Tuesday, April 24, 2012

To Be In Control -- On Your Heart Tuesday

Coincidence?? I think not! Over the past few days, I have had the privilege of “running into” several dear souls who have struggled hard to lay aside weights that hold them down, and I am humbled by their determination, faith, hope, and victories. I introduced you to Vanessa, a real hero and tremendous friend. Yesterday, I find out that my friend, Nacole, over at sixinthesticks will be sharing her story about the struggles she has had with anorexia. If ever there was a talented writer, she is one, and well worth your trip over there. You will not come away untouched. And again today, I find a new bloggy friend over here. Another dear one who seeks to be all that God would have her to be.

I mention these heros because I not only admire their victories and the strength they have shown in their battles, but I have also realized today that I have left this part out of my posts and my stories about myself. I’ve looked long and hard for reasons --- perhaps I don’t FEEL like I’m strong, that I’ve gained a true victory over things, and that if I DID shout praises of success, that I might shame myself in falling again. It all boils down to pride, putting forth a picture of myself that is better than it is, making you think I have it all together when I don’t. . .well, you get the picture. Strange that I would tell you about abuse, a hard childhood, mistakes I’ve made, etc. That was easy. It’s easy to talk about what OTHERS do to YOU, but when we have to talk about what WE do to OURSELVES, it’s a whole ‘nuther ballgame.

Food is my addiction. It has been as far back as I can remember. I scrounged for pennies and spare change and ran three blocks to Prescott’s corner store for penny candy. One day, as I drooled over the candy counter, another boy came in with a brown bag full of soda bottles. He handed them to the cashier, and she gave him a quarter! My jaw dropped and my eyes were wide as marbles!!! Remember those days when soda came in glass bottles, you paid an extra five cents deposit on the bottle, and then returned them to get your nickel back? Well. . .that was the day I went into business for myself. I went everywhere, checking gutters, garbage cans, around the parks. . . Anywhere people drank soda, you would find me looking for bottles. And every.single.bottle I found turned into a candy bar. This was my start in the world of addiction.

I was a skinny kid growing up. Always made fun of, always last in line because I was so tall, always picked last for kickball, always dressed in in hand-me-down, old clothing. I never had the stylish, cute hair-do’s that the other girls had. My only claim to fame in grade school was that I was the playground champion of jump rope! I have my older sister to thank for that.

I can’t remember if I was ever really hungry as a kid. But I do remember always wanting food, and especially sweets. My Mom died when I was eight, and everything began caving in after that. I felt myself becoming smaller and smaller in what was then my little world. I didn’t want to be seen or noticed. I would not answer questions in class, or give reports or participate in anything. I hid myself away. And the older I got, the more alone I wanted to be. Away from the endless teasing, from all the things I could not make right, from a relentless abuser and his threats, and later from a step mother who really did not care for me as a person. There was no place whatsoever in my life that could say I was in control. Even the kitchen was off limits and food was eaten only at meals, and often dished out on my plate. No choices, no yes please or no thank you --- I ate what put in front of me.

As I entered Junior High and High School, I continued scrounging for change. My one control, my secret, my one source of satisfaction. I’d clean my older brother’s room once a week and look for change on his dresser, in his dirty pants pockets, under his bed, etc. I would use this to buy an ice cream sandwich in the lunch line or a candy bar after school from the vending machine at the bus stop. Again, my grades suffered greatly because of my lack of participation in class. I refused to give reports, give an oral book report, or answer questions in class, even if I knew the answers. I was a day dreamer --- drifting off into dreams of a better life, running away, what if I had been born to different parents, maybe being an only child, etc. etc.

I lost myself in reading -- Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Elsie Dinsmore, Christian novels, biographies and missionary stories. When I read my first collection of Christian poetry, a book written by Ava Christianson, I perked up. I thought I could write like this. And I began to write and write and write. I lost myself in writing, but would always throw it all away for fear someone would find it and make fun of me.

Somehow, I stayed thin all the way through High School, therefore, no one knew of my obsession for food. Perhaps it was the exercise of walking 2 miles each day and vigorous Gym classes 4 days a week. So my secret was well kept and my habits continued as long as I could find change or babysit now and then.

I was in big trouble when I worked for a summer at the Montrose Bible Conference in Pennsylvania. I was in the kitchen as a helper there. That wasn’t too bad, as there were people around all the time watching, but I managed to get a good share there. But when they asked me to run the snack shop after the evening services each day, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Junk food heaven! Soda, candy, chips, and hamburgers and hot dogs. I became addicted to Tab, the diet soda.

After High School, I left home, went to Bible School, and continued with the same habits, craving food 24/7. I never thought of it as an addiction. I thought everyone was like me. But when I left Bible School, found a job and a place of my own, I knew I had a problem. Now I had my own source of funds to buy whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. As the years went by, the scale went up, and I didn’t care. I became a drive up junkie, going through all the hamburger lines. This was also the time when all-you-can-eat breakfast bars were so popular, and believe me, they didn’t like seeing me walk through the door. It wasn’t long before I was well over 300 pounds, probably pushing 400.

