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Stories of Grace: Episode 14

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“I am dust. I feel like dust, or at least, like I am worth as much. I can’t sleep, so I kneel beside my bed, close my eyes, and silently ask God, “Why me?”

Visit here to listen to Notre Dame senior Leah Jacob tell the story of a grace of a God who longs to save us. Subscribe to the free Stories of Grace podcast on iTunes U and receive automatic notifications when a new story is published. The full text of Leah’s reflection is below.

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I am…

COLD
December 2013

I am cold and alone with the monsters in my head. They are whispering—always whispering. Reminding me I’m not good enough. Not small enough. Not skinny enough.

It started when I walked into the dining hall on the first day of freshman year. Not wanting to put forth the effort to wait in line and explore the food options, I settled for a salad. A spinach salad, mind you, with plenty of other healthy additions like edamame and chick peas and carrots. A healthy meal is harmless—and actually quite good for you. But soon enough, salad became a habit and the habit became obsessive; the portions got smaller, the dressing became lighter, and the toppings disappeared altogether.

“Hey Leah, want some______?” “Nah, I’m good.”

I am always “Good.” “Fine.” “Not hungry.” Whether or not they know how hungry I really am, it doesn’t matter. I don’t want to talk about it.

The problem is that I didn’t notice the monsters in my mind until calorie counting became an addiction I still can’t escape. I noticed three months too late, when now the only affirmation I desire is from drunken boys on weekends, and I’ve already beaten myself up enough that my self-esteem is black and blue.

It’s not about how skinny I am, because truthfully, I’ve never been skinny and I don’t look sick. Instead, it’s about a twisted mind game that someone made up long ago—a dangerous game that I’ve started playing against myself, and sadly, it’s not a game that anyone can win.

This game is played by people who lose themselves when they get to college, focusing too much on the hungry gaze of another and forgetting what it feels like to really be loved. It’s a game that makes your existence into a cycle of seeking the shallow affirmations I crave and embracing the self-hatred I have. I hate my body. I don’t want to, but I do.

I feel like I’ve stopped living, really. I’m alive, I’m present. But my mind isn’t here. It’s stuck somewhere else, buried in the snow. Cold because I’m starving my body. I’m starving myself and I don’t know how to make it stop.

DUST
October 2014

I am dust. I feel like dust, or at least, like I am worth as much.

I can’t sleep, so I kneel beside my bed, close my eyes, and silently ask God, “Why me?”

I don’t know if I am hoping to hear an answer; or at the very least feel some divine comfort that maybe, just maybe, He knows how much I am suffering, I open my eyes and scan the pictures that line my wall. As my eyes move across the wall, looking at the smiling faces of my friends who posed for picture after picture over the course of our freshman year, it’s as if I am watching myself disappear into the nothingness I believe I am. I watch as my cheeks grow increasingly hollow and my body starts to slowly disappear.

Last winter, I finally admitted to myself that I had a problem and it needed to be fixed. I didn’t want to be sick. I didn’t even know I was sick. People told me they were worried and I pushed them away. I didn’t want their help; no, I didn’t need their help. I could get up on my own, because I wanted to be my own hero.

We all want to be our own hero. But the truth is, alone, you’re fighting a losing battle. You can’t do it alone. You just can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried—it’s been ten months since I realized I was sick and I’ve tried everything. But here I am, still sick with the same problem that hasn’t been fixed.

You can plead with God—you can beg him to make it stop. You can scream and cry into your pillow because it just isn’t fair. But sooner or later, this battle will wear you out and you’ll want nothing more than to just stop fighting. This fight between my mind and body has been going on for a long time, but the story has taken a sharp twist and my health is now hanging by a thread.

In February, I won back the boy who left me in the dust months before. He told me what I needed to hear; he reminded me over and over again how much he loved my body, and so in order to keep him from leaving me again, I kept losing weight.

But I learned very quickly that boys who leave you in the dust once will do it again in a heartbeat when someone better comes along. Like clockwork, she came along, and just like that, he was gone all over again.

“He chose her over me.”

Slowly, it progressed into, “He chose her over me because she is better than me.” This thought spread like poison. It took over my mind; it took over my body. If my body wasn’t good enough for him, how could it be good enough for me?

