Trigger warning: mention of suicidal ideation
As a kid, I loved being active, but after being diagnosed with severe scoliosis, I had to wear a back brace 23 hours a day to avoid spinal surgery. This limited my ability to play several sports, so my “athleticism” occurred well into my adult years.
I decided to give running a try at the age of 30. At the time, I had been married for ten years and was staying home with our two young children. I recently became friends with a mom at our daughter’s school, a former college athlete running track and cross country. Every time we talked, she would tell me I should start running too. I told her of my disdain for running for no apparent reason, but she was relentless. She set me up with a training plan and signed us up for a 5k. I assured her I would be the slowest, but I was willing to give it a shot. On race day, I showed up in the ten-degree weather with a thin shirt, cotton pants, and mesh tennis shoes quickly soaked with icy water. I still remember wondering why on earth people did this for fun. The race began, and after the first mile, I was concerned I had done something wrong because I was passing everyone for a second time. I won first place in my age category, and despite thinking I might freeze to death, I loved it. From that time forward, I was hooked. My new friend, who had trained and run her whole life, was shocked that I got off the couch at 30 and was a natural runner. Her approval and encouragement were my favorite part.
I grew up as an only child in a home where perfectionism reigned, the bar was set high, and I was a constant disappointment. I always made straight A’s and was a very compliant child, but I was not talented or good at anything. It felt so nice to have something of my own that came naturally; even better was the constant praise and encouragement that had always been missing.
I invested in some actual running gear and began running more frequently. I quickly noticed pain after almost every run, but I took it as a challenge, not a warning. I looked forward to my early morning runs which cleared my head and helped me feel prepared for the day. Sometimes I prayed as I ran; other times, I just listened to music and enjoyed my time alone. What began as an enjoyable activity and stress reliever soon became an obsession. In my early weeks of running, my body changed which brought about many compliments, even from my husband. My mood became dependent on my runs. I rarely allowed rest days, and despite increasing pain, I pushed myself harder. My pace continued to improve, and I easily won first place in every race I entered. I didn’t care about the wins or being the fastest; my real competition was with myself, which would prove to be my longest and most challenging battle.
I experienced several injuries, even times when a muscle would snap, and I would limp home. After one injury that sent me to the doctor, I was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which contributed to the pain I was experiencing. It wasn’t long before I heard the dreaded news that I would never run again. My body could not handle the impact due to the EDS, and running put me at risk for permanent injury. Every specialist I saw reminded me that maintaining muscle and core strength was vital for my scoliosis and EDS as I aged, but any impact exercise was not an option. I felt like I was being told to hop in my car and take a road trip, but the first requirement was to hand over my car keys. I was frustrated and angry. As silly as it may sound, I grieved the loss of running as if it were a death.
Over the following months, life took turns I never anticipated. My husband and I were moving and renovating a home when we received difficult news from some family requiring our help and attention. Shortly after, I experienced a shocking rejection from my closest friend, and a few weeks later, my father passed away unexpectedly. I remember promising myself that I would never lose control of my body, even though I had lost control of so many other parts of my life. At the time, I had no idea that the broken little girl still living inside me was making a huge decision for my aching adult heart.
I had been experiencing symptoms of severe depression for months but was too embarrassed to tell anyone. I had never been depressed in my life. I was always the one with tons of energy and a smile. I was outgoing, funny, and known for being a good friend and encourager. I could not comprehend how I went from that to the mom who dropped her kids off at school and cried for hours every day. I read my Bible, prayed, and begged God to pull me out of this darkness. I found comfort in Scripture, but God felt distant and cold. I became convinced He had abandoned me. Another strange symptom that developed during this time was my inability to keep food down. It was like my body had decided to reject it. This involuntary symptom was strange to me, but I also knew many things about my body were weird, so I ignored it for quite some time. Eventually, I got some tests done to rule out any medical problems, and everything checked out fine. What began as my body’s response to stress slowly became something very disordered. Even as these behaviors spiraled out of control, no one had a clue, including my husband. I didn’t even think I had an eating disorder at the time. After all, I wasn’t anorexic or bulimic. I began going to counseling for the depression that was not letting up. Although I was guarded and never showed emotion, I learned a lot about myself and processed through very painful parts of childhood that undoubtedly led to some of my current struggles. I began a long process of grief and forgiveness. The intensity of my depression began to lift, and I experienced God’s grace in some beautiful ways. It was as if He lifted me out of the darkness just in time.
