About three years and a few months ago I stood on the mushy colored tiles in the hallway of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital holding a white slip of paper. In stark black and white were the words DIAGNOSIS: ANOREXIA NERVOSA. The words swam above the watery blue and green tiles like little black insects trapped in some sickening sweet syrupy concoction.
It was the second time I had held that diagnosis. The first time had been four years prior to that moment.
The words of the pediatrician who had known me now since I was a sullen and angry fifteen-year-old glaring at her in her office and daring her to try and break my will echoed in my head: “Well, here we are again, Libby.”
I’ve been thinking lately about that moment: how much can change in just over three years. Three years ago, I couldn’t bear to be in the same room with myself. Three years ago, I was desperately clutching to the remains of my girlhood, searching for something I wasn’t going to find amidst the war I was waging against myself. I was on my knees sifting through rubble, thinking I had found treasure.
I thought somehow that I could break myself down and build myself back up into something else – something better. I don’t even know what it was I thought I needed, what it was I was striving for.
Once upon a time, I thought I had a miraculous story of healing. The first time I was diagnosed with anorexia was at the age of fifteen. An awe-inspiring turnaround happened when I found Jesus, and I thought that was the end of my story. I thought I had been healed. I thought I had found the light, that the old me had been shed like a light summer dress and the new me was dazzling and new.
That’s not actually how it works, most of the time.
I found that out when I found myself struggling anew in college, stuck in the same old story.
It was maddening. It was confusing. It was – I know now – entirely necessary, because I hadn’t ever really let go the first time. It wasn’t until I was faced with some real, true choices – when I had everything to lose – that I could stand up to my old friend the eating disorder and say, “GET THE HELL OUT OF MY LIFE.”
Because God wasn’t going to let me live an anorexic life, a life slowly starving, wasting away on the inside even while the outside looked okay. He wasn’t going to be all right with that. He was never fooled by the almost-healing, the gilded surface.
He still isn’t fooled by me, which is good, because I’m (usually) not fooled by myself anymore. I love my life – my husband, my family, my job – but I am, quite frankly, a crazy mess held together mostly by prayer and lots of laughter. Also chocolate.
There is a choice. He always gives us a choice. Even when your crazy messy insides are attacking you from within and you feel powerless to stop the fight, you aren’t powerless. I know that because He kept giving me choices and the power to choose right, long after I deserved it. He kept giving me reasons, saying things like, “See this family I gave you? See how much they love you and want you back?” or “See this guy Jamie? See how much he loves you and how much you love him and how much joy he brings you?”
The truth is, I don’t want an anorexic life. There are lots of ways to lead an anorexic life, and I don’t want a part of any of them. I want a life that is full and rich and decadent.
To be clear, I don’t mean I need to travel the world or accumulate lots of wealth or make it on the cover of TIME. I just mean that I want a celebration of a life, that I will choose the full life, the joyful life, over one whittled down by bitterness or discontentment or yearning or whatever else it is that drives humans toward the anorexic life instead.
He told us there would be a time to weep and a time to mourn. And there is.
But there is also a time to laugh and a time to dance. And I will seize onto those times with everything I have.