Out Of Reach?

brick wallI’m sitting in Starbucks. A table down from me there’s a girl who’s maybe my age. I say maybe, because she could be anything between 13 and 60.

Her cheekbones are sunken and her face has a fine coating of hair. She’s wearing a hat, but part of her head is visible and there are patches on her scalp. Her skin is grey, almost translucent and along her arms runs a criss-cross of blue and purple veins. Her legs look as though they might snap.

It’s sunny outside, but she’s wearing two jumpers and a scarf. Her fingers are wrapped around a large cup of black coffee, and she stares, sightlessly out the window.  She gets up, suddenly and puts out a hand to steady herself. Glancing sideways, she goes to the bathroom and comes out, flushed and wiping her mouth. She walks to the exit like she’s taking up too much room. I watch as she breaks into a run and disappears into the distance.

I didn’t stop her.  But maybe I should have tried.

In the past, I’ve approached strangers.  Not many, but a few. They’ve looked at me, blankly.  Who is this person?  What can she possibly know about me?  About my body?  About the way that I feel?

And I think, yes.  Perhaps you’re right.

What right have I to speak, uninvited? What wisdom have I to give, that others didn’t offer me? How do you reach out to someone who doesn’t want your help?

I spoke recently to a teacher who has watched several of her pupils battle eating disorders.

One, who struggled with bulimia, left school and went to university.  But she didn’t come home. Her oesophagus burst and she died, alone in her room.  They discovered her body weeks later. Another student explained, ‘she didn’t like anyone to get too close’.

What’s the answer? To eating disorders. To addictions.  To those who need help but won’t accept it.

I wish I knew.  It’s repeated across the country, across the world. In most cases there are dozens of family and friends who have tried to breach the defences and tried to speak sanity. Sometimes it helps.  But sometimes, nothing seems to penetrate.

We still need to speak. Even if we’re pretty sure it won’t work. Even if they hate us.  Even if they scream ‘keep away’.


Sometimes, we also need to step back. When they don’t belong to us. When we’ve tried and tried and it’s destroying us too.

Sometimes there’s nothing else to do but quietly put them in God’s hands.

8 thoughts on “Out Of Reach?

  1. It’s heart breaking to see someone so obviously unwell but so out of reach. I did pluck up the courage to speak to a girl who looked similar to the one you describe, in Sainsbury’s years ago having followed her round the aisles for a bit. I said that I hoped she didn’t mind me speaking to her but that I’d been where I thought she was and wondered if it might help her to talk. She seemed genuinely pleased and we arranged to meet for coffee. We met up quite regularly for several months till she eventually moved away and we lost touch. I don’t know where I got the courage from, I can only think it was from God, and I don’t know if I was any help to her at all but I’m glad I took the risk. She was having support from the local eating disorders service, something I didn’t know existed at the time, so that was a good thing.
    Usually I find myself drawn to and afraid of someone who clearly has a severe eating disorder. I guess it partly depends on where we are at as to whether we feel able to offer support and deal with the possible rejection or whether such a contact is likely to be too triggering and pull us down.
    As you say, sometimes all we can do is place someone in God’s hands and pray that someone does come alongside them and that they can accept some help.

  2. Well done Lauren: I’m sure that God used you in this girl’s life, and it’s a wonderful example of how we can all reach out.

  3. I think there have been times when I would really have wanted somebody, anybody to reach out. I would not think anybody could see how much I was hurting, and would think maybe I could get just that bit thinner, then somebody, somewhere might notice. I was crying out for help, but could not use my voice. I would have wanted you to talk to me, I would have wanted not to be invisible, I might even have wanted to know something about hope.

    On the other hand, I might have been terrified. I might have felt uglier than ever, more ashamed, angry perhaps for being ‘spotted’. I might have been afraid at the idea of talking. I might have not wanted to recover, not wanted anybody to help me out of the pit. But I would still, I think, have appreciated your concern.

    I wonder what others think….

  4. As a mother of a daughter in the same situation I thank you for your words. Some days I feel like it is destroying us as a family and all I can do is place her in God’s hands and remember that God loves her more than I do and that He too wants to see her recover.
    Thank you Emma you speak words of wisdom just at the right time.

  5. Praying for your daughter Jane: and that you will know yourself carried at such a painful time. x

  6. What have we come to when the world is so self-obsessed that people make excuse for these silly girls’ SIN. Their “illness” is self-inflicted… The only cure is for them to recognize that their sin of self-obsession is offensive to God, and REPENT, and live for HIM not their perverse self image.. And we live in a perverse society that just ENCOURAGES their selfishness and self-obsession and Me-Me-Me!
    Loathsome creatures!

  7. Hi Helen. Whatever shape it takes, we’re all sinners: and we all make choices based on self. Our behaviours are incomprehensible; but then, so is all sin – a madness that grips us and controls us, even as we think we control it.

    This is true of eating disorders as well as many of our struggles, but it’s interesting how scripture also talks about sin in terms of sickness and slavery. The solution to such sickness is not the law (which we can’t keep), but the free and loving grace which Christ offers. Even repentance is a gift from God: and He offers us it freely and without condemnation. This is what brings us to our knees: and as we receive it, we are called to offer it to others.

    “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” Luke 5:32.

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