Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Eating Disorder

We Are Better Together

Lindsey Smallwood

I had just left the psych ward.

Dramatic, but true. Years of practicing a secret eating disorder had left me broken in body and spirit. Finally a health crisis prompted a friend to take me to the doctor. Now, after eight weeks in the hospital painting my feelings in art therapy and checking boxes on a nutrition chart, I was discharged with no place to go.

I wanted to return to the university where I was halfway through my junior year, but I’d missed too much of the semester to return to campus. Family counseling during my hospitalization had not gone well and I wasn’t ready to do the necessary making of amends to go home. Living with friends while trying to take care of my mental health seemed awkward.

Then I got an invitation from my 78-year-old grandmother. I was welcome to come and live with her; in fact, she said she’d be glad for the company. She’d never liked living alone.

Grateful for a place to land, I packed the contents of my Austin dorm room and drove to Grams’ house in rural Colorado. She welcomed me like I was home for the holidays, with joy and delight at my arrival, rather than judgment about my appearance or questions concerning how I’d spent the last two months. From the minute I stepped through her door, there was a sense of abundant grace.

We settled into a rhythm as roommates, reading the paper over Grape Nuts each morning and watching Law & Order reruns after dinner. I sold jeans at a retail store in the mall while Grams worked puzzles with friends and tended to the house. Though I hadn’t been to any church in a long time, Grams and I attended Sunday services together, a starting place for my reconnection with God. This growing faith, along with the work I was doing in therapy, gave me hope that I would actually be able to heal.

Over meals prepared according to my medically prescribed nutritional plan, I began to tell Grams parts of my story, glimpses into the loneliness, self-loathing, and shame that had marked most of my adolescence. My revelations were met with sympathy and stories from her own life. Until then I’d always seen her as a sweet Jesus-loving old lady who made great blueberry muffins and loved to play cards. I’d never considered her as a woman with aches and dreams and longings. But as we talked each night over steamed vegetables and bland portions of protein, our real selves began to show and I discovered that not only did I love this tiny woman who had taken me in, I really liked her too.

About a month after I arrived, Grams needed unexpected foot surgery. Following the operation, she was unable to walk or drive her car for some time. I was happy to help run errands and take her to doctor’s appointments. I also ended up attending Bible study with her since that felt better than just chauffeuring her there. Sitting in that sweet circle of women, I began to open myself up to faith again, finding that the God I had known in childhood was still there, despite my long and intentional ignorance of His existence.

One evening, as I prepared dinner in the kitchen, Grams called from her chair in the living room where she had her broken foot elevated on the ottoman.

“You know,” she said. “I think God knew I would need you here while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Hot tears filled my eyes as I put down the paring knife. I walked to her chair.

“Grams,” I said, taking her hand. “I think God knew I would need you while I was healing. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

She smiled. “He gave us each other.”

Yes, He did.

My plan for my life had been binging in secret and purging in shame. God’s plan was stories shared over meals at a table set for two. For years I had chosen secrets and self-harm but in the face of Grams’ gracious love, I could tell the truth and begin to hope for the future. What had initially seemed like a place of last resort became an oasis of hope. Grams taught me how to love myself by holding my stories with tenderness. God loved me through her compassionate care.

That’s what He does. God takes ordinary old ladies and makes them instruments of His mercy. God takes confused bulimics on the mend and uses them to bring life to the lonely.

God gives us each other to walk everything out over meals and errands and television reruns.

Even when broken in body and spirit, we are better together.

Though more comfortable when hiding, we are better together.

If far from home in an unexpected place, we are better together.

Always, always, we are better together.

This post originally appeared at SheLoves Magazine.

Rituals: The Taste of Taco Tuesday

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

So excited to be a part of what Cara Meredith is doing over at Be, Mama. Be. She is a talented writer who finds stories to tell in ordinary places. I'm guest posting today as a part of her series on rituals, finding meaning in the little habits in our lives. My ritual is pretty delicious.

__________________________

Once a week I cook sizzling ground beef in a skillet, grate a giant pile of cheddar cheese, chop lettuce and fry up fluffy flour tortillas.

Oh boy, it’s Taco Tuesday.

Or Wednesday, or Thursday.  I’m not so precise about the day, as long as there are tacos. Cheesy, meaty tacos topped with cool sour cream, fresh avocado and ketchup.

Yes, ketchup. It’s true. The more appropriate choice would be salsa. Or taco sauce. Or even just some freshly chopped tomatoes.

But for me, it’s got to be ketchup. 

Taco night was a tradition that started when I was growing up. My parents, my brother and I gathered around the kitchen table, talking about our day over flour tortillas and refried beans.

I was a picky eater, preferring the bland and the familiar. But my mom never made us special meals, we had to eat what was served. So I slathered the spicy beef and crunchy lettuce in my favorite thing of all: ketchup.

Ketchup is the taste of my childhood, of making Mom’s meatloaf swallow-able, of fast food after soccer practice, of burgers on report card day. As an adult, it’s a condiment I rarely use at home, in favor of fresher and fancier tastes like pesto and goat cheese and pico de gallo.

But it always comes out for taco night.

I know – ketchup on tacos.

It’s not quite right, but it feels like home.

__________________________

There was a time I didn’t eat ketchup. Or tacos. Or much of anything, actually.

