I Didn’t Want to Be Broken, I Wanted to Be Whole: By Neriah
HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Neriah” is a pseudonym.
It’s with excitement that I’ve read all the articles posted on Homeschoolers Anonymous — yet I could never figure out which experience of my own to write about.
Until the mental health week.
I was anorexic from about age twelve to thirteen — honestly, the months are blurry and I can’t handle going back and reading my journals from that time to get a more precise number.
But, safe to say, for about a year I starved myself.
I dropped from around one hundred pounds down to seventy-nine; my body began to shut down. My hair and nails suffered, and my period stopped. When I look at pictures from that time, I’m shocked — my body is gaunt, my bones protrude out, my face is ghostly. I was twelve and yet I could have passed for nine or ten years old.
Those are the biological details.
Once I began eating normally again (as in, being able to eat a bag of skittles without freaking completely out), the next six years were all about recovering mentally: shifting through feelings, engaging my family, etc. I was constantly depressed and unable to participate normally in social situations. My mind was upheaval—until I was twenty, I spent many, many days in a guilt-and-shame induced nausea.
I had no formal counseling. In fact, when I wrote a speech about my battle with anorexia for an NCFCA speech season, my mom read it and asked, “but did you ever struggled with anorexia?”
It was at that point that I realized I was on my own to sort through the mess in my mind.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about cause. While finding the origin of anything is tricky and often impossible, a significant factor has emerged in the past twelve years that I believe contributed my anorexia and concurrent mental issues: my religious background. In hindsight, my family’s constant emphasis on the Bible, for me, lead to drastic jumps in logic that reinforced my depression, shame and guilt.
Here are few logical fallacies (what I now realize are fallacies) that I’ve mulled over these past fifteen years:
1. If my body was my temple, I had intentionally ruined it by starving myself. I was therefore disrespecting God as the creator of my body. This all equaled shame and guilt—and fear.
2. I had always been a very strong-willed child—my mother commented that she had read James Dobson’s Strong Willed Child and she had a few chapters to add. Furthermore, my mother did not often deal with my passionate, argumentative nature well. Often, in the heat of frustration, she would lob Bible verses at me to convince me to change my behavior. Common ones include the following:
Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.”
Exodus 20:12, “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the LORD your God is giving you.”
She never quoted the following verse at me, but I had read the obscure (and more interesting parts!) of the Old Testament, so I remembered this one that terrified me:
Deuteronomy 21:18, “If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.”
As a result of these verses, I began to believe that my anorexia was a punishment from God intended to turn me toward him and my parents.
It was my “pride” and “haughtiness” and my “lack of honor” that caused me to come into such problems. Thus, if I listened to what God was trying to teach me, the hardships and pain of anorexia would be instrumental in my walk with God— and my depression and guilt and shame would go away.
3. Once I saw the cause of my anorexia (namely, my sin and pride), I would be better. I tried to repent.
I would go forward at church, confessing my sins…..and I’d still feel crippling guilt.
I would read the Bible with discipline and focus…..yet I would still feel horrible depression that made it nearly impossible to get out of bed.
I would simply assume there was a hidden sin somewhere in my life causing me shame—something I hadn’t confessed yet. I searched my soul— wracked my brain. Prayed and prayed, and yet I still felt the urge to work nearly 50-60 per hours a week one summer because I simply could not handle being in a room alone with my racing mind.
I felt I could never repent enough to make the depression go away permanently.
Plus, with all the talk in Christianity about the benefits of “being broken” and how one must be broken in order to be used by God, etc, etc, etc—- I began to feel an impasse with my faith.
Hell, I didn’t want to be broken; I wanted to be whole.
It was at that point that I realized that Christianity and my religious background were not helping me overcome anything— instead, it provided the framework, the worldview to perpetuate these overwhelming waves of depression.
Thus, for me, I left Christianity behind. I believe in God, and yet I find the organized interpretations and literal approach to the Bible not only shallow, but dangerous. My depression and feelings and of guilt and shame have been helped with actual counseling, new “worldly” friends, and a fuller awareness of myself resulting from exposure to ideas in undergraduate and graduate studies.
The very places and people my church tried to save me from instead became my mental health salvation.
Christianity- some versions of it anyways – preaches brokenness while demanding wholeness…. I too found the Christianity I grew up with unconducive to emotional healing.
Thanks for sharing your story.
Lana is right. The church wants brokenness. The 90s song: “brokenness, brokenness is what I long for. Brokenness, brokenness is what you want from meeee”
I don’t have a religion. I just have a love for the Lord God, creator of the universe. This realization only came after getting married and after years of searching and realizing that Christ came to set me free from all the crap, guilt, depression, and un-worthiness I was fed during my homeschool years. Unfortunately, I fear there are tons of people still trying to dig themselves out of the mud that the 90’s-religious-fundamental-homeschool “cults” often preached. Thanks for sharing your story! May the Lord use this post to help others in your situation.
Reblogged this on Leaving Fundamentalism and commented:
A lot of people I know who left religious backgrounds have suffered terrible mental health problems, including me. It’s fine when you believe you’re in the centre of God’s will and everything’s going according to plan. While that’s happening, religion seems to offer a mountaintop experience of knowing the mind of God. But when things go wrong, everything is your fault. Or, if you blame God, that makes you a sinner and a blasphemer. Which is your fault.
Unfortunately a lot of people don’t understand God’s role in our lives. God isn’t a ‘finger-wagging’ God waiting for us to sin so he can punish us. God is not angry at us – his anger already fell on Jesus at the cross. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God doesn’t want us to be broken, he wants us to be whole in Jesus Christ. Well, that’s what I believe anyway.
I can’t believe your mom said that to you. Anorexia is enough of a mind game, you don’t need other people making you doubt that you need hep. 😦
thank you for sharing. I hope you are in a much happier and healthier place now.
I am so very sorry for your struggle with this. It grieves me to hear that your mother was not supportive and I understand how hard that was. I have kept my faith through the same situation, but otherwise the situations are identical.