I lay awake, an hour or two past midnight, soaking in the reality that my husband was sleeping there, right beside me. Soon he would not. It was a matter of days before Jeff deployed to Iraq. Big tears slipped rapidly down my cheeks as I lay there thinking of all that was to come – how much of a best friend he was to me and how much more of a friend I wanted to become to him. But how was that possible when bulimia lay there, right between us? Even though his breathing was rhythmic and peaceful, I spoke, the corners of my mouth heavy with grief, “Jesus doesn’t help me.” The tears came more rapidly. I am so glad he heard me, for I’m not sure I could have said it again. “I know,” he said gently, and the last thing I remember was Jeff stroking my hair until I had fallen asleep.
A couple weeks later, I found myself in Illinois driving to my first counseling appointment. I was eager to get started. My counselor was a lady about my age, and I immediately wished I was in her shoes. I loved to listen. I loved to encourage. I loved to ask questions. But there I was, needing her help. She gathered a lot of family history and sent me home with an empty food journal.
As soon as I started making my food entries, I realized just how much I wanted to please people. I wanted to “do well” to make my counselor happy. She was my newest motivation not to purge. For the beginning of that week I did not purge. While the initial dread of having to tell her kept me “clean,” the restraint only lasted a few days. Two weeks later, I found myself in her office confessing that I had purged, and from there she and I went on to talk about triggers. Was it a certain time of day? Did I feel overwhelmed at the time? How did my stress levels play into the timing of it all? I tried my best to answer, though at times I found myself making something up for fear of giving the annoying “I don’t know” response. We talked strategy. If it was a certain time of day, then maybe I should stay away from the house at that time. Another strategy she suggested was eating slowly, mindfully, in a calm atmosphere, and most certainly sitting down. And how about replacing the habit to purge by other things I enjoyed? For me, those things were reading and taking walks.
But the reality remained that I was a single mom of a 2 1/2 year old and a 5 month old. “Slow and mindful eating” were the last things on my mind when navigating meals with my girls in our little house all by myself. The atmosphere was rarely calm. I felt like the Little Red Hen. All alone I shopped for my groceries; all alone I made our meals; all alone I had to clean up our meals. But, unlike the Little Red Hen, I had no choice but to eat with a toddler and a 5 month old. While smiling and nodding at all her good and helpful ideas, inside I felt hopeless. But I wanted counseling to work so much that I was willing to pretend that it did, at least for a short time.
I felt how much my bulimia weighed on my mom. The house we bought was only a few miles from my parents, so we were over at the house almost every day. I frequently made excuses to leave before dinner. The anxiety that weighed on me of eating in front of them only increased as I felt pressure (only from myself) for my counseling “to work.” I couldn’t bare hurting my mom, but I did time and time again. If I took the portion that I would actually eat, I felt like a failure. And if I took more to make my plate look like a normal portion, I would have to somehow disguise and strategize how I could make it “disappear on my plate.” Shuffling my food around my plate, hiding uneaten portions under my napkin, or even getting up to get seconds on salad, while discretely scraping the more calorie-dense food into the garbage.
Bulimia continued to spread its control over all areas of my life. It consumed my thoughts. I was in a constant state of being desperately hungry and dreaming about what I would eat on my next “purge date.” I ate so little throughout the day at my parents’ house that I needed to go back to our house simply so I could finally eat. After having left my parents, my nightly habit was to turn on Aletheia’s show and eat to my heart’s content. Then, after putting the girls to bed, I would undo all the damage I had done.
The bulimia sign-up sheet had never mentioned these things. Christ had set me free. Yet for the sake of bulimia’s shabby promises, I found myself anxiously scurrying around, carrying out its wicked and ruthless rules. Every promise that God had bought for me in Christ was a fading reality. During this time I came upon Psalm 49:14. I was horrified by its imagery.
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
My taskmaster, bulimia, did everything in its power (which was bound by a leash held in the hand of Christ) to make me believe that I had exchanged the Good Shepherd for the Shepherd of Death. It constantly was telling me to look inward. “Just look at yourself. What evidence do you have that you are saved? Where in your life is your proof? Everything in your life points to me, the Death Shepherd. You have chosen me over Christ, as your life daily testifies.”
Its lie was great, and its lie was one I almost believed. Bulimia told me to look at myself and what I did and didn’t do. But the Good Shepherd tells us to keep our eyes fixed on Him. My level of righteousness had never risen or fallen throughout bulimia. My righteousness had stood that whole time, perfect, at the right hand of God. My righteousness had been declared, and never earned. My righteousness was Christ. My sin and shame absorbed in His flesh, and in exchange I wore Christ Himself. And while I had not yet taken hold of this deeper understanding of the gospel, it was coming very soon. My Good Shepherd continued to lead me, and soon it would be beside the still waters.