- Sara Mann
I missed blogging last week. I’m sorry! It was for a good reason though!
I was on a youth group Missions Trip in Guatemala! My husband and I have been youth leaders for almost five years now. (1) As a youth group we sponsor many kids through Compassion International and every couple years we go on a short term missions trip to meet them. My husband and I also sponsor a little girl ourselves! The purpose of this trip was to go down to Guatemala, meet the kids we sponsor and serve their communities!
If I’m being honest, I kind of dreaded this trip.
Eight months ago I sat in my dietician’s office and brought up the Missions trip. My husband and I wanted to go, but I didn’t want to go with my body like THIS, and we had to decide because spaces were filling up quick. I was still swelling a lot, overweight and weak. I had been sedentary for about a year and even going on long walks was draining. I felt embarrassed to meet the girl we support because I am much larger now then I was in the initial pictures we sent. I didn’t have clothes to wear. I simply did not want to go….but, I wanted to go.
I asked my dietician if my body would be different by the time the trip came. She didn’t guarantee that it would, but she did say that she thought I would be in a different place by then. My therapist also asked me to lean into my values again and make the decision based on values instead of my body. So, even though I was full of fear and anxiety, I decided to go. I really wanted to meet the girl we sponsor. I valued being a youth leader. I didn’t want my anorexia recovery to hold me back from serving God and I thought my body would for SURE be different in eight months.
Fast forward eight months…my body had not changed. I was still heavy. Swelling every day and frantic because I had committed to this missions trip and was now faced with my worst case scenario. Fat, and in Guatemala. My eating disorder thoughts were non-stop and powerful. What would I wear? What if I don’t fit in the airplane seat? What if the little girl asks me why I’m so fat? What if I can’t walk up the mountains with the group? What if I wear stretchy leggings and Compassion says they are inappropriate? What if I swell so much I’m in pain the whole time? What if they want to take pictures of me? What if I’m hungry and we aren’t eating for another two hours? What if I’m so swollen I can’t participate? I shouldn’t be going on this trip like this. It was a bad idea to commit to going. This is going to be terrible. What if, what if, what if….
I wanted to back out…but again, I leaned into my values and my faith and decided to not bail on the trip. Once I decided not to bail, I began to prepare with my treatment team. The first issue was what to wear. My brother, the youth pastor, (THANK GOD), made an exception for me and said it was OK for me to wear stretch leggings with super long t-shirts. This would accommodate my swelling and keep me modest. I bought eight pair of the same stretchy and comfy leggings. I went to Marshall's and purchased the largest mens Nike T-shirts I could find in every color. Not my sexiest look, but whatever…
Even though I now had a plan for my clothing, I was still being flooded with anxiety about every other part of the trip. Leading up to the trip, my therapy sessions became a strategy zone. I did a lot of imaginary coping. My therapist had me write down every worse case scenario in one color pen and in another color pen I had to write exactly what coping skill I would use when or if it happened. For example, I was seriously afraid that I wouldn’t fit in the airplane seat. No matter how many times I was reassured by others that I would, my ED and body dysmorphia wasn’t believing it. Since restricting and going for a long run were not options to calm my anxiety about this, I wrote that I would practice radical acceptance, I would try and make sure my husband was seated next to me to make me more comfortable and I would lean into the facts and not my emotions in order to keep me calm. After a month or two of preparation I was as ready as I was ever going to be for the trip, and off I went!
Now that the missions trip is over and I’ve had some time to reflect on the whole thing, I've decided to blog about it!
When someone asks me how the trip was, my initial thoughts are, “It was HARD….like REALLY hard.” My swelling was exactly as expected. I never had time in the afternoon to lay down so it just continued to get worse throughout the day and as the week went on. I walked around feeling waterlogged and in pain from the tightness of my skin. The bus seats were not meant for people with a little extra padding, so I felt uncomfortable and huge on the very long (literally 7 hour) bus rides up the mountain. One afternoon, I showed a photo of my family to one of the translators and she proceeded to ask where I was in the photo…..now THAT was hard. I pointed to the thin, sexy, blonde I use to be in humiliation and shame knowing exactly what she was probably thinking. I quickly explained that I have health issues, but it didn’t keep my eating disorder thoughts from raging about how terrible this was and if I had never entered treatment this would never have happened. I had to, while extremely swollen, continue to eat all of my meals and snacks while other people on the trip skipped meals or catered to their restrictive diets. Talk about a mental battle… I struggled up mountainsides far behind the group, fatigued and weak. I had to be in a lot of photos which goes directly against my “no photos while fat and recovering” policy. It was hard and that wasn’t even all of it…
So yes, it was hard….however after sifting through my initial thoughts, they changed into a more positive perspective! I DID IT! I made it through the week! I’m not dead and while it was a difficult week with lots of triggers and hurtles, it was also a major blessing as well as an unbinding and faith building experience for me.
