I often avoid thinking about my days (or 20 years) of anorexia. It is painful and confusing, and frankly, I’m not entirely out of the woods. Occasionally, however, on the nights when I am lying in bed unable to sleep, I face the unpleasant flashback of a particularly disturbing behavior or mindset that permeated my life at a certain point in my illness. The other night, my mind flashed back to the basement of my college dorm. It was circa 2005. I was restricted from all exercise by the campus doctor, but my raging eating disorder knew no limits, so it found a way to sneak in my compulsive behaviors. A lone stair climber had been placed in our dorm basement, after the campus gym had been upgraded to more up-to-date equipment. As most anorexics experience, insomnia was my companion, so I spent hours each night in the literal dungeon of our dorm building, climbing a never-ending stair-case, sweating lakes under this outdated stair climber. I remember the secrecy of slinking down the stairs to this isolated basement, terrified of being seen, only to return hours later, saturated head-to-toe with sweat, while even the most wild college students had been snoring away in their rooms for hours. The main feelings that surface with this memory are loneliness, shame, and terror, the most poignant of these emotions being shame.
In the spring of 2001, I sensed God’s call to this private Christian college, hours away from home. I was at a stronger point in recovery and had high hopes about what I would “accomplish” during my time on campus. I crashed and burned upon my arrival at school, and I just never could kick the anorexia in college. In fact, I was dangerously ill for the majority of my college career. I felt like an utter failure. I was unable to “create myself” as I had so optimistically dreamed I would be able to do as a college student. I usually would walk the tight-rope of trying to maintain the lowest weight possible in order to not be kicked out of school and shipped to treatment. I was blessed with incredibly compassionate individuals on campus, who cared for me and wanted what was best for me. The student nurse at the health clinic at times required that I come in daily for weights and vitals, and the head of the counseling department worked with me weekly. At times, I was sent home in order to receive higher levels of care, from residential and inpatient treatment. I tried, desperately, to be a normal college student, but in my opinion, I failed. I was a college student with a chronic eating disorder, and I was utterly ashamed of myself. Who was I to think that I could accomplish something huge for God during my time at college because He “called” me to this particular place? I failed everyone. Honestly, until tonight, I felt this deep sense of shame regarding God’s call on my life in 2001.
Tonight, however, as I was sharing my basement memories with my husband, he opened my eyes to a different, much more grace-filled perspective. He said, “Maybe God called you to that particular school because He knew that the people there would help keep you alive.” It was such a simple thought, I don’t know why I never thought of it. Of course! God knew what He was doing. He knew that I would struggle. He knew that recovery was down the road of my life, quite a bit further, and that He needed to keep me alive to get there. God’s calling wasn’t about my failure. It was about His purpose and His greater plan. Those people at the school were the ones that God would use to carry me through, albeit kicking and screaming, but alive, to the next step in the process. I wasn’t able to recover at that point. I had yet to uncover what the eating disorder was protecting me from. But recovery was nevertheless down the road, and I needed to survive to make it down the road. Thanks to the compassionate people who persevered with me through my hell, I am able to know freedom now in ways that I never thought possible. I also don’t have to look back on my college years with a sense of shame and self-loathing for staying “stuck” in my eating disorder. I can reflect on them with gratitude, knowing that God was actively working to sustain me and nurture me through my pain and suffering to get me to the place of wholeness and healing that I experience today.