This time of year, with its county and state fairs in full swing, I’m reminded of my eating disorder.
The summer before my sophomore year of college, I was at my lowest weight and riddled with anorexic beliefs and behaviors. I weighed a two-digit weight, and my condition elicited concern from numerous friends and family members.
Still, I was determined to let nothing and no one stop me. I was solely fixated on my goal of being thin—to an emaciated degree. I wanted no one interfering as I went about my daily life.
And I thought I would achieve that as I decided to go to the Minnesota State Fair in late August.
Not so fast.
By then, my disordered eating tendencies felt as close to my normal routine as they could be. I got up early that morning, engaged in my punishing exercise, non-eating, and grooming routines. I wore a “normal” white T-shirt and jean shorts. There was, to my knowledge, nothing attention-grabbing about my presence.
But my fair-going experience would quickly show me otherwise. For, as I walked the long stretch of the fair site, I noticed people’s stares.
I seemed to run into families with young children. And children, as filter-less as they are, gawked and pointed. Although I could not hear the interactions, I suspected they were asking their parents what was wrong with me. I saw the disgust on the adults’ faces. They could not get away from me fast enough. I had at least three of these encounters.
I wanted to convince everyone, even in this fair setting, I was “fine.” And it irritated me that people seemed to know my situation, or be bothered, appalled, or fearful about my presence. I wanted to believe I was doing well; I was not out of control. I was not sick. And, in this anonymous circumstance, strangers were disputing my well-being.
I believed, sure, my family and friends who expressed their concerns were one thing; they could operate on a personal agenda to hurt me. But total strangers?
And here’s where, unknown to me then, I encountered the powerful impact of “two or three witnesses.”
“But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.” ~ Matthew 18:16
I was a walking skeleton, and dressing up for fun at the fair did nothing to change that. Neither did my desire to persuade others I was “normal.”
Still, I was thoroughly convinced I could blend in and not appear like I had a problem.
So, I decided to look even more like the festive fairgoer. I bought one of those huge stuffed panda bears and proceeded to walk around with it for the rest of my experience: “Hey, c’mon. Look how happy I am; I have this gigantic bear!”
But my panda strategy backfired. Now, their attention wasn’t just pulled to the walking skeleton but to the exaggerated image of a walking skeleton lugging around an enormous stuffed animal on a humid summer day. And make no mistake about it, that panda became heavy quite quickly.
But I still clung to the delusion I could hide behind its cuteness. I believed it would camouflage my unflattering reality, that I could throw a huge bear at it.
And, I was oblivious to the truth, bear or no bear: secrets get exposed.
“For whatever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.” ~ Mark 4:22
And, since eating disorders are all about secrecy, they’re up to the same fate as anything else is. Yikes.
It’s been years since this experience. I still have that panda bear. But, more than that, I also have the revelation of eating disorders and their insidious, sick thought processes, including these:
I know what I’m doing.
I’m in control.
I’m fooling everyone.
I don’t need help.
No one knows what’s really going on.
What are you hiding behind? Perhaps it’s not a humongous teddy bear, but it is something, isn’t it?
For those of us in recovery from food and body image issues, the challenge is to identify the need to be presented in a particular light. And then, from there, we need to confront our chosen props to distract, deny, lie, and hide.
Often, we can get so consumed by that obsession, we completely bypass the liberation which waits on our decision to embrace it.
“…the truth will set you free.” ~ John 8:32