Tag Archives: friendship

The Best French Word

My favorite French verb is tituber, which means “to stagger; to stumble.” The first time I read it was in the poem “A la princesse” by Cameroonian poet Patrice Kayo. The speaker tells his beloved they will tituber hand in hand, toward the horizon. It’s forward progression, however halting and unsteady. It’s hope. Tituber is how I journeyed through addiction.

One of my ongoing questions to Dr. Morgan was, “Where does my addiction come from?” It confounded and angered me that I had such an impossible relationship with food; no one else seemed to. At meetings, get-togethers, and anywhere else social eating was on the agenda, it appeared that people could eat without gorging. If a table of snacks was set out at a party, for example, everyone else seemed able to take some and stop. They didn’t return for a binge when the other guests had migrated to another room. Why did I? Dr. Morgan quickly identified the shame I felt when I compared myself to others, but I was slower to recognize it. He asked me a few questions in my second session about what I saw when I evaluated my perspective of others’ food habits.

“It seems like everyone else makes a conscious decision whether to eat,” I shrugged. “I don’t feel like I have the choice. I don’t make any decisions. I just eat what and when my mind tells me.” After reflecting for a moment, I went on: “In fact, I don’t think I’ve felt actual hunger in months. I eat too often to feel it.” I winced and looked at my counselor. “I’m crazy, yes?”

He chuckled almost paternally. “I don’t use the word ‘crazy,’” he said, lifting an eyebrow and shaking his head.

As I continued to talk, sometimes answering his questions and sometimes my own, I realized two things. First, I was losing every time I compared myself to others. I saw the majority as “healthy,” in contrast to an unhealthy me. The world was well; I was sick. Here’s the truth: not only was that impossible if I believed that “all have sinned and fallen short,” but it’s also ludicrous. You can’t walk through life without being wounded, and hurt does funny things to all of us. For some it creates feelings of unworthiness, for others it instills the expectation of abandonment, for others it’s rejection, and so on. But hurt people don’t escape unscathed. So if we are all hurt from time to time and mistake-prone by nature, some unhealthiness would have to be in all of us. And perhaps the more wounded we are, the likelier we are to develop unhealthy habits. Instead of being the one sick case, I was normal, even by my own logic.

The second thing I noticed was more practical. My addictive behavior was always in done secret. I was willing to go to whatever lengths were necessary – rearranging my schedule, “stretching” the truth, stopping before returning home to get rid of evidence, whatever – to hide my binges. They were more powerful than I was; the draw of the next private binge was practically running my life.

So when Dr. Morgan asked what one thing I could change starting that day, one thing that would get me a step closer to health, I said, “Well, if I do all the ‘bad stuff’ when I am alone, then I would be healthier if I always ate around other people.” And as soon as I said it, I shook my head, telling myself all the reasons that wouldn’t work. I rarely ate in front of others because I believed they would see my shame. I believed I couldn’t eat like everyone else, couldn’t follow all the unwritten rules that they all innately followed.

The rest of the day after I left Dr. Morgan’s office, I thought about not eating alone anymore – no drive-thrus, no picking up something while my then-husband was at work, no gas station snacks while driving home to see my family and friends. That was my way of life, and the thought of abandoning it was painful and impossible. I came up with endless reasons why I simply couldn’t do it.

But the short version is…I did. Even if I felt like I couldn’t make a decision about what or when to eat, I found myself able to decide where. I started getting to school earlier than necessary so I could take my lunch to the graduate assistants’ office. If I didn’t want to eat in front of people who knew me but still didn’t want to break my promise to myself, then I ate out in the open on the school grounds. I asked my friend E to have lunch with me often so I could enjoy her company and unwitting accountability. I fought fiercely against the voice that said, “It doesn’t matter where you go or who you’re with, you’re still sick. Still fat. Still different from everyone else. People don’t change; it’s who you are.” That voice blared, and some days it still does. Nor did changing the location of my meals have any bearing on what I was eating: I persisted in destructive choices. But I persevered with all the ferocity I could manage, and every single meal that week and the next, I ate in front of at least one other person.

By the next time I spoke with K, the friend I first confessed to, I was mentally exhausted from acting against a huge part of my natural instincts, but my brain had just enough space to feel in-control again. I had taken back just enough ground to muster some self-trust. I wasn’t healed in one week, but I had taken back some ground. If I couldn’t run or even walk toward healing, I could certainly tituber my way there. The healthy, redeemed me that I would one day grow into had gotten her first breath of life.

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Filed under Addiction Recovery, Broken Beauty, Ooh Là Là!

The Beginning of Redemption

“Hi, my name is Amie, and I’m a food addict.”

“Hi, Amie!”

It doesn’t matter how you confess addiction for the first time, whether to an anonymous gathering of your own kind or to a friend over the phone (as I did) or to no one but yourself in a quake of sickening realization. It is the deepest humiliation to say, “I have a problem, and I can’t help myself.” It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon in September 2009 when I first admitted my addiction. Although it was a full twelve years in the making, I’d never said it out loud, or even in my head, ever before. As I held the phone that connected me to my precious friend K’s voice, my insides finally collapsed, exhausted and completely repulsed by who I was.

I’d morphed into a person unwilling to deal with negative emotions, and at the time of my confession to K, I was juggling far too many. I hated my body for being so unappealing – to me, if to no one else. I hated my brain for not “thinking its way out” of addiction like it seemed to be able to think its way out of everything else. I hated living so far away from my friends and family. I hated the marriage I was in and the sexual dysfunction I was experiencing. I hated my infertility and the miscarriage I’d suffered. I hated the stress of graduate school. I hated my introversion and inability to be like those funny, charming people I admired. I hated my lack of vocational direction. I hated my general unhappiness. Most days I felt like I was screaming into a vacuum for someone to please-God help me.

Second, I was living outside my convictions. I believed in balance: balance between work and play, between mind and heart. I believed in honesty and truth. I believed in God and his zeal for my spiritual well-being. I believed I was worth love and acceptance. Yet my life didn’t reflect any of those convictions, and I hated that too. I felt like a fraud and a failure.

But the “good” thing was that I could get relief any time I wanted it – inexpensively, legally, and without raising anyone’s suspicions. When I started feeling controlled by my then-husband, embarrassed by who I was, or any other impossible feeling, I could jump into my car and head to a fast-food joint, bakery, or ice cream shop. After stuffing my face, sometimes twice, I didn’t feel any better, but I did feel numb and distracted, both of which are preferable to “hurt.” I became so talented at self-soothing that eventually I didn’t recognize the negative feelings at all. Eventually, when something made me tick, I would pick up my keys and purse without actually noticing that I was hurting. In fact, it got to the point that I didn’t experience hunger as a physical sensation anymore, only an emotional one. I no longer remembered how physical hunger or satiation felt. I was all reflex, a full-blown addict.

The compounding factor with food addiction is that many don’t consider it a “real” addiction. Food addiction tends to be treated as “really liking food” or “having a bad diet.” It’s for darn sure the latter, but it originates in the same place as drug, sex, or alcohol addiction: a desire to destroy the self that has become too painful to bear.

My friend K, my confessor that Tuesday afternoon, is one of the best people I know. She’s shock-proof, as a trained counselor must be. She’s experienced every major event in my life with me, even when hundreds of miles stretched between us. She’s listened to every awful thing I’ve ever told her with patience and grace. She’s heard me snort from laughing so hard and sob from deepest sorrow. And she was the best possible person I could’ve admitted my addiction to for the first time. She said I was “brave,” a term I’d never once used for myself and never would have. She prayed with me for truth and light to break into my hiding places. She encouraged me and promised to check in a week later.

Because I knew she absolutely would check in a week later, I sought help for the first time ever.

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Meltdowns

This pregnancy has a dark side: it’s churning up the noxious stuff, the stuff that reminds me what a train wreck I am. You can work around it for years, and then this teeny person, who doesn’t even have a voice, starts conjuring things in your mind. Apparently, I am carrying an intuitive little girl. Or maybe it’s the hormones.

When I went through addiction counseling, I made – and kept – all sorts of promises that allowed me to live in freedom for the first time ever. The promises gradually became habits, my modus operandi, and everything improved. My health, my appearance, and my confidence soared. No longer did my brain resort to the addiction cycle to cope with everyday life. I was in charge of my behavior, no diet necessary, and Jesus bolstered my strength to live in his provision. I felt and looked so wonderful that I attracted a very hot man who married me a year after we met.

Then I got pregnant. Of course, joy flooded me: it was impossible! A miracle! And of course, I still know that to be undeniably true. But there was a singsong voice in the back of my mind too, like Clare Dunphy on Modern Family, that said, “You’re gonna get fat.” I pictured my former marshmallow-esque body. I pictured my very hot man not wanting me anymore. I pictured myself buying huge clothes. And, to make matters worse, I realized as the weeks went on that my neat and helpful counseling promises weren’t working. When four or more hours spaced out my meals, my blood sugar dropped, and I became weak and dizzy. Twice I fainted. When I didn’t eat ample carbohydrates, massive headaches hit without warning and were followed by crippling nausea and fatigue. The baby was simultaneously breaking all the rules and producing purple stretch marks on my midsection to boot. I started saving for a Mommy Makeover.

One thing I’ve learned: my healing never comes until I dig into the ugliness and write about it. When I see it on paper, I can name it and deal with it. So I’ve spent hours recently writing about my addiction – how it looked, felt, sounded. I’ve gone back to journaling and letting my introspection explain myself to me. And it’s rough because somewhere underneath it all, I am still a train wreck. I am still all the things I once was if I’m not constantly vigilant.

I asked my man tonight, “Who in his or her right mind would give me a baby?”

Without missing a beat, he said, “Jesus.”

“Well, I am seriously doubting His lucidity,” I replied, quite seriously, before melting into tears again. Sometimes I am so excited for Anna’s yuletide arrival that I can barely breathe. Her pictures are so heartbreakingly perfect, and her butterfly-wing movements feel so delightful. Other times I think, “What the heck am I going to do with a baby?” My man assures me that no one is ever ready; they just grow into it as time demands.

My consolation in moments like tonight is thinking about my last decade of life. I have experienced too much, enough to break a person, but Jesus has brought me through it all. I shouldn’t be singing this way, shouldn’t be joyful or in love or blessed. After addiction, sexual dysfunction, miscarriage, divorce, lost friendships, and more, I should’ve been crushed. But Jesus didn’t allow that.

I also think of my personal constellation, my stars that point me home and draw grace for me. My mom teaches me sacrifice, my dad teaches me trust, and my sister teaches me how to be a friend. My friend A.K. teaches me how to listen, my friend K.S. teaches me patience and faith in Jesus, and my best friend teaches me unconditional acceptance. My stepchildren teach me to play. My man teaches me to be both strong and kind. Anne Lamott would call these people my “tribe,” but they are also Anna’s. So when I hit the inevitable moments of not-enough, they will tap in for me, and so will many others. Anna does not have a perfect mother, but she will never lack love. God told me early on she exists to display his glory. And he will never not be enough for me, my husband, or our family. What can I say about such wonderful things as these? If our God is for us, who can ever be against us (Romans 8:31, NLT)?

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Filed under It's a Girl!, Jesus Loves Me

No judgment.

My pastor says it’s pointless to judge people because 1) People have reasons—which you don’t know—for doing what they do, 2) You have plenty of your own crap to deal with, and 3) No one cares about your judgments anyway. I’ll be honest with you: judging others was something I struggled with for years because I was pretty sure I knew better than most people what they ought to be doing. It’s like Claire, the mom from Modern Family, said: “I know I can’t run [my daughter’s] life for her, but if she would let me, I’d be so good at it!” Into my early twenties, I had a judgment for everything, partly because being a Christian made me feel superior, partly because I was raised to have confidence in myself, and partly because I am human.

