Fact: New Year’s is a really hard time for women.
Fact: New Year’s is a really, really hard time for women who struggle with self-confidence and body image.
Fact: New Year’s is a really, really, really hard time for women who struggle with an eating disorder.
This post isn’t really going to be pretty. And I’m sorry (in advance) that it’s not one of those “these are all the cool and profound things I learned in 2014 that made me a better person/human/Christ-follower/woman/etc.” posts. Although nothing is wrong with those. In fact, I’ve written quite a few of those. But that’s not what this is. This is me being 100% authentic and vulnerable and speaking a little truth into an area of my life that seems gray and secretive and kind of like I shove it into a box and label it, “DO NOT OPEN… under any circumstances.” Because regardless of the fact that there is a lot I’ve learned this year, that’s not what’s on my mind as the new year approaches. And it kind of makes me sad and anxious, because I wish I was one of those people who can look at the new year and simply think, new possibilities, a fresh start, resolutions and all the beautiful things and metaphors that come with starting over and setting goals and making dreams and plans. But unfortunately, I’m not. At any other time of the year, that’s me. But for the next few weeks, my head is somewhere different entirely.
Here’s something you should know. Although I’m not currently diagnosed with an eating disorder, I struggled with one pretty seriously in high school and college. And oh my goodness is that hard for me to say out loud. And even though I’m so, so thankful that I’m in a healthy spot where I can eat most things and I’m at a healthy weight and I have a pretty healthy relationship with food and exercise, it wasn’t always like that. And the ugly truth is that I’ll probably struggle to some degree for the rest of my life. And I know it’ll come in seasons and waves. Some days will be easier than others. Some seasons will feel like I’m right back where I started. Some seasons I’ll feel as free as a bird. Those are the best ones.
But some seasons, like New Year’s, are pretty freakin’ rough. It’ll feel like the chains are still there. Like they never really left. Because when I think “new year,” I immediately think about the fact that I have an eating disorder. And of self-condemnation and pressure. And losing weight. And eating healthy. And working out. And becoming a better version of myself. And pushing myself a little more. And expecting more of myself. And becoming a little more perfect and chasing ideals and expectations and new goals. And all the thoughts and feelings and things I tell myself about my body and my relationship with food come rushing back. And I overhear people talk about dieting and logging more hours at the gym. And to be honest, it’s one of the hardest conversations to overhear. [Has someone with an eating disorder ever told you how hard it is to listen to a conversation about dieting? It’s like listening to nails on a chalkboard, only worse, because it replays over and over in your head and kind of feels like you’re being emotionally suffocated.]
And I feel for you, if you struggle too. And if this time of year is hard for you. Because not enough people acknowledge it. Because for once you can hide all the unhealthy thoughts among the people without eating disorders who really do want to lose weight and go to the gym more. And you can disguise behaviors and make it seem like everything is perfectly normal, when in reality, your soul is hurting pretty badly. And all the lies are winning.
Not enough people talk about it. About the fact that for women who struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, this time of year is the worst. Worse than the holidays. And that all you can really do is put your head down until you make it to February and people are so annoyed with winter and the weather that all seems to balance out again. And the gym feels a little emptier. And the stress and pressure and conversation creeps away.
If there is one thing I have learned this year, it’s that God works in funny (awesome) ways. A few days ago, while I was on a run, I felt something deep inside telling me to let it all go. And I know that sounds scripted and like I might just be making it up because it makes for good writing, but I promise with every ounce of my being, that I’m not. It was there. Speaking truth directly into the dark corners. Telling me to finally bid adieu to my eating disorder. To move on and realize how beautiful and unique I am. To realize for the first time in a long time that my body is made in the image of God. And that that, in and of itself, makes it more than enough. And radiant. And beautiful. And perfect. And a work of art.
And it’s funny, because I’ve been praying for that feeling for years. Very specifically, for that feeling. And yet, as I felt it coming on, as I started to really think about what that meant… I felt myself resisting. Like, for some reason, I didn’t want to let that piece of me go. Like we [my eating disorder and I] had grown and matured together. And that it was somehow part of me. Part of what makes me, me. Part of my story. An important part of my story. And I felt like if I let it go, even right there in that moment, I’d be sad somehow. Like I was letting a piece of myself go. Like I’d be saying goodbye. Like we were breaking up.
And that should be a good thing, right? To finally feel full and beautiful and satisfied and worthy. You’d think I would’ve kicked that eating disorder to the curb right there. And I guess that’s the part that makes me confused… the fact that I don’t know why I didn’t. Maybe I was scared. Scared of actually facing those feelings of being worthy and beautiful. Maybe part of me, somewhere deep inside, really enjoys feeling broken. Imperfect. Because instead of relying on my own beauty and confidence, I continually have to rely on God to remember that I’m not my own. And letting that reliance go makes me feel worried. To be honest, I don’t know. But it’s funny and awesome that those feelings even surfaced in the first place. Kind of like God’s way of saying, “See, I hear you. You’re not shouting into a void. I’m here.” And although I didn’t say goodbye for good, for that hour, I finally did feel free. Like I was walking on air. Beautiful. Confident. And that’s the part that makes me excited. A small taste of freedom letting me know that those feelings are there. Somewhere. And that they’re definitely closer than I think.
So for all those who struggle this time of year, I’m here with you. I hear your prayers, too. I’m standing right next to you. With my hands up in air, praying that these next few weeks pass quickly and uneventfully. And that the voices don’t win. And that we can come up on the other side together feeling stronger, emotionally and physically.
And I don’t say all this without acknowledging that the next few weeks are going to be tough. Really, really tough. But this — me being honest and raw and real — is so that you know you’re not alone. You’re never alone. And it’s ok to struggle. Because that makes you human. And beautiful. Believe me. Stop, listen and believe me when I say … you are so, so beautiful. You are so, so loved. And putting in more hours at the gym or saying no to sweets won’t change that one bit. You’ll still be as beautiful as you are now. So know that. And rest in the fact that the only expectations you really face aren’t a number on the scale or the way your jeans fit. And one last thing… know that you will get through this, I promise.