Sometimes, we need to get out of our own heads. I’ve been on that food struggle bus for months and so uncomfortable in my own skin. I recently had a set of head shots done for another blog I’m writing for. That was so, so hard. I kept thinking back to 18 months ago when I was roughly 100 lbs lighter and at peace with my body (despite my hair falling out and being constantly cold. We’ll get to that part later). How was I supposed to be accepting of myself when I knew I was about to be surrounded by 30 other beautiful women? It took a lot of convincing to not stay in bed and send a stick-figure drawing in my place. I’m so glad I took part in this shoot. Sometimes it’s good to sit in our discomfort, to acknowledge that we are not what we’d ought to be or think we should be, and still show up. That day I showed up for the woman who, the year before, wasn’t sure she’d make it to this November. I showed up for my girls who needed to see that you don’t have to be perfect to accept yourself. I showed up for that other mom completely destroyed by mental illness.
I’m coming to accept that I am where I am. My next attempt at being obedient with food will not look like my first. I learned SO much in that first year. I learned that I can make changes and live on far less than I was eating. However, I learned that it is NOT normal to lose 80 pounds in 5 months. It is NOT normal to lose your hair and the ability to control your body temperature. It is NOT normal to be so nutrient-deficient that you’re dizzy and your fingernails are thin and breaking. Oh, and I was a sanctimonious hag. Yeah, my britches fit better but the changes I had made were way too sudden and not sustainable.
I look toward 2018 with knowledge that I did not have before. I’m thinking “what changes are sustainable?”, “what can my lifestyle tolerate at this time?”, “what affect do my PPD meds have on my ability to ‘will’ myself to eat better?” I swore up and down I’d never go back to my old ways, to be ketopaleovegansnuffalupagus for life. I’d never touch dessert or carbs again. You know what? That works for people all over the world, which is great. But that’s not what works long-term for me. I’m not accountable to those people whom that lifestyle does work for. I’m accountable to God. And my fitness before God has everything to do with the cross and zero to do with me or my ability to survive on kale.
Press on, friends. We’ll get this.
“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” -Philippians 1:6
Whew! I am 4 days into a better diet and I’ve been keeping a running list in my head of how eating crap makes me feel versus how eating nourishing things makes me feel. I’ve tried to pretend that there wasn’t any difference except the level of deprivation. That’s cute and all, but it didn’t change the fact that I was still riding the bus to the land of Denial. So I kept this list in my head and decided to put it on paper so I could visualize it.
Good night, Nancy.
When I’m eating garbage my mind isn’t right, my emotions aren’t right, my body acts a dang fool. When I’m eating well I feel more in control of my thoughts and emotions. I can use those coping skills I’m sure I have somewhere. I have less anxiety about food because I am not looking for a fix to make my brain shut up, I am looking for something to nourish my body because the Temple of the Holy Spirit needs nourishment rather than poison masquerading as nourishment.
Now, let’s be real for a minute. You’ll see that deprivation is in both columns. That’s because I am hungry all.the.time. I think my body is broken in that sense but at least I can tell myself that I’ve nourished my body and I will be just fine. Also, I’ve learned that my danger zone is after the kids go to bed because I can have a little space and not be a human jungle gym. This time is my danger zone because it’s when I tend to eat garbage. I’ve tried being a nice-hot-cup-of-tea kind of gal, a sparkling-water kind of gal, a little-treat-turned-whole-pan-of-chickpea-blondies kind of gal, and I’ve come to accept that this will always be a hard time of day for me. Some nights I make good choices and just try to enjoy the time alone with reruns of Big Bang Theory and others I rage clean the house that has been destroyed by both small humans and big dog, while others I make crappy–very crappy–choices. Hopefully I’ll get a little consistency, someday. But, there are things I know will always end in disaster like portion control (I hate that word) and moderation (that one, too). But really, none of this is actually about food; it’s about learning to cope with life in ways that honor God–with God–out of the abundance of relationship with Him rather than in effort to have communion with Him.
I love retreat weekend. It’s been a wonderful time to get with other women, have great fellowship, laughs, and encounter God. I missed last year’s because I was 59 months pregnant and it was out of town but this year it was close to home and I was so excited. It had been a busy Friday and I thew the kids at the husband, sprayed some perfume to make sure I didn’t smell like diapers, and left. The PPD/PPA had been SO much better and I was ready to rejoice in that. But as I walked into the room, I saw a sea of beautifully adorned, sane women and I immediately felt out of place. I made conversation with people and had my table laughing because it was the best defense against the lies that were filling my mind in those moments. Worship started, my favorite time, and I knew something was wrong. My eyes started welling up, my throat got tight, and it felt like a bowling ball was going to lodge itself in my throat. I was having a panic attack. I darted into an empty room and cried and heaved until there was nothing left. I had never had a panic attack before (I’ve seen plenty of them in my work; it really does feel like a heart attack!) I took my seat when I heard there was transition in activity, only to grab my purse and leave. But there was no way to do this gracefully. The speaker got up and I tried to pay attention. She kept calling me out and while I’m totally fine with it normally, all I could think was “please, you can do this any other time, just not NOW!” I prayed for the next transition, and I ran. I ran away from something I loved.
