life for the first several weeks was rather ugly. Blind weigh-ins. Blood pressure monitoring. Constant meals. Never ending FOOD. Exhaustion. Insomnia. Coping skills torn away from my tightened grip. Trying to put on a strong front, while wanting to disappear every moment of every day. I got good at pretending and making people believe I was doing better than I really was. I think it’s part of the territory.

Needless to say, two years ago my life was a wreck. Not in school. Not living at home. Not on good (or even speaking) terms with my family. Anxiety and panic attacks sky-rocketing. Depression chronic. Anorexia raging. Pretending my way out of questions and consequences. Pushing everyone away, except my “chosen” few. My body eating itself until it shut down so many processes that living “normally” was getting hard. My brain on one track and one track only: restrict until you’re worthy, until you disappear, until you’re enough, until the anxiety & sadness go away.

I entered the anger phase of treatment. Anger coursed through my being. Why do I have to eat? Why is everyone forcing me to eat? Why does my body need it? I was angry that I had to succumb to such weakness (eating = weakness). I thought I should be stronger than food. I should be above it, above the physical need for it. I hated food itself and anyone who made me touch it. I even hated myself for needing it (for some reason I thought I should be the only human ever that didn’t need to eat…like what?). Every meal I battled for control. Less food means more control. More control means less fear and unworthiness.

Everyone around me that was trying to save me, were (in my eyes) trying to kill me, ruin my life, take away everything I loved/needed while giving me absolutely nothing in return except weight (i.e. fat, because to an ED patient all weight is fat even though most of it is bone mass, organ mass, heart/brain mass, water, etc).

Part of an eating disorder is suppression. Suppression of appetite, hunger/fullness cues, emotions, thoughts and feelings, even reality. Treatment is designed to trigger the release of that suppression, so at some point you become a ticking time-bomb. You become a walking volcano of everything you’ve been suppressing. If you’re like me, then you still suppressed things in public, but trust me, my journal and my therapist got spewed on daily, many times a day.

I remember the day that Taylor and I saved the day…or something like that. Bathroom buddies are totally a thing in treatment and so is asking a fellow patient “are you puking in there” and then going to get help because obviously that’s a no-no.

I remember the day we smashed scales in the parking lot with huge hammers and released balloons with notes inside about what we need to let go relating our disorders. Smashing the scale was smashing the lies, the standards, the expectations, the anger, the fear and everything else. Plus it was a great stress reliever and we got lots of weird looks which was funny.

I remember the day we made puppets and talked down our eating disorder voices. I watched light bulbs go off around me. I remember watching now friends and recovery partners throwing clay as hard as they could at the wall and yelling at their ED voices. I remember when we had hard days where abuse was spoken of and people wanted to jump out windows and tears were shed by all and families gathered. I remember family therapy and letting a little bit of my shield down. I remember the day I finally opened up to one of the therapists and she hugged me and thanked me. I remember the new faces as well as the old. I remember saying hello as well as goodbye. I remember the worry when people discharged against doctors recommendation without a trace. I remember arguing over who was going to go see the psychiatrist first and making faces at each other across the table at food we didn’t like. I remember the day we all cried over chef salad and didn’t leave a man behind. I remember the video we watched on wolves and everyone trying not to burst into laughter during the pointless session about that wolf video. And of course, I remember that Prince George was born while I was at Renfrew.

Most of all I remember the complete hopelessness, the desperation, the lack of purpose. I believed I was worthless & unlovable so I lived that way. I remember the anxiety and anger, the withdraw, the avoidance. I also, remember the subtle shifts, the changes. I remember the first day I felt hungry. I remember the first day I asked for help. I remember finding my voice and asking questions that we all were thinking. I remember being challenged in my faith. I remember the ups and the downs and all of the things I learned.

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I learned to sit with hard emotions instead of act upon them.

I learned to use my voice.

I learned that my body is an awful lot better at knowing what’s best for it than I am.

I learned to trust the professionals around me.

I learned that my family is for me, I just needed to let down my wall and allow them to come in.

I learned to say, “I have anorexia” instead of avoiding the question or making excuses.

I learned to say “this too shall pass” when uncomfortable emotions and anxieties threatened to send me into a panic.

I learned that I have so many people on my side, praying and battling on my behalf when I was too sick to do so.

I learned that I don’t have to be happy all the time.

I learned that self-hatred was killing me and I was letting it.

I learned to put myself in positive, healthy places with people that speak truth.

I learned about my core beliefs and how everything stems from them.

I learned that though nothing will ever feel as comfortable and safe as my eating disorder did, things willbegin to feel okay, even good.

I learned that change is scary as it ever was, but it’s also so so good.

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Moral of the story is, treatment is hard, recovery is just as hard, but God is good and He provides, sustains, empowers and encourages. He does incredible works through the most incredible pain. He never stops or disappears even in situations where He is (seemingly) nowhere to be found. He moved mountains for me and still is. He gave love where I gave hate. He gave grace where I needed it most. He gave courage when I was about to give up. He showed me what redemption looks like. He gave me reasons to live, to mend, to hope, to love.

Two years ago I was lost, hopeless, afraid. Two years later I am a different person. Made new, new life and hope. Given passions to pursue and relationships to foster.

Two years later. Two years braver. Thank you Lord, for these two years.

What if God isn’t Good?

Okay friends, prepare to have a little look-see into my heart. Bare with me as this post will be long, jumbled and jumpy, but hopefully I can get years of life sorted into a somewhat cohesive post that you can understand. Here goes!

I’ve had this post on my heart and mind for weeks now, pondering and sitting with it, writing about it. I want you to know that I only post real things. Things that have hurt, helped, lifted. Things that I’ve sat with. Things that I’ve wrestled with and cried over. Things that have been important in my growth as a young Christian and a brave girl. From the very beginning, I decided that I would only post when I felt the nudge from God towards a certain subject. I never want to post for the sake of posting and I pray that anything I write on this blog would be real and vulnerable, because I’ve learned (through trial) that vulnerability brings about depth, growth and connection. The act of being real with others immediately links hearts and tells stories (more on this in a later post). All of that being said, this post is going to be a very real (and probably chaotic & rambling) one.

If you’ve read my previous post, then you know I struggle with failure and fear. I have anxiety and the future usually looks like a whole lot of scariness that I can’t do anything about right now. I’ve heard over and over again, “God has a plan for you.” I’ve told myself that very thing to chase away the fears, but there was always more to it. I just didn’t know what.

After a really hard, vulnerable, eye-opening session with my therapist I was left with some baggage to sort through, some thoughts to decipher and bring before the Lord.

After talking about eating disorder stuff, changes and fears in college we stumbled across this very real, raw fear: What if God’s plan isn’t good?

I had no idea that thought was in my mind. It just came. I don’t know where it came from, but there it was.

What if His plan for college, for friendships & dating, for my body & weight & eating are not good plans?  What if I don’t like them?

At the root of the question lies this one overarching question: What if God himself is not good?

Buried, disguised somewhere deep down, this question comes unannounced and I wrestle with it. It’s living and I’m not prepared to handle its writhing alone. It seems wrong, unchristian to think such a thought. Of course God is good! That phrase is repeated every Sunday and I live in and by His goodness daily, yet the what if God is not good remains.

Thankfully, I was not left alone with this question, this fear. My therapist had an answer to my question. The moment the words settled in the room, her voice countered with this. “God is good. There is NO darkness in Him. None.”

God is light [he’s pure, holy & good] there is NO darkness [no evil, sin, failure, or mistakes] in Him (1 John 1:5).

Wow. I sat with that for a minute. I love the imagery of light versus dark. I think it’s beautiful, especially when it makes things click in my head. God is light and light is good. If God is light (and He is) then He can not be darkness, because darkness can’t be where light is. It’s impossible. They’re opposites. They do not, can not coexist.

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Side note: I’ve learned that everything can be traced back to something else. My anxiety can be traced back. My depression can be traced back. Anorexia can be traced back. All of the trails lead back to fear, to lies. This question is no different. I can trace what if God isn’t good back to fear and lies. Even the fear and lies can be traced back. Those trails lead to the father of lies himself.

Satan knows God is good. He has seen first hand how good God is and thus knows how bad he himself is. He knows he stands no chance against the God of all good. He knows that he is going to die. He knows that he is forever separated from all goodness, and is bound and determined to see that you and I face the same fate, an eternity spent separated from the goodness of God. He will stop at nothing. No temptation, no evil, no seedling of fear, and no lie are too despicable for him. Not even a lie about God is below Satan. In fact, I bet he likes planting lies about God the best. He must throw a party down in Hell when we willingly believe the lies he feeds us about God.

Back to the story, so this lie boils down to me being afraid that what God has for me isn’t good. I’m afraid that God wants me to fail again. I’m afraid that what everyone tells me about the “freshman 15” is true and that I’m doomed before I’ve even begun. I’m afraid that the friendships in place will wither when people actually meet me in person. I’m afraid that the future husband I’ve prayed for (and my parents & grandparents have prayed for) is just imaginary. I’m afraid that my weight will be unsteady in college and that my eating will have to change due to the cafeteria scene. I’m afraid of not dancing anymore and having to find my niche in another physical activity

All of these fears receive the same answer, “It’s in Gods hands. He has a plan.” Yes, I know He has a plan….but what if it isn’t good? What if I don’t like it? What if it looks different than my plan?

The truth is, it will look different than my plan. I may not like it at first, but it will still be good. It will always, every single time be good. In fact, it will be better. My plan may look good to my fallen eyes, but His plan is good, because He sees and does through untainted eyes. His eyes see more than my glory, my comfort, my desires.

For some reason, I have this idea that God wants to hurt me, is out to get me or something. It’s silly. I know that is the furthest thing from the truth, but for every “I’m afraid” listed above there is a real fear that God is going to give me those exact things that I’m afraid of. My therapist is slowly getting through to me that God’s plans were not designed to hurt me. He knows that friends are important to me and is not going to leave me without community. He knows that the food thing in college is going to be hard and He doesn’t have a secret master plan to make it even harder or to make my fears come true. Hurting me is never His plan.

God heals. He doesn’t hurt. The hurting happens when I, in a desperate attempt to control, foolishly make my own plans. The hurt happens when I choose darkness over light, choose to live outside of His plan.

As you all know, I like lists. So here is a list to speak over my life (& yours) when the goodness of God seems unbelievable.

  • Everything God is and does is good (Psalm 119:68)
  • God’s goodness lasts forever, it is unchanging (Psalm 107:1)
  • Everything God makes is good, He makes no mistakes (Genesis 1:31)
  • God has goodness saved up for us, not harm (Psalm 31:19)
  • Everything from God is good, even the hard is good so give thanks (1 Timothy 4:4)
  • Every good gift is from God (James 1:17)

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless” (Psalm 84:11).

Before I leave, here are a few final thoughts for you if you never feel good enough:

This right here, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, is good. And good is good enough.

When you let good, not perfect but good, be good enough, you’re living brave.

Shedding layers, digging deeper, separating light from dark, countering lies with truth, asking real though ugly questions, that is good. All of those things are good and God has His hands in all of them. Because He is good.