For the longest time, the idea of taking care of myself was an anathema to me.
I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do something nice for me – and I found it acutely painful when someone reached out with an act of care, of words, of comfort. I just didn’t feel I deserved it. I didn’t feel I deserved to be liked – and I felt that I certainly didn’t deserve the luxury of eating or taking care of myself.
The hatred I had towards myself and my body was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced – it was visceral and violent. And the only way I could manage the intense feelings was by cutting myself or making myself sick. Both the self-harm and eating disorder served the same function – to manage the unmanageable – to make the mysterious emotional pain, tangible.
I used to wonder, as I watched the scars heal, whether something inside me could be healing in tandem. It was bundle of contradictions, even then. I was consumed with shame – but the only way I knew how to deal with the shame was to hurt myself. I believed God forgives sins – but I couldn’t count myself among the forgiven.
And then, still in the depths of self-destruction, I went to Bible college.
Before I went, I made a strange decision to be myself. I decided I wasn’t going to hide behind a facade – I was going to be honest about who I was and how I was feeling. I fully expected to be hated and disliked. I’d convinced myself that those who loved me did so out of duty.
The problem was, people welcomed me: they became my closest friends. It turned my worldview on its head. And yet I still lived under my own tyranny. Until eventually I began to loosen my grip on my self-destruction and cereal-eating.
With the support and encouragement of my friends, I began to take care of myself.
In small ways at first: making sure I got out in the fresh air once a day, eating more, in small increments. The small increments grew; I started to eat more healthily, exercise gently. It takes a long time to get anywhere near something like recovery; the thoughts have remained, but life has become a better option than death.
Quite simply, I let the community around me love me back to life. As they cared for me, drying my tears and encouraging my faltering steps, I began to take care of myself. I glimpsed something of a God who cared more than I could imagine through the acts of care I received from my friends.
And so this week in particular, I want to encourage you who are reading these words to take care of those around you who are struggling. And to those of you who understand my story all too well – hold on – and let those who love you take care of you.
Today is Self-Harm Awareness Day. Please check out ThinkTwice’s #TakeCare campaign for Eating Disorder Awareness Week and National Self-Harm Awareness Day for more information.