Endless Attempts to Fill the God-Shaped Void: "Drunkorexia"

In my book, "Redeemed from the Pit", I mistakenly identified C.S. Lewis as the originator of the quote "Inside every person, there is a God-shaped vacuum". (I have since learned that it was Blaise Pascal.) Regardless of who first said it, the validity of this statement is continuously borne out in the fallen world around us.

This week, I was notified of the following article, which discusses the campus trend of "drunkorexia" (the practice of deliberately getting intoxicated on an empty stomach, or habitually abusing alcohol while starving one's self of food.) This is not a new practice - forgoing food in favor of liquor is actually an old trick -- everyone knows that alcohol is absorbed more quickly when there is no food in the stomach. I just didn't realize it had a name. (Nor is it limited to college campuses - women long beyond university with both eating disorders and alcohol dependency regularly do this.)

The onlinecollege.org article begins:
At first, "drunkorexia" may sound like kind of a funny word, jokingly made up to describe a situation in which college students and others forgo food in order to be able to afford more alcohol and feel higher effects of alcohol on an empty stomach. But what some may brush off as crazy college-kid behavior is actually a serious problem that can have highly damaging consequences both in long- and short-term health. Of course, that hasn't stopped college students from engaging in this unhealthy trend, and a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia indicated that one in six students had practiced drunkorexia within the last year. Typically, drunkorexia is done by women; the study showed that three out of four drunkorexia respondents were female.
(Continue reading here.)

As I have often noted, eating disorders and drunkenness tend to go hand-in-hand. From a biblical perspective of human behavior, this should not surprise us: "lusts of the flesh" take many forms, and when one is weak in this area, self-control and moderation tend to break down in multiple ways. Additionally, as I point out in Chapter one of my own book, eating disorders engender so much shame and self-loathing that we often gravitate to alcohol as an anesthesia. When in the depths of bulimarexia and drunkenness myself, I used to rationalize that if something made me feel better [alcohol], even for a little while, I would happily use it.

Of course, no number of bottles will ever take the pain and shame away. (Just ask Amy Winehouse.) Only Jesus Christ can do that.

Starving yourself thin will never make you happy, improve your relationships, or, MOST importantly, meet your TRUE needs - forgiveness and intimacy with your Saviour. Seeking solace in alcohol compounds the problem, of course; but the fact that so many seek to fill this God-shaped void with poison testifies to how deep our human need is for God.

Whether you know Hi now or not, you will never be satisfied or find joy in anything less. You weren't designed to.


Feedback from a Physician

Since the release of my book, "Redeemed from the Pit", I have held book-signings twice at my church here in Massachusetts and our pastor of discipleship and counseling has highly recommended it to our congregation. Yesterday, he noted from the pulpit that not much literature has been written on eating disorders from a biblical perspective, but that I "hit it right on the head" in my book.

Such glowing endorsements from pastors and NANC counselors are very encouraging, but one note-worthy conversation I had last week happened to be with an Elder of our church. He is also a physician.

This gentleman pulled me aside the first week my book was promoted, and confided that he'd really like to sit down with me and talk about this topic, which is of personal interest to him. Now in his fifties, when Dr. D was in university, his sister passed away due to complications arising from her anorexia. I knew that he had lost a sister to an eating disorder, and since as an Elder he does some counseling in our church it was encouraging to me that he'd take interest in my book.

"You know, the medical community really dislikes seeing this [eating disorders], because they really don't know what to do with it," he confided. He nodded knowingly when I mentioned the utter uselessness of anti-depressants to treat eating disorders, and admitted that physicians all know anorexia and bulimia are not diseases....but simply are at a loss, as medical professionals, as to what to do. "You almost have to "treat"the whole family," he reflected, and we discussed Martha Peace's workshop on counseling anorexics and the importance of family involvement.

Hearing a physician validate what I've been saying all along - that eating disorders are learned, sinful behaviors (which can therefore be overcome in the power of the Gospel), and not organic diseases (leaving the medical community at a loss) was interesting. It should only be a matter of time before Christian doctors, like him, send their patients to biblical counselors for help, rather than psychiatrists!


Counseling Anorexic Girls - From NANC 2011

Last month, I attended the NANC Conference in Walnut Creek, California, at which Martha Peace taught an excellent workshop entitled "Counseling as if a Life Depended on It: Counselees with Anorexia". In her lecture, Martha highlighted the need for a physician's involvement because of the medically fragile condition of the anorexic; the reality of both a spiritual (eternal soul-threatening) emergency and the physical one; and how family members may be involved in a helpful way.

Any woman repenting from an eating disorder needs help from those closest to her. As God transforms her mind and thinking, it is necessary for family members (mothers especially) to know how to give the right kind of "support" and reinforce biblical attitudes (and right behaviors). Martha demonstrated how an anorexic counselee would be instructed to keep a "self-talk" log, contrasting sinful, obsessive and self-oriented thoughts with biblical replacements which focus on loving God and others. For example, an eating-disordered girl will typically fret, "Everyone is watching me! Why can't they leave me alone?!" The "put-on" thought to replace this might be, "Everyone is not watching me, and those that are, love me very much. I don't blame them for being worried."

Naturally, mealtimes are very tension-fraught in households where someone is battling an eating disorder. One question Martha often fields from concerned mothers is, "What should we do if our daughter just sits and stares at her food?" Discomfort often leads parents to excuse, ignore, or over-react (crying; begging) to their daughters' willful starvation. Instead, Martha counsels parents to remain calm, speak to her very calmly and give her hope. They might express something along the lines of, "I know this is very hard for you but the Lord will help you, and I want you to pick up your fork and take a bite of potatoes. Ask the Lord to help you. We are going to pray for you right now and then we are going to continue to eat our meal." Then, she counsels, turn the focus of dinner conversation to something else - the matter has been dealt with compassionately, biblically, and lovingly - but without dwelling on it or focusing excessive attention on the young woman or her battle.

While Martha made many good points and gave helpful advice on giving homework, making agendas and how to approach the Gospel with the counselee, I particularly liked this discussion of parental involvement and thought it was especially practical. An eating disorder, like any other type of addiction (life-dominating sin), affects every member of the family. I especially like her suggestion of praying and bringing God into what is so clearly a spiritual battle - right there at the dinner table. Having "fought" this lonely battle privately for years, I can tell you that having a compassionate, godly parent offering hope during the scariest moment would have made a world of difference. A loving family praying over a frightened young woman as she faces her fear is far more effective than "talk therapy" and secular "coping strategies". The Bible has much to say about dealing with fear, and the fact that God is FOR us and not against. Reinforcing these truths is the best "support" a young woman could receive.


"It is Finished"

"Redeemed from the Pit" has finally arrived.

I received my author's copies yesterday, and those of you who have requested review copies from the publisher should be seeing them soon. I have been told that those who placed orders have begun receiving them in the mail yesterday.

You may order directly from Calvary Press, or Amazon.com for your copy, and may God bless you as you take this journey!