Counting calories and measuring body parts became an obsession. Undressed salads, steamed vegetables, and the occasional cup of plain pasta were my drugs of choice, except for brief and wild periods of manic consumption - binging in secret and sitting in shame.

It was the outward manifestation of an inward reality: I was miserable in my own skin. Lost in loneliness and broken in spirit, my secret was killing me slowly.

Until finally, found by a friend and admitted to the hospital, I realized something had to change.

All of my choices, all the decisions I’d made for myself up to that point in my life had ended there, with me in the psych ward, engaged in group therapy talking about how donuts made us feel.

And so, wheelchair bound because of concern about damage to my heart, I sat alone in the hospital and prayed to a God who I’d met as a child, but had walked away from years before.

“If you’re real – help.”

There were no angels. There was no magic.

But slowly, bit by difficult bit, I began to heal.

The God of my childhood became real again –

as I read scripture,

as I asked questions,

as I was loved.

I found meaning in faith, in community, in pursuing truth, rather than the size of my jeans. At least more days than not.

I still look in the mirror and fight the urge to criticize the woman I see there. Coming to peace with my feelings about how I look is a process. I know now it will be life-long.

But over the last dozen or so years since that day in the wheelchair, I’ve realized the incredible gift it is to have a body that’s healthy.

Healthy enough to hold a student through his seizure in my special education classroom.

Healthy enough to run a half marathon around the Golden Gate bridge.

Healthy enough to carry my babies inside me and push them into the world.

My body’s not perfect, but it’s mine to use for my one wild and precious life.

It’s not quite right but it feels like home.

Finally.

__________________________

Tonight when I make tacos, I’ll remember my parents and brother, who loved me so well around the dinner table as a kid and walked me through a lot of years of healing later on. Many miles separate us now, but the smell of sizzling ground beef somehow makes them seem not so far away.

And as my own little family gathers around the card table in the middle of our university housing living room, I’ll smile. This is certainly not where I thought we’d be living at this point in our lives but it’s the place God’s provided for now.

I’ll look at the faces of my precious little boys, sure to be covered with sour cream and refried beans. I’ll gaze into my husband’s eyes, acknowledging the weariness that comes after a long day of work and the joy of sharing our lives with these messy little people. We’ll take hands to pray and I’ll be grateful.

For a body that is strong and healthy enough to serve my sweet family.

For a place to live together, even this tiny dormitory apartment.

For the taste of a homemade taco with ketchup on top.

It’s not quite right but it feels like home.

 

 

This post originally appeared at
Be, mama. Be. - www.carameredith.com

Do Not Be Far From Me: A Good Friday Reflection

Lindsey Smallwood

The following is a reflection on Psalm 22 that I shared at my church as part of our Good Friday worship service. 

Psalm 22

For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help...

In Psalm 22, David is afraid.  Dogs are chasing him.  People who hate him are publicly mocking his and casting lots for his clothes.  There are lions roaring in the night.  He prays:

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help. 

I've never known murderous enemies or night lions but this is a prayer that has resonated deeply in many seasons of my own life. 

In junior high, high school, college, the trouble came from within.  Self-doubt, body image issues, an obsession with being and looking a certain way.  

By my junior year of college, I had to drop out of school in order to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.  I was confined to a wheelchair because the doctors were concerned about the damage I'd done to my heart through weight loss.  I was literally broken-hearted.  

Having ignored the faith I'd grown up with for a long time, I nonetheless found myself in desperation praying a prayer like David's:

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help. 

Fast forward a few years and I found myself working as a special ed teacher in inner city Oakland. I loved my job but trouble was everywhere.  

An unwashed 4th grader in shoes 3 sizes too small.

Budget cuts that left us without basic supplies like toilet paper and crayons. 

A sunny afternoon when I was held up at gunpoint by two teenagers at the flagpole. 

An eleven-year-old who attempted suicide on the elementary school play structure. 

Many days it just felt like too much. And again, I would often pray a prayer not so different from this one:

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help. 

When my husband and I decided to start a family, I was dreaming up baby names before we'd had the chance to try.

Soon we found ourselves expecting our first child. The first doctors visit went great.  We felt excited and lucky and blessed and so full of dreams. 

Then, at 13 weeks along, we went for an ultrasound and there was no heartbeat.  Just a tiny little body, clearly outlined and perfectly still.

Losing that baby was losing our dream about who we were together and what our family would be.  

On my 30th birthday, sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, waiting for the procedure that would complete my miscarriage, I cried a prayer to the God who felt so cruel, so incomprehensible and yet still, I knew, so faithful.

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help. 

Two months ago we moved to Boulder for my husband's job at the University.  I'm at home with our two little boys, making the most of these loud, messy, beautiful, exhausting days that feel like they all bleed into each other. I'm more tired than I've ever been.

I'm homesick for California, for our dear friends who lived across the street and tomatoes from the garden and the ocean and my book club and the familiar feeling of a place that's home.  

And add to that - starting over in a new place is tough - wondering what this season will be for, where will we fit, and how long will we even be here. And in the midst of all that uncertainty, there's still the very real longing to be known and loved and wanted.  

And here I find myself coming back to David's prayer.  

It's a hymn of hope and declaration of lament.

It speaks to the reality of our suffering, no matter what season we're in.  

And it declares the desperate need we have for God to come close.  

I pray it today in my fears about the future,

in my doubt about my worthiness,

in my hope for God's great comfort and

in my loneliness, right where I am. 

Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.