Saturday, March 29, 2014

Swallowing Sand

Something I have learned about any sickness of the soul is that simply combating the negative behaviors symptomatic of the illness is very rarely effective.

Part of healing is in not just cutting ourselves off from the unhealthy patterns, but replacing them with healthy ones. When I am physically sick, I don’t just set my willpower to struggle against the urge to cough, my stubbornness against the burn in my throat. I take vitamins. I drink tea (usually with a few drops of honey and lemon juice). I rest. And I get well.

Similarly, in healing from an eating disorder that nearly destroyed me, I was never able to get well by forcing myself to stop purging or restricting or binging, or even by trying to choke out the negative emotional patterns that caused those habits. What finally proved helpful is not to not do things, but to choose to do other things instead-- eating well, staying active, purposefully engaging emotions and realities that bear so much more truth. 

This may be overly cerebral, so perhaps it is best said the way I summed it up in my year end blog post in December: overcoming dark in my life is much less about constantly trying to starve the negative and much more about conscientiously, intentionally feeding joy, hope, and light.

I’ve been feeling dried up and sickly for a while now.

My soul has turned inward under the heat of the elements, shriveling in the face of relentless pressure from a job and a loneliness that feel much like a wasteland to me. I try to fight the negativity, the discouragement, the fears. But I find myself seemingly hopelessly crushed under the thumb of circumstances and my own relentless thoughts.

Recently my church’s pastor said some things in a sermon that have been turning over and over in my head and heart. He talked about thirst-- a feeling my soul seems to know well lately, this desert dryness. And then he talked about how often we seem to try quenching our thirst by drinking sand instead of water.

No matter how much sand you drink, you’ll still be thirsty. Chances are it’s going to make you more thirsty instead of less, in fact. In the desert water’s going to be harder to come by, but it’s the only thing that’s going to satisfy the burning in the back of your throat.

And I’ve found myself asking what am I drinking?

When I feel dried out, numb, I have a few familiar medications I turn to and drink deep: my tendency towards self-loathing sadness, my cynicism, feeding the lying standards society calls "success," my desperate, consuming ache for people to like me. None of them bring me any kind of relief. I know that intellectually, and yet I greedily drain their cups every single time. They’re easy to get-- I’ve had so much practice. Years ago I wrote it as a song: so I’ll drink deep that familiar cup, embrace its bitter name. It’s a million miles from good for me, but at least I know its safe.

And so my goal has become, particularly during these weeks leading towards Easter (such a steady reminder to me of the resurrection God brings all over again every time our hearts fall into silent darkness), to drink the right things again. To remember resurrection. To remember all the things in my life that have turned towards redemption, that are turning to redemption now. To recognize that change-- beautiful, breathtaking change-- is resting just over the horizon of my heart right now.

And maybe most importantly of all, to remember that even if I can’t get this right the first time, even if I keep trying to swallow sand a million times over and healing looks like a collection of so many years of moments instead of just one, Grace still wipes the grit off my lips and whispers it’s going to be OK. Come and live.

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