How Lent and My Faith Support My Recovery
I grew up as a devout Catholic. I went to church every Sunday, went to church camps, and made the most amazing friends. I'm still friends with many of those beautiful and inspiring human beings.
As a Catholic, I participated in Lent. Lent is the 40-day period leading up to Easter Sunday. During Lent, you practice giving something up to honor the sacrifice of Jesus's journey into the desert for 40 days. These 40 days of Lent were very important to me and are an important part of my walk in my faith.
Everyone practices Lent a bit differently. As a part of this tradition, my family fasted on specific days and did not eat meat on Fridays. At times, a day might simply consist of bread and water to fully understand God’s suffering.
I started to seriously participate in Lent around the age of eight because that’s when I understood what Lent was. My friends, family, teachers, and others who practiced my faith were giving up desserts and food items and choosing days to fast. So, I thought that Lent was a time to give up a food I liked because this is what those I was surrounded by were doing. So, I started giving up certain foods for Lent starting at age eight.
And then, I developed an eating disorder
As time went by, I increased the number of foods I was giving up and I was also choosing certain days to fast “for Jesus.” I didn’t realize what I was doing. I did NOT realize that this meaningful time in my faith could further fuel my eating disorder.
Lent had become a rocky road for me.
One year during Lent, I was very ill due to anorexia. My parents were trying to support me in the best way they could. They wanted me to be happy; they wanted me to be “better.” One day, my mom sat me down and said, “Savannah, you know that we don’t always have to give something up for Lent. In fact, we can add something to our lives during Lent instead of taking something away.” I sat there, kind of dumbstruck, because no one had ever told me this; this had never even crossed my mind. I was being given a piece of information that would change my view of Lent!
I asked my mom, “What do you mean add something?” I was confused by the idea of adding something and not taking away something. My darling mother said, “Well, you could add making your bed every morning or praying to God more.” Now, I know that making my bed may sound strange. But, for me, this was an opportunity to do something different — to not take foods out — and it would help me remember why I practiced Lent and who it was for. I was reminded that Lent was not for me but for Jesus. My new Lent traditions included making my bed, praying more, and taking out one or two foods. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start.
As I got older — and sicker — my family desperately tried to figure out a way to help me. My mom urged my family not to fast for Lent anymore because it wasn’t good for our bodies. She told us that it was important to have enough food to be able to do well in school. My logical side completely understood this, but my eating disorder took Lent as an opportunity to continue being sick. I continued to fast and use my behaviors as a way to “honor Gods suffering.” I didn’t realize that I was simply making an excuse so my parents and friends wouldn’t get upset with me for my anorexia.
Easter came, Lent ended and my “normal life” came back into routine. I no longer had a reason to restrict or fast. But my eating disorder behaviors continued. I was unable to stop the cycle that I started. Since my behaviors were continuing, I was finally able to see that something was wrong. I wasn’t able to stop what I had started during Lent and continued to get worse.
I could no longer state that it was for God — because it wasn’t. It was for my eating disorder. And that was very scary for me.
I entered eating disorder treatment
My first Lent after eating disorder treatment, I felt confused, frustrated, scared, and worried. I thought I would need to fast like I used to, but I knew I could no longer restrict food. Nor did I want to. What would Lent look like for me, I wondered, without the routine I once had — the only one I truly knew.
My journey in recovery had to be strong. My relationship with my faith had to be strong as well. In order for this to happen, I had to be honest with myself. I would have to give up some traditions I grew up with. I realized that, while Lent is about making a sacrifice to Jesus to honor his suffering, I did not have to pick a food to give up and I did not have to fast.
I drew strength from something that I had worked on with my dietician. We had discussed that, in my faith, God would not want me to harm my recovery. In recovery, for Lent, instead of giving up food, I could give up my guilt: the guilt of not fasting, not avoiding meat on Fridays, and not restricting foods. I could give to God my fears and anxiety surrounding Lent. I could use the 40 days to strengthen my relationship with God and my recovery. I could find time to pray more, use mindfulness during my meals, and continue to be honest with God and myself. These commitments became my routine for the last 8 years in my recovery.
The 40 days of Lent have become so important to me. They have truly strengthened both my recovery and my relationship with my faith. I’m so grateful that I have been able to change my behaviors for Lent into something truly meaningful — without relapsing back into my eating disorder.
Following treatment, I even added something new to my 40-day practice during Lent. I have added the fight for MY recovery and the precious gift my mother gave me: a commitment to making my bed.
My name is Savannah and I am a part of the Recovery Ambassador Council at Eating Recovery Center. I am a little over seven years recovered and the path I have taken to get here has been hard but worth it. I write about my recovery because I want others to know that they are not alone and that it does get better. The idea of this post was actually mentioned to me by a professor that I look up to — someone who has consistently motivated me in my life — and I can’t even express the gratitude I feel. When this was mentioned to me, I realized how big this was for me in my life especially when I was first in recovery.