It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I began to think that this was a problem. I’d go to bed at night thinking, “tomorrow I’ll start a diet.” It was always tomorrow. Every.single.night --- tomorrow. Once in a while, I would start with some fad diet of the times. I’ve been on them all. I would lose some. Gain some. Lose some. Gain some. I did manage to bring that top weight down quite a bit, but never really lost it all. . . . Until. . . .

In the mid 80’s, a group of ladies in my church got together and we formed a weight loss group to try to encourage each other in our efforts. This was good for me, as there was some accountability and . . . A weekly weigh-in. One day, after a morning service, someone asked me if I was losing weight. That was encouraging. . . Until I turned away, and heard one say to the other, “She will never make it!” Everything changed at that moment in my life. I knew right then that I WOULD make it, even if it killed me! And so began the worst time of my life as I began using laxatives, eating 600 calories or less each day, using a treadmill, taking my dog on long, long walks, and weighing myself about 3 times a day. The weight came off fast and furious, and I was sick. I was dizzy and felt faint all the time and lived on the toilet. But I told myself that I was now in control of my life, and thought this was a good thing.

Here I was, skinny once again, just like I was in High School. And I was as miserable as when I was fat. I looked in the mirror and saw myself ugly and fat. I bought a million new outfits, but none satisfied my desire to look good. There was not one mirror in the house that reflected anything below the neck. I didn’t want to see it.

My unhappiness took me from Florida to Virginia, and I was there for four years, hiding away on a farm in the middle of nowhere. Slowly, but surely, I put all that weight back on, telling myself I was happier eating than when I was skinny and miserable. And for ten more years, I ate myself into the darkest time of my life.

It was during this time that I found a lump in my breast. My past blogging tells the story of that journey. Since I had no insurance, and no way to pay for any type of treatment, I let it go, acting like the stoic that didn’t care about life, death, cancer, etc. When I finally did go for help, I weighed in at a whopping 367 pounds. I remember the day that my oncologist spelled out to me that my weight dictated a much higher dosage of chemo, that this would be hard on my heart, and that there were risks to all of this. Also, he told me that my cancer was hormone positive, meaning that it was fed by hormones, and fat produces hormones. He did not hound me then, in fact, never mentioned it during treatment, which I appreciated so much. During those 9 months of chemo, surgery, and radiation, I lost a little, but nothing significant.

Then one day, I got the lecture. I knew if I was going to have any kind of life and do my part to keep the cancer away, I HAD to make some decisions. I had already done a lot of soul searching during thos 9 months. I knew I was a control freak. Isn’t it great how the Lord attacks the one subtle area of our lives that keep us from being all we could be. Food wasn’t the problem --- it was my way of being in control of me and my whole life. I knew that I built walls with food. It gave me a way to keep people at a distance. It didn’t matter if no one liked me -- I had food. For some reason, I really believed no one liked me. When you receive a diagnosis of cancer, there is that feeling of being out of control, nothing you can do to change things, and your life is dependent on someone else making the right decisions. I felt that sense of panic of not being in control, that I could not choose the outcome, that I could not choose to eat or not eat to make it all better. . . And ultimately, what I didn’t want to admit but knew all the time. . . That only the Lord was in control Of my future and what would ultimately happen to me.

And so began the journey of weight loss -- at first, because I knew I would have to face a cranky oncologist with a scale, but later because I knew this would be the only thing I could do to help fight the recurrence of breast cancer.

Eating disorders are as different as each person who struggles with them. Each pain hidden in the heart is different. Some choose not eating, others over eat. Some hide their secret, others flaunt it. Some admit it, some live in denial. But all hurt. I’ve lived long enough and listened closely enough to see and hear the pain behind the masks of smiles and in the hollow laughter.

I am happy to say that for two years now, I’ve been able to control this and have lost 120 pounds now. I took a risk in sharing my heart with a few who love me without strings attached and who encourage me in so many ways. Someday soon, I just may buy a great big mirror --- one long enough to see all of me. I’m not there yet. But I have been willing to take a glance now and then at my reflection in a big window. That’s a start, right?

But ultimately, it is looking at my heart. It is what God sees, not this aging, sagging body. It’s about letting my eyes look up into His and know that He loves me, no matter what. It’s about finding forgiveness and grace without judgment or discrimination at the cross. It’s about new starts, new beginnings, new walks down old paths and good ways. It’s about becoming. . . Becoming a lady who can whisper grace to others just as He whispered His grace to me. It’s about holding out my hand and lifting up another hurting soul. It’s about walking out of darkness into the light of life.

Linking up with:


Danielle Dore said...

Wow, thank you so much for sharing this. And thank you for your beautiful comments on my blog. I have a food addiction as well, and have been battling it since I was 15. Now I am inviting God into it, and making weight loss a spiritual journey to be closer to Him. Well, I'm trying anyway. Its so good to know I'm not alone in my struggles!

Vicky said...

Oh Cora, you did it friend!! Wow, I'm completely blown away by the full weight of your words!! I think you will help a lot of people with the power of your story. I know this had to cost you to share, and I hope you feel freed by your exquisite words!

emily wierenga said...

oh friend what a powerful story. i'm so glad you shared it. i hope you can link it up to imperfect prose on thursdays tomorrow. bless you.