And just like that, my universe began to implode and my life spiraled out of control.

Now, I am bulimic. There is nothing glamorous or “hot” about that.

Being bulimic means crossing a physical threshold that we are never meant to cross. Once you cross that threshold for the first time, there’s no going back. You find yourself constantly punishing your body for eating, for trying to keep itself alive. After I did it once, I discovered what my body can withstand. It’s as if I suddenly acquired this new power—the power to eat whatever I want, whenever I want (only to get rid of it)—that slowly drained the life out of me. And it has become a way to maintain control over my out-of-control life. A lot of people who struggle with eating disorders have trouble admitting that they have a problem. I am different; I know I have a problem, and it scares me. I know that I am hurting myself, and I want it to stop. But at the same time, I don’t. This seems like the only way I can get myself to be good enough for anyone. I’ve lost all sense of self-worth. I am nothing.

Welcome to your classic example of a girl’s fight for perfection gone wrong.

SICK
April 2015

I am sick. I didn’t want to call my parents.

I didn’t want to tell them that my life is falling apart; that their perfect daughter is far from perfect and struggling to stay afloat.

But yesterday, I had to, and now I’m signed up for eating disorder treatment this summer at the Emily Program in Cleveland. I can’t stop picturing the treatment center in my head. White walls. Unfriendly faces. A therapist’s chair and a couch. I picture a doctor walking in to tell me what I already know: I am sick and need help.

I am supposed to be perfect. A couple weeks ago, I got the call that told me I was accepted into a competitive internship program in Milwaukee. But rather than being excited, I was scared. My parents told me it’s normal to be nervous. What they don’t understand is that I wasn’t scared because I would be going to a new place; I’ve being going to therapy for the past two semesters and I’m scared because I know I’m not better.

I’ve been consuming about 500 calories a day, not accounting for my eight daily attempts to purge it all, and running three to six miles every morning.

No, I am not ready to do this alone.

ALIVE
August 2015

I am alive. I still exist. Somehow, I am not dead.

Today was my last day at the Emily Program.

Today the doctor told me that after my very first intake evaluation, she had gone home and cried. She cried because she was so amazed that against all the odds, I was still alive and wanted to get better. In order to get better, I spent eight weeks going in and out of the facility, for dietician appointments and individual and group therapy. Three months of hard work at recovery, and now I can finally rest.

And as I drove away, I cried too. The tears I cried were some strange mix of joy, gratitude, and shock.

I cried because I was better. Because I survived.

But I also cried because I was angry at myself. Because I was too selfish and wrapped up in my appearance that I didn’t think about the fact that I could have died. I didn’t think of my family, my friends, or the future I had started building for myself. I had disrespected my body, and everyone around me, I knew that. But most of all, I had disrespected God, my Father, who always wanted to save me.

Here is what I learned from therapy:
1. It is okay to not be okay.
2. Before you can love anyone else, you have to love yourself.
3. We are made “perfect” in the image and likeness of God.

LOVED
December 2015

I am loved; loved for who I am, for my beautiful healthy body, by a God who intentionally and patiently created me in his image and likeness.

Coming out of the tattoo parlor, I can feel the stinging skin where a small symbol has just been inked onto the left side of my rib cage.

It’s small, and simple, and remains hidden by my clothes. Two curved lines move gently upward, meeting at the top to form the symbol of the National Eating Disorder Association, a symbol unfamiliar to most.

A short, deliberate line crosses at the top, which is what makes the image all the more unique and meaningful to me. This line intersects the top of the symbol to resemble a cross. I decided on this tattoo because it serves as a reminder, not only of the struggle, but also of the victory.

When I was sick, I asked God time and time again, “Why me?”

What I realize now is that the temptation towards demise—towards becoming absorbed in self-image—is also, strangely, an opportunity. An opportunity for growth, for learning. I gave into temptation for three years, but now, I am better, stronger, and alive. I’m grateful. And I am loved, most importantly, by me.

Notre Dame senior
Leah Jacob

Leah Jacob is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying accounting and German language and literature. After graduation, she plans to continue social justice work while beginning a career in Chicago.