My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 3

Photo Credit: "Despair" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Despair” by Lusi

Read Part 1   Read Part 2

After my family broke up and I stopped going to church, I slipped in and out of depression—sometimes of suicidal proportions. I also started looking for love in all the wrong places. This is where those boyfriends I’m not proud of come in. This period escalated to its worst point the fall after my high school graduation, when I found myself unable to cope with the new structures of college–along with the painful breakups that came with those boys–and promptly made a plan to drop out and kill myself.

The Failed Religious Retreat

In a last-ditch effort to stop the self-harming thoughts that were overwhelming me every day, I accepted an invitation from some upper class Christians to attend a non-denominational weekend revival. Willing to try anything at this point, I even did the suggested three-day fast before the retreat.

But instead of uplifting me, the retreat left me more despondent than ever.

Photo Credit: stuffofwonder.com
Photo Credit: “Worship” at stuffofwonder.com

Here I was, sitting suicidal, in a crowd of Christians with upraised hands who were thanking Jesus for all he had done for them. The speakers were claiming some Bible truths about how God sets us free, how he overturns the lies Satan tells us—lies such as I’m no good; God can’t forgive me; my family has always had a history of mental illness, therefore I will suffer mental illness too, etc. But though I identified with many of the “lies,” I could not denounce them in my life, because they had been truths to me for so long. Whereas these people around me seemed to have come out on the other side of their pain and were now thriving, I was still swimming in it, and I didn’t see a way out. Unfortunately, the speakers didn’t provide one, except to say that Jesus had already set me free.

Clearly, they didn’t know my story.

This was a different type of sermon than I’d been used to hearing growing up. It wasn’t all about doctrine or prophecy—the common fodder for sermons in my religion. It swung the other way: Jesus’ saving grace, Jesus’ free gift. All I had to do was “reach out and accept it,” they said.

Yeah, but how?

How could I do that when I had no goals, no plans, no hope—except for the hope of unconsciousness? And how in the world could one evening of singing, crying, and praying, erase a lifetime of negative thoughts, family dysfunction, and impotent church experiences?

formal-letter-writing
Photo Credit: “Formal Letter Writing” at http://www.goodletterwriting.com

As college students all around me raised their voices in a frenzy of praise songs and hallelujahs, I became angrier and angrier, and more hopeless. The day I returned from the retreat was the day I drafted my suicide note.

Facing the Truth

I wrote that although I had always “called myself a Christian,” maybe I didn’t even know the real meaning of the word. For the first time in my life, I confronted God, cursing him for letting things get so bad, if he even existed. Finally I asked questions I had avoided my entire life: Where was Jesus in my pain? Where had he been when Mom left and Dad turned volcanic? When we’d found ourselves playing church, all the while imploding? When I’d spent so many nights writing and crying to no one but my journal? When I’d spent days hiding the truth about my “clean, Christian family”? And later, after my family dissolved, where was Jesus in my despair? For that matter, where had he been when the men I’d trusted with my heart betrayed me?

Photo Credit: "Cross--Christian Symbol" by Xmonau
Photo Credit: “Cross–Christian Symbol” by Xmonau

Being reminded that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins only seemed to mock the pain I felt at having been sinned against. So what? I wondered. What did Jesus’ death offer me now, in the moments of my suffering, when I couldn’t muster a reason or a will to live?

After witnessing once again how disconnected Jesus seemed from my life in the here and now, I knew what I had to do. Without a Savior for my suffering, I had no hope but to end it all.

In my memoir I describe at length what happened the night I tried to end it, how I failed, and the sorry state I found myself in four months later, during my discharge from the second of two mental hospitals. Here’s a paragraph from my memoir to sum up:

Now that my plans [for suicide]  had failed, I felt lost. Four months removed from the making those fervid plans, the numbness I felt was strangely akin to that which I’d felt while making them—only without the accompanying peace. After battling hopelessness for so long, there was a calm that came with knowing it would all end soon. But now, without that assurance that life was going to end, I didn’t know how to feel, or what to do, except to concentrate on the immediate steps in front of me.

This is the period where I moved into my own apartment, began hiding away from everyone except people I couldn’t avoid (like coworkers), and began my nasty habit of bulimia. There were nights I almost tried to end it again—I certainly thought about it enough—but the thought of hurting my family was usually the reason I mustered for staying around. I just figured I’d have to deal with the depression, or numb it, for the rest of my life. I resolved to live with the pain, doing whatever I had to do (overeat, cut, offer up my body if it meant not being lonely, write death wishes in my journal) to distract myself from it.

Turning Point?

During this time I was introduced to a nice Texas boy named Buc, who lived a whopping 1,000 miles away. And this is when I came back to church by default. Not to say God wasn’t leading, but that I didn’t really go back by choice.

A few months before I met Buc, I found myself occasionally back at church because my mom was attending again. Then, when my best friend, Samantha, introduced me to Buc and he was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and I moved to Texas within four months and we married within another two months, I naturally followed suit. (My memoir has the rest of the details of my move and marriage—the point here is my faith journey.)

If not for these “coincidences,” I’m not sure I would have returned to church.

Photo Credit: Billy.com
Photo Credit: Billy.com

So, I moved to Texas when I was twenty, my husband and I married, and I joined his church. No one there knew about me or my past. Within a few months, they knew about as much of me as my old church in Minnesota had known: that I could play the piano and I seemed to be a high achiever who could write. (At this point, my method of coping with depression became keeping myself so busy I couldn’t think. Hey, I figured it was better than putting a gun to my head.)

