I have chosen to write this because of what some of you have been sharing with me over the past few months. Some of you have been updating me on your progress, asking me questions, and sharing with me bits and pieces of your own Stories. It’s been very difficult to put my answer in an email to different people, or try and squeeze what I would go on to say in half an hour in a text-message space, so I’ve decided to write this letter to all of you whom I’ve met at the support group.
It’s been a joy knowing you all, and I thank God for each and every one of your lives. It’s a long one, so hold on tight.
Many people ask me why I wear a ring on the fourth finger of my left hand. To most of them, I never share my answer. They think it’s because I’m attached and I let them think what they want. Today, I will share it with you.
I have heard people tell me of their recovery from depression and other challenges, because of “someone who loved me when I felt no one ever could.” I want to make it very clear that I do not believe in that. This, however, is my personal opinion and I don’t impose it on anyone.
I believe God sends us many angels to help us in our recovery, but not one person can be the reason for our recovery. Some people tell me it was a newfound boyfriend or girlfriend who made them feel like they were worth being loved, and my response to that is that for true recovery to take place, you must recover for yourself and God mostly. Neither your mother, nor your boyfriend, nor the support group, nor your counselor, nor myself even, should be the main reason for your recovery. What if your boyfriend leaves? What if he, too, faces troubles and becomes depressed-Are we all not human, susceptible to the lust of the eye and the temptations and stresses of this world?
People can inspire you, they can motivate, love, support you, open your eyes- but ultimately, you must want to recover because you want to and because you believe God loves you enough.
I wear a ring, with God’s name engraved inside of it, on the fourth finger of my left hand because it is my commitment to God with regards to my calling to be a missionary doctor, and to live my life well. And it is a reminder to me of the great love He has for us. We are like God’s bride. My ring also tells me that a relationship can only be beautiful when 2 whole people come together, not 2 halves.
That is why I wear my ring every day, all the time. And why I can’t explain why I wear it to most people I meet.
Doing what you do not wish to do
The Choices we make
We’ve talked about this before. Anorexia, for many, is about controlling the only thing you can when everything in life seems to be going out of control. It spirals into a perverse form of extreme discipline- I can’t eat this, can’t do that, have to burn these number of calories in this amount of time and the list never ends. This is discipline of the body. Since we are all so caught up with this grand notion of discipline, I want to share a higher form of discipline with all of you.
Its called the discipline of the mind and spirit. Discipline is, very often, a matter of doing what your natural impulse refuses to do. Recovery began when I started to exercise this higher discipline to replace the lowly, self-destructive discipline of the body. This higher discipline is about being positive, being alive, and being victorious. It is about doing what Anorexia refuses to do.
I ate when I knew I had to, even when Anorexia didn’t want to, even when I wasn’t hungry- because we all know that at some point, many of our stomachs shrink so much that even just a small meal fills us up so quickly. Even now, perhaps many of us find it very difficult to consume a normal-sized meal at one sitting. But at least, I make sure I eat enough throughout the day, even when I don’t feel hungry- because my hunger centre has been thrown off. I threw away my micro-skirts, even my favorite ones, the whole stack of them, because they represented insecurity, neediness and succumbing to our cultural idols of artificial perfection. I force myself to talk, write, express my feelings in times of distress even though my natural impulse is to go for a run. I have disallowed myself to participate in any form of long-distance marathon training until I know that my body and mind are fully well.
I make sure I eat with people when I lose my appetite because it lifts my spirits and helps me to eat better. I hardly watch television, and I don’t read trashy magazines even though the artist in me loves fashion- because it doesn’t help, it just doesn’t help. Can you look at me in the face and tell me reading Cleo helps you in recovering? People read trashy fashion magazines because it gives them a temporary delight of luxuriating in someone else’s fantasies. Maybe one day you’ll be able to read stacks and stacks of these magazines and be perfectly fine with it, but right now, is that the best choice to make for yourself? What you feed your mind with is essential to recovering. You can make the choice not to become a victim of superficial cultural ideals.
What is beautiful is what the eye cannot see.
You can choose to do what you do not want to do. You can choose to seek professional help even though you may need to overcome an initial barrier of feeling shy.
You always have a choice to do what you do not wish to do so that you are one step closer to getting well. You always have a choice, remember that.
You are not a number
We all know our blood-attachment to the weighing scale. When I was very, very ill, it was everything to me. Even during recovery, it was something to fall back on on bad days. Yet, against all obsession, I threw it away. I didn’t change its location, put it in another place so I wouldn’t see it, or tell my family to keep it from me. I did what I didn’t want to do but needed to be done. I THREW IT AWAY. DOWN THE CHUTE. There are many things in life worth throwing away. Your life is not one of them.
You are not a number. God made you a human being deserving of love, happiness and freedom.
