Disorder to Direction
Written by: Stephanie Johnston
I sat at my computer waiting for the all too familiar zoom screen to show the people on the other end. I had been terrified for weeks for this meeting. The one that might finally end the unknowing narrative playing out in my mind. I had prayed many times that the explanation would be different from the one I suspected, but this was the meeting that would tell me the truth. As questions were asked, and experiences were shared the meeting seemed to last for an eternity, until the final minutes where the diagnosis was finally said. I had an eating disorder. Something I had known since I was a child, but the reality was finally crashing down.
To give some background I had always been an active child, who loved life, but couldn’t seem to love herself in the ever-changing narrative of societal standards. I remember the first thought something was wrong with me came when I was six, and everything just seemed to grow from there. A seed had been planted, and the seed was thriving in the environment created by society. As I got older and ventured away from home for school, there was no lack of “need” to be someone different. I was a collegiate athlete who experienced many trials. Not only physical trials, but the mental trials that came with trying to rewrite the narrative that was already written into the fabrics of the universities’ DNA. Even though university was a challenging time, and I often felt alone, this was where I came to know God. I needed someone to talk to and God answered with patience. When I left university, I moved to another new place and once again felt alone. God quickly put people in my life that directed me to him, and helped me see that I was meant to give my life to Him. God knew I was filled with shame that I had been told I should be shameful about. I kept many secrets held inside, but God was about to reveal I would not be shamed anymore. One day at church I heard him tell me I was safe, home, and loved. I had been growing in my faith, but it was that day I decided to give my life to God! It should have come as no surprise, that a month and a half later, I started to notice I needed help for the eating disorder I had painfully denied for most of my life. God had made me ready and opened my eyes to getting rid of my former self. He was making me new!
As I got off of that zoom call, I knew my journey had just started, but I knew this journey was no accident. God had planned it for this time and in this place. He put people in my life that would be there to listen when I felt too scared to tell others. I remember the fear in telling my best friend, but she listened with patience, and has stayed by my side no matter what.
So, on August 2nd, 2022, I started an intensive outpatient program (IOP) for my eating disorder. I had to give up my sport of running, I had to stop working, I had to give up the things of the world that made me comfortable. I had to try things I hadn’t tried in years and admit things I would have rather kept to myself. As time passed things only seemed to get harder. I was addressing things I had kept at the back of my mind for the first time in 15 years. Even though this was all a big challenge, it should have come as no surprise when God worked to create a situation only he could. The program I was in was not a Christian program, but on the first day of IOP I mentioned I was on the worship team, and my therapist said she was on her church’s worship team. I got so excited and knew God wanted to use me for his glory. Looking to God in recovery was now going to be at the forefront of my therapy sessions, when it previously had not been said it would.
I realized through IOP that I was looking at myself through the eyes of a world where the standards seem to be unattainable. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” I realized I was judging myself with eyes that weren’t putting the beauty of God’s creation at the forefront. I often felt ashamed for this, and still struggle with this.
I finished my program on January 17th, 2023. I wish I could say I was recovered, but this is where my honesty is key. I am not recovered, but I am still working at it every day with God by my side. I have decided that with IOP done I will take a three month break to see if I can further recover on my own. I did get much better during my time in IOP. I was able to start running again, my heart issues caused by years of restriction were better, I got a new job and was able to start work full-time, I was able to tell people about my eating disorder I had previously been too scared to tell, and began to own my story that God was writing. I know my journey ahead will still be hard and long, but God will guide every step. One thing I was always reminded of by my therapist was that all the hard moments are my refining fire. I am strengthened in every trial, and each trial draws me closer to God.
To end I want to share some final thoughts that I have about my own journey. There are often times I am ashamed for not recovering faster, not seeing myself as God does, or not always looking to God first. There are times I feel ashamed for my eating disorder, but here are some of the things I am reminded of. We live in a fallen world where the enemy will try and steal your gaze from God. We are called to treat others how we want to be treated and love each other as we love ourselves, but we also need to apply those principals to ourselves. On the journey God paves for us it is impossible for the walk to be perfect. God is the only person who can be perfect. We will stumble and fall, but as long as we keep looking to God and working to grow our relationship with him there is nothing to be ashamed of. There is a stigma around mental health, and this can stop people from getting the help they need. I encourage you to seek treatment if you are struggling with any mental illness. It may be scary to think you need help, or fear that you will be judged for needing help, but God puts resources in our world to help us while we are here on earth. I hope from my story you can see that recovery is worth it and things can get better. Even though I still have a long way to go I am no longer ashamed of my journey that started before I gave my life to God. I have compassion for that version of me, and compassion for this version of me that works to get better every day.