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?

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.

Because HE Never Fails

I’m going to be really honest here, college is coming (less than 2 months! Woohoo!) and I couldn’t be more excited, but I also can’t help but feel Mr. Fear sneaking up to ruin it all.

I’d been feeling the usual anxiety symptoms (racing heart, sleepless nights, cold sweat, unable to catch my breath all while doing nothing, I might add) and wondering “where are these coming from?” It’s summer! Life is good. My biggest worry, is what I’m going to do with the girls I’m nannying today. No need for these pesky anxieties to be around. But one thing I’ve learned is this: anxiety can come when you least expect it & it’s always trying to tell you something about your heart.

I ignored it, until it randomly overtook me in a familiar office and I was encouraged by a friendly face to dig deeper. Anxiety is never surface deep. So dig I did with my trusty guide.

The digging wasn’t pretty but, boy oh boy, was it needed! After years of trying to put this fear to rest, the fear that left me spiraling out of control, here it is again.

We dug up this: What if I fail?

Those words came slowly. As I realized they were behind the anxiety (again!) I didn’t want to admit them. But they won’t go away until I admit them, so I let them out softly.

“What if I fail? What if I fail at college? What if I fail at the things placed before me in Nashville? What if it’s all too much, just like before?”

Admitting those words hurt more than I can say because I’ve worked hard to put my past where it belongs, the past.  But I’m only human and for all of my trying, I fail even at putting my “failures” behind me.

That shadowy figure on my shoulder peers over into my present and future, speaking lies that I subconsciously believe until I’m jarred awake by this: The LORD is within me. I will NOT fail because HE does NOT fail.


(Photo: Pinterest)

The lady guide in the chair across the way spoke them over me and I felt them deep. She’s right.

I won’t do college perfectly. I won’t do this whole roommate/suite mate thing perfectly. I won’t do new city, new church, new surroundings perfectly but I will NOT fail. No matter what happens, from now until I’m old and grey, I will not fail when I rest in Him, because there is NO failure in God.

It’s that simple. It’s that complex and that deep. It’s that real. No failure in Jesus Christ.

•not even one of His promises has failed (Joshua 23:14)

•He will NOT fail me or forsake me (1 Chronicles 28:20)

•His covenant with me will never fail (Psalm 89:28)

•my plans will fail but His plans won’t (Proverbs 15:22)

•the worst may happen in life, but His salvation is forever & His righteousness will never fail (Isaiah 51:6)

•His compassions (His mercy, empathy & concern) never fail (Lamentations 3:22)

•God is LOVE & love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8)

Chapter 2: Fat

I’m going to attempt to shed some light on the “fear of fat” that people with eating disorders have. It’s a fear that comes with a lot of questions and stigma. I’d say most people dislike fat and want to avoid it. So when they hear that it’s a symptom of anorexia they think one of two things: “I don’t want to get fat, so I must be afraid of fat. Oh no! I must have an eating disorder” or “No one wants to be fat, but why would anyone actually be afraid of something so silly? Eating disorders are just made up because no one would be stupid enough to be afraid of fat.” Do either of those ring any bells?

The fear of fat that anorexics and bulimics have is so real and so raw and so deep that I’m not sure I can even describe it, but I’ll do my best to bring those who aren’t “in the know” into this very real fear that so many face day in and day out.

Let me begin by making something clear. To most people with anorexia, food equals weight gain, weight gain equals fat, and fat equals ______. That blank is filled in with something that may vary from person to person, but in my case, that blank was filled in with these words: failure, lack of (self) control, worthlessness.

Fat signifies failure, lack of control, and shame. Gaining weight means that one has failed and lost all control over themselves and the world around them. Gaining weight is the ultimate fear because it symbolizes the crashing down of all security, comfort, protection and control.

Let me try to help you understand this insane fear of fat. Imagine your worst fear with me. I mean your absolute worst fear (not a little fear like my fear of cockroaches). It may be swallowing all your teeth in the middle of the night, getting your limbs gnawed off by a shark, or falling off of a cliff into a lake of lava where you burn to smithereens. Do you get my point? It has to be your worst fear that will probably never ever happen. How do you feel when you imagine your worst fear happening to you right now? Terrible, right? How would you react? Now imagine that the threat of that fear happening to you exists every second of every day. The threat of a shark attacking you or your head being blown off exists every day and you can’t get away from it. How does that make you feel?

