“Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.” Brennan Manning

Monday, August 18, 2014

Self-medicating to Survive

I didn't throw up even though I wanted to. I numbed with food again. Why is that my go-to when I don’t want to feel? I lay down and my mind is flooded with memories. As I acknowledge the true reality of my life, I can understand why I have used food as an escape. I let myself feel the feelings I never got to.

I had to be ‘ON’ all the time. I felt so disconnected from myself - like an imposter - afraid someone would find me out. Survival for me was based on pleasing and performing, while suppressing a deep loneliness, sadness, and hurt. Seeing myself in a new light gives me some self-compassion.

One memory came back vividly:

The house was quiet - everyone in bed. I snuck back upstairs, big bowl of ice cream in hand. I ate in secret to feel better... for a moment... But then, was left with a sick stomach and guilty conscience. Why do I abuse my body with food?

A friend was spending the night in the room down the hall and I shuddered at the thought of her finding out the way I really was - so out of control and a mess. She had traveled to see me so we could pass out tracks together and share the Gospel with “lost souls.” I felt ashamed of myself and believed that no one would like me if they knew my deep struggle with self-contempt and food.

My husband and I were living at my parents’ house at that time because we had gotten so far in debt after our first year of marriage. You see, I married a Jesus freak. Even though he wasn’t attracted to me, he married me because “God told him to.” I was a girl who wouldn’t hold him back. I didn’t complain and went along with whatever he wanted. He believed we should “live as if we weren’t married” so he could maximize his energies in preaching. Without a steady job, he maxed out our first credit card to Native Missionaries and we gave our possessions away. Thus, we moved in with my parents…

You see, I am the oldest of five kids in a dysfunctional home. I was the “good girl”, always striving to be perfect and make my family happy. I was told to be the example for my siblings - never making a mistake.

In High School, I became a leader at my school and cross-country team. We pushed each other to run harder and faster. I loved my team and my coach. My coach would tell me the same thing: that others would follow my intense drive and work ethic. He also encouraged me to lose weight even though I was already very underweight. He also told me to encourage other girls to do the same and gave us articles on how we would run faster with a lower percent body fat. That’s when I started throwing up.

All this pressure!

Pressure as a child to hold my family together and make everyone happy despite the constant fighting.

Pressure at school to be a leader and example, to make good grades, and be faster and skinnier.

Pressure as a wife to be a quiet, submissive, godly woman. I use to beg God to make me holy so my husband would like me, and to be skinnier because maybe then he would be attracted to me.

Pressure to share the gospel and pass out tracks wherever I went so the blood of those I passed wouldn’t be on my head, and God wouldn’t be displeased with me.

Pressure when I became a mother to train up my children to obey me so they would obey God later.

I felt like I was always being watched. I was afraid that someone would see through my smile to the hurting girl inside, and see my insecurity, fear, and weakness. Because in my world, that just wasn’t allowed or acceptable.

As I reflect on my life,

I see the little girl stuck in the middle of fighting - longing for safety and love.

I see the runner striving to be my best so I wouldn’t disappoint my coach and team.

I see the young wife - with the zealous husband - eager to submit and follow the rules for approval.

I see the young mother enmeshed in a controlling cult-church trying so hard to ‘abound in the grace of God’ while being beat down and exhausted by rules, condemnation, and shame.

In my circles, struggling meant that I wasn’t trusting God - that God was angry at me. I always felt like I was in trouble, and that I would just be cast out.

You see, I never knew God as Love. I never felt safe to let down my guard. I really wasn’t safe to think for myself or have feelings. Sadly, those parts of me had to be put to death for the sake of Christ and the Gospel?!

I coped with this loss of self by numbing my pain with food. It has served a purpose for me for a long time. But, now I’m in recovery and I am letting my wounds breathe and letting the light of the Son cleanse and heal me. Since I have self-medicated for so long, it is a hard habit to break.

But, I am learning to face the hurts in my life, let Jesus cover my shame, and allow myself to be fully human with emotions, mistakes, and all. Because truth is: I am loved and valued just as I am. God already proved that for me.


