by Gabrielle McKeever
“I struggle with an eating disorder”.
Usually when I say that sentence to people they don’t usually know what to say to me. The term ‘eating disorder’ tends to conjure up ideas of supermodels who starve themselves, or women who are vain. I fit into neither of those images. I did restrict from food, but I was never anorexic.
I was simply afraid of food and fought my relationship with it every day.
My eating disorder even caused me to consistently want to reject communion every Sunday. I had a fear that consuming the bread and wine would somehow have me gain an enormous amount of weight. Despite my fear, however, I went up to the altar and consumed the elements.
After many years of suffering from an eating disorder, I ended up in something called an Eating Disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (EDIOP) which met three days a week for about 4-6 hours each meeting time. Everyone there struggled with some sort of eating disorder, and we were required to eat with each other.
This is where I started to heal.
Somehow over time I came to the realization that these meetings were communion. Many of the sufferers in my EDIOP were Christian: Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and me, Episcopal. There were a couple of other members who were not religious per se, but enjoyed speaking about God and sharing their ideas about God while eating dinner with each other. We learned from one another. We empathized with one another. We helped one another when we struggled to eat. We realized that we could not control the world. We realized that we are not God. And we learned to forgive ourselves and to also forgive our bodies for not becoming what we wanted them to be. We learned to forgive others for the pain they caused us, and we learned to forgive ourselves for the pain we inflicted on our bodies. We learned that to forgive was the way to start healing. For us, forgiving meant that we were choosing life instead of death.
Each time we communed with each other, we started to heal. And as we started to heal, we began our resurrections. Many of us came in with pale skin, cognitive issues due to lack of nutrients, issues with blood pressure, severely delayed responses in conversations, intense emotions, thinning hair and bruises. We were dying. But as our communion happened again and again, our bodies began to change. We had more color in our skin. We laughed at jokes. Our hair grew thicker and richer in color, and we had actual personalities. We changed. We changed individually and as a group. We learned to live again and what living looked like. We were not perfect, but we were okay with that. We were not perfect, but we did not have to be to commune with another. We learned to love each other and ourselves in spite of our faults and flaws. God was with us.
When I receive communion every Sunday, I am reminded of this time in my life and the ways in which God shows love to all of us, even in our darkest times and even when we hurt ourselves and others. When I receive communion, I sense of strength from God to forgive others, and to forgive myself. I receive strength to choose life, and not death.
I am still angry for the many situations that have caused me suffering, and I am still baffled at the people who hurt me, but I have decided to choose life, which to me means that I try to forgive. It also means that I forgive myself. Forgiving myself forced me to give up my perfectionism: my need to be right, and my fear of being wrong. I have to give up my fear of being vulnerable with others, my fear of allowing myself to feel emotions and my fear of giving up my eating disorder as my way of creating order and justice in my world.
Forgiveness did not mean for me, “Well, I forgive this person because I can understand how they ended up hurting me.” Forgiveness did mean for me, “I do not understand why this happened, but I am choosing to live. I am going to go out there in the world with my wounds, break bread and eat with the people that hurt me, and somehow, some way reconcile what happened to me with the people that caused me suffering. I will not starve myself, but will break bread and eat.” I can’t say it’s a good plan, or perfect plan, or the right plan, or the plan everyone should follow. I can’t say it’s even what Jesus meant by forgiving others. But it’s my plan and my call. This is how I am planning to forgive and the only way I feel called to forgive at this moment in my life: I will break bread and eat with my enemies because I need to reconcile and make peace. I cannot live in despair anymore. I no longer choose my eating disorder as a means to create a sense of justice in my life. I am not God and I am okay with that.
Because I learned we are not perfect, but we can be okay with that. We are not perfect, but we do not have to be to commune with another. We can learn to love each other and ourselves in spite of our faults and flaws. And we can learn somehow and in some way to make peace, to reconcile, to redeem, and to resurrect. We can do this, because God is with us. We can do this, because God is love.