Last Friday would’ve been my fifth wedding anniversary, but now it’s a day that reminds me why I have no business judging others. When certain people heard of my separation and divorce, they became rigidly judgmental. Some wanted me to know that divorce is a sin. Others wanted me to know that it’s fine if my heart was so hardened I had to divorce, but that I could never remarry because that would be a sin. Once I was told that divorce wasn’t actually possible for a Christian. Someone else said that since we are attracted to the same type of person repeatedly, divorcing my first husband would only lead to divorcing second, third, and subsequent husbands. All I can say is thank God for my church and the grace I found in it. The leader of my Divorce Care group, a woman I deeply respect and love, was the first person to literally hold my hand as I cried and tell me she understood. As much as I appreciated the prayers and encouraging words of my friends and family, and I really did, the gift of being looked in the eye, understood, and shown grace was something that reached my soul.

It seems to me that God needs those of us who have been divorced, gone bankrupt, been hooked on this or that addiction, lost children, lost faith, lost dignity, and whatever else. He needs the women who got pregnant before they got married and the men who found someone else after they got married. He needs the ones who were bitter, lustful, abusive, brokenhearted. He needs people who can, like my Divorce Care leader, look his babies in the eye and say, “I get it. I lived that story too,” and comfort them in a way that mirrors his comforting of us. One of my favorite traits of my Divorce Care leader is that she is 100% shockproof. There is nothing you can say to this woman that raises her eyebrows in disgust or horror. You can tell her the worst things you’ve said and done, and she says things like, “Yeah, we tend to do that, don’t we?” The grace she has shown me, and so many others, is the very face of God. You can’t tell me God doesn’t use her story—the good, the bad, and the ugly in it—to reach his children.

I no longer assign blame for my divorce; it doesn’t matter. Anne Lamott says, “There are three things you can’t change: the past, the truth, and other people.” Divorce is a part of my past, and that’s that. Did I miss the will of God? Don’t know; don’t care. (Although I do not at all regret my first marriage.) Would things be different if I had done this or that instead? Don’t know; don’t care. This is what I do know and care about: nothing I have ever done, including divorce, has caused God not to love me anymore. Nothing I have ever done has changed God’s promise of protection, healing, and grace in my life. Nothing I have ever done has made God scrap his plans for me. I made mistakes in my marriage, and I live with the knowledge of having caused my ex-husband pain. But I do not have to live with guilt or shame. I am saved. I am a part of God’s plan for humanity. And he makes all things new. All things. New.

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Crap

Last week my friend A and I had Italy Day. We ate pasta, planned our someday-vacation in Europe, and watched a couple of movies set in Italy. Interestingly, both movies—Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love—feature women making a drastic, spontaneous change to heal their broken hearts. Frances renovates a Tuscan villa and fills it with food, friends, and family; Elizabeth takes a yearlong quest for self-discovery, starting in Italy. That’s all well and good, as my mom says, and it makes for gorgeous films. But for most of us it’s not financially advantageous to buy a villa in Tuscany or rent an apartment in Rome for three months. Some of us have to deal with our hurt right here in our own houses while we drive to work, walk the dog, and cook dinner. Lather, rinse, repeat, and deal with the crap in between.

But that’s okay. Because sometimes getting past the pain is just a matter of refusing it, of being kindhearted and patient enough with yourself that you choose against self-doubt for a day. Sometimes it’s a matter of turning up the music and dancing until you have to catch your breath. Sometimes it’s closing your eyes and filling your lungs with fresh air. Sometimes it’s hitting your knees, crying until your eyes are dry again, and admitting your fallibility to God. And sometimes it’s spending the day with a dear friend, laughing and talking and watching Italy movies, and thanking the Lord for the sweet gift of friendship.

As another friend of mine is always telling me, “All this crap is ancillary to you. You’re lovely, and the crap can’t change that.” And she’s right, you know? Whatever crap you have to deal with, it doesn’t make you who you are. So today I’m showing my crap who’s boss. And maybe dreaming a little bit of eating grapes on a hammock in Italy.

