Ann Marie’s eating disorder of anorexia first reared its head when she was in high school. This unhealthy relationship with food caused her to lose so much weight before her senior year that she ended up at an outpatient treatment center. However, since this was back when anorexia was poorly understood, the treatment was ineffective.
“I think part of what caused my unhealthy relationship with food was that I was tall and kind of lanky and my friends tended to be short and petite,” Ann Marie shared. “Since I’m tall, whenever I heard I was bigger what I heard was that I was heavier.”
She continued to struggle with anorexia after high school and well into adulthood, which caused her to avoid social functions where she knew there would be food, tell people she had already eaten when she hadn’t, and hide the resulting feelings of depression, fear and shame. During this time she also grew distant from her Catholic upbringing and angry with God. She would fluctuate between seasons where she managed it alright and others where it became overwhelming for years.
“When the struggle would re-emerge I became angry with God and wondered why I had to struggle with this affliction,” Ann Marie said.
For a time in her youth, she even drank heavily to combat the feelings of anger and helplessness, though she eventually gave up drinking for many years and chooses not to drink today. The reason? It was too many calories.
Around her mid-20s she started to have health issues due to her unhealthy eating habits. She was married at the time, and this became a concern because it could have major implications on her ability to have children. She admitted she had a problem and began seeking help.
“During that time, I started attending support group meetings and felt very at home in Overeaters Anonymous,” Ann Marie said. “I was terrified of these individuals but I also understood what they were talking about. There weren’t any other options available at the time. I was lucky to feel both at home and accepted by them. I had to work really hard to establish a program that encompassed many aspects. I worked with a counselor, attended a class on eating illness, worked with a nutritionist, participated in family/group counseling, and worked closely and intensely with my program sponsor. It took a team of individuals and perseverance to establish a new self-concept and healthier body image.”
While her issue wasn’t overeating—it was “under” eating—she understood that they all shared the same affliction and problem. In other words, her anorexia and her meeting members’ unhealthy addiction to food were two sides of the same coin. Like any addiction, it stemmed from an unhealthy relationship with a created good—alcohol, food, physical image, emotional relationships, etc.—that ultimately kept her feeling trapped and unhappy.
“The whole thing was very private and shameful. I really kept it out of my personal life and didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family,” Ann Marie said. “Even today I share this aspect of my life with very few people. I have had numerous people who disappeared or distanced themselves from me once I shared my eating disorder due to the stereotype associated with anorexia. I am fortunate to have a loving and supportive spouse.”
While her OA group was helpful, and it did spur her to return to Church and get involved in her parish, it didn’t stick.
“I went back to church and got involved but it didn’t last. I did stay in OA and had a sense of recovery but my spirituality was lacking. I started going to meetings less frequently,” Ann Marie said.
She continued to try and manage it by working with her doctor, nutritionist, and sponsor and by attending meetings sporadically. By working closely with her nutritionist she was eventually able to have two children. But after a while, this too also trailed off and she found herself muddling through life, suffering very much from her affliction and resentment toward God.
“I was really angry with God at some points. This resurfaced again in my thirties and when I was raising my children,” Ann Marie said. “I knew all about surrendering from working the Steps but it hadn’t really set in because of the condition of my heart at that time. I was spiritually bankrupt.”
However, a few years ago something happened. The affliction emerged again and this time she reconnected with her spiritual director and, along with her long-time sponsor, began yet again to work the Steps in an intensive and spiritual manner.
“It became very apparent that the spiritual piece was not intact and I had to really work hard to create my sense of God and to build an active prayer life and rejoin a church. I started to take on roles and activities in my parish and became very active in OA. And with the help of my spiritual director, I began doing a lot of spiritual reading, reflection, retreats and learned how to pray differently, to meditate, and to discern the word of God,” Ann Marie shared.
A grace-filled milestone occurred when, after many decades, she finally returned to confession.
“About two years ago I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which I had not done since seventh grade. I was working on Step Five again. I had owned my mistakes and made all of my amends previously but this time I did it with a priest, my spiritual director to be exact. I used the 12-step format combined with the examination of conscience. It was very exposing to sit down for confession after 41 years,” Ann Marie said. “It was difficult and emotional but he led me through it and my spirituality, first slowly but then quickly, began to take off from there.”
Spurred by this moment of healing, she continued to expand her prayer life and deepened her relationship with God through spiritual retreats. And it was during one retreat that she came across Scott Weeman’s book The Twelve Steps and the Sacraments.
“I was on a retreat and Scott’s book was at the bookstore. I purchased it and started reading it. It dawned on me that I had also been trying to link the sacraments and the Steps and I started to really look at what the connection of the sacraments meant to my Catholic upbringing. I got in touch with Scott, met him, and started attending Catholic in Recovery leaders’ meetings,” Ann Marie said.
She now leads a Catholic in Recovery group in her area. After many years of struggling with her affliction of anorexia as well as feelings of helplessness and anger, she now has a deep and abiding relationship with the church and God.
“I have been blessed to have a daily reprieve from this illness and to become spiritually fit. I’ve learned that I’m at my best when I am God-centered and conform my will to God’s will. That comes through working the Steps but also through being still and discerning God’s will and purpose for my life. In Catholic in Recovery, we reflect on prayers, Scripture, and the sacraments and we are there for one another. I’m learning to align my faith and the sacraments with the Steps and how to surrender myself to Catholic fellowship,” Ann Marie shared. “I am a very service-oriented person so I am working to find the balance in that as well.”
And while she has received a tremendous amount of grace and healing, she understands that her affliction is a cross the Lord is asking her to carry in faith.
“My eating affliction is my wound, and it’s the cross I’m called to embrace and the message I’m called to share with others,” Ann Marie said. “I’m called to live with that wound but embrace the Lord. This wound is what brought me to my knees, to the Lord, and helped me learn to surrender to Him. Today, I do His will and I have a beautiful, close, and loving relationship with God for which I will be eternally grateful.”