I have twice watched the 2006 HBO documentary, “Thin,” once when it came out ten years ago, and most recently a few months ago. In the film, director Lauren Greenfield follows four females receiving treatment for their eating disorders.
We are introduced to Alisa, who struggles with bulimia. A heart-wrenching scene involves her art therapy; she drew a full size outline of her body on paper. The purpose in doing so was to give the accurate depiction of her size and shape. In addition to the much larger outline she drew from that of her actual body, she also wrote “help me” on the drawing’s stomach region.
“…‘Lord, help me.’” Matthew 15:25
Upon seeing that image, I immediately flashed back to my viewing of the 1973 film, “The Exorcist.”
(Please stay with me).
In the notorious horror flick, there was a disturbing scene in which demonically-possessed girl, Regen, mid-exorcism, battled against her possession by writing a “help me” message on her stomach. The words eerily appeared on her skin from the inside out, spelling out the character’s desperate plea.
Years’ later, I’m struck by this uncomfortable connection of what “fighting your demons,” means.
It can be the dance of crying for help while simultaneously pushing it away. This is known as “Fighting your help.”
And eating disorder behavior is ferocious in its employment of the principle.
As part of the art therapy, again, one of the eating disorder residents works on a piece which incorporates the following words:
There is toxicity in those specific words. And, as an eating disorder sufferer, facing their meaning requires a lifelong practice of understanding and changing their role in our lives.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2
My recovery involves dealing with these words from a spiritual perspective.
First, there’s Unfaithful.
Just looking at it from a Christian context, my eating disorder mindsets and behaviors involved a big presence of legalism.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15
And it ultimately came packaged as the “not good enough” belief, whether it be the physical body or individual self-worth.
Nevertheless, this punishing mindset creates an endless list of “or else” damnations, all hinging on the “if” vehicle.
If I’m perfect enough…
If I’m enough of a good person…
If I’m thin enough…
If I’m in control of my body and circumstances…
If I’m pleasing enough…
If I do exactly what I’m supposed to do…
So, before long, the “if mandate” erects itself as the ultimate authority which can never be met because, after all, the person trying to meet its criteria is, in some way, inferior and horrible.
And, if that is the case, the self-defeat conclusion results because, really, what’s the point?
Why try? Why keep living? Why not just give up?
This demonic possession grips the person; and so, the individual fights the hope and help from any direction, including the Divine.
Scripture reassures us, through His love and commandments, God is there to help, not hurt us…
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:3
However, if we have bought the lie of our own legalism, practiced via our compulsive rituals, rules and standards, then “the letter of the law” kills…
“Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6
Therefore, in that mind space, we fight our help; we fight the exorcism. Our self-defeating beliefs resist the love and healing, making it difficult to receive God’s presence and involvement, even concerning the commandment issue.
Yet God’s expectation of- and response to- us concerns the recognition of our imperfections and weaknesses.
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
Grace is there for a reason; we need it.
And, while we’re living life, fraught with our issues, we need to challenge the wrath-like taskmaster we have created in God. He is not that.
But this is a difficult perspective for the eating disorder sufferer to embrace. So much of the mindsets and behaviors are all about precise tasks, perfection, punishment and constant preoccupation with never being “enough.”
Yet somewhere, deep within us, we still cry, “help me.”
Perhaps, it’s because our instincts tell us how we desire to be loved.
“God is Love.” 1 John 4:16
Those instincts drive us to chase fulfillment for our big black holes of unmet need. And, it is here where No Love makes its presence known.
Many of us, unfortunately, have not had the reassurance of unconditional love experiences, forget about unconditional love from the Most High God.
“The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, ‘Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.’” Jeremiah 31:3
That complicated factor, added to the constant bombardment of negative body, image and self-worth messages, promotes self-rejection.
And, in that light, scriptures like Leviticus 19:18 and Mark 12:31 become virtually impossible to accept and apply: “Love your neighbor as yourself…”
Therefore, hate becomes even more dominating within the eating disorder sufferer.
“Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” Proverbs 10:12
Indeed, this punishing thinking asserts its ugly case. Because of one’s perception of failure, disqualification from kindness, grace and love is in order.
Indeed, many a sufferer, myself included, have reached the despairing, inevitable conclusion about self and personal destiny: “God hates me.”
So where does anyone go from there, with that oppressive dictate?
Definitions of worthlessness, guilt, shame and hopelessness further occupy the person’s self and world view.
So, it’s not much of a leap to go from hatred and self-rejection, to that of utter disgust.
“From whence come wars and fightings among you?…” James 4:1
Again, impossible, unforgiving mindsets and standards are part of the daily routine. They exist concerning perfection, diet, exercise, food, expectations, body image, safety and one’s personal definition of peace.
For example, one must…
…starve for a certain period of time to be acceptable…
…exercise daily, with exacting precision and compulsivity, a rigid number of hours and repetitions, until enough calories are burned to be considered “punished enough” or acceptable…
…achieve and maintain a specific, unforgiving example of perfection in all areas: body shape and size, physical appearance (all aspects), scholastic, athletic, or career performance…
…be perfectly pleasing to certain key individuals (parents, teachers, co-workers, intimate relationships), always sacrificing oneself for the greater good of that particular relationship…
“…Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” James 4:1
If one does not constantly, impeccably achieve this, all is lost. The person has confirmation, yet again, he/she is worthless, ugly, rejection-worthy, a failure, a problem and responsible for everything which has gone-or is going- wrong.
For a variety of reasons, including ignorance, abusive spiritual experiences and toxic family dynamics, Hosea 12:6 is therefore, an inconceivable place for the sufferer to go…
“Therefore turn thou to thy God: keep mercy and judgment and wait on thy God continually.”
The thought of God’s judgment only allows for the punishing verdict; mercy, likewise, seems impossible and certainly not “earned.” In some way, the sufferer believes himself/herself to be undeserving. And this can further set the bleak stage for despair to wreak more of its havoc.
What may have initially started as an “innocent diet,” eventually spirals to something more sinister, chaotic and hopeless. The “innocence” of simply “losing a few pounds” is destroyed and replaced with a monstrous voice, constantly reiterating one’s pointless and ugly existence.
“My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou hast heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.” Jeremiah 4:19
And again, if one is left submerged in this state for a lengthy period of time, it becomes more painful and difficult to see the custom-fit and real promise of Isaiah 14:3.
“And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.”
So, additional terror is added: the scared and fear words dominate the sufferer’s vocabulary in constant, nuanced and newer degrees if left unchallenged.
And again, for the sufferer, acceptance and application of God’s love can feel like it’s nowhere to be found in this terror-gripped state…
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:18-19
And here is where we encounter unflinching reality. The documentary update, ten years’ later, shows the struggle of one of its participants, Alisa…
“…she would go on to lose 20 pounds and attempt suicide, and that she returned to Renfrew for treatment and maintained a healthy weight after leaving.”
It is a struggle. And, documentary or no documentary, we continue to see the cry for- and the fight against- help.
“Why is my pain perpetual, and my wound incurable, which refuseth to be healed?…” Jeremiah 15:18
And, let us not forget, the danger. We, indeed, discover the fate of another of the film’s subjects…
“…‘Polly’…died at her residence on February 8, 2008. Her death is believed to have been a suicide.”
“…a wounded spirit who can bear?” Proverbs 18:14
Disturbing, yes. One sad possibility of the affliction is death. Suicide is one of the ways eating disorders kill.
“…eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder… there is a large variance in the reported number of deaths caused by eating disorders… because those who suffer from an eating disorder may ultimately die of heart failure, organ failure, malnutrition or suicide.”
Crow, S.J., Peterson, C.B., Swanson, S.A., Raymond, N.C., Specker, S., Eckert, E.D., Mitchell, J.E. (2009) Increased mortality in bulimia nervosa and other eating disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 166, 1342-1346
A cry for help…
“…‘Lord, help me.’” Matthew 15:25
Again, we return to our “help me” theme. We see the wrestling with demons, the struggle, the fight, the despair. We see the deeps wounds, the driving fear and the personal feelings of being unchosen, unworthy and unloved.
And so, the challenge of an exorcism goes out. This is far beyond any film or documentary; this is about receiving the reality of an involved and loving God.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalms 46:1
It’s not simple or easy. It can be some of the most painful, complicated work one can do.
To take everything that is ugly, unflattering, hopeless and fear-filled and somehow, imperfectly, by faith, trust God to be there, to act, to help, to heal, to soothe and to love? That’s a tall order.
“And it shall come to pass in the day that the LORD shall give thee rest from thy sorrow, and from thy fear, and from the hard bondage wherein thou wast made to serve.” Isaiah 14:3
Yet, in all things recovery, in the comprehensive structure of professional treatment, therapy and nutritional support, one needs to truly go to the Helper of all helpers… “
…‘Lord, help me.’” Matthew 15:25
If we’re honest with ourselves, eating disorder sufferer or not, each of us is, in some way, already writing, in etched tears, “help me.”
The cry is in and is on our hearts.