These new church members, like my former ones, didn’t know of my persistent depressive/bordering on suicidal thoughts, or my bulimia. Again, plastic smiles became my shield at church. But again, the hypocrisy of it all started to bother me. As a self-professed Christian, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I felt my life should be different from how it was somehow.  So I started doing the only things I knew to do:

I began reading my Bible sometimes, and other religious books. My journal turned into a prayer journal. But oh! When I read back over the prayers! How defeated, how negative! I didn’t realize that true conversion, true Christianity, was not just about directing my words to God (whatever they may be) and logging some Bible time each day. Somehow I’d picked up the idea (at church?) that this was all Christianity was: You have to read some Bible every day, and you have to go to church. You have to take church offices. You really should pray, too, but heck if I knew how. Yes, I was looking for a change in my life, but I’m not sure I was looking for a real spiritual rebirth—an inner re-creation, or makeover—because I just didn’t know this kind of thing was possible.

I was in the church trying my best to be a Christian. But while my fellow church members were telling me what a blessing I was, how glad they were to have me, what a good girl I was—they had no idea how bad I really was on the inside. Of course, it wasn’t the “plotting evil” or “planning sin” kind of bad. Rather, my “badness” was the depressed, forlorn, hopeless, heartsick kind. Mine was not a born-again existence. This was survival mode existence. What would it take for me to finally fall on my knees and give God all my pain and hurt and heartsickness? What would it take for me to finally find that “new life,” or that “rebirth,” the Bible promises? The answer begins in part 4.

Read Part 1   Read Part 2

I Had an Eating Disorder

girl_looking_in_mirror
Photo Credit: HealthMadeEasy.com

My topic for this post is one I’ve never before offered to an audience—because it always felt too embarrassing. However, it is a topic that affects too many females (a couple whom I know and care about very much) for me to keep it buried.

I once heard a pastor say that every addiction is an attempt to numb pain. In my case, bulimia was just that. I wanted to bury the pain of depression and a life that had turned sour. It all began one night in 2004 while I was “convalescing” in my first-ever single apartment.

At age nineteen, I had just been released from a mental hospital for depression and a suicide attempt. If not trying to kill myself anymore was any indication of healing, then I guess I was. However, I still thought about killing myself plenty. When not otherwise occupied, I dwelled on death constantly, even looking up quotes about the benefits of suicide and writing them down. This obsession was so great that I had to either find something to numb the pain, or act on the obsession. I found a painkiller. Food. But then, because I also had dangerously low self-esteem that hinged on how closely I measured up to pop culture’s standard of beauty, I needed a way to undo the calories my binging sessions wracked up. I began to purge.

How could someone who is not miserable at the core of her being engage in a behavior as messed up as deliberately overeating and then throwing up? And doing this repeatedly, and with a measure of enjoyment, as if it added benefit to life?

I never planned to start binging and purging, but when life brought me to the breaking point, calling forth all my hidden insecurities, it became easy to do. I had seen some television movies on anorexia and bulimia before; I had even read some novels on the topic in high school, and I remember a lot of other girls in my class reading them, too. You see, even girls who don’t engage in one of these eating disorders are very conscious of them. Most teenage girls, at some point or other, if not throughout their entire teen years, become self-conscious of, or even obsessed with, their bodies. Without even realizing why or how they become so aware of their bodies, teen girls learn to place body in the forefront of their minds; I would dare say they award the body such importance that it becomes powerful enough to either make their lives miserable, if found wanting in some way, or to make life worth living, if they “measure up.”

And the really crappy thing about it is that a lot of teen girls—at least the kind of teen girl I was—don’t feel comfortable talking about this deep pain, so they suffer with it silently. I certainly never made a big thing out of my mammoth feelings of inferiority, but I carried them with me everywhere throughout junior high, high school, and beyond. The times when I did say something about those feelings, I remember being shrugged off or shushed with some simplistic statement like, “You’re not fat,” or, “Oh, you have nothing to worry about.” I don’t remember anyone ever slowing down or taking time to ask me why I felt that way, or what were the deeper issues behind those feelings.

I wonder: Had I mentioned that “I hate myself” or “I think I’m worthless,” would that have gotten more attention? Because these were the real, root issues.

As it was, I couldn’t see the root issues back then–and neither could anyone else. Maybe that’s why being too heavy, or being unattractive, felt like a fate worse than death. When you’ve reduced your expectations for life down to nil, but you’ve agreed to stay alive for other people (but not for yourself), it doesn’t seem such a bad thing to huddle over the toilet seat shoving the handle of your toothbrush at the back of your throat, until you feel the contraction of your throat muscles, the heaving of your stomach, the hot acid of bile as you throw up every last bit of food you enjoyed eating just minutes before.

How can I explain it but to say that since I didn’t have an inner reason to live for myself, life was reduced to outward appearances. If I could get a little joy out of a binge, and then erase the evidence with a purge–that was okay. At least, it was something to do.

Sick as it sounds, this practice was to become a routine for me for the next couple of years. Like my depression, it was to become another dirty little secret. Not until I started getting to the roots—or the underlying negative thoughts—of my behaviors did they start to resolve.

In this post, however, I do not attempt to resolve the problem. I would just ask my readers to think more deeply about what really constitutes an eating disorder. If you are suffering from one, please know that there are issues you need to deal with beyond the behavior. If you are approached by someone with an eating disorder—i.e., they confide in you about an eating disorder or related body insecurities—please don’t shrug them off; the first and greatest service you can do is to listen to her. Try to understand what is going on beneath the behavior. Validate her feelings. And then offer support for getting help.

Note: If you are curious to read why and how I stopped binging and purging, stick around for my series: “My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story.” For more on the power of thoughts, see my post, “Are Your Roots Showing?”