Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some talks and seminars, many on eating disorders. As well as talking with sufferers, I’ve had the privilege of speaking to their loved ones. Partners, siblings, friends and parents: many of whom are desperate to help, but just don’t know how. And the hardest thing is, there are no easy answers.
At the height of my eating disorder, I loved my parents, my husband, my friends and my church. Yet beside anorexia, they meant nothing. When you’re addicted, nothing matters but you and your fix. You’ll claw and lie and steal to get it – because that’s your life and there is nothing else. The reality is very different, but inside my head, this is all I need. It calms me down and it lifts me up. It numbs the bad stuff and it makes me feel something. It makes me feel powerful, beautiful and in control. It’s my medicine and it’s my poison too.
People ask me, ‘what did it feel like to be in the grip of an eating disorder?’ It’s hard to explain.
– like your brain is melting and can only hold one thing. Like you’re tired but just can’t stop. Like your old life is a dream and other people aren’t real: they’re gesturing to you, but you don’t care because you’ve stumbled upon a kind of sorcery. Like you’re higher and freer and lighter than the rest and you’ve got the secret of the universe – but others want to take it from you. Nothing matters but keeping hold of this power. And so you strain with all that is in you to bend their will to your own.
If you’re caring for someone with an addiction, it’s very difficult to resist this ‘pull’. What I mean is the draw they exert to make you agree with their version of life – and to help them get what they feel they need. With the best will in the world, it’s very very difficult not to be sucked into the addict’s world. Madness becomes normal – and in trying to support the person, you can end up supporting the disorder too. Glen talks about seeing me at my worst, like someone hunched over herself in a dark corner. His instinct was to join me in the dark and hug me from behind. But what I really needed was for him to turn me round to face him. And to lead me into the light.
This is a powerful image. But in practice, it’s very difficult to do. If you threaten my addiction, you threaten my life. And instead of you killing me, I’ll try and kill you – with my words, my anger, my tears, my promises, my lies and my threats. If someone is addicted and doesn’t want to get help, you can’t save them. But you can pray for them. You can stay strong yourself by getting support from others. And you can let them know that you’re there if and when they change their mind.
It sounds like hopeless advice to carers to say ‘Only Jesus can step in. ‘ But ‘Only Jesus’ is the heart of our faith! Jesus is One who has descended into the pit to be with us. Others can’t fulfill that role but Jesus really is enough and both the sufferer and the carer need to see that. The sufferer’s trust in Jesus means not saving themselves (through their disorder). The carer’s trust in Jesus means not being the saviour. But the fact remains, there is a Saviour. And He can work in the darkest places.