Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Parents in Recovery

Do As I Say, Not As I Do:

Parents in Recovery

By

Rebecca Aarup

     “Mommy, I’m fat.” At the innocent age of five, my daughter stepped off the bathroom scale, patted her belly and gazed at the floor in disappointment.

     She was serious.

     Oh my God, what have I done? A thousand emotions flooded my core in an instant.

Shock. Horror. Guilt. Regret. Shame.

It must have been only been milliseconds of real time, but it felt like several minutes. My thoughts morphed into a flashback of haunting memories.

     On my knees in the bathroom, staring at the toilet with vomit streaked across my face.

And how many memories did I have like this? How many times had I stepped on my bathroom scale after twenty minutes of purging and said, “Just two more pounds”?  It appeared as though my psyche could recount each event with striking clarity.

After years of teasing and insecurity, I had started my first diet at the age of fourteen, and by the time I was eighteen I was purging everything from carrots to crackers. Self-hatred had become my normal and I believed my inner torment was well-deserved, though I wouldn’t have wished it upon my worst enemy.  The scale was a constant companion through all of this; I lived and died by its every word.

     Only lost one pound today?

     No problem, I reasoned, I’ll use more laxatives.

And then I met him. The man of my dreams—well, the best dreams I could muster in an oppressive fog of self-abuse. He was aware of my problems, though, and he wanted to help me. I would let him try.

Over time both he and I believed I was getting better, and eventually we decided to start a life together. A family. After a few months of trying, we found out we were pregnant.

I wanted the best for the baby growing inside of me, I really did. I changed everything about my lifestyle. No more drinking, of course, and the smokes were in the trash in a heartbeat. But I knew something else was inevitable–weight gain. Well, maybe it was inevitable, but I would do my best to avoid it. I would carefully portion my meals, eat all the recommended fruits and vegetables, drink a ton of water, and exercise every day.

For nine months it seemed as if the self-abuse disappeared. I was magically cured by this thing called pregnancy. I had actually lost weight in my first trimester, which thrilled me to no end. But by the eighth month I was really popping like a birthday balloon. As the pants grew tighter and tighter around my hips, old feelings of insecurity began to surface.

Push! Push!

And then that blissful day arrived. Samantha Jean took her first breath and my capacity to love grew a thousand-fold. I had forgotten all about the shame of my past and could only focus on her beauty, her perfection—her innocence. In that moment I knew I had to do better for her. I had to do better for her than I had done for myself. The last thing I wanted was for her to turn out as I had—a broken and tormented woman.

     There she was, cooing and kicking.

Hunched over the toilet I was at it again. This time with my baby next to me on the bathroom floor, comfortably playing in her bouncy chair. She was so innocent, so unaware of what her mommy was doing. But she was still watching me. Those big blue eyes watching mommy with intent.

The irony of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I couldn’t bear to leave my baby alone in another room, so I had brought her into the bathroom with me. I wanted to protect her. Was I really accomplishing that, though?

     She doesn’t understand, I reasoned, she’s only four months old.

But something about that moment lingered. I had done so many awful things in my life, but this one seemed to top the charts. Purging in front of my child, what depths of depravity would this illness take me to?

     Countless shopping carts filled with organic produce.

I wanted to be a good mom, I wanted to do everything right. I decided I couldn’t practice bulimia without psychologically damaging my child, so I had to try something else. This time I would drag my husband and child into my misery. I spent hundreds of dollars on organic produce. I juiced, I ate sprouted grains and I gave up dairy and meat. Meanwhile, I charted every ounce of food my daughter consumed in the first two years of her life.

I had found my new obsession. I would teach Samantha proper eating habits. I would teach her how to enjoy exercise. I would carefully monitor every item she consumed to ensure she was getting the appropriate nutrition for optimal growth.

Through all of this the scale remained a close “friend”. But now this friend had a new purpose. Now it was helping me keep my daughter “healthy”. I would step on the scale alone, then again as I held her in my arms. She was a chunky baby like most, and I wanted to keep an eye on it. I could not allow her to live the same life I had. I wanted to protect her from the teasing and torment of being an overweight child. I wanted so much better for her.

Occasionally my husband would notice my obsessiveness over Samantha’s eating habits and weight. He would lovingly point it out and I would naturally get defensive.  No, I was just doing what was best, I was being a good parent; I had convinced myself like the proudest addict in denial.

In the end I was guilty of leading by example, though silently, and teaching my daughter what I had feared most. Through my actions I taught her the same message delivered to me my whole life—outward appearance matters most.

