In theory at least, it sounds and looks good. Who wouldn’t want to be free? Who in their right mind would willingly choose slavery – whether to habits or behaviours or substances or ways of thinking?
Well, I did – until God stepped in. I nearly killed myself – but I was convinced it was in my best interests. I starved myself to the point where my hair fell out, my nails turned black and I could barely walk. I was sick – but I didn’t want to get better. When other people tried to help I pushed them away and screamed, ‘freedom’. But I was enslaved instead.
I’ve been reminded of this by the recent debate around re-feeding severely ill anorexics. This weekend, a High Court judge in London ruled that a woman close to death could be force-fed against her wishes and those of her family.
It’s an agonising situation for everyone involved, with no simple answers.
The woman, (who is 32), has a history of eating disorders as well as other chronic health conditions. She said that she didn’t want to die, but that above all else, she didn’t want to eat or be fed.
Her parents, who love her and have stood by her over many agonising years, believe that she has ‘had enough’ and want her to be allowed to die ‘a dignified death’.
The judge himself said that it was a heavy decision, with ‘weighty factors on each side of the scales’.
You see, here’s what treatment demands: ‘bodily intrusion of the most intimate kind’. 24 hour monitoring. Feeding tubes. Being watched, even when you go to the toilet. Every decision made for you and executed by someone else, (when one of the things the disorder seems to offer is a feeling of control). Treatment from professionals who at best, are unlikely to understand how you feel and at worst, may be downright unsympathetic.
Then there’s the outcome: success is not guaranteed. The longer someone has an eating disorder, the harder it is to overcome. It’s not impossible – but it’s far from easy. Along with the mental anguish of refeeding (which can make the sufferer feel anxious, depressed and suicidal), there are also physical risks. Whilst some of the damage can be reversed, sadly much cannot. As the judge in this case recognised, there is a ‘high chance that, even if short-term progress can be made, long-term difficulties will remain’.
So. Why do it? Given that the woman involved is an adult and doesn’t want treated, why deprive her of ‘an imminent and relatively peaceful death?’
I can’t speak for this girl or her family – but I can speak for myself. Just seven years ago, I was where this woman is now.
I wasn’t trying to kill myself – yet I’d have died rather than eat. I’d have told you and anyone who tried to stop me to go to hell and I’d have fought, tooth and nail for what I believed to be freedom.
But here’s the thing.
The girl that was talking wasn’t me. It was a shadow of a person, distorted by her addictions. It was a creature, feral and starving and desperate and afraid. Someone who thought she knew who she was and what she wanted. But someone who was also sick and in need of outside help.
I thank God that I didn’t get what I wanted.
The answer to eating disorders is not just to gain weight – but that’s a part of it. No amount of therapy or talking will help you if you’re dying. But along with the emotional and spiritual battle, it’s a struggle you can’t win alone. I wasn’t force-fed. But as part of my recovery, I had to eat when I felt like it would kill me and I had to let go of what I thought was best. I had to acknowledge I couldn’t do it on my own. That I didn’t have the answers. I had to admit, despite myself, that I needed God and I needed other people – to stand with me and fight for me when I was too weak to do it for myself.
It felt like death. Death to me and all I held dear. But looking back now, I see things very differently. When I gave up trying to do what I thought was best in my own strength – that’s when I found the freedom I wanted all along.