  1. I too used to struggle with this {and anorexia}. God knows. He understands. He sees you {in a good way, not a judgmental way} and loves you more than you can fathom.
    I want to assure you that the process of healing, while hard, is worth every.single.step {and tears} and will reap the benefit of FREEDOM. Not just from *this*, but from all of *that*...the pressure, the expectations, the lies, the past, the dysfunction.
    Praying over you now Paula and will say a prayer every time I see your name in my FB feed. My your recovery process be another stepping stone to all that He has planned for you! <3

    1. Wow, Caryn, thank you for the grace-filled words. Thank you for raising your hand and saying, "me too." That means a lot and gives me hope. And thank you for praying for me! You bless me so much! Much love, Paula

  2. God wants us to live in joy and peace and love . . . to be, as we are . . . free to truly LIVE! And that means to rest from all the ways we're not perfect and don't have control . . . just to rest, as we are and as it is.

    You have an important voice that He uses to help people to see Him and to courageously choose life. This is the perfection He created in you -- a perfect imperfect story!

    Much love and rest, sweet friend.

    1. I love that, "a perfect imperfect story!" Thank you, dear friend. You are always close to my heart. I love the way we 'get' each other. You nailed it, to truly LIVE is to "rest from all the ways we're not perfect and don't have control." I need to re-type that one over and over, but I'll trust the Holy Spirit to write it on my heart. Much love to you, sweet Amy.

  3. Replies
    1. Aww, Nacole, I am truly blessed to know you. I'm so so thankful our paths crossed. I love you too!

  4. Your voice is not the only one that should speak up and say, "I have this problem," but we all battle the same fears. I have struggled through so many things similar to your own struggles, and even at 68 I still sneak things to eat when I'm feeling depressed, hurt, just down right blah. And you know what? I always wonder why I ate whatever it was afterward. I don't feel any better emotionally and certainly not physically. And it's because in that down time I should turn to God and I don't.

    You are young and God is using your voice to reach other young women with similar and varied problems. Do not fear speaking out and sharing your story -- you may save another's life. Blessings!

    BTW dropped in from Unforced Rhythms.

    1. Thank you for this encouragement! I need it! God has a way of getting us to do things we would NEVER dare to do or tell in the past, but He also gives us the courage to do what He calls us to do. :)

  5. So, so thankful for all that you are learning, Paula! And for the God Who loves you just as you are!! <3

    1. Thank you for being here, Kathy! You bless me so much! I'm very glad we are connected! So much love!

  6. "You see, I never knew God as Love. I never felt safe to let down my guard. I really wasn’t safe to think for myself or have feelings. Sadly, those parts of me had to be put to death for the sake of Christ and the Gospel?!"

    Oh Paula, it breaks my heart to read how hard it was/is to believe that you weren't one grand screw up, always ticking off the authority in charge, whether it was your family or your husband or your church leaders or God.
    It is my heartfelt and spirit groaning prayer that you will continue to walk the road that leads to love and healing. Because, Paula, you are so loved by God. He really does delight in you. Truly. And it has nothing to do with what you may or may not be doing at the moment, or who you are pleasing or impressing, or who you think you're supposed to be. It is simply this: You are beloved. Always.

    Holding you close, friend.

    1. Holly, thank you for your heart, my friend. Thank you for SEEing me, and lifting me up in so many ways. I am really really blessed to have you in my life. And I LOVE what you wrote! Praying that the Holy Spirit continues to write those words on my heart. I am finding Love where I expected to be punished and that changes me! Thank you, Holly.

  7. Hi Paula,
    My name is Greg . As I read your story, I could see myself in your words . I've self-medicated too, only it wasn't food it was alcohol and drugs.
    I stumbled upon Jennifer Dukes Lee's site a few months ago and it has meant so much to me. I understand that most of the people there and here are women and I do my utmost to only reflect a godly presence.
    Thank you for being brave enough to share these things. The truth is I think we all face these issues in one form or another . Men as well as women. God bless you sister. Greg lilley