For over a week, I have wanted to tackle the issue of the winter holidays (Christmas in particular) and the mix of numbness and emotion they churn up in the eating disordered individual.
Guess what? I've been putting it off and still don't have a well-developed outline or pearls of great wisdom to share with you, but most of my readers check in several times a day and I want to have something to say.
It is far easier writing about 2 Samuel. (Shoot, it was easier learning to spell "Mephibosheth" than writing about Christmas, emotions, and the recovering bulimic). I may be free of bulimia, but bulimia is only a symptom of the disease.
Based on the poll above, 75% of you said that your bulimia worsens around the holidays, and the remainder conceded that you feel more generally depressed at this time of year. Let's talk about that, and find some real solutions that are not pat, cliche answers.
Here's where I personally am now: I have not practiced bulimia or had any obsessive thoughts about food or weight in 6 years. Food is food. There's lots of it around the holidays. I enjoy it as much as the next person, and don't think about it too much now.
Although, of course, I used to take refuge in copious amounts of it....and alcohol, too. About to commence my seventh year of sobriety, it's a non-issue. But you know what? I'm still ambivalent about Christmas. I honestly couldn't care less. I am censoring myself somewhat as I don't want to sound overly cynical, but I just don't see the point of Christmas trees or those over-priced lawn ornaments.
People, the low-grade depression we often feel as the dreaded holidays season approaches has little to do with food, although because food is so integral a part of the "celebrations", we have conditioned ourselves to associate the "holiday" with the food. Anxiety, stress, inadequacy...how about feelings of SPIRITUAL FAILURE - build up to where we may use (or have used in the past) food as a drug to numb and comfort ourselves.
I just touched a raw nerve, didn't I?
You see, as a (former) bulimic, one who happened to love and fear God, Christmas always stirred up conflicting emotions in me. (I was tempted to use the term "cognitive dissonance", but decided it sounds too psycho-babbley). We're talking about hypocrisy, basically. Here we have this "season" of synthetic joy; packaged gaiety - and we're expected to play along whole-heartedly. You see, I have always found it difficult to be joyful on demand. We are celebrating - along with our fellow redeemed, walking-with-God brethren, agnostics, secular humanists and virtually every other stripe of humanity - the event of the birth of Christ. Supposedly. Okay, but let's say, as Christians, that's really what it's about for us.
And what is the meaning behind the Incarnation? That God took on human flesh and came to earth to redeem all who would receive Him - the vilest of sinners. Yup, even us bulimics. Only trouble is, we couldn't stop abusing our bodies long enough to commemorate His taking the trouble. In my testimony, I recall how one year I resolved to stop drinking and being bulimic as a "gift" to Jesus. Advent had barely begun before I failed - painfully.
For someone with an addiction, Christmas is an extremely painful season. It's not just a day; it's in your face before you've finished purging all the Halloween candy. Being joyful, much less rejoicing in Christ, is impossible while you're still in the pit. We need Him to pull us out of it, but we don't know how to start. The contrived "specialness" that we are told Christmas can be does nothing to help.
The only creature lonelier than a Christian bulimic is a Christian bulimic on Christmas.
The Ghosts of Christmas Past
But there's more...what happened, back before you were in the pit? People do not generally develop addictions in vacuums. Now, as I've written before, it is unbiblical to blame your addiction on anyone or anything else - we must take responsibility for our own choices - but if you became bulimic, there was a void you were trying to somehow fill. A desire for love? Acceptance? Does Christmas bring back memories of family dysfunction...quarreling parents....scathing criticism for grades, behavior, looks? The hurt and embarrassment of glares over second helpings; reminders of the caloric value of mashed potatoes? Raging, drunken grandparents? Hateful tormenting (by adults or children)? To this day, my parents reject the Gospel and mock me for my faith. I've never met a bulimic who cannot relate to some of these memories, although many people who never develop addictions also share them. If you did not come from a loving nuclear family, it's likely you feel ambivalent about Christmas.
Holidays as fraught with associations as Christmas is are bound to bring up memories, good or bad. When food is the "comfort blanket" you've clung to for so long, the season is bound to be harder. All the more, you need to practice "taking every thought captive" and spending time with God, putting on the armor of God before going out into the day (in a world, by the way, which loves to attend His party but disdains the Guest of Honor).
My Post-Bulimia Apathy
And yet, at the end of the day, do you know I was much closer to God six years ago, during my season of deliverance, that I feel right now? There is only one explanation for that: I was clinging to Him. Like the woman of John's Gospel, when I bathed His feet with my tears, He was faithful to lift me up. And I stayed there, broken and needy, by His side. I felt that closeness; not in an emotionally-driven sense, but as an obedient disciple will always feel His presence - even when you don't subjectively "feel" Him.
No matter how long ypu've been free of bulimia, you never forget the sweetness of that fellowship.
Intimacy with God is based on obedience, pure and simple. And...what did Jesus tell us to do unceasingly? Pray. My prayer life has suffered. My sense of dependence on Him is superficial. I pay lip service to the idea I am totally dependent on God, but it is no longer a struggle to get through the day without my "pet sin". I have other, more subtle, more respectable sins now. And I feel very capable, thank you very much, to....cope. And do, and produce. Interpreting. Ministry - both in my home church and for Bulgaria. Producing....an 89,000 word book about repentance and restoration from bulimia...which two publishers have requested. Thanks, God. I thank Him like I thank the cashier at Walmart; such has my spiritual apathy become.
Christmas just forces me to recognize it, as I'm supposed to be getting all spiritual and welcoming the coming of Christ again. Once again, I am struck by my own failure, yet somehow, I'm too apathetic to DO anything about it. Christmas is, for me, truly just another day. I sense it is for Christ Himself, too.
I had to think hard about my favorite things about Christmas; what I really take pleasure in. Being brutally honest, this is it:
1.) Shopping for Salvation Army Angel Tree kids and dropping the gifts off at the center. My kids enjoyed that, too, and we will think of them on Christmas morning.
2.) The massage chairs many department stores put out for customer use at this time of year. If I had one of those massage chairs, I would never leave the house.
3.) The praise team at my church - the Sunday before Christmas, they do a rockin' rendition of "Joy to the World". The lead singer, an African American gentleman, has such soul and a set of pipes to match that I can't help but smile and join in, even though I have no real joy.
That's literally it. Christmas brings up painful emotions that this year I simply cannot spend the energy dealing with. If I WERE to deal with my seasonal emptiness, it would certainly entail opening my Bible and praying a lot (that's my answer to everything, right?)
We will continue this discussion another time.