More Than A Number

Originally written and published August 31, 2017 on the Rebecca Bender Initiative.

In 2015, at a wellness check, my doctor found a large tumor on my thyroid and after my specialists got the results back from the biopsy, I ended up in emergency surgery to remove not only the mass, but my entire thyroid gland. The morning after surgery, when I woke up in the hospital, my endocrine surgeon was standing at the foot my bed. During that conversation I was told how to take the thyroid medication that would become the start of the rest of my life. Unfortunately, several months later it became widely apparent that my body was having great trouble absorbing my thyroid medication and because it was not working correctly, I ended up gaining a lot of weight very quickly.

A few months ago, as I hit the emotional two-year anniversary of my total thyroidectomy and celebrated the stability I had recently gained with new medications, the thought that went through my mind was, “Yay I am finally able to do the things I used to do before surgery and I am finally overcoming the weight that I had gained through this journey.” I was really excited!

Sadly though, a few days later, I ended up in severe car accident on a major highway here in Colorado. Being sandwiched in the middle of two trucks is a very scary experience, but what has been even more challenging is the depression that has cloaked me as I work through the long-term effects from this accident—including the inability to run, work out, or even drive and type normally. This string of unfortunate circumstances has ultimately resulted in multiple doctor’s appointments where I have had to stand on the scale numerous times for nurses to write down my weight or where have had to tell how much I weigh to technicians performing tests. And in the midst of this, each time I stand on the scale or recite how much I weigh, shame covers me like a heavy blanket.

Honestly, this shame has caused me to shy away from writing this blog, because once again I have been bombarded with the internal struggle to accept the season I am in with my physical ability and weight. Once again, I am having to say that although I do not engage with anorexic patterns of thought and behaviors right now, it is easy to engage with unhealthy thoughts that try to control my being once again and could easily lead me back down that road.

Outwardly I can say that the number on the scale does not define me, but then I get self-conscious when clothes don’t fit and I have to go up a size. I get worried when I cannot exercise like I used to before everything happened, or when my medication doesn’t work properly and I begin to see the number quickly go up.   

It’s hard. In fact, it is incredibly difficult.

My entire life I have felt like I could never measure up to the cultural ideals of beauty leading me to struggle on and off with anorexic patterns and behaviors ever since I was a young child when I was being sexually abused, used in child pornography, and then trafficked. And over the years, thought patterns situated around starving myself to meet an unattainable image, be in control, liked, accepted, or loved, used to consume my being. Although I hated the ways that these thoughts were branded onto my mind, I could not escape the ways that they led me to eat tiny bites like a bird, obsess about the number on the scale, and run to burn calories that were almost non-existent within my body.

It wasn’t until four years ago, shortly after I had finished my first half-marathon, that I started to understand the seriousness of my eating disorder. This led me into a conversation with my therapist and several trusted individuals about my anorexic struggles.

Since darkness ferments secrets, bringing my eating struggles into the light and being honest, with myself and others, was one of the hardest battles I faced. Yet, this step also brought the most freedom. Light created an environment where my eating disorder was no longer hidden and through this action it began to lose its power. After I entered into this place of intentional work, my therapist partnered with a nutritionist to help me stay accountable, teach me about normal serving sizes, create healthy associations to food, and learn how to eat healthy in a well-balanced way. As my therapist and nutritionist helped me to untwist the negative ways that food was used against me, we began to talk about the ways food was not safe and was part of of the trauma I experienced. For example, my trauma had led me to believe in a twisted fashion, that choosing to starve myself was better than being forced to not eat. Food (or the lack thereof) was used to either punish me and/or manipulate me into the person that my traffickers were strategically creating—a puppet in the hands of a masterful puppeteer.

Through putting in a lot of hard work, time, and effort in therapy (and at the dinner table)—my life has changed drastically. My anorexic behaviors no longer rule my life! I have learned that food is good for me and that my body could not live, function, or survive without it.

I do admit, when life gets stressful and is difficult (like the past couple of years) the first thing that I think about is my weight and mindlessly start entertaining thoughts about how I do not like what the scale says, which then in a domino fashion leads me to think about ways that I could lose a few pounds. Despite these thoughts, since I have gotten stronger and have gone through multiple layers of my healing, the ways I respond to these thoughts have changed. I can now say that although I have them, they do not define my existence. Yet, it remains a battle that I must face and fight on a daily basis. Several ways that I fight these thoughts include:

1)    I am real and honest with God about my struggles. At first, when I realized the seriousness of my eating disorder, I was terrified to take off the mask before God and other safe people in my life. It took courage, but as I got on my knees and entered into a deeper place of authenticity and intimacy with Jesus, I found myself not only freer to enter into conversation with others about my struggle, but I started to see the ways that my past history of abuse was correlated with the present. Being real with God did not make things magically better and I still had to fight for each bite I ate, but I saw His power in a profound new way.

2)    I choose to believe that the number on the scale do not define me. When I train people I often tell the audience that my past does not have the power to define my future, but then I stand on the scale at the doctor’s office and the number that pops up defines me for not only 24 hours, but for the next couple of weeks. If I am going to walk in the truth that my past does not define the future then I also need to walk in the truth that my weight does not have the power to define who I am. I am more than a number!

3)    I am accountable to trusted and healthy individuals. Over the course of this journey, being accountable to safe, trusted, and healthy individuals was and continues to be really important for me. As I have given these individuals permission to ask the hard questions they have fought this battle with me on the front lines. Through this, I have come to learn that healthy relationships do not equal perfection, but rather healthy relationships create an environment for holistic healing to take place.

4)    I choose to see my body as a gift. I might not always like my weight, pant size, or physical ability—but I have made the choice to see my body as a gift and take a posture of gratefulness for what I do have. Yes, I have real limitations and yet, I still have so much to be grateful for… God has given me so much!

I have learned there is no quick and easy fix for eating disorders, but if this is one of your battles, know that you are not alone—there is hope! Through choosing to fight this battle, I believe, you will be able see yourself as more than a number.

— Jessa Dillow Crisp