“No! You are not fat!” Back in the present moment, I shook off the feelings of remorse to grab hold of my precious little girl. As much as I thought I had controlled what she saw and heard it was my insecurities that had spoken louder. Every time I told her she was beautiful, she was loved, she was valued, she had a purpose, and everything about her was perfect, all she saw was her mommy’s attitude. I had never believed those things about myself, and therefore she was unable to accept it as a reality in her own life.

Every time I had refused to let her take my picture, every morning that I stepped on the scale, every new diet I tried and every time I cried when my pants no longer fit—that is what had taught my daughter. That is the example she learned from.

     Do as I say, not as I do.

Only it doesn’t work that way. Not in the life of a recovering bulimic, at least. I’m not perfect, I do fail, and I try my best yet come up short. But the one thing I learned that day in the bathroom as my five-year-old stepped off the scale: it’s never too late to try again. If God doesn’t give up on me, then I can’t give up on me either.

I looked her in the eyes, with tears of a changed heart flowing freely, “Samantha, you are beautiful. You are not fat. I love your little tummy, I love everything about you. And you know what? We’re not using that scale anymore.”

“But Mommy, we use the scale every day.”

     Ouch.

“I know, honey, but not anymore. We don’t need it.”

And so a new beginning was born.

In that moment I realized I was not a bad mom or a failure as a parent. All along I had done the best I could, and this situation was only a catalyst into becoming a better person. It was a chiseling tool further refining me into the woman God designed me to be.

My story is not the same as the next parent’s story. What works for them might not work for me. The best evidence of good parenting is not found in the lack of mistakes, but in the lessons learned from such errors. Being a good parent, I am learning, is more about forward progress.

I can’t change the past but I can allow God to change my future; not only my future, but the future of my child.

We are all parents in recovery, messing up and moving on and learning to adapt. No one has it all figured out. As the sun wakes up and a new day begins, I don’t just look at my daughter differently, I see myself in a new light. I have no choice but to allow God to change my thinking. My child’s emotional welfare depends on it. Because like it or not, she will do as I do.

____________________________________________________

This article was originally written for an essay writing contest (which I obviously didn’t win) and I finally decided, after nine months of sitting in my computer, it needed to be shared. I hope it helps someone out there.

~Rebecca  

Advertisements

Developing New Habits

**Originally published in The Christian Online Magazine, May 2013**

 

A few months ago I wandered into the pantry for a snack, found a bag of sunflower seeds and got to cracking. Within two weeks I found myself constantly snacking on sunflower seeds and whenever my supply ran out, I made special trips to the store to get more (or I begged my spouse to do so). Eventually my husband called me out on my behavior, “You know you’re addicted to those things.”

 

Of course, being the honest, sensitive, open-minded person I am, I responded, “NO I’M NOT!” But my defensiveness told the story. He was right; I had become “addicted” to the seeds and it took a couple of months for me to break the habit.

 

Whether it’s removing a food from your diet, exercising, or spending more time in prayer, new habits can be developed but it’s important to keep a couple of things in mind:

 

•Make an Attainable Goal

 

No matter what the goal is, make sure it’s actually doable. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t make a goal to exercise an hour a day, eat salads at every meal, or lose six clothing sizes in a month—you’ll only be setting yourself up for failure. Instead, pray about it and make a goal that is reasonable. Maybe you’ll commit to exercising twice a week for a while, until your endurance builds up. Or maybe you’ll decide to cut your dinner portions in half and stop the late night snacking. Whatever it is, start small and make baby steps. Any progress is better than nothing.

 

The same concept applies to your spiritual growth. If you are trying to develop a good devotional routine, it would be unwise to commit to waking up at 3am and spending an hour and a half in prayer and study when you’re normal routine involves waking up at 6am and getting out the door by 7:30am. Again, make a reasonable goal. Maybe try to go to bed fifteen minutes earlier each night, and wake up fifteen minutes earlier each morning. Set yourself up for success by making goals you can actually achieve and stay committed to.

 

Make a Thirty Day Commitment

 

Whenever you commit to replacing a bad habit with a good one, make sure to take baby steps. Thirty-day goals are a great place to start because it’s easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. Psychologically, there is a huge difference between saying, “I’m going to exercise every day for the rest of my life,” and, “I’m going to exercise three times a week for the next month.”