You’re probably thinking I’m exaggerating, but sadly, I’m not. The fear of becoming fat is the kind of fear that leaves you in tears, hyperventilating, panicking. It’s the full on adrenaline rushing, fight or flight, cold sweat, searching for any sort of escape kind of fear. It’s the kind of fear you feel when watching The Call times a million, except you can’t push pause or close your eyes to make it stop.  The fear it induces is the kind of fear that causes reactions such as lashing out or fleeing the scene.

It’s not that people with eating disorders are dangerous or crazy (although some people like to argue that they are), but if you were being forced to jump off a cliff, wouldn’t you fight against it, lash out, try to flee? YES! That’s exactly how it is for someone who is terrified of gaining weight. Someone making them eat, is equivalent to someone making you jump off a cliff or walk into a den of hungry lions. You’d be insane to do either of those things willingly.

Fat becomes a curse word. Its utterance is not allowed in treatment. The avoidance of it becomes an idol, a reason to live. The gain of it becomes a reason to die, to disappear.

The thought of it, is enough to bring one to tears. I remember being in treatment and seeing the buttered bagel on my plate (the bagel that I HAD to eat) and crying because I simply could not, could not, put it in my mouth. I could not let it touch my lips. I could not let in to my body, for I knew that it would ruin me. I knew that it would leave be worthless and unlovable.

Before you start thinking, “Wow, people with eating disorders are psycho” let’s look at why this fear exists.

The fear of fat or of weight gain has so many factors, many of which are highly biological and linked to ones genetics and psychological makeup, but I don’t want to focus on those today. Instead, I’m going to focus on the fear itself.

The fear of fat is deeply rooted in lies. It’s rooted in lies about ones identity and worth. The intense fear of gaining weight can only take over if your identity and worth are tied up in lies. An identity that is rooted in what the world says will be vulnerable to the fear of gaining weight. If ones worth is found only in earthly things then only earthly things will grow.

Fear is just a lie

Fear is just a lie. The fear of gaining weight stems from the lie that you are unlovable if you gain weight. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are unworthy of good things if you are fat. The fear of fat stems from the lie that you are a failure if you gain weight. Don’t you see? Fear is just a lie. The fear of fat, the fear of gaining weight and becoming healthy is just a lie. A big old lie that Satan is trying to make you believe. Because, the second you and I believe that lie we are left powerless, which is exactly where Satan wants us.

The very first thing Satan did in the Garden of Eden was deceive Eve. He told her a lie, she believed it and that lie left her powerless, so she ran and hid from God (Genesis 3:3-13).

Jesus says this about Satan in John, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan is a liar. He just is, but you, you are not of Satan, you are of Jesus Christ and therefore can have victory over his lies.

We have now covered what the fear of fat looks like for someone with an eating disorder and what this fear really is, a lie. Now we have to ask, what is there to be done about this fear? About this lie?

I wish I had a three-step, fail proof solution, but I don’t. In fact, nobody does. No doctor, no therapist, no dietitian, no psychologist, no one has an easy solution to overcoming the fear of fat that is an ever present lie. That statement should not leave you feeling hopeless. While no MAN has an answer, GOD most certainly does. He has all of the answers and he longs for you and I to tuck in close, breathe deeply and to trust Him with our fears.

Because when we seek the Lord, he answers and delivers us from all of our fears (paraphrased Psalm 34:4).

Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we do not have to fear evil (food, fat, weight gain, failure, loss of control, anything) because He is with us (Psalm 23:4, emphasis added).

When we are overcome by these fears, we need only put our trust in Him. In God whose word we praise — In God we trust and therefore are not afraid. What can mere mortals (what can fat, food or weight) do to us when we have GOD on our side? (Psalm 56:3-4, paraphrased, emphasis added).

This topic is an extensive one. Each sentence could be expanded upon and books could be written, but I hope that you, my reader, have learned a few things from this post.

I hope you’ve learned that:

1. The fear anorexics (and bulimics) have of food, fat, weight gain is so incredibly real.

2. These fears are lies placed deceitfully by the devil to leave Gods children powerless.

3. No fear, no lie is too small or too big for God. He can and will overcome them all as we seek and trust Him…run to Him.