I was out at a bar one night and spotted a cute guy. We started chatting, and after a while he casually asked me if I wanted to go to a new church he just started attending. I had grown up quasi-Catholic but never actually believed any of that religion stuff. It all seemed harmless enough, and so I went.
At his church, I learned about a church-run program called New ID. It was a six-week course to help people with eating disorders find freedom. While I didn’t think I had an eating disorder, it peaked my interest. Having complete freedom around food... Can a woman even live like that? I decided I should find out for myself and go, just to see if I could get these “weird food habits” under control. Maybe even lose some more weight in the process. I went along to the first night of the course somewhat naively. Much to my surprise, all in one evening I suddenly realized that I had an eating disorder, and I wanted to get rid of it.
Over the next few years, I simultaneously walked through healing from my eating disorder and building up my faith. The two were so beautifully intertwined that now I can’t separate them.
As my symptoms dissipated, I began to see the lies that had fueled them for years. The three biggest were these:
1) My identity and all that mattered about me was how I looked, and I had to look as the world told me to look. Because if the world thought I looked good I would be wanted, and that would mean I was enough.
2) My body was wrong and couldn’t be trusted. I needed to fight it, and I needed to do something to fix it. Every day. All of the time.
3) If I could control my food and my body, that meant I was in control. If I was in control that meant my life wasn’t scary and unpredictable.
None of these beliefs were actually true. Eventually I came to understand that my identity and worth had nothing to do with my external appearance, but everything to do with my kindness, character, and the sheer fact that I was graciously loved by God. I learned that my body could indeed be trusted, and that it wasn’t bad or wrong. My eyes were opened to the fact that I am vulnerable, and life can be hard and scary. But that didn’t mean I couldn’t handle it, and it certainly didn’t mean that I could ever fully be in control.
Addressing the emotional, spiritual and physical aspects of recovery simultaneously was critical for me in finding full freedom.
Emotionally, I didn't realize how much my eating disorder had been a crutch. At the first sign of an uncomfortable emotion or thought I would begin obsessing about what I'd eaten that day, what I was going to eat, when I was going to work out - something, anything that was in my control. Now, after recovering and learning to "sit with my feelings" I am able to experience the highs and lows of life in a very healthy and positive way.
Spiritually, recovery taught me how easy it is to get off track and how important it is to be rooted and grounded in something outside of myself. For me, this is directly tied to my vibrant Christian faith. I always to some degree believed in a God and grew up being spiritual, but a relationship with God wasn't something that I firmly established until I began to pursue recovery.
Physically, I was always so afraid of being hungry, of feeling out of control, of being at the mercy of something I couldn't dictate. But when I learned to work with my body and not against it, the rest fell into place. I don't count calories, I eat what/when I want, I stop when I am full, and I no longer weigh myself obsessively. I workout regularly and love every minute of it, but I no longer panic if I miss a single run. This might not sound like much, but after living for a decade with this constant anxiety surrounding food, exercise and weight, it's exhilarating.
My struggle and eventual recovery has been an experience I would never take back, and one that I am oddly thankful for every day. The joy has been restored to my life. I am not just free from a struggle with food and my body, but I am free to experience life. From here on out my passion is to reach others who are struggling and to let them know they are not alone. There is always hope, and freedom is possible.
Christie Dondero is the Director of Development and Community Programs at Rock Recovery, a Washington, D.C. area non-profit organization that supports the journey to freedom from disordered eating. Having gone through recovery herself, Christie understands the depth of emotional, physical and spiritual support needed to recover and is passionate about spreading the message that freedom from disordered eating is possible. Learn more at www.rockrecoveryed.org or www.joyfulandexpectent.wordpress.com.