“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
Saved By Grace: My Testimony
Today’s post is a tad different. Just a warning guys, It’s going to get real deep real fast, so prepare yourself for some straight talk, some raw honesty, and a whole lot of vulnerability here. Please be kind.
Since my blog is still relatively new, I’m not 100% sure which direction I want to take it in, but I do know that whatever I choose to do with it, the sole aim is to glorify God through it all. From that, today, I felt like this post needed to be written. I don’t know why, and it’s a bit of a leap of faith, but I’m going to do it anyway, because I believe that the small voice that plants ideas into our head is most definitely worth listening to. So, I’m going to listen to it, despite any discomfort writing this post (well, publishing this post) may cause me.
I looked up what the word ‘testimony‘ actually means, and in a religious sense, it means: “a public recounting of a religious conversion or experience”, and I don’t quite think that my story necessarily fits this definition. I mean, it’s not a conversion story; I was brought up in a christian home, I watched the God Channel when I was younger, if I got hurt on the playground, my parents’ first instinct was to pray for healing, we played games like ‘take the anointing’ where my siblings and I would pretend to pray for each other, then push each other to the ground, and I remember distinctly forcing my friends in primary school to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, otherwise they weren’t allowed to hang out with me (not exactly Christ-like, Tamar!!)
My story is more about a shift from knowing about God, to actually knowing God, if that makes sense. It’s about overcoming the darkest days of my life and learning to accept and embrace God’s guidance, His mercy, and His amazing grace.
For around 3 years now, I’ve just known that eventually I’d have to tell my story. At the time of this realisation, it felt kind of like a condition by which my healing was given to me. I can now see why I felt that way (I’ll get into it, don’t worry), as well as why I was wrong, and why what I thought was a condition to my healing was actually the vehicle for further healing, healing which I wasn’t even aware that I needed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve finally felt ready to tell my story. So, here it is.
My story starts in 2008. I’m 13 years old, I’m mid way through high school, and I stopped wanting to eat. That’s it, that’s actually all that I can pin it down to. I distinctly remember sitting on my bedroom floor one morning thinking “I wonder what would happen if I didn’t have breakfast”, so I didn’t, and nothing happened, but the point for me was that I managed to do it.
I’ve had lots of therapy over the years, a lot of professionals trying to pin point exactly why I developed an eating disorder at this point, but we couldn’t figure out why it happened. I didn’t think I was overweight, I didn’t think eating food was bad, I just realised that I could stop eating, that I was determined and self-controlled enough to do that, and then I just kept pushing myself to do it more and more.
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about the behaviours and thoughts of an eating disorder, because I’m aware of the fact that when I was ill, I’d scour the internet for these very kinds of posts so that I could learn new tricks and tips to keep going longer and longer without food, and I don’t want to ever provide anyone with any of that information. So, let’s fast forward to around two years later.
Obviously, I’d lost a lot of weight, but that wasn’t really a goal for me (although at this point, the voice of Anorexia had well and truly taken a hold of my mind and was definitely convincing me of all kinds of crazy things about how big I was, about how much food I needed, about how much space in a room I deserved to take up, about how much I was allowed to weigh, etc.) but friends and family started to notice, and my high school got involved, and I ended up having to be weighed weekly by the school nurse and lectured about the dangers of being too thin and not eating enough.
In one of these sessions, the word ‘Anorexia’ was mentioned, and I was instantly intrigued. Up until this point, I didn’t think that I actually had an eating disorder, I thought all of these urges and thoughts were coming from me, and it honestly wasn’t really bothering me all that much. However, when the nurse said ‘Anorexia’, it’s like something inside my mind recognised itself. I truly believe that the illness in my mind panicked, and in that moment, I was finally able to recognise my own mind as separate to the thoughts and the urges and the ‘goals’ that I had been pursuing for the past few years. It was terrifying and amazing all at once. I remembered that I wasn’t always like this, and that I didn’t actually want this.
