Sunday, November 4, 2018
A Spiritual View of Anorexia Nervosa
First, the struggle with anorexia nervosa is a paradigm for all human struggle. Deep down, in every human being, there is a hunger, a hunger to be loved, a longing to know that one is lovable. Human loves can satisfy that hunger for a while but they do not ultimately fulfill us, for, as St. Augustine wrote: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you." We are made with a hunger for an infinite love that no finite, human love can satisfy. Only God's love can because God is an infinite love by nature. Until the author discovered this truth through contemplative prayer she continued a self-destructive cycle of binge eating and purging, always convinced that she was fat and unlovable even at 70 lbs.! Whatever one does or does not do to fill the hunger for God will fail unless God is the object of one's desire.
Secondly, I was reminded of another book, "Legacy of the Heart: The Spiritual Advantages of a Painful Childhood" by Wayne Muller. As a drought forces the roots of a tree to go deeper or the tree will die, so the struggles of childhood can lead one to sink deeper roots. Deeper into what? One's relationship with God, certainly, but also into one's relationships with others. Belinda Rose's struggles ultimately led her into deeper relationships with her three sons, her mother, and others who struggled with psychological illnesses. From deep pain can come, with God's saving grace, greater compassion and more joy, so much so that Rose can say, like many in 12 Step Recovery Programs, she is ultimately grateful for how her disease led her to these deeper relationships.
Thirdly, one of the key elements of healing is forgiveness. Past hurts can leave one bitter. But bitter unforgiveness and resentment are the fuel that drives the engine of addictions and anorexia. When it is not dealt with, emotional hurt festers and grows, morphing into an anger which, for those who feel vulnerable and helpless, is turned in on itself. It's been said that resentment is like drinking from a bottle of poison and hoping that the person who hurt us will die. As she began to deal with the painful memories that stoked her disease, Rose developed empathy. A key moment came when she began to understand what led her father to hurt her as he had done. She learned the truth that "hurt people hurt people." She prayed and forgave and healed. In time she learned to imitate Jesus in his redemptive suffering. Jesus--totally innocent--was hurt and abused. He suffered terribly but offered his suffering as a powerful prayer to the Father and saved the world. Rose learned to use her sufferings for others as Jesus did.
I highly recommend "Little Girl Crying" in order to understand anorexia nervosa and so much more. Its lessons are universal, for hurt and the need for healing--both individually and globally--are universal.