 

When your radar is set on “forever” it’s easy to get discouraged because there’s no end in sight—especially if you’re trying to develop a new habit. Maybe you can’t commit to avoiding fast food every day for the rest of your life, but you can commit to just thirty days. The same goes for any new habit, whether it’s removing a food from your diet or spending more time in prayer and Bible study. Focus on the short term goal and once you’ve reached it, make a new goal for the next thirty days. After a few months of this, you’ll find yourself with a new, good habit that has replaced the old.

 

You may also find it helpful to keep a list or calendar of some sort that you can mark off upon completing your goal. Each day when you see that “X” or check mark, you’ve come one day closer to your short-term goal. You’ll also find this useful on the days you fall short. Maybe you missed your workout, or you weren’t feeling well and caved in to eating that tempting treat. But knowing that you’ve only got thirty days to get through will encourage you to get back on the wagon as soon as possible. And once those thirty days is up you’ll realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought, and you can probably do it again.

 

The first few days are always the toughest but stick with it, because the rewards will far outweigh the temporary discomfort. And by the time your first thirty days is up, you’ll find that God did equip you to accomplish your goal and He will equip you to accomplish the next one.

 

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

© Rebecca Aarup

______________________________

profilepic3Rebecca Aarup is a redeemed prodigal, set free from over a decade of mental illness, eating disorders, addiction, and more. She now enjoys sharing her story of freedom and transformation with a lost and hurting world, as well as teaching about spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding our identity in Christ.

Rebecca is also an author and freelance writer, having written devotionals and teaching articles for a variety of publications including The Secret Place (Judson press), Evangel (Light and Life Communications), and Mustard Seed Ministries. Beyond writing, Rebecca is a wife, home-schooling mom, and Bible student at Liberty University. She lives in Glendale, Az with her husband Chris and daughter, Samantha.  You can read more from Rebecca by following her on twitter and facebook.

_______________________________

If you enjoyed this post, please take a second to click the FOLLOW button on the space provided on the right hand side of the computer screen (or scroll to the bottom of your screen if using a smartphone) and you will receive new posts in your email inbox. This is absolutely free and your information is never shared!

If you were encouraged by what you read here, please share with your friends and/or leave a comment.

Spiritual Reboot: Four Ways Fasting Benefits your Body and Spirit

**Published with The Christian Online Magazine, November 2012**

Spiritual Reboot: Four Ways Fasting Benefits Your Body and Spirit

A lot of controversy surrounds fasting; a quick Google search reveals doctors who wholeheartedly support it and others who are adamantly against it. As Christians, we need to look to Jesus and what His word says when it comes to these issues. In the book of Matthew (4:1-2) Jesus was led by the Spirit to fast, and later He outlines some simple fasting guidelines (6:16-18). So, fasting was not only practiced by Jesus but also taught by Him.

Fasting Benefits Your Physical Body

  • Reboot your “system” with a cleansing fast.

During the first 12-24 hours of a water-only fast, your body begins to break down glucose stored in your liver and muscles, converting it to glycogen to use as energy. After this energy has been depleted, the body begins to use fatty acids for energy. As the fast progresses past two days, the brain uses glycerol (a product of fat tissue) and amino acids from broken down muscle tissue as energy sources.

“Since the bulk of the toxins in your body are stored in your fat reserves, the longer you fast on water only, the more fat you’ll burn and the more toxins you’ll eliminate from your system.” Dr. Ben Kim

Simply stated, fasting for a few days helps the body get a fresh start as harmful chemicals from processed foods and other materials are removed from the body. Some medical studies have even indicated that a fast may help boost the immune system.

  • Put an end to bad eating habits.

Recently I began a ten-day fast and initially I felt freed from the burden of food. I knew, at least for several days, that cooking and wondering about meals would be eliminated from my daily routine. (Don’t worry– I still cooked for my family!)The first day was great—then the second day hit. I would be lying if I said it was easy, because it wasn’t. But what I did come to realize was just how often I was putting food/drinks in my mouth. As the days progressed I eventually felt very little hunger. After the ten days was over, I realized I needed very little—far less than what I had been consuming—to be satisfied and supplied with energy. Now that I’ve come through the fast and am still very much alive and well, I not only feel better physically, but several bad eating habits were effectively broken. (Anybody else have a problem with late-night snacking?) Of course, the spiritual benefits far out-weighed the physical.

Fasting Benefits Your Spiritual Life

  • Obeying the Word of God provides inner peace and contentment.

