Where’s Waldo in the Land of ED?

[This was initially written for a non-profit publication ministering to girls with eating disorders in the UK. I wrote it very early this year as they promoted Eating Disorder Awareness Month.
While we’re headed into the holidays and February 2015 seems a million years away, those who deal with eating disorders find this time of year particularly agonizing. I hope this increases your alertness during this emotionally-charged season. Without going on a “witch hunt” pay compassionate attention to the young girls in your life and be willing and ready to help them if you see them struggling with food and body image issues.]

Remember that game we used play—Where’s Waldo? In a sea of colors and confusion, one nerdy little guy hides. But he’s just doing what everyone else is doing. His disguise is ordinary, his activities similar to the crowd’s. But he’s still so hard to find!

How much harder would it be if you didn’t know that Waldo always wears a red and white striped shirt? The search would take so much longer if you didn’t know about his blue jeans and signature glasses.

February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month and the theme for 2014 is/was “I Had No Idea”.

It’s a common lament among the loved ones of those dealing with eating disorders. I think the difficulty in recognizing eating disorders quickly enough to treat them effectively is two-fold.

First, many people don’t know what an eating disorder looks like. And if they do recognize the symptoms, they are often afraid to acknowledge them.

But the second reason is more insidious. Sadly, eating disorders are becoming so prevalent that they’re difficult to spot. A lesser-known category of eating disorders is called Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS). It’s as if everyone in Waldo’s picture were wearing a red and white striped shirt, or as if all the tiny characters wore glasses.

But here is where the example breaks down. We cannot go peering into every person’s pantry, spying on their exercise habits or telling them to smash their scale. Unlike Waldo, the point is not to hold everyone in suspicion. It’s not fair to assume that everyone with a dietary restriction, or exceptionally large appetite is anorexic or suffers from binge eating disorder, respectively. Not everyone who gets sick after dinner is bulimic.

The solution to avoid the sad, too late, “I had no idea” is to be educated about the symptoms of eating disorders, to be involved in the lives of loved ones and to be assertive enough to speak up when we notice a problem. And perhaps to change our “clothes” so eating disorders can’t blend in so easily.

Truthfully, I believe there are many, many eating disordered individuals that slip by unnoticed because more and more people are engaging in eating disordered behaviors long before they exhibit the dramatic health consequences. Our culture as a whole, not only accepts but encourages food fears, extreme exercise, fad diets, dangerous weight-loss pills, and stoic self-discipline.

How many headlines did you count at the supermarket yesterday proclaiming the virtues of a new weight-loss trend? Just last month, how many of your conversations with friends centered around your intent to “get skinny” in 2014? We want to wear “skinny” jeans, not just jeans that fit well. Our special diets makes us feel unique and strong. We applaud people who run 12 marathons a year, and brag about getting up at 4 a.m. to squeeze in an “insane” workout.

Speaking for myself, “I had no idea” about my eating disorder for a good while. And even once it had been identified by doctors and my parents, it was difficult for me to see my behaviors as dangerous. After all, many people marveled and praised me for my commitment to working out. Others told me that they envied my self-control around food. A few even said, “I wish I could be anorexic for a day.”

These are the trends that blur the lines. These are the habits and conversations that dress eating disorders up in innocuous clothing and let them walk unhindered down the street, or sleep innocently in your daughter’s bedroom down the hall. Maybe, an eating disorder even lurks in your bathroom, huddled near the scale. You know, the one that tells you details about your body composition that you don’t even understand? That’s another trend—not only are we obsessed with a low weight, but now that weight must be composed of just the right percentages of fat, water and muscle mass.

Where does it stop? How can we clear the image, sweep away the confusion and rightly recognize disordered eating in ourselves and loved ones before it’s too late?

We need to “change our clothes”. Not literally, but in the way that Waldo’s peers might. If a few more of us dropped our eating disordered behaviors and quit acting like this obsession with bodies and food was normal, perhaps the real problems would stand out.

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Part 3 – Domestic Violence and Eating Disorders

Soon after, I discovered his pornography addiction. Confused and defeated, I wondered when it would end. I knew of a girlfriend who had struggled in her marriage due to her husband’s use of porn, so I sought her out to gain some advice. After a few well-chosen questions from her, she got my entire story out of me.

Help wasn’t hard to come by when I finally reached out. For years, friends and family had lingered in the shadows, trying to help but repelled by my insistence that I was fine and I didn’t want their help. My greatest courage came from the gift of empathy from women that I knew to be beautiful and wise and had also suffered at the hands of an E.D.

It was this friend who finally put words to what I had been experiencing: sexual abuse, rape, physical, verbal, emotional abuse. I began to do research and discovered she was right. After seeking the counsel of other older Christian women who had survived domestic violence, talking to DV advocates, sheriffs, reading books, articles and praying very hard, I knew I had to leave my abuser. I had to protect my son and myself.

