Recovery Room: Born Beautiful (On Eating Disorders)

In 2015, I’m hosting various writers, pastors, and counselors as they step into the Recovery Room. Here, we'll discuss the things that supplant inner sobriety and connectedness to an abiding God. Couldn’t we all use a little recovery from something?  Today, welcome Esther Emery, a fantastic writer I have the pleasure of calling "friend." She's an off-the-grid dweller, which suits her just fine. I'm glad for her work. Connect with her on Twitter @EstherEmery.

Welcome Esther Emery to the Recovery Room!


[tweetherder text="'The first time I made myself throw up it didn’t seem like a big deal.' @estheremery"]The first time I made myself throw up it didn’t seem like a big deal.[/tweetherder] A one-time thing, I thought. Weird but secret. I couldn’t imagine how such a thing could become an addiction.

The second time was three days later.

When I was twenty-five I called a crisis line. Not because I was hurting myself, that part by that time was entirely normal, but because I had a difficult and potentially prestigious job and I was afraid that I was going to lose it. Also there was suicidal ideology, patterns of self harm. Whatever. I had been bulimic for ten years.

My therapist was a middle-aged woman from Argentina. She wore long skirts and beautiful eye makeup, but it was always a little smeary around the edges. It took me a long time to realize that it was her work that made her cry.

When I couldn’t talk sometimes I would bring her my art. Poetry, and paintings. I used to obsessively paint self-portraits. Body portraits, really, with strangely angular hips, limbs jutting out at angles… wounds. It ruined me for painting, honestly.

Like all good therapists, ever, ever in the world, she asked me, “What does binging and purging do for you, Esther? What do you think you’re getting out of it?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing at all. It’s not pro-ductive. It’s de-structive.”

She kept asking. I almost quit. The only thing more shameful than being sick is being someone who likes being sick. But I didn’t quit.

It was like unpeeling wounds that hadn’t ever healed. It was like washing leprous skin. It was like bathing in very, very dirty water. I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t see, and I couldn’t see, and then one day I could.

One day I saw how my penchant for self-harm was an answer to my deep craving for the spiritual life. I saw how I had tried to subjugate my body to the will of the spirit. I saw how I had tried to make a holy sacrifice.

One day I saw how tender I was for my complicity in a food system that was destructive to earth, and animals, and other human beings. I saw how I had tried to remove myself from those cyclical patterns of destruction.

One day I saw how much I loved beauty. And I saw how I had tried to use my fierce will, my greatest gift, to form myself and my physical body into the thing I valued most.

Every single piece of my disease was made of something beautiful. My call to the spiritual life, my tenderness for the natural world, my passion for beauty, even my ferocious will like steel against a rock… I looked and saw that these were all my treasures. They were my greatest gifts.

I don’t know how to turn the eyes to hope, except to wash in all that dirty water. I don’t know how to find recovery, except to go back in and cast eyes on those demons who would turn your treasures into dust.

But I do know this. It is possible for beautiful impulses to be twisted by shame and ego. And it is possible to get them back, even teasing them carefully out of the hands of darkness.

I have been recovered now for eleven years. My body still carries the chemical patterns of addiction. I can’t hold a quantity of food in my hands without getting an adrenaline rush, and I can get very weird in moments when all my body really needs is an apple.

But I have turned my spiritual hunger towards God, reinvesting in the Christian faith of my childhood. I have turned my concern for broken food systems towards lifestyle change, learning to grow food and nurture soil. And [tweetherder text="'I have turned my love of beauty right back to the Maker of all things beautiful.' @estheremery"]I have turned my love of beauty right back to the Maker of all things beautiful.[/tweetherder] I pray for colors to paint with words, and for self-respect enough to keep this body-temple with care like the treasure that it is. I pray for faith to know that I was always beautiful.

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Esther Emery used to be a freelance theatre director and playwright in Southern California. These days she is pretty much a runaway, living off grid in a yurt and tending to three acres of near wilderness in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at Connect on Twitter @EstherEmery


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