Christianity and Anorexia: Emma's story

Posted by Sam Hailes  ·  Be the first to comment

Emma Scrivener's story is powerful and gripping. Speaking openly in both her book and our interview about a very deep and personal struggle is brave to say the least. The internal struggles that led to a long and painful battle with Anorexia are still there. 

Writing on her personal website, the Irishwoman is blunt: "My digestive system has been irreversibly damaged which has lead to many other physical complications.  I’ve been off work with it for a couple of years now and my daily bathroom routine is… well, you don’t want to know! If you’re reading this and you’re currently on the downward slide, don’t just think, ‘It’s no big deal, I’ll put the weight on later.’  In all likelihood you are doing life-long, irreversible damage.  I’m not trying to scare you.  It’s just a fact."

But while her body has been damaged, her spirit has been healed, restored and ultimately, saved. She still has bad days (who doesn't?) but her story is full of hope. Now that same hope is helping those who have struggled with an eating disorder.

Emma describes her childhood as “idyllic”. Growing up with a loving, stable family in Belfast in the 1980s, she was confident, happy and accepted.

It wasn’t until Emma entered her teens that she realised her parents couldn’t answer all of her questions. Did God exist? Is there life after death? In the end, Emma attended a Christian camp with a school friend and became a Christian.

“They talked about sin and how we were separated from God. That was something that made a lot of sense to me. I got God and sin but I didn’t understand where Jesus fitted in.”

A crisis of identity

Around the same time, Emma moved house, went to a new school and encountered the challenges of adolescence.

“I’d always been bright but suddenly brains were no longer worth anything, what mattered was whether or not you shaved your legs and if you had a boyfriend. I was bullied and didn’t know how to fit in.  I felt like I was out of control. Internally I felt a mess and my feelings were all over the place.”

It was a crisis of identity that led to Emma’s struggle with anoerexia. While some are quick to blame size 0 models for the problem, wanting to fit into an outfit was not the root of Emma’s illness.

“It was about taking control and trying to make myself a new person,” she says.

 I felt a mess and my feelings were all over the place

As Emma started to lose weight, her mother took her to the doctor.  In hindsight, “nothing to worry about”, was a terrible answer to give, but Emma isn’t bitter. “This is Belfast in the 1990s and eating disorders was something people hadn’t heard about,” she points out.

“I lost more weight and got to a critical stage. The recovery process took about three years, just to get back to a normal level. It was very stressful for the family.”

Problems on the inside

But Emma says the way she recovered was just as important as the fact that she did recover.

“With eating disorders you have to tackle weight as a first step but if it’s the only thing you tackle, you’re patched together on the outside but with the same issues on the inside.”

By the age of 18, Emma was back to a normal weight, but internally she felt exactly the same.

Life carried on, she went to Bible college, got married and supported her husband in his calling to lead a church.  She saw her work in ministry as a way of “proving herself” to God. 

“Again I was thinking about God as somebody I had to perform for rather than the Christ of the Bible who comes and serves us and wants us as we are. It took a long time to realise that. I was terrified at the prospect of being a vicar’s wife and my old eating patterns started up again. I got a lot sicker than before. Nothing could help and I was dying.”

The miracle: An event and a process

What happened next was a miracle, but Emma is careful to emphasise that her journey out of anorexia was a long and painful one. There are no quick fixes.

“My Granny died but I was too sick to make it to the funeral. That night I sat in front of the fire on my own and I looked at the fire and saw my life. My organs were shutting down and I was a mess. I couldn’t get better on my own. I cried out to God and said ‘I’ve been running from you there’s not much of my left but if you want it you can have it.’

I cried out to God and said ‘I’ve been running from you there’s not much of my left but if you want it you can have it.’

“I opened the book of Revelation and read about Jesus - not the God I thought I knew, the God who knew me. One picture was of a lion who was Lord of my life and someone I could entrust control to and who wouldn’t leave me as I was.

“Alongside that there was another picture of the same lamb and the Lord who knows what it is to be broken and who stands with those who are ashamed and don’t have answers.

“It was that whole picture of his lordship but also his grace, mercy and love that broke me and brought me to my knees. I said ‘OK God if this is who you are then you’re worth following and you’re more beautiful than anorexia. That was the beginning of a long process.”

A New Name

That process, and many more details along the way are fully unpacked in Emma’s book A New Name – a must have book for any Christian wanting to understand the issues around eating disorders.

How should we define anoerexia? Emma believes it is both an illness and a choice. 

“It’s very important to hold those two things together. If you say it’s just a sickness the danger is you make the sufferer into a victim that has no control over what’s going on and can never get out of it.

“On the other hand if you say it’s just a choice that’s completely wrong too because it’s not. There are addictive elements to this. It’s definitely an illness but it’s an illness that has elements which can be changed. But none of this is simple.”

Emma is adamant that Christians and churches are uniquely placed to help those struggling with eating disorders.

“Churches have so much to say into this issue and the gospel addresses every issue of the heart," she says.

"Professional help is really important and essential but more important than that for me has been ordinary believers who don’t know anything about eating disorder but have said ‘we love you we don’t understand this, we’ll stand with you, pray with you and be with you in the long haul.’ That’s what makes a difference.”

A New Name is published by IVP and is available here.

21st September

September 21st, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes

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