Before I left for Guatemala I made a commitment to myself that I would not let my insecurities about my body or my eating disorder be the reason I didn’t participate in something. I kept my promise to myself. When one of our youth group kids asked me to help her with dizzy soccer during our sports day, I smashed my swollen feet in my tennis shoes, put on my giant purple shirt and ran around (more like a slow heavy prance haha…) collecting soccer balls and taking photos. When my group had to climb up a mountain to plant a garden for a family, I walked up that mountain the best pace I could, bent over with my swollen thighs and planted radishes like this family depended on it. When it came time to dance and sing in front of 100 little kids during our VBS day, I got up there and moved around like a fool who didn’t care in order to get them to smile and do the motions with me. When the little girl we sponsor asked me to climb into the bounce house and jump with her and then go down the blow up slide, I did it! I didn’t really like it. I felt big and awkward and slightly embarrassed, but I also felt happy to be with her! She clearly didn’t care about my weight or looks…she cared about her sponsor getting in that bounce house and laughing with her. I overcame hurtle after hurtle. It was difficult and draining, but I did it. When I fixed my mind on helping others, serving God, this community and participating, the shame, embarrassment and pain moved to the back of my mind.
One of the days that we were in Guatemala we put on a VBS at a local church. Our theme was the Bible story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. (2) This is the story where three young men get thrown into a fire because they refused to worship the golden Gods of the King. While they were in the fire God sent an angel to be with them, removed their bindings, and eventually brought them out of the fire unharmed and unbound. As I reflect back on my trip to Guatemala and the scripture we shared with the kids I can’t help but see the connection this story has to my own life. I felt like I was thrown into the fire. I went on this trip with anxiety, stress, a broken body and tons of fear. However, while in the fire, God was with me. He gave me the courage and strength to participate in everything. He reminded me of my coping skills when things got hard. He helped me to overcome my fears and insecurities in order to submerge myself fully into the work I was doing in Guatemala, and now, like the three men in the story, I have come out of the fire unharmed and unbound. This trip didn’t kill me. My eating disorder didn’t win. My bindings of fear, insecurity and anxiety were slowly removed as I walked around in the fire with God by my side. Had I listened to my eating disorder thoughts and avoided the fire, I never would have seen the joy in the child I sponsor’s face. I never would have built stronger relationships with the youth I serve at church. I never would have worked along side my husband for a week. I never would have learned that although my body isn’t what I want and my mind still struggles, God will still use me. He’ll take anything I have to offer and turn it into good. He will renew me inwardly, even though there is still a blazing fire raging on the outside.
It’s been a week since I returned from Guatemala. My body is drained, and I have some mental eating disorder aftermath to sift through, but this missions trip to Guatemala was an incredible blessing despite this very difficult time in my life. Recovering from anorexia sometimes makes me think that I’m broken. It lies to me and tells me that I should sit in a room until I’m thin again or finished with recovery. It binds me with insecurity and shame. It physically has slowed me down. But you know what? God has a different plan for my life. It’s a plan that is free from the bindings of anorexia. A plan where serving others is more important then my current fat percentage. It’s a good plan and I’m excited to see what else he has in store for me as I continue to let go of my eating disorder and seek a fulfilling life of freedom!
- Sara -
Here are some photos from my trip! This also goes against my "do not post photos on the internet while fat and recovering" policy...but I'm trying to become unbound from that one too!
1- Before anyone goes all “judgy” on me about being anorexic and a youth leader. Please rest assured I have shared my testimony with the kids, so it’s very out in the open. I use my struggle to hopefully guide young girls down a different path then the one I took!
2- New International Version, Daniel 3