Those who follow God’s words are blessed, full of joy and peace, and satisfied (Psalm 1; 119; Proverbs 3:1-8). Obeying God through fasting is no exception—it is yet another way we can place our dependence on Christ and get our eyes focused on Him instead of what we think we need. Spiritual eyes are opened during a time of fasting and prayer and when we choose to eat and drink of the Word we are truly blessed in our spirit.

  • Fasting and prayer encourages spiritual awakening and the breaking of sinful habits.

Joel 1:14, 2:12; Nehemiah 1:4, 9:1-3; Ezra 8:23; Acts 14:23; Esther 4:3; Deuteronomy 9:9; 2 Chronicles 1:3; Daniel 9:3–all of these Scriptures reference fasting by God’s people for repentance, direction, instruction, or intervention. Both the Old and New Testaments are full of examples of fasting believers. I hope you’ll take the time to browse the passages listed and see how many ways God chooses to work through fasting.

With only a few days remaining until a critical presidential election, perhaps now is the time to consider fasting for personal and national revival as well as godly leadership in our nation. Or maybe you are struggling with a sinful habit. In any case, seek God first and follow His voice—He is the only one really qualified to lead you in this area.

As always, consult your doctor to make sure it is physically safe for you to fast (but do be prepared to meet mixed opinions from medical professionals on this topic).

Letting Ourselves Go

**Published in The Christian Online Magazine July 2012 Issue**

 

There are many struggling with the discipline of exercise, and if you’re like me, you want to know what the Bible says about it. Is it really a big deal to work-out? Does God actually care if I take a walk or not? Let’s examine evidences supporting the idea that God does, indeed, care about our activity levels.

#1: God places value in physical activity.

“Physical training is of some value” (1 Tim. 4:8a). The apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thought it was important enough to mention. While God cares a great deal about our spiritual health (1 Tim. 4:8b), He also cares about our physical health. After all, we are His temples (1 Cor. 6:19), and part of being faithful stewards (Luke 16:10) is keeping our temple well maintained.

#2: Physical activity was often mentioned by the apostle Paul.

In various letters to the churches, Paul repeatedly uses “running” imagery (1 Cor. 9:24-27, Phil. 2:16, Heb. 12:11, Gal. 2:2, 5:7, 2 Tim. 4:7), suggesting athleticism was a relatable subject to his audience. Though his words were penned long before the convenience of automobile travel, drive-thru restaurants, and television entertainment, we can still gain valuable insight by understanding what was important to the people of his generation. Good principles don’t change just because times have changed.

#3: Physical activities have positive effects on both the mind and body.

“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest.” (Heb. 12:11) Paul is talking about the discipline in the parent-child relationship, but the concept applies well in the area of exercise. It is not always pleasant and often painful, but it produces a great reward; fewer risks for serious disease, longevity, increased energy, improved mental focus, less depression and development of self-control to name a few.

#4: Scripture admonishes laziness.

In the book of Proverbs, King Solomon challenges us, “How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” (Prov. 6:9) see also Prov. 13:4, 21:25 and 19:15 There is strong evidence in the Bible to support the need to stay active and avoid laziness.

So what’s stopping us from obeying?

#1: We have no motivation.

There are physical reasons why some cannot exercise, but the majority of us have the capability to, at bare minimum, walk every now and then. For some it’s difficult to get motivated. Several years ago I worked in a gym as a certified personal trainer, and even then I needed to hire my own trainer to motivate my diligence. I managed to work much harder when held accountable then I did on my own. (I wasn’t about to make myself suffer, but my trainer had no problem with it.) It may be useful to enroll the help of an accountability partner who will not entertain shallow excuses.

#2: We don’t know what to do.

We all have unique circumstances, but that shouldn’t hold us back from being active. I’m a mother to a toddler and training at the gym is not practical for me at this point in my life. But I can still garden, play soccer, catch or do any number of other physical activities with my daughter. Am I going to look like a body builder? No, I won’t. But God hasn’t called me, or the majority of us, to be body builders. He simply assures us we can do all things with his strength (Phil. 4:13). We need to get creative in our thinking, instead of boxing exercise into gym memberships, work-out videos, and expensive equipment. Get out of the box and ask God to show you ways you can increase your movement throughout the day.

There is always hope (Lam. 3:24)! Continue to run the race set before you and know God accepts you right where you’re at (Rom. 15:7). He will never ask of you more than you can bear (1 Cor. 10:13, Heb. 4:5-6), so trust His word (Prov. 3:5) and acknowledge his perfect plan for your spiritual and physical health, embracing the abundant life he created you for (John 10:10).

© Rebecca Aarup