I’ve lost count of how many fellow food addicts have heard me talk about my difficult childhood as it relates to my disordered eating only to have them respond, “But I don’t have trauma like you have trauma.”
Then they tell me how they were never abused in any commonly understood sense. Their parents were good people who always tried their best. They knew their parents loved them…and then comes the “but.”
Everyone’s “but” is different. “But my dad worked a lot.” “He didn’t talk much.” “He never hugged me.” “He had a temper sometimes.” “His nickname for me was ‘Chubby.’” “He told me to stop growing because he couldn’t afford to keep getting me new clothes.”
Whatever the “but,” it’s usually followed by another “but.” “But I had food on the table and a roof over my head. I never wanted for anything. So why am I like this?”
Like what? Attached to food. Afraid of relationships. Always seeking comfort and terrified of potential hurt. Relying on substances instead of people, because substances are predictable and people are not.
God knows why we’re like this. If we look at the first chapter of Genesis, we see that God’s original plan for us was to live in sinless relationships with Him and one another. God told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” before the first sin. This means God wanted us to have perfect earthly fathers.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
The Fall happened, and Paradise was lost to us. No more perfect earthly fathers would ever be born. However, our God is beyond clever. He knew His perfect plan, but He also saw our imperfect plans coming, and he scaffolded all of salvation history around us so that we would always have Him as Father.
He made Himself the Father of Israel. No matter how far they strayed, He still pursued them perfectly. Through them, He gave all of us His Son, through whose resurrection He showered us with both justice and mercy. And still—dayenu—that wasn’t enough. He sent His Holy Spirit to guide and heal us of all the ways we harm each other, which we do sometimes, even when we’re good people who are always trying our best.
We were made for perfect fathers, but the Fall interrupted that plan so that no earthly father can provide for all our hunger. If food was the only reliable thing our fallen fathers provided, no wonder we can’t seem to get enough of it.
What is the alternative? In recovery, we learn that our earthly parents, no matter how hard they did or didn’t try, were mere instruments in God’s plan for us to live full, holy lives that lead us to eternity with Him. Where can we learn this fullness, this holiness, if our earthly fathers could not, would not, or simply did not teach us that kind of living?
This is why connection with our fellows in recovery is so important. By developing a deep and wide network of supportive fellow travelers, we create lives for ourselves where, whenever we need the presence of a loving Father, we can pick up that 500-pound telephone and gather as two or three in Jesus’ name. Because of the power of the Trinity, when we are present with the Son, we remember Him telling his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” The perfect Father provides His loving presence.
It doesn’t matter how far your earthly father fell short—because they all do. There is only one perfect Father, and His plans for our provision are always good. Learning to survive more as He created us to, reaching for relationship instead of food, is how we experience His goodness, even here in this fallen world. As 239 of The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “No one is father as God is Father.”
Nothing heals the isolation of addiction like a deep and wide network of supportive relationships. Maybe it’s time to find or start an in-person Catholic in Recovery group near you. Learn more today!
Erin McCole Cupp is grateful to be recovering from compulsive overeating, binge eating behaviors, and developmental and betrayal trauma. She writes and speaks about mental health and addiction recovery from a Catholic perspective. Check out her course “Filled With Good: Theology of the Body for Food Addicts” at erinmccolecupp.com.