Many of you tell me about the perverse feeling of delight when you lose extra weight, because it feels empowering and gives you a sense of control, discipline. I understand, I really do. But consider this- that that kind of discipline wastes, destroys and mocks, while a different kind of discipline, that of doing what you do not wish to do- for your own good, is a more beautiful, higher form of discipline, one that fulfills, builds, and sets free.
Remember, recovery is being strong enough to do what you do not wish to do.
You are very brave to have taken the first step to seek help, talk about your problem. You are very, very brave because so many choose to sleep over it in denial. But it doesn’t stop here. There is a difference between genuinely wanting to get better and taking action, and simply being content to wallow in the status quo because you’ve found a place to ventilate and feel comfortable among fellow people who suffer in the same place you do. There is a difference between true courage, and self-indulgence trying to pass as honesty, admitting your foibles not to improve but only to gain sympathy and consent.
That is no longer courage. It is called, at best, a more sophisticated form of cowardice.
So be strong, do what you do not wish to do in order to get better- that is making progress, that is True courage.
So many of you are very, very bright. I’m not surprised, because people susceptible to Anorexia are often perfectionists in the first place. Many of you tell me how devastated you are by your academic dip in studies, and some of you have had to stop schooling for a while.
Last year, in spite of saving a lot of travel time by staying at the hostel, I didn’t do so well in my first year of medical school myself. I know how it feels. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t remember anything I had studied. This year, I decided to stay at home, decided to recover. This year meant having to spend at least 2 hours a day traveling to and from university, while studying for twice as many subjects as my first year of school, and choosing to spend twice as much time at church than I ever did before.
But this is also the term I have scored twice as well. Do you not miss being above average again? Not because of some deep-seated insecurity driving you to perform, but doing well, simply because you are well.
I can finally eat with my family, and go out for meals with friends, attend social functions without feeling paranoid or anxious. I can finally –think- clearly and lucidly. My mind is freed from obsessing, obsessing, obsessing… I am no longer edgy all the time. My hair doesn’t fall out anymore. I can breathe, live, create, simply Be.
Yes, life after Anorexia can be –that good-. And it most certainly is Possible.
You can’t win overnight, but you can win small battles every day, all the time.
You win when you eat well, one meal at a time. You win when you decide today is the day you will try and recover for yourself, and for God. You win when you lose and tell yourself you’ll try again, and again, and again. You win when you cry because it’s so hard but you press on anyway. You win when you forgive yourself for backsliding but never lose hope. You win when you decide to throw your scale away. You win when you decide you want to attend church regularly and thank God for your life, even when you don’t feel like it.
You win when you do what you do not wish to do, because you want to get better. You win when you believe that God loves you. You can win every day.
Keep winning small battles, and you’ll Win big-time eventually.
I keep receiving similar messages about self-loathing. Yes, we know- it’s not about the food or vanity, but it’s about what’s inside. I want you all to read this. And then write down ten things you are grateful to God for, about your life, talents and body. Ten things. Don’t just think about it- write it down.
A lot of you ask me about God. And why He is so important to me, how He played such a big role in my life and recovery. There is one thing you have to sort out- that God didn’t give you an eating disorder. Life did, and through all things, God represents that hope for us to transform any form of suffering into strength, resilience and beauty.
I don’t want to over-generalise or over-simplify by saying that God is a one-time sugar-injection, and overnight rainbow rush, an instant cure-all. But all I can say is that believing in, learning about, serving and trusting in God over time is the reason I recovered so quickly. God and church are the reason I am who I am today.
Do you not know we are God’s bride, and that His love for us is “strong as death… unyielding as the grave”, which “burns like blazing fire” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7)? Is that not the kind of love we all long for, that deep, awesome love that is almost ferocious? Does it not terrify you one bit that for all our imperfections, Someone loves us that much, that terrifyingly? I know it terrifies me. It is why I wear my ring every day, all the time.
Believing in God means believing you are worthy of love; believing in God means trusting Him enough to believe that you are beautiful, and will be even more so when you start eating normally, eating well because He made you with all the love in the world- He won’t shortchange you by turning you into a fat-mound because you decided to eat well, be well (So many of you tell me this is your greatest fear!); believing in God means letting go, letting it go and just living, trusting and exulting in life.
On the Road
So many of you thank me. You thank me for being God’s angel to you.
But I just want to tell you that you too, have taught me much. You have been of great encouragement to me in many ways. It’s been my joy knowing you. And you, too, can become God’s angel to someone else in time to come, if only you will believe in it.
It’s a journey. It’s a real journey, one that winds this way and that, and still, I am walking it. We walk everyday- it is a long road, but it is always worth it.
Life after recovery really is -that good-.
Remember, God loves you. He loves you so very, very much. For every valley we go through, a mountain-top experience awaits. It may be a long journey, but it is worthwhile. A beautiful place awaits.
I am praying for each and every one of you. Be well for yourself and for God, no one else.
Be strong, and do what you do not wish to do, because you’ll be one step closer to that beautiful place.
You are very precious indeed.
Go and be Well.
God bless your hearts.