This past week, my close friend and mentor Kelli wrote an article for Today’s Christian Woman entitled “Your Messed Up Story.” When she originally asked a few us of to consider being interviewed for it, I was in a particularly busy season of life and at first denied the request. Not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have time. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t put her article out of my mind—mostly because of a promise I made in recovery years ago: I wasn’t going to be defined by my mess, but if there ever came an appropriate time to talk about it and give God glory through it, I would.
Bulimia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to get rid of it. I started binging and purging when I was 17, during my senior year of high school. I had started gaining weight due to a back injury from cheerleading, and with a serious shift in metabolism, and I started feeling really out of control. There were a lot of other spiraling circumstances during that time of my life; my body was just one of them. But for whatever reason, I was hyper-focused on my body, and pretty soon I was in over my head. During my freshman year of college, I backed off a bit—making promises to myself that was “my last time.” But you can’t really talk yourself out of a disorder, so by the time summer came, I was back into the routine, and binging and purging had become a “normal” part of my life.
The irony of all of this (besides the obvious) was that I was a biblical studies & ministry major at college, and a ministry intern at a non-profit (and later a church). I feared if I told anyone I would be seen differently and “unfit for ministry,” although I know now that I could have been honest–back then, I was living in a state of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps what’s most frightening about the whole thing was my ability to hide and pretend. When people asked about my rapid weight loss, I had answers ready. “I’ve been working out,” (total lie) “I’ve been watching what I eat” (kind of the opposite, actually), etc. Perhaps my ability to lie was the scariest part of it all—I was in a giant web and felt like anyone close to me would have walked away had I been honest. How could anyone trust me after I had been so deceptive? I was ministering to teenage girls while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and who would ever hire (or listen to) someone like that?
To sum it up: throughout the next year I was broken in a thousand ways—sharing my struggle with close friends and my then boyfriend (now husband), confessing to my parents, and going through a year of counseling. Oh, and did I mention? I was a resident assistant for our dorm on our Christian campus that year, too, so while I was counseling others and leading them in weekly Bible study, I was going through my own personal hell. Looking back, it would have been more honest to give myself a leadership break, but I didn’t because I felt a compulsion to not let everyone know what a real and serious mess I was.
It’s been seven years since then, and I’m fully recovered. One would think that after the hard work of recovery, I would have no problem sharing my story and giving God the credit for all the ways I’ve been healed—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when Kelli’s article released on Thursday, my first reaction was panic. I said to my husband, “Oh… crap.” When he asked what was wrong, I responded, “Oh, well—nothing. Kelli interviewed me for this article and I was really honest and now I kind of regret it.” After reading it, Kyle said, “Wait, why do you regret it? It’s the truth.” “I know,” I said, “But now people will actually know I’m kind of a hot mess.”
“But isn’t that the point?”
Husbands, I tell you.
I don’t talk much about my eating disorder and recovery because—here’s the embarrassing truth—I don’t like how it makes me sound. It makes me feel like a crazy person, or that I’ll be perceived as one, even though I never have perceived anyone else with an eating disorder as crazy. So I’m quiet about it because it’s not really a conversation starter, and I mostly just want to manage the way I’m perceived by telling you all the lovely things about me, first. Which is actually just gross. But I think that’s how all of us are when it comes to our sin, mess, and baggage. We don’t bring it out into the light not just because we’re ashamed of it, or because we don’t believe God can use it, but because—frankly—we’re worried about people’s perceptions. What will people think if they know __________? It sounds so elementary, right? How can we be adults and still be trying to manage people’s perceptions?
What I found on the other side of confession was that no one—not a single person—was as hard on me as I was on myself. And I was met with grace. So much grace. As Kelli so eloquently wrote, “Sharing not just our ‘before and after’ stories but also our ‘in the middle of it’ realities points others not toward ourselves but instead toward the Cross—toward the redemption and grace that saved us and keeps on saving us.” Yes, it would be easier if God took a big magic wand and waved it over this part of my story. He hasn’t. But he continues to save me every day, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in my kitchen, and in the mirror … directing me back towards someone so much bigger: Jesus. So I should be over perception management and striving for perfection because that’s kind of the entire point: Jesus is perfect and I can never be. So there you have it: I’m kind of a big hot mess and saved by the only One who has ever been perfect—and I continue to be rescued from the darkness that lives inside of all of us.