Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

my spirituality and my recovery

One of the questions I received is how my faith has impacted or influenced my recovery.  What I’d like to preface this entry with is as brief as possible explanation of what “faith” is in my life.  Faith isn’t a term I use very often, because I find it to be limiting.  Spirituality is the term I prefer to use, for I find it encompasses more.  As far as my faith is concerned, I belong to the Moravian Church, a Protestant denomination.  I consider myself to be a Christian, with a lot more thrown in.  And here is where I know I might rub people the wrong way or offend some people.  My spirituality encompasses much more than my Christian beliefs.  I find a lot of wisdom and comfort in Buddhist philosophy, and practice meditation and mindfulness.  Prayer is an important part of my spiritual life, although I do not limit myself to praying to what a lot of people consider the traditional concept of God.

Now, spirituality and my recovery.  I think in the beginning, I was rather angry.  I was trapped in the thinking that if you believed and were faithful, God would protect you from harm.  And I was praying to get better.  But, due to what I later acknowledged as choices I was making, I was not getting better, and at the time blamed it on my lack of faith.  Which really didn’t help my spirituality at all.  Guilt and blame can be very harmful emotions when it comes to belief (or just in general, actually).

Neither my faith nor my spirituality made me well.  I’m not sure when exactly I realized this, but praying to get better is not enough.  In fact, praying to get better really didn’t help me at all.  Recovery really was a series of choices that I had to make and then remain committed to.  God wasn’t going to reach down and make them for me, nor was he just going to touch me and *poof* make the eating disorder disappear.  (But wouldn’t that be nice?)

This is not to say that my spirituality did not play a crucial part in my recovery  or that it doesn’t continue to play a crucial role.  Prayer didn’t make me better.  Reading my Bible and other sacred texts did not heal me.  My devotional practice did not make symptoms disappear.  But all of these things did help my recovery.  I discovered that the more I allowed spirituality to play an active role in my life, the stronger I became and the better able I was to remain committed to my recovery.  I was able to draw strength from sources outside of myself, which was rather helpful on days when I felt anything but strong.  I was also able to feel a peace that I could never feel while engaging in eating disorder behaviors.  I don’t know how to describe it other than this peace allowed a type of rest I had never experienced and also a certain feeling of home and belonging that the eating disorder stole from me.  My spirituality has also been a great source of comfort on the hard days, and is one of my many healthy coping skills I have learned to develop in my journey of recovery.

I do not believe that you have to belong to any one religion or follow any one spiritual movement in order to recover.  But I do think that nurturing your spirit can help you with finding a source of strength and healing.  Perhaps walking in a beautiful park provides rest for your spirit.  Perhaps having a cup of tea with a friend.  Perhaps reading a spiritual or sacred text.  Perhaps meditation or prayer.  Each of us is a unique individual and we each have unique spiritual needs.  As with a lot of things in life, it may take some trial and error to find what works best for you, but I wish you the best on your spiritual journey and hope you find peace, a peace that will show you there is a reason to let go of the eating disorder.

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May 26, 2011 Posted by | coping, Eating Disorders, faith, mindfulness, recovery | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

and blessed are the eating disordered, for they shall inherit the guilt . . .

My title is only meant as a slight mocking of the beatitudes (the whole, “blessed are those who are meek for they shall inherit the earth” section of the Bible).

I’ve noticed a trend in certain sites lately.  Actually, not only lately but all the time, but I’ve only recently felt compelled to write about it now.  The trend is to label an eating disorder as sin, or depression as sin.  Or, and part of me feels this is worse in some ways, that if one would just pray harder, their despondency will leave and they could feel the healing.

My initial response to people who say these things is to ask them if they go into cancer wards and tell five-year-olds to pray harder and that lump of malignancy in their chests will go away.

Am I being melodramatic?  Not really.  Cancer=illness.  Eating disorder=illness.  Depression=illness.  Schizophrenia=illness.

Equating mental illnesses with sin or lack of prayer equates mental illness with blame.  The blame belonging, of course, to the person with the mental illness.  As if we had a choice.  As if we decided one day that we couldn’t stand a happy life, so depression it is.

Picking up a rock and throwing it at someone’s head is a choice.  Me waking up in the morning and not having energy and wanting to cry for no reason is not a choice.

An eating disorder, or any other mental illness, is not the work of satan.  We didn’t “let satan into our lives” or “let satan lead us away from God.”  That implies that someone with an eating disorder is not close to God, that they cannot be close to God.  How insulting to that person.  We are not here to judge one another’s spiritual state, or put conditions on their spiritual state.

I believe in God.  I believed in God before I developed the eating disorder.  And I continued to believe in God and feel close to him.  And I prayed.  People telling me I’m not praying hard enough is like kicking me in the gut.

A) How do you know how often or how hard I’m praying in the first place? and

B) How exactly do you measure how hard someone is praying?  If there are bruises on their knees?  If sweat pours off their brows due to the fervency of their prayers?  By whether or not they still have an eating disorder or depression? And if you use the last example to reason with me, I will once again ask you to tell me that a 5-year-old cancer patient isn’t praying hard enough.

I’m not sure if people realize how guilty things like this make those with mental illness feel.  A lot of us already blame ourselves anyway, and now we’re being blamed for not having enough faith, for not being strong enough in that faith.  So on top of worldly guilt, we get spiritual guilt piled on our shoulders.  And scientists and psychologist have long proven that guilt is not a good motivator.  So I’m not sure why they’d want someone to feel more guilt.  Maybe they need us folk with mental illnesses so that they have someone to proselytize to?

And the whole faith/prayer thing from the Christian camp infuriates me even more because does that mean someone has to change their faith in order to pray harder in order to get over their sin (mental illness)?

Prayer can be very helpful.  It can bring about a peaceful spirit, it can give us something to draw on throughout the day, it can give us strength to continue fighting to stay on solid footing.  But prayer, or any faith, should not be used to induce a good dose of guilt.  That’s warping any faith.

Instead of telling someone they should be praying harder, or telling them that you will pray for the evil to depart, why don’t you tell them you’ll pray for them to have the courage and grace to face another day and to give it their best shot?

The evil is that mental illnesses exist at all, not that I, specifically, someone chose to have one.  I mean, being Bipolar I is just so much fun; I’m not sure why everyone doesn’t choose this.

*****further addition:

In response to the commenter, “I have no problems with god, it’s his followers . . .” comment.

I hope that this post doesn’t come across as I’m smacking religion or faith or prayer.  All can play a very powerful role in recovery.  As can your church or fellowship group and other people praying for you.

My problem comes is when religion is twisted to invoke guilt.  (Okay.  If you murder your parents in a fit of anger (rather than defending yourself in a situation that leaves you no other choice if you want to survive) then maybe you should feel some guilt.)  Having an illness, or being sad, or experiencing any human emotion should not cause you to feel guilty.  Emotions are emotions.  If I’m feeling sad and cry, I don’t believe it’s the devil’s work.  There are situations in life where if you don’t feel sad, I’d question if you were human.  Not do I feel guilty for feeling sad and crying.  Both are healthy.  My God is not here to make me feel guilty–especially for things that are beyond my control.  My God is here to give me strength and courage and peace within the pain.  Things that will help me.  Guilt–not so helpful.

August 27, 2010 Posted by | bipolar disorder, depression, Eating Disorders, faith | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments