This is Part II of the post I published last Friday. If there we talked about some less than convincing answers to the problem of the link between mortification and anorexia, this time we’ll see some of them that shed more light to it. I hope that, if you suffer from something similar, they can be helpful and, if you need to give advice to someone, you take them into account instead of the other ones.
Despite everything I criticized before, I must say that in Catholic websites there’s a piece of advice that appears repeatedly and that has turned out to be the most valuable one for me: to always consult these things with a spiritual director, and stick to his judgment out of obedience. If I hadn’t done that before it’s because I knew that if I told anyone he was going to tell me that I had to stop doing it, and that couldn’t be because in my mind I had received a secret special call from God and I had to fulfill it. No one else was going to understand it and I couldn’t let them stop me just because they were less enlightened than me.
This has a name, and it’s pride, a huge pride, no matter how humble I felt saying that since this was a gift from God I couldn’t become conceited about it. True humility is exercised in obedience, and that’s something I learnt very well from the works of St. Faustina and St. Therese. It’s been in so many moments the only things that’s kept me going in a path that, otherwise, I saw as wrong and senseless.
The ignored minority
I understand that the problem today generally speaking is the opposite one. People has given up any penance and consider it’s a thing of the past. In light of this, it’s normal that those who fight for a return to truth and orthodoxy inside the Church insist on its importance. Rationally, I know they must not stop talking about it just to avoid offending sensibilities, even if that’s why I’d have wished many times.
I must also say that I haven’t met anyone with a case like mine, who conceived their eating disorder this way. But I’ve met lots of Christian people that, when they’ve tried to recover, have struggled because of these things, these messages. I know how hard it is for many people to cope in Lent, to be ashamed of not fasting, to listen to invitations to mortify the body, etc. Everything is triggering.
Even for non believers anorexia can take on moral features: feeling high, ascetic, separated and beyond the world, with discipline and self-control, etc. And when they want to recover, what they listen in their mind is that they’re greedy, impure, dirty, lazy, slothful, out of control, etc. Obviously, these feelings are much more intense in believers because of the depth that all these words have within a religious context. This part of the illness is very misunderstood in Christian communities.
Recovery as a sacrifice
A key change of mindset that Christian people in recovery have to do is to understand that this process is in fact much more of a sacrifice than any abstinence. We’re to used to equate sacrifice with restriction in the physical level that the possibility that it can be just the opposite as well it’s hard to grasp. But everything depends on where you are in your life at a certain moment, what God’s asking for you right now.
When you’re in recovery, eating less is the easy thing, eating more is the sacrifice. Punishing yourself is the easy thing, taking care of yourself is the sacrifice. Pushing yourself to the limit of your physical strength is the easy thing, resting is the sacrifice. I was very inspired by seeing Christian people that I followed who resolved to double their recovery efforts in Lent: a fast of eating more, of facing fear foods, of adding more sweets and desserts, etc. Apart from other fasts like fasting from bad thoughts, from pro-ana websites, from articles about diets, etc.
Although I was still very scared. To start with, I struggled to accept that those were “valid” sacrifices. To accept that I could give glory to God like that. But I trusted, I did it, I offered it up, I obeyed. Mind you, always with the anxiety of thinking I was getting it wrong and, projecting towards the future, wondering: and when I reach a healthy weight? And when this stops being a struggle? Then, will I have to change this completely and stop enjoying food forever?
Now, already quite advanced in this recovery path, these worries don’t assault me and I don’t believe it’s like that at all. Those questions I asked myself have lost meaning for me. But that’s not because I’ve reached some revealing theoretical conclusions. I think it’s something that you just see when you’re healthy. In recovery we usually talk about healing the body and the mind as two different things, but in some way they’re related. The mind goes slower, but up to a certain point it’s dragged by the body. Your mental processes don’t work the same when your brain is not getting proper nourishment. But “you’ll see it when you get there” isn’t a very effective phrase to reassure someone who’s anxious because of their doubts at a certain moment. And they must be, if not answered, at least calmed down in the best way possible at that moment.
In fact, to be honest, I still don’t understand some things. Now I’m able to offer up mortifications —not to fast from food yet, of course— without it being triggering for me, and in a natural way, without feeling overwhelmed. And I’m also able to understand why other people do other mortifications, even food related. But I’m still unable to see why certain practices are good when done for Christ, and not considered as disordered self-harm.
I’ve learned a couple of things about true mortification, though. To start with, that it must be something that takes you closer to God and opens yourself to others, not that shuts yourself off and isolates you. Something that increases your ability of loving and serving. Of course, in more than one way, exactly the opposite happened with anorexia. I felt closer to God, granted, but at the expense of hurting my loved ones, disobeying His Church, and lying all the time. And it prevented me from living for anything else than that.
Another key: seek peace. Which isn’t comfortability, for sure. Sometimes you need to make changes and that’s painful. Sometimes you have to die a little to yourself and the internal fight is exhausting. But what we do should, deep down, leave us in peace, it should set us free and not enslave us even more.
And one more thing: things should flow naturally. How many times we overthink things and get tangled up in complicated arguments… Most times, those are traps from the devil to drive us away from reality, which is our meeting place with God.
This post is quite shorter than Part I. I’m aware of that. Perhaps it’s because in these subjects there’s still more confusion than certainty, more shadow than light. But God is Truth and Light. So, even if this topic worries you or is triggering for you, don’t go away from Him. Recovery is worth it, but only by His side, because, “What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Matthew 16, 26). There are many things that you can’t understand at first, but you’ll see the solution at the end, and that’s the great good and reward that He’s prepared for you. Trust. Get on His Heart and let yourself be carried away in this ride.