I couldn’t see the truth of E.D.’s abuse until I saw how he had abused other women. It wasn’t hard to see their scars; scars through which their true beauty still glowed with all its strength. As I listened, read and learned I finally began to see the truth of their words – that E.D. was killing me, too.

The following year was riddled with divorce proceedings, protective orders, living in a shelter, watching the rearview mirror, legal paperwork and court appearances and many fearful nights of crying out at God. With the finalization of our divorce, my now ex-husband was ordered to graduate from a Batterer’s Intervention Program before having unsupervised visits with our son. Just three weeks shy of his graduation, he took a polygraph test through which he admitted to molesting at least five children. After another year in a custody battle, I received a verdict from the judge: I won sole physical and legal custody of my son with no contact between my son and my ex.

Even once E.D.’s cruelty was uncovered and I knew the truth of who he was, it took years to divorce him. I lived in treatment homes, went through counseling, cried and cried and cried. Several times I wondered if I had healed enough to take E.D. back. Surely I could keep his misbehavior under control. Dabbling with him, speaking to him on occasion only lengthened my recovery process.

The last four years have been a roller-coaster ride. I left my marriage devastated physically, emotionally and spiritually. I felt like I was alone. I felt God was distant. I was angry at my abuser and at God. I screamed at God for answers … I’d decided I wouldn’t let go or let up until He answered me. Finally, God did speak to me and radically changed my heart from one of hatred and bitterness to one of seeking and learning. Now I encourage abuse victims and survivors, as well as educate others on how to recognize and respond to domestic violence.

The last four years, (at least four years) have been a roller coaster ride. I have married a man who loves me, and still once or twice E.D. has come to call. My only solace and hope has been in clinging ruthlessly to the hand of my Savior, Jesus Christ. Even greater still, has been His grip on my hand. He promised that no one, not even E.D. can snatch me out of His hand.

God showed me in real, tangible ways that I am special to Him and didn’t deserve abuse. God took the ashes of my existence and is making a beautiful life out of it.

This is truth. This is where truth is found. It is mined out of the ashes of pain. I heard someone say recently that we are wrong when we associate hard things with bad, and things that are easy with good. Someone else pointed out that Moses had to walk bravely up a mountain into thick darkness to be where God was. (Ex. 20:21)

At Predatory Lies, I long to make truth brighter, more aggressive, louder for the sakes of those who have E.D.’s hands over their ears or the hands of an abuser. Rachelle is working to strengthen the voice of truth. Please, loop a circle of hemp around your wrist, take our hands and SHOUT. Truth won’t be ignored.

The indented portions of this post were taken from Marissa’s post at SheLovesMagazine. Her words prompted the pieces of my own story. Please visit SheLovesMagazine and the site of Marissa’s own ministry Signal on VOICE.

Test Yourself

I apologize from the start that this post is shorter and less personal than most of my articles here at Predatory Lies. I’m preparing to leave my parents’ home after my baby sister’s wedding last Saturday. Angela Kleinsasser was a spectacular photographer – so you can vicariously enjoy the wedding (:

Fortunately for me, I am sharing some wonderful, truthful, Christian resources with you this month. This week we are looking at Finding Balance, their primary purpose is to offer hope and healing to those struggling with eating disorders. The timing is perfect, because this weekend Finding Balance is hosting their annual conference called Hungry For Hope.  But you don’t have to attend the conference to enjoy the nearly boundless resources offered by Finding Balance. You only need a humble heart and a willingness to admit you have a problem and seek help.

Finding Balance offers self-tests to evaluate your relationship with food, your body image and your fears surrounding both.

Eating Issues Self Test Part 1

By the time I discovered Finding Balance, I had already been inpatient twice and was searching desperately for accountability and encouragement for my continued recovery. Finding Balance filled that gap for me. If you are battling food and body image issues, be bold enough to seek help. Start with Finding Balance.

RED

Red, ripe as blood and sweet as pain.

Red flashes, danger nears.

Red the tint of smoke-warmed skies.

Red does anger best on a page. 

Red streaks infection.

Red, the flush of humiliation. 

Red lolls between fangs in a threatening mouth.

Red the irrevocable stain. 

Red screams, “STOP.” 

 

Red swoops in cursive ‘cross a valentine.

Red blinks, help is on the way. 

Red spreads a smile from ear to ear. 

Red the delightful bite of old merlot. 

Red the life inflating veins. 

Red the belly of spring’s robin. 

Red polka-dots on summer’s floor.

Red shares warmth from winter’s hearth.

Red the shade of fertile earth. 

 

Red, the words, “I love you.”