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Mothers’ Day

Chances are you think your mother is the greatest of her kind. Me too: mine is beautiful, wise, compassionate, and seriously smart. My mom has spent hours and hours of the last two years on the phone with me while I cried or complained or unloaded fear and hurt. She never turns down a hug or says she’s too busy to listen. She works to make sure everyone in the family has what he or she needs. As I write this, tears of gratitude spring to my eyes, for I am blessed with such an amazing mother. I love that a twenty-four-hour period is set aside for my family to give her an extra dose of special treatment. Mothers Day is a sweet time.

Mothers Day church services are a different story. To those of us who aren’t mothers, it can feel a little like not being tapped into a sorority. The beginning of the church service I was in last Sunday was like this. One of the pastors asked the mothers to stand as he thanked them on behalf of all of us. “Ladies, you make significant sacrifices through the years, and we rarely recognize it. You have answered the highest calling a woman can have: raising children. We want to bless you and thank you for your service to us.” He said other things—he spoke for five or ten minutes—but that’s the gist. My issue with this is not that it’s necessarily untrue: my own mother does some serious sacrificing, and she deserves appreciation for that and so much more. So do all mothers. Across the world, women spend their days cleaning up spills that no one else sees, mending tears in clothes, administering medicine, crying as they rock their children to sleep for hours on end when the little one just won’t cooperate. Mothers are strong, so strong.

But I do not believe that raising children is a woman’s “highest calling.” If that’s true, a sizeable demographic will never reach its female potential. In this subset, some have chosen not to have children for very valid reasons, and some have chosen against wifehood, as well. Some want desperately to have children, but for a reason that mystifies the doctors, it isn’t happening. Some have had surgeries rendering them infertile. Some have hormonal abnormalities, chronic illnesses, or other medical factors that bar them from motherhood. Some have watched in horror as their dreams of motherhood ended abruptly in the bathroom. For some, this holiday is a reminder of the loss of life or the inability to give it, not its celebration.

However, there is much more to the concept of “mothering” than giving birth. Some women who have not and will never bear children have left an indelible mother’s mark on the little ones in their lives. Aunts, stepmothers, grandmothers, nurses, teachers, big sisters, babysitters, family friends—these women and others like them have the same capacity for “significant sacrifice” and “service” to children* as the women whose biological offspring are involved. Mothering, I would argue, is the art of cherishing and guiding children, an art that does not require a functional reproductive system. Mothers encourage. They spend time with children. They cause smiles and laughter. They provide for children’s needs and wants. They teach. They love. Women with unused wombs are just as capable of these functions and eager to fill them as their childbearing counterparts. Many of these mothering-women have played important roles in my life, as I hope to in the lives of others.

So maybe the entrance qualifications for the Mothers-Day sorority can be modified. Rather than honoring only biological or legally adoptive mothers, perhaps we can include all mothering-women who nurture and care for the world’s younger people. While only one woman births us, many, many women along the way help us become who we are. One such woman in my life was A.M., a family friend who spent a lot of time with me during my childhood. She took me out to dinner (and as a good Southern girl, I almost always picked Cracker Barrel), she took me mini-golfing, she invited me to spend weekends with her in her apartment. Many evenings she made us hot dogs and we talked and laughed while eating in her kitchen. A.M. reached out to me: she loved me, cared for me, and looked me in the eye when we talked. I knew I was important to her. And there is no greater gift a mothering-woman can bestow than the message “You’re significant. You’re special. There’s something wonderful inside you that I love to watch and be a part of.”

For A.M. and all the other members of the mothering corps out there, whether you are biological moms or moms of the heart: thank you most sincerely for the love and guidance you so freely give, and a very happy Mothers Day to you.

*Although I use the word “children” throughout, certainly some women mother us when we are already old enough to have children and perhaps grandchildren of our own.

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Filed under Broken Beauty, Stepmom Life