I went home and researched Anorexia like crazy. I looked at pictures of anorexic girls and compared myself to them, I looked up what Anorexia was, the death rates, the complications, I learned practically everything there is to know about the illness, and I freaked out. I just knew I had it, the similarities between what I was experiencing and what these girls online were writing about were terrifying to me, because it meant that I wasn’t in control, that I was ill, and that I needed help. I didn’t want help. I wanted to keep going, I wanted to keep losing weight, I liked not eating (or at least, Anorexia liked it) and I certainly didn’t want my friends and family to know that I’d been lying to them, manipulating them, starving myself… I was so ashamed, so terrified that someone would find out, I couldn’t believe that I’d developed a mental illness, I felt crazy.
I remember that night, I had learned about amenorrhea (of which I’d had for the past year and a half) and its complications, and it hit me that I might never be able to have a baby, that I might have actually caused some long term damage to my body, and it was like my whole world came crashing down all at once. I could see myself clearly for the first time in a long, long time. I thought back to all of the nights I’d spent exercising like crazy, the meals I’d pretended to eat, the calories that I’d not allowed myself to eat, the morning weigh-ins, the measuring tape… everything I’d been doing became incredibly clear to me in that moment, and I mourned for the life that I gave up two years ago. I wrote a letter to God, telling Him how scared I was, how much I wanted to not have to live like this forever, I begged God to just take it out of my head right then and there, I asked Him to help me to eat, to help me to not weigh myself, to just heal me instantaneously.
He didn’t heal me instantaneously.
I woke up the next day, and carried on my life as I had been doing. I restricted my food intake, I over exercised, I lied, I made excuses, I lost more and more weight. Every now and then, I’d have moments of realisation, I’d snap out of it, like I was finally able to access my own thoughts and my own desire to live and be free and I’d pray so hard in those moments, and then almost as suddenly as they came upon me, they’d leave, and the voice of Anorexia was once again in control.
Things went on like this for another year, and during that time I would notice that I was getting too skinny, so I’d gain a bit of weight just to keep my family satisfied, and then lose it again to keep Anorexia happy, and so on, and so on. I was getting more and more trapped, feeling increasingly more hopeless about ever being free form the disease, and honestly, I had just accepted that this was me, this was how I was going to have to live now, forever.
I felt like God had abandoned me, I mean He clearly didn’t need me or have a plan for me if He was just going to let this illness in my head make me starve myself to death. It was a dark time, because not only had I given up hope in God ever saving me, but that had caused me to give up hope in myself, and the minute you give up hope in yourself, the mental illness becomes more powerful than ever. It’s like you’ve literally given yourself over to the very thing that wants to destroy you. It wasn’t me anymore, none of it was me, and I didn’t care. I didn’t even care if it killed me at this point. In fact, there were nights when I wished that it would. It was like I was just choosing the slowest, most drawn out form of suicide, and without any hope left in myself or in God, I chose to be okay with that.
I know it all sounds very dramatic, but trust me, the way you think and feel when you’re gripped by a mental illness can never be articulated thoroughly, and what I’m writing here barely touches the surface of explaining the grip that it takes on you. I could use metaphor after metaphor, but unless you’ve actually suffered with a mental illness, it’s not going to make a whole lot of sense to you (which you should be very grateful for!)
Add to the mental illness the fact that your physical body is literally starving, which means that your brain is deprived of nutrients, you have zero energy, you’re cold to your very core, you get bruises from your mattress, and your stomach feels like it is eating you up from the inside out.. well let’s just say that emotions are running high, and it’s just so much easier to give in to the very demanding, very very rude voice in your mind than it is to fight it.
Then one night, when I needed it the most, a small glimmer of hope was restored. God made an appearance. I truly think that up until this point, my mind was just so closed off from God and so consumed by Anorexia, that He could’ve appeared right in front of me and the voice in my head would’ve told me that He wasn’t there, and I would’ve believed it. I needed to get to that point where I was lying on my bed in the middle of the night, stomach in nots, hair falling out, trying not to fall asleep because I was having heart palpitations and was scared I’d die if I did fall asleep… I had to get to that place where I was desperate, where I was closer than ever to giving up, to allow my mind to be quiet enough and for me to be scared of myself enough to let God take over.
