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: