The Search for my Authentic Self I managed to have the ‘big talk’ with my parents. For me, that meant at the age of 29, admitting I’d suffered for 10 years with an untreated eating disorder. I was a compulsive over-eater and frequently went on binges and as I still lived at home, I’d been committing these sins right under their noses. The conversation was one I’d practiced in my head every few years and then put in an un-marked file only to be pushed further back into the cabinet that was my heart. There was no need to be that real with my parents…at least, not yet. But something had begun changing in me over the last few years. This indescribable yearning that became a burning. I found myself inexplicably drawn to people who weren’t afraid of the sounds of their own voices, people who were visibly burnt and yet not afraid to tell you they hurt. I was inspired by women who would stand up and boldly tell their stories – though their writings or films or songs – and say “…yes, this happened to me, but so what? To hell with the guilt and shame, I am strong!” Call it premature aging or an emotional crisis on my part, but to me they were the beginning of my epiphany. Psalm 32:2 came to mind; ‘What joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty.’ I began to realise I wanted a huge measure of this type of honesty in my life! I’d have to wrench open my filing cabinet, empty out that un-marked file and start shaking everything loose. And once I’d begun, I found myself unable to leave anything un-turned. I didn’t want to hide any longer, afraid of my own shadow and more than my newfound desire, I felt a spiritual need for a cleansing, an inner purging. And now was the time… For years I had been bound by an eating disorder, which I’d kept hidden through fear and in denial. I’d somehow believed the lie that what I refused to see, God would also not see.
I now know hat was folly! All those years I’d been in a battle with myself, God had been patiently watching and waiting. He’d never taken his eyes off me, knowing there would come a day when I would reach out to Him in need of peace and he would lay His hands upon me. By confessing my secret affair with food, I had laid a huge chunk of myself bare before my parents – just as Mary had laid herself at the feet of Jesus. My subconscious challenge to them had been ‘Look at me now. Do you see me? Can you still love me?’ To my amazement my parents were okay – relived even, that I’d finally confessed what they’d intuitively known all along. I fell apart that day, literally, into a puddle of tears. I felt vulnerable, weak, needy. But for the first time in over 10 years, instead of guilt and shame, I felt overwhelmingly – myself. I no longer had to pretend I had it all together or knew all the answers. I was never going to be the ‘perfect’ daughter or sister or friend, but I understood that it was more than okay to be my own authentic self. In a world that is at times obsessed with counterfeit pleasures and relationships, I had learnt to stand for something real. In Acts14: 8 - 18 there is an interesting account of what happened when Paul and the disciples went to a place called Lystra. They had been preaching the good news and telling the people about this authentic God who loved and cared for them and a man, a cripple had been listening. After awhile, Paul looked at the man and healed him. When the people saw this, they forgot all about what Paul had been saying and started hailing Paul as a God in human form. Paul was dismayed because they were trying to reach them by telling them about the living God and the people couldn’t think past their knowledge of fake Gods that had nothing to offer. When I read this, I realised just how desperate we all are to find authenticity in our day-to-day lives, and how in our desperation we often cling to the wrong things whether they be people, Gods or harmful behaviour. To accept the truth, always takes courage and an overall determination to overhaul our mindset.
Now I realise the huge importance that honesty and authenticity play in my daily Christian life. After all, faith is made and laid upon the foundations of it. I realise now that I am right where God wanted me all along; depending on the truth of His word, understanding the surety of His nature and risking it (life/sanity) all because of my love for Him. This level of ‘reality’ has give me a much deeper sense of peace and joy. In my quiet time with God just after ‘the talk’ he gave me John14:27 to meditate on. It’s since become my favourite scripture on peace. I no longer run the futile race for perfection, a supposedly mandatory sport for women my age. Instead, everyday that I open my eyes I chose to live in God’s perfect freedom. I chose to adopt His complete understanding of me; who I am, my failures, and successes and where I fit in this world. I chose not to numb myself with mindless consumption of food and instead seek to consume more of God and more of His Kingdom. I finally completed my search for authenticity. The effects of this new mindset have made me more accessable and approachable to others. I no longer have then sheen of the ‘holier than thou’ but instead the glow of the holy spirit at work, and I’ve learned to lay my addictions to perfectionism down long enough to pick back up the cross. It has helped me to speak the truth in my closest relationships and to stop myself from being too easily compromised. In other words, I needed this to happen. I needed the painful experience of an eating disorder to help push me through to becoming the woman God called me to be. There were things I learnt about myself on this road, that I don’t believe I could have learnt any other way the most surprising and valuable being my vulnerability. As an independent, university-educated 20-something, I was used to being the go-to friend, the one always found giving to others. I’m learning for the first time how to be kind to myself, pray for myself and look out for myself. I’m learning that I also need help and being able to ask for it whenever necessary is what it truly means to be strong. I am sinner who has fallen short, but re-found righteousness through the grace of God. I am a woman worth saving in the eyes of God, because to Him, I am beautiful,
valuable, daring and unique. And inside of me, where Christ lives, I carry a message of hope for the broken-hearted and weary. I am all this and yet so much more. This is the person God made me and now that my authentic self is well and truly out, I know that she is here to stay.
----ENDS---1,234 wrds Anna Marie Hopewell
Published on Dec 1, 2008