And nobody noticed. Not one person.
This was a stark reminder that I am not the same person I was 2 years ago. I felt so totally out of place physically, spiritually, and emotionally. I had nothing to offer, so it felt like I started every conversation. I felt like a stranger among friends. Nevermind that I just survived 1 1/2 years of the psychiatric hell that nearly killed me on a number of occasions. Nevermind that I’ve drawn boundaries on toxic relationships and have really great friends and family. Nevermind that I’m able to serve and give back, something that I have so missed when my mind was on vacation. I felt irreparably broken, and nobody noticed. I sat in that for a few days until I realized that I have been the one, on far too many occasions, who didn’t notice that person in the room struggling. The one who was smiling through terror and pain, because it interfered with my schedule, my spiritual high, my priorities. My. Me. I.
Heaven help me, I can be so blind and selfish. I’ve spent the last year being ignored and I am not a fan of how it feels. I can’t take those experiences and do nothing with them. I have an understanding now that I didn’t have before.
Growing up, my family bred cocker spaniels and later, basset hounds (and by bred I mean nature took it’s course and we had a litter of puppies every year). My sister and I loved the puppies and treated them like we were going to keep them forever. My favorite thing was watching puppies learn to walk. Bless their little hearts, they would get all 4 feet up just to have all 4 feet slide out from underneath them in a defeated little ‘thump’. My child’s heart wanted to pick those puppies up and carry them wherever they needed to go for the rest of their furry little lives. However, dad knew that the puppies had to stumble if they were ever going to learn to walk. The compassionate thing was to let them try and try again, tripping over their basset hound ears and flomping on to the newspaper in their room. It’s a “give a man a fish” situation, if you will.
I’m feeling like a puppy. Somewhere in me found the strength to get off sugar again. However, something is different. Where my feet stumble and I eat my feelings, I don’t have to stay down and God’s view of me is no different than if I did the Daniel and lived on vegetables. I don’t have to do this perfectly nor is my worth dependent on what I eat. I’m like a little pup who gets up on their feet and runs excitedly only to trip on his ears; only now I’m falling into a soft place. A soft place where I better understand that this is a process, and a messy one at that. A place where I don’t have to mirror anyone else’s journey just like they don’t have to mirror mine (I don’t recommend it). This soft space cushions the blow of failure and assures me that I can try again. This soft place is grace. There is such freedom in knowing that my failures and God’s love are not mutually exclusive.
This week, we had a potluck at work. My sweet coworker unknowingly brought in my Achilles Heel: the cookie cake. I believe my reaction upon seeing it was an audible “get thee behind me Satan!” as I sat down with my giggling work mates and munched on strawberries like a daggum squirrel. Literally, the entire time I was at the table there was this war in my brain of “how can I plot and scheme to get my fix” and “I don’t have to have that. I don’t have to give into the compulsion; I won’t die and it is ok”. I simultaneously wanted to eat that cookie and light the thing on fire. but in the end, I chose freedom. Did my flesh and raging brain regret that? You bet your sweet Aspercream it did. Did my spirit? No. The quiet place inside of me was comforted, and I felt strong for the first time in nearly a year. I was up on all 4 legs and it felt good.
So these newborn puppy legs will keep pressing on, learning how to walk while falling onto the soft pillow of grace when I stumble.
Press on, friends.
“I’d rather have you sane than skinny”.
My doctor’s words echoed in my mind as I stepped on the scale and saw the number increase again. I don’t like this new medication she put me on for PPD. It makes me tired and is making me gain weight. Like I’ve been winning in either of those areas on my own! But, I had to agree. I need to be well and my mind needs to be well before I start focusing on the scale.
I can’t help but feel like God is trying to pry through my iron skull to make a point: He loves me regardless of how I look, perform, or how mentally “well” I am. The coincidence is just uncanny. My appearance to people may reflect relapse, bondage, or failure but my appearance and state before God is as unchanging as the day I said ‘yes’ to the gift of salvation. I learned the hard way that personal success puts me in a state of self-righteousness and failure keeps my heart contrite before God. You know, contrite like the heart of David who had a serious thing for God. God is stripping me of myself so I can see Him more clearly.
My friend Beth is doing a Sunday School series on the names of God. Every week she brings a new name and I’m just blown away at how God reveals more of Himself with each name. (If you want to check it out you can read her lessons on her blog: youllrememberit.blogspot.com.) This week she brought the name “Jehovah Tsidkenu” which means “The Lord Our Righteousness”. This was so significant because it met me in the midst of my “I’ve backslidden so far God wants nothing to do with me” pity party (and oh what a party it is. There’s a pinata). My acceptability before God has nothing to do with my ability to get it right and everything to do with Jesus. Let me repeat that for those in the back: nothing to do with me and everything to do with Jesus. My success or failure in getting things right just isn’t that powerful. God sees us who are in Christ as righteous, justified, clean. The very righteousness that made Jesus the only acceptable sacrifice is the same righteousness that has now been given to those to believe. The Lord is my righteousness. This is not a task–to do righteous things to be right before God–but it is a state of being that I cannot undo with my waywardness. The righteousness of Christ is quite literally who I am because of Jesus and the finished work of the cross.
