Up until I was 18, I thought Christianity was a box you ticked. Vaguely interested in Heaven? Er, yeah go on then, might as well. Job’s a good’un. My parents got my sisters and I christened and we irregularly went to Sunday School. I distinctly remember feeling smug when I was about seven because I knew the Lord’s Prayer off by heart- evidently, the faith by grace and not by works hadn’t hit home. So I thought there was a God. But I thought He was there to be prayed to for a boyfriend, and that if you asked with lots of pleases a gazillion times in a row then hey presto. Extra points for saying it out loud, and even more points if you made a bargain with Him. God was loving, and love meant giving people what they wanted. As for the Bible? Well, no one really read that any more, right? All religions probably led to God, and everyone went to Heaven (except Hitler, obvs). It sounded like a good idea to have some angels on side, especially since my house was riddled with ghosts, but there was no Hell, no, no Devil, no rules, no need to go to Church, no need to live for God (I had only read passages in the Bible necessary for A Level Philosophy so I wasn’t even aware that that was an option), no miracles and no Resurrection- they were just pretty metaphors. Essentially, I had ticked the Christian box because it made me sound like a good person.
So because I wasn’t actually thinking about God, I spent most of my teenage years searching for ways to fit in, to be accepted, to not be so ruddy awkward. So I tried my darndest to look cool, dress and dance older than my age, make boys like me, listen to *slightly* edgy music, and not look particularly clever. Nope: different friends, different boys, different music, different styles, still a big fat zero. I was still terrified of the ‘cool girls’, hopelessly needy, and tired of trying to be someone other than myself- whoever that was. New tack: throw everything into studying, get to Cambridge, meet man of dreams, get killer job, 5-bed house in somewhere-posh-that’s-not-the-south, holidays in the Caribbean, shop at John Lewis, live the upper-middle-class dream. But, we better shift that baby fat…
It’s nothing at first. So imperceptible that I can’t even remember how. In fact, I can’t remember much of it at all once the spiral actually began, and I won’t bore you with the details. But by halfway through year twelve, I was utterly subsumed by a new set of priorities, a new set of values and impulses. Everything was a calculation, bargaining with myself, feeling safe because I had found a way of cutting back even just one calorie or because I had got off the bus one stop earlier to walk 50m more, the sheer terror of being found out, the utter exhaustion. But it’s like swimming in treacle-you don’t know how to think or see differently. You’re aware that you didn’t always think like this, yet even if you wanted to be like that again, you wouldn’t know how to. And whatever anyone says, well they’re all involved in the conspiracy to get you fat again. Yup, even Mum. And that’s why all your friends have jumped ship: they’re just jealous. So, as Dory says, just keep swimming. I can’t remember the specifics because that winter, I was just so cold, and tired and numb to it all. I wrote this a couple of years ago as if from my sister’s perspective, and it’s the closest I think I can get to describing how I felt:
Lost and Found
Lost: 4 pounds a week, 3 dress sizes , 2 breasts, 1 sister.
I have taught you lots little one; I am sorry I taught you this.
You count your calories with fear; your ribs with dark glee, I
Count your vertebrae with terror
Who are you little ghost?
You who can’t stay up past the watershed.
You who have passed your watershed.
2 weeks they said. Christmas
At a push.
The cold December light shines through your bones
You cover it up with children’s clothes
And make up
Hovers over your skin like a death mask
You don’t dare to paint on a smile
Even you wouldn’t tell so great a lie
For the rest, you lie ‘til your tongue turns black
‘Til your vomiting frogs.
But your stomach is empty, and barren.
Icy to the touch, my porcelain hermit crab
Your skin droops off your brittle bones,
There is nothing left to cushion the blows.
A cushion you throw
At some skinny little bitch on the screen
You’d scream, if you could.
But you cough, cough, coffin stead.
You tell me about your triumphs: 3 chips, 2 boiled potatoes, a bagel.
I beam with pride; I die inside
You take your little steps
But the twelve to your bedroom are too many, too steep
I carry you, little moth. To your mausoleum.
Dead smiles, dead friends. They might as well be
Caverns where the light used to shine out your eyes
The maggots coming to feast on your remains.
What does remain?
If found, please return.
I started going to therapy because I wanted to be normal, to stop hurting everyone around me. But that meant just keeping a tighter control on everything. Clearly, things had gotten out of hand, what was needed was greater social competence- not screaming ‘WHY DO YOU HATE ME?!’ at the microwave if my porridge overran would be a good start- but under no circumstances was I to really put on weight. I’d explain my fear of abandonment, let myself have gravy again, and one day I would wake up nice (read: thin) and normal. So nine months after my first counselling session and I was drained, still screaming in public when things did not go to plan, and quite ready to just call it all a day.
Then, on my eighteenth birthday, I got a parcel from my godfather, whom I hadn’t seen in ten years or so: some sonnets he had written for me and Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? Grace? This was new. This was not needing to endlessly search and pursue, not needing to purify myself, not needing to apologise for my own existence. This was job finished. So I read those sonnets written by someone who loved me without my knowledge, and I read how God loved me without my knowledge. And that was that really. I know normally we would encourage non-Christians to investigate the historicity of the Bible, to read the Gospels and intellectually tackle their doubts. But I was hungry, and tired, so I gobbled it up and checked the ingredients after (a month later I was on a Christian Union getaway before Freshers’ Week being politely told that no, not all religions led to God- awks). All those presumptions I had had about what it meant to be a Christian I came to see as what I had wanted to be true so that I could live my way, albeit with a back-up plan, and to recognise them as ultimately unsatisfying. I should make clear that I didn’t recover from anorexia then and there- my family would probably be sceptical about any claims I make to having fully recovered. But I wouldn’t have been able to get this far without Jesus walking with me: how far I have come is not a measure of my strength but of His grace. And from my perspective, it is amazing.