Funny how being thin is so important until you realize it accomplishes nothing but hunger.
I wish I’d known this before I tried to starve myself to death.
I wish I could have known how good and beautiful I was in spite of my mushroom-cut and big-rimmed plastic glasses. In spite of my pastor-dad who was never home and my homeschooling mum who didn’t like herself and in spite of my thrift-store clothes.
But I didn’t.
It’s hard to be nine and to feel like you have no one, and it’s even harder to be 13 and to nearly lose yourself. To see the shock on nurses’ faces when they marvel that you’re still alive and then to run a hand through your hair and find your hair in your hands.
But maybe it’s all about being hungry.
Because hunger is something you feel you deserve.
If we feel unloved as children, we begin to think we deserve to be punished, and hunger is a knife that cuts deep.
I don’t want my children to ever go hungry.
But how do you convince your daughter that she is worth more than the world, or you, or your interpretation of God could ever describe? How do you help her see love in the mirror, past the freckles and the wide eyes and the stringy hair which she inherited from you?
My mum didn’t know how lost I’d become
–until she lay down one night beside me, as I slept, and couldn’t find me. All she found, instead, was bone.
And she cried at the moon, at the stars, at the faith she’d accepted in university because no one had ever told her that she was loved, growing up. So how could she tell me?
And we wonder where God is in all of the hard until we realize that it’s only in the hard that we can find him. Jesus, on the cross.
For 10 years, from the age of 13 to 23, I believed I was worth saving, and I dated boys and I excelled at school and I laughed with my brother and braided my sisters’ hair and eventually my mum and I and my dad and I, we forgave each other.
And the greatest verse in the Bible, I think, is “Let there be light.”
Because light is a miracle and it’s the only hope we can ever have.
And it became very dark when I got married. When I stopped knowing who I was. When I decided I didn’t want children because then I’d have to gain weight. When I began drinking coffee instead of eating meals, and coffee isn’t a good substitute for drinks, let alone food. And then I stopped being able to sleep for over a year.
It wasn’t until autumn, on a road between cities, that my husband saved me after I tried to drive into traffic. He took the wheel and pulled us over to the side of the road and told me, It was him or food. He could no longer compete.
And it took me a minute, but I was done. I’d relapsed for three years and I was tired of running. I jogged every morning and it was more of a walk these days and I couldn’t do it anymore. So I chose him.
And I began to eat. Slowly, again, I picked up my fork and it’s like being on the front lines. The food tastes so good you want to throw it all up because you don’t believe you deserve it.
But it’s not about deserving anything.
It’s about loving ourselves anyway. Because God loves us.
It’s about saying, That’s okay, self. You tried your best. Another day, then, okay? Have a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate.
Because we are slums being turned into holy temples.
So this time around, I am healing from the inside-out. Because I don’t want to go hungry again. I want to be very, very full.
With love. And grace.
Emily Wierenga is the author of ‘Chasing Silhouettes: How to Help a Loved One Battling an Eating Disorder,’ with Dr. Gregory Jantz (Ampelon, 2012). Releasing this September, it is available for pre-order at Amazon, here. Sample chapters and endorsements can be found at www.chasingsilhouettes.com.