For the first time in a long time, I felt peace. There was no dramatic voice, no bright lights, no angels appeared, no pictures given to me and no prophecies announced. I was just lying in bed, terrified of my mind, drowning in my thoughts, shaking from the cold in my bones, and then, peace. I was quiet. My mind relaxed and with it my whole body could, too. My heart palpitations stopped, I warmed up a little bit, and I fell asleep.
“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; When you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.”
I woke up the next day with hope, something that had been missing from my life for far too long. I had hope that God was always going to be there when I needed Him the most, that no matter how bad things became, God would not let me die. Knowing this gave me a reason to try. I thought, if God didn’t let me die in that moment, then there must be a reason for me being here, and if He has a reason for me, that means that there is a life on the other side of this illness, which means that my efforts to get there have to succeed.
This was a huge mental shift for me, because although I was still struggling with the eating disorder, I knew that God was with me even if I couldn’t feel Him, and I knew that He would help me when I needed Him to.
I started Sixth Form, with this newfound hope within me and making a huge effort to eat enough food and to combat the disordered thoughts, but as I was trying, I was trying out of my own might. I still refused to let anyone know what was going on with me, I refused to get professional help, and all because I was just terrified of what people would think of me. I was terrified they’d say I was too fat to be anorexic, or that they didn’t want to help me because I’d been lying to them for so long, or that they’d all treat me differently and think I was crazy and just throw me into a hospital… I thought a lot of things!
Around this time, I also met Matt, and boy did that change things. Matt was my first real relationship, and I could tell from the beginning that it was going to be a serious one. I had never been so close to anyone before, and I’d never felt so guilty about lying to anyone (about eating) before. I had to tell him, God practically pushed the words right out of my mouth, I mean honestly I’d kept it a secret for three years, there was no way I would’ve been able to tell him unless God took control of my mouth in that moment! But tell him I did, and that got the whole ‘recovery’ ball rolling. He encouraged me to tell my mum, which I did, and of course she forgave me for lying to her! She also told me that she’d known all along, and that she also knew that I’d come to her when I was ready, and that we could help me get better together. I also told my friends, who were amazing, and they became such a valuable support system for me.
So, I was recovering. That’s not exactly the end of the story, though (sorry it’s so long, this always happens when I write! feel free to take a break and grab a cuppa!) Matt brought God back into my every day thoughts. He reminded me that being consistent and intentional with prayer, with reading, with just spending time with God and inviting Him into my mind is so incredibly important, especially when you’re dealing with hardships. I’ve made a post about mine and Matt’s relationship and how he really helped me through this time in my life already, so to save space, you can read that section of the story here.
Trying to decide which bits of the next couple of years to talk about is pretty difficult! I’ll briefly mention that I did see a GP, I had bone scans, heart scans, a brain scan, I was given a dietician, a cognitive behavioural therapist, and a family therapist, all of which were super helpful in their own way to my recovery. I am incredibly blessed to not be suffering from any (serious) long-term repercussions of depriving myself of food for so long, and I am so grateful to God for keeping me safe even whilst I was fighting Him.
With regards to actually eating and gaining the weight I needed to, I simply couldn’t have done it without Matt, my friends and my family. Even simple things like my dad buying me tuna steaks every day when they were the only things I felt comfortable eating really touched me (he’s usually very tight with his money!). God had his hand in all of this, He guided me through recovery, and kept sending me little reminders that He wanted me here, that He saw this all coming, and that there is so much life ahead of me.