Because I clearly cannot change my brain to save my life these days, I’ve been sitting in this lesson. Sitting in the truth that God loves and accepts me because of His mercy, and my failure simply isn’t powerful enough to revoke that love.
“Don’t do it, Boo Boo. Don’t do it” I heard my mental Clair Huxtable say as I inched toward the bakery. I was running through the store like a crazy person trying to get everything I needed for the final session of a parenting workshop that night and these people needed their cupcakes. I hadn’t eaten anything save for a Larabar at 7:30 that morning and it was now 3:30; I was ready to eat somebody. I was in the space of entitlement that said I deserved a good binge. It had been one awful week. I was trying to juggle a million things and keep my mind right; which is quite the task on a good day! I picked up the order and finished getting what was needed. I started back towards the bakery, my mind plotting on just what I could get and scarf before I picked up the kids and how easy it would be to hide the evidence. “Don’t do it, Boo.”
There was absolutely nothing to be gained by taking the opportunity to binge in secret. We had a furnace to replace and our church, not even 24 hours before had graciously covered the cost. How does spending money I don’t have to destroy my body honor my church family’s sacrifice? How does it honor God’s gracious, unmerited provision for my family?My body holds on to every calorie right now anyway thanks to nursing, it doesn’t need any more. My pants can’t take any more either! If I had worshiped at Mt. Frosting I would have felt good for about 10 minutes–tops. I took stock and giving in to temptation just wasn’t worth it this time. I walked away.
I’ve experienced some pretty cool victories in the last several weeks, some within the same 24 hour time span as humiliating defeats. I am learning that I am REALLY good at denial. But when you’re staring at circumstances, relationships, finances and realities that beat you up one side and down the other you find that denial simply doesn’t work. Facing the issue head-on is quite unpleasant but when there’s no denial there are no surprises and no secrets. Sometimes the chastisement of Mrs. Huxtable in my head is what keeps me present, engaged, pressing in, and pressing on.
Every summer growing up, we would return to our beloved Mulhall, Oklahoma for a visit to our dearest of church families. One of my fondest memories is running through Harold and Jo’s back yard chasing fireflies with my sister Becky and our friends Rachel, Sami and Dani. The dripping humidity gave way to a gentle breeze as dusk turned to darkness and I began counting on those illuminated bug butts to light my way. As darkness fell and I ran, the firefly I was chasing would light my path just enough so I could see where I was going, even for a moment. Sometimes I’d miss that tree root sticking out of the ground; sometimes I wouldn’t. Every captive firefly became my flashlight giving me little glimpses of what lay ahead.
It’s no secret that this is a dark summer’s night in terms of eating well. Mostly because I’m always sweaty. Kidding. Maybe. Anyway, I feel like each day is a firefly giving me insight into why and how I struggle. I’m understanding that the immense success I had a year ago was the result of extreme restriction that I labeled obedience. There may or may not have been some severe repentance. I saw the 12 months of nauseating, persistent, exhausting hunger as a sign I was pleasing God (which probably explains why I was such a sanctimonious hag to those around me. Yeesh. If I haven’t asked for your forgiveness yet please be patient. I’ll get to you). I’m getting just enough light from the bright rear-end of the Holy Spirit to see that my food issues go way deeper than a number on a scale. My warped view of God fed into my warped view of food and postpartum mental health issues have been the context in which I’m coming to understand the struggle. I’ve spent my life telling people Jesus loves them just as they are but I rejected that love because I couldn’t “behave”. I would allow God to love me when I got my poop in a group and was an obedient, skinny, mild-mannered ‘lady’. Seriously, stop laughing. But I’m getting a glimpse that maybe, just maybe, God loves me just as fully in my sugary mess as he does when I act like kale chips are a treat. He’s giving me just enough light to keep following. As much as I would love to see the big picture, God is allowing little glimpses. It’s like each piece of the puzzle is attached to a lighting bug. Sometimes I catch it, sometimes I trip over the cellar door trying to get at it and fall into a puddle of frosting.
There are days I try and succeed. There are days I try and fail. There are moments of deliberate disobedience fueled by a dire need to make my brain shut up for two seconds. There are moments when I can fight through hunger and others when the nausea and headaches it causes are just too much. Defeated apathy is slowly giving way to a desire to fall back against the Arms that wait to catch me and embrace me where I am rather than rejecting me because of where I’m not.
Some days I catch me a french fry. Some days I catch me a firefly.