However, my behavior with food had not changed. I found comfort in the chaos, something I could control when everything else felt out of control. I had developed an intense fear of weight gain, so it felt like management for that as well. It even provided physical comfort in a way nothing else did, but in the depths of my heart, I knew something was off. I began researching and educating myself on eating disorders and quickly learned that mine fell in the EDNOS category. I studied and read about eating disorders as if it were my job, and I could spout off the DSM diagnostic criteria for every eating disorder in the book. With a background in Psychology, I qualified for classes towards a certified eating disorder certificate through the IAEDP, thinking I could educate my way out of my eating disorder (this is not effective). Knowledge may be power, but it does not heal.
It did not take long before I realized I was in over my head. I tried everything I knew to fix myself, but I couldn’t. I knew I needed help, but there was no way I could tell anyone. I was too old for an eating disorder and looked happy and healthy. No one saw the countless times I was curled up on my bathroom floor pleading for God to heal me or the nights I cried myself to sleep begging God to take my life because I didn’t want to go on like this anymore. I hated the person I had become. I valued honesty and authenticity in my relationships with others and felt like I was living a lie. I was caught in an addiction that I could not bring under control. I thought no one would want anything to do with me if they knew what was happening underneath the surface, so I began pulling away from everyone and everything I knew. If I couldn’t be honest, I wanted to be alone.
As secrets thrive in darkness, so do eating disorders, and mine was in full swing. The thought of keeping this up forever was exhausting as guilt and shame ruled many of my days. Why wouldn’t God take me home if there was no way out of this? I knew I belonged to Him and longed to be with Him…did He not want me either? My prayers began to shift. If God was going to leave me here, my only desire was that He would do something good with me. I prayed He would use my life to glorify Himself, even in some small way. I knew that was the real purpose of my life, and it felt like the only reason to keep pressing into this fight. I still longed for healing, but more than that, I longed for God. I had seen His faithfulness before and knew I could see it again.
My sweet husband, who had been so understanding and patient with me through my depression, deserved better than this. My precious kids needed their mom. I felt desperate and so alone. I decided to give counseling another shot, so I purchased a book by a well-known ED professional, gave one copy to my therapist, and kept one for myself. I informed her of the chapters we would cover and the ones we would skip. Once we were finished, we could evaluate my progress. She agreed to my well-worded control tactics, and we dug in, but only as far as my guarded heart would allow. As months passed, it became evident that I needed more help than I could find in my small Midwestern town.
I made the difficult decision to self-admit to a residential facility, meaning I had to tell my husband the extent of the problem. Several weeks later, I nervously walked into a room full of young women fighting to take their lives back. My heart broke for each of them as I quietly sat down, half smiling at those I accidentally made eye contact with. How did I get here? Is this even real? There is no way I belong with these sick girls who have actual eating disorders. Surely, I wasn’t one of them. Over the following days, I got to know these precious women. They all seemed like babies to me. I was now 35 years old, and most were barely 20. I did the only thing that came naturally to me…parenting. I poured into these girls with a passion I didn’t know I had. I prayed with and for them, counseled them, answered their notes to me, and even tucked them in bed some nights! Several of them jokingly called me “mom.”
I got the beautiful privilege of watching their healing and was so proud of them. What I couldn’t seem to do for myself, I could help others with, and it felt like a gift.
Most of my treatment team happened to be new hires with little experience in the eating disorder world. They were young and inexperienced, and I was neither of those things! I had professionally curated answers for just about everything. I knew eating disorders better than they did. After all, I had a lot of practice! I desperately wanted to be honest and experience the healing I had come for, but I couldn’t trust these strangers who didn’t know or care about me. I was able to get my ED behaviors under control, but my heart and my mind were left untouched. The day I discharged from treatment was one of the hardest days of my recovery process. I sat across from my therapist and thanked her for her time. Holding back tears, I told her I had realized it was too late. I believed full recovery was possible for most people, but not for me. I left quietly without saying goodbye to anyone. As I drove away, I could tell I wasn’t going to make it very far. I pulled over to the nearest gas station and sobbed. I felt like such a failure. I had just left my family for six weeks to get help, not to mention the time, money, and logistics it took to get there, and I had failed. I now had to go home and pretend to be fully recovered. I knew that would be the expectation, and it felt like my only choice.
I returned home, choosing to be thankful for the progress I had made. I was no longer enslaved to the insanity that had defined my life before I left. I learned to function in a semi-recovered state. I now had a well-managed eating disorder…as if such a thing exists.