That time of learning to eat again was difficult. In many ways, it was more difficult that actually having the eating disorder, because fighting something that you’ve lived with for so long just feels so unnatural, and it’s is really, really difficult to see it ever going away. Honestly, it feels like it will never go away. To this day, I still get moments where God shows me something that is definitely remnants of the disorder, and takes it away for me. It’s such an ongoing process, and I want to make it very clear here to anyone reading this that it’s really dangerous to assume that because someone physically seems to be recovered and doing well, then they are mentally well, too. The absolute hardest part for me was accepting my new body. I was 13 when I developed the eating disorder, and I was 18 when I was finally gaining weight back, which means I had no idea what my body was doing, I had no idea what my body looked like or felt like and it was really scary to physically be a certain way when mentally it feels so wrong.
I’ve been recovered from the eating disorder for quite some time now, and I still am so incredibly grateful to God for giving me the hope that I needed to push through. There were so many years of my life when I just didn’t think this would be possible. I could never see a life without Anorexia, I couldn’t imagine being able to eat something and not be tormented with unbearable guilt, I couldn’t imagine liking the way I look, or even just not hating myself. I couldn’t imagine ever being able to stop counting calories, to stop obsessing over my food intake, I just couldn’t imagine ever being able to be me and to not feel guilty about that. My mind has finally overpowered Anorexia, and I live in awe of a God who can do that. My life is forever changed, and my heart is just so full of gratitude.
I’m going to go ahead and fast forward to around a month ago. I thought that Anorexia was completely gone, I mean I had been living it out, I was healed, it was amazing, I was healthy both mentally and physically, and I was getting closer and closer to God with each passing day. I went to a conference held by Hillsong called ‘Encounter: Fear is a Lie’. I went with Matt because he’s a youth pastor at our home church, and he was learning and getting ideas about youth ministry, and networking with other youth workers. I was just coming along to learn more so that I could help him in his ministry, I wasn’t expecting to get anything at all out of it for me, and honestly, I wasn’t really paying that much attention!
There was some worship, and some talking, and it was all really good, I just wasn’t really that into it, if that makes sense. What’s funny about this though, is that God didn’t care whether I was feeling it or not, He wanted me there, and He was determined to speak to me there. During worship I suddenly felt a bit of a lump in my throat, I had no idea why and didn’t really want to have a big emotional worship session, so I just held it back and carried on singing along.
Then, it was time to take a lunch break, so Matt and I went and networked with some other youth workers and listened to a talk by some really cool American guy, and it was great, we chatted to people and they gave us free food. When that was over, Matt and I went in search for some more food (classic us), and we found a little canteen area that was mostly empty since the second session was starting. We sat down and almost straight away I started crying.
The funny thing is, I had no idea why I was so upset. I had all of these feelings inside of me and I was trying to get them out but really wasn’t making any sense. Matt had no idea what was going on, and was mostly trying to figure out if he’d somehow upset me. So, I tried to think back to anything that may have happened to upset me, but honestly I just couldn’t put my finger on anything at all. I was though God had just revealed everything to me in one go, and I needed time to process it all. I just had to keep talking about it, and Matt just sat there and listened to it all.
In those 10 minutes or so, my feelings and how I vocalised them evolved from being upset about not feeling confident networking with people because I’m not a youth worker, to feeling like I’m too socially awkward, to feeling like there aren’t enough women in leadership/on stage roles in ministry, to saying I’d been silenced, that women had been silenced, that I’m trying to be someone I’m not, that I’m exhausted all of the time, that I don’t want to not like people, to feeling like there’s something inside of me stopping me from being who I really am…
What it boiled down to, I realised, after a lot of rambling and crying on my part and a lot of listening on Matt’s part, was that there has been, since the development of the eating disorder, (actually, it is from this that the eating disorder probably stemmed) this need to minimise myself, to diminish who I am, and because I was no longer allowing the illness to minimise my body, it was holding fast to its grip on my sense of self. I was crying mostly because I realised in that moment that the girl I really am is being shut out, she’s being diminished, silenced, and I realised that I’m being silenced by this thing in my head, and it is not allowing me to be who I really am. It was so dramatic a realisation because:
- I thought I’d got over the eating disorder, I’d put so much effort into getting over the eating disorder. I couldn’t bear the thought of still having it in my head.