Lea said...

Dearest Cora,
Youv'e been through so much and sharing your story and your journey - I imagine was difficult. I just thank God for you. I'm whispering grace and reaching out my hand to my BEAUTIFUL FRIEND. I love ya girl!
Grow girl!!!
Holykisses xoxo

Andrea Dawn said...

Dear Cora, thank you for sharing your story. My heart aches for all you have been through. It makes me sad to think of all your lost writing . . . you have such a gift. It's pieces like this though, that have such anointing on them, that will touch people's hearts in such a deep way. Blessings beautiful lady.

Denise said...

Thanks for such a heart touching post.

Brian Miller said...

wow you have an incredible story...and there are those just like you that need to hear it, so i am glad you are sharing will touch lives...have a wonderful day...

Nacole said...

oh, wow, Cora, im so humbled. and so glad you did it! this is an *amazing* story! and people will be blessed by your sharing, but mostly, i think this is so healing for you! oh, so blessed by you, more than you know! i humbly suggest, as your friend, do what Emily says and link it up to Imperfect Prose today! i'll send you an email. love you! xoxo

HopeUnbroken said...

oh, cora, you beautiful lady. so glad i found you again today to read your story!
such pain. but isn't God good? and i know you know this, because i see it in all your writing.
thank God for His grace. for His redemption. for His perspective.
never doubt you are wonderfully made in His image. through the up and down struggles. always.
hugs and blessings,

Christina said...

Thanks for sharing your heart so openly. I'm so thankful for people who are willing to share their stories to encourage others and help others in their own journeys. I hope you will continue to share this with others. God is going to use you in amazing ways!

emily wierenga said...

so glad you linked cora :)

dsblanchard said...

Dear Cora,

You said it so well

It’s about becoming. . . Becoming a lady who can whisper grace to others just as He whispered His grace to me. It’s about holding out my hand and lifting up another hurting soul. It’s about walking out of darkness into the light of life.

First Place 4 Health is a wonderful program. It really holds you together at just the times you want to fall apart because you are committed to be with the source of the power of the universe regularly. When you must cash in your bottle and go get the candy bar, He will speak to you through the Bible study or bring a memory verse to mind or have your prayer partner call. It is just such a good Christ-centered approach.

I can't believe you struggled so. You are such a dear woman with so many cyberfriends that your stories of hiding away from criticisms just seem like they have to belong to someone else.

Thanks for writing the hard post. You are truly sold out to Him and it's such a testimony to me. I love that you remember what I remember, the hippie days of the 60's. I always love to hear how things were going for you during those historic moments.

May God use this post mightily. I, like you, can't believe we wrote about the same thing yet again.

Love you,

thefisherlady said...

Cora , I was just a Dawn's and saw your note to look here... What an amazing story you share and I rejoice with you that you have gained strength to shed some of the extra weight! Still, God has shown us your heart and we will always love you ... thank you for sharing this marvelous story of what you have gone through. May God continue to be your strength and joy!

Lisa notes... said...

What a powerful story, Cora! So glad you took the time and heart to share it. Food is my drug of choice too. :-( Although I've never struggled too much with weight, I fight the battle every day with wanting to eat more than I allow myself to. Thankful for God's power to help us and to give us grace.

Sylvia R said...

This was riveting, the whole way through. Thank you for this great share. It has me doing some thinking, about things like possible times of me "hiding away" when I wouldn't label them that. As for that big mirror, I say, go out and get one, set it up, and look at that whole beautiful woman reflected there -- with God's eyes, and love her like He does!

alittlebitograce said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful, honest, painful story.

Anonymous said...

I am in awe of your ability to be so transparent and honest. You are a brave woman. You are a courageous one, indeed. God will use your testimony to touch many. I will commit to praying for you. May God richly bless you today!


Susie Swanson said...

This is a very inspiring story, thank you for sharing it with us. This will help a lot of people..It sure did me..

Southern Gal said...

Thank you for sharing your story. You are whispering grace.

Debra said...

Oh Cora~
I don't know what to say. So much of what you wrote is MY story too. Even though I have lost weight this year, I still struggle with the heart issues-the stress of people interactions that cause me to turn to food for comfort. I'm working through it, and have kept the weight off (only by God's grace), but it is not an easy thing. One part of your story really crushed me-the comment you overheard at CHURCH (!). I can't say all the stuff I'd like to here about that...but believe me, I know just how you felt-only those things make me feel defeated, not like a victor, as in your case.

So-I take courage from your story. I have not been this thin in 20 years, and I still want to lose some more weight, but even more, I want the freedom to LIKE myself no matter what people say or think.

I love you dear person. Oh- and it was YOU that mentioned you were starting WW-way back when, and THAT'S what got me back on it again, and that is the reason I have lost weight!
SO I have much to thank you for, besides being one of my truely faithful friends.
Oh gosh, gotta get some tissues!
I love you Cora!

PS Please forgive me for writing all about ME in this comment-I do not mean to steal your place-just want you to know you are doing a huge wonderful thing.
God bless you.