A couple of years later, God gave our family a miracle…the last type of miracle we had ever imagined. Seemingly out of nowhere and certainly unwarranted, He called us to international adoption. This 12-year-old girl desperately needed a family, and she was running out of time due to her age. My husband and I had zero plans of adoption when God whispered, “that’s your daughter; I want you to go fight for her.” Why would God choose us for her? We weren’t exactly thriving. The very night before, my husband told me I needed to accept that I would always struggle with an eating disorder, and it was time to embrace that. In the middle of my mess, God was calling me to something greater than myself, something I could not control. I had to lay this new process in His hands, trusting he loved this little girl more than I ever could. I traded early morning workouts for the endless paperwork of international adoption. My bathroom floor prayers were now for our daughter thousands of miles away. We embarked on an 18-month roller coaster ride of fighting for this precious girl until the day God finally placed her in our arms.
Our world forever changed, we took a deep dive into the many nuances and adjustments of post-adoption life. I had to teach our new daughter how to read, write, and eat. A myriad of food issues come with a child who has experienced neglect and food scarcity. I taught her about hunger and fullness cues, and I remember the day she screamed for me from the kitchen, “MOM, I’M FULL!” She was learning to eat intuitively, and I got a front-row seat to it all. I think we both cried that day.
Two years of adoption process, adjustments, and settling into our new lives as a family of five left no room for thinking about my eating disorder. Yet, there it remained. As I spent time with God each morning, I could feel him telling me that we weren’t done yet, to press into recovery again. At this point, I had no idea where to turn and felt terrified as I knew this would be the most challenging part of my process; the part that has little to do with food, “behaviors,” or body image. It was time for the heart work. My whole body froze just thinking about it, but I wanted to trust that God would be with me, even here. It felt awkward to reach out for help when I thought I was “fine.” It seemed easier to do when I was desperate and struggling, and I felt I had reasonable control of my eating disorder. However, active eating disorders only provide the illusion of control. There is never freedom in something you have a death grip on. Freedom is only found in surrender.
I began praying that I could find a Christian professional this time. I wanted someone who would point me to Christ and His truth. I was able to find a Biblical counselor and dietitian through Finding Balance. Both were fully recovered themselves, and I finally felt like someone understood. I had never experienced someone praying with me and for me about my eating disorder. I filled them in on the last few years and explained that I had this final piece to take care of. Letting my guard down and being honest with them was a new thing for me, and it was not long before we all realized that I was still very entrenched in my disorder. I wanted to do exactly what they asked of me, but I was still driven by perfectionism and acceptance. As I attempted to be fully compliant, I realized I had no idea what to do. I longed to come into the next session with a perfect report, but I had learned how to function so well in my daily habits I had no idea how to live without them. My compliance was anything but perfect as my health plummeted quickly, and I began experiencing some new physical complications. We had to discontinue our virtual work as they both urged me to find help locally. I knew they were making the clinically correct decision, but it still stung.
Eating disorder help does not exist in my area, and I knew what I needed to do to restore my body. Over the following months, I let that be my focus. I followed up with my doctor, made the necessary medical appointments, and worked my way back to health. I also had to undergo two surgeries for complete tears of both hamstring tendons, which likely occurred by ignoring the pain in my running days. It turns out there are no prizes given for a high pain tolerance!
I was now aware that my relationship with God was far more important than my relationship with food. It hit me that my eating disorder served many purposes but was ultimately a lack of faith. Yes, a hundred different things led to this place, some of which I had no control over, but I knew there were parts I did control, and I needed to let them go. I had to trust God to fill all the empty places in my heart; I had to trust him with my mind and body as well. I needed to lay my life…all of it, in His more-than-capable hands.
This year I turn 40 and celebrate 20 years of marriage. As I look over the last ten years, I realize that an entire decade of my life has been ravaged by pain, loss, grief, and the addiction to an eating disorder. Those same years have also been marked with growth, redemption, forgiveness, and God’s faithfulness. I have wanted to give up more times than I can count, but God’s great love keeps pulling me in, never letting me go. In my least deserving state, He still used my life for good and pain to point me to Himself. In my shame and regret, He was right there with me. In those moments crying on the bathroom floor, He patiently waited for me to turn to Him.
God’s presence has never depended on my success or failure with food, and he didn’t change who He was or what He thought about me based on my performance. His love for you will never change, either. God loves you exactly where you are, but the beautiful part is that He refuses to leave you there. The Holy Spirit will keep pushing you to become more like Christ as you surrender every part of your heart to Him.
Sometimes we need to go after our sin with the same tenacity we would train for an athletic event. If we passively enter a competition, the outcome isn’t going to be great. Our hearts and minds are far more important to God than any earthly competition. We must seek God and fight against sin, temptation, eating struggles, and our aching hearts as if everything is at stake…because it is. He will meet you there every single time.
By: Lindsay Froman