- I didn’t want to go through another whole ordeal of recovery and fighting, it was such a struggle and I don’t want to have to face that kind of thing again.
- I was upset for myself, that I’d just lived my life with no idea that it was happening, that I’d accepted it and taken it on as my identity.
Trying to articulate what was going on for me, I said to Matt “if you asked my mum to describe me, she’d say I’m energetic, sociable, love being the centre of attention, talkative, opinionated, driven, sure of myself, love people and interacting with people, etc.” because she’s known me long before the eating disorder developed, she really knows me and I’m able to be more myself with her that anyone else. What’s significant about this is that I have lived my life since having the eating disorder thinking that I’m awkward, that I dislike spending time with people, I’m introverted, that I don’t have anything to contribute to a conversation, that I can’t meet new people… and I didn’t even see that as wrong? But that’s just not who I am. I literally just thought that was who I was, and in that moment, it was like without me even asking for it, God overturned all of that.
A quote from one of the sermons at the conference: “One moment in God’s presence will eradicate a lifetime of fears.”
I saw the remnants of the mental illness – I heard the voice in my mind that was telling me to be shy, to be awkward, to be insecure, to be quiet, and I recognised that voice as the voice of Anorexia (which was pretty darn scary, I don’t ever want to hear that voice again) and I knew in that moment that I would never be able to fully recover, or to fully move on from that portion of my life, until I was able to completely let go of that voice.
So, that’s what I did. I gave it to God through a simple prayer, and this time, the healing was instantaneous. I feel different. It’s hard to articulate, but it’s so freeing to experience. I’m not shy, I love people, I know who I am and I’m not going to let a mental illness decide that for me anymore. I actually went home that evening and before I mentioned anything about my experience, I asked my mum how she would describe me. She almost word for word repeated what I’d said to Matt. I couldn’t believe it. God was proving to me that I am free.
This is why I said that my understanding of the fact that ‘one day I’d share my story’ felt like a condition to my healing: I believed that I was extremely shy and nervous, I had nothing of value to say and even if I did, I’d be bad at delivering it and nobody would be interested anyway. Those were the lies that I believed without ever really acknowledging that I believed them, or even that they were a problem in my life! It was this realisation though – that these were lies – that drove my full healing, because I was able to finally see who I actually am, as opposed to who I was forcing myself to be. It was like I could finally let go of this ‘mentally ill girl’ front, I could finally free myself from the shell that I’d been living in, and I could finally embrace my true self. Of course I want to share my story, and of course it’s worth hearing! God did an amazing thing in me, and I want to tell anyone who will listen how great He is!
It’s difficult to get my head around the fact that I lived for so long thinking that that was just who I was, and then in an instant I could finally breathe again, when I didn’t even know that I was choking… I was so used to minimising myself when I was suffering with the eating disorder, that any relief from that felt like freedom, and for God to then add yet another layer of freedom on top of that was so amazing!
My healing story was not instantaneous, and I’m not sure whether it’s yet come to completion. What I do know, though, is that God can and will carry me through whatever hardships I end up facing in this life. He brought me back from close to death, both physically and mentally, and when He saw that the enemy was still gripping my life, even in a seemingly smaller way, He removed it completely, without me ever having to even ask Him, without me ever even knowing that I needed it.
Knowing that God did this for me, I struggle to believe that I don’t have a purpose. Every single day I hope to get closer and closer to where God wants me to be, and I have made the decision to live my life radically. Not for others, not even for myself, but for God. Because He is my saviour, He gave me life and continues to sustain me, He brought me love, freedom, health, happiness, confidence, He gave me back what mental illness took from me, and it’s just not possible for me to believe that He’s finished with me yet.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”
1 John 4:18
“Though a host encamp against me, My heart will not fear; Though war arise against me, In spite of this I shall be confident.”