I was hesitant about sharing my full written testimony, but after talking with a friend (and waiting a few weeks for God's discernment), I am going to post it here with the hope that people hear what I went through- and then see how I came through it all, with God on my side... "I would think any girl could read that and feel loved." (That quote came via my friend, if you're wondering.) As a side note, I'd like to mention that I have not posted any photos of me before I went to Mercy Ministries. This is because most of them only serve[d] to drive myself (and others!) further into that sort of disordered, victimised thinking. However, there are three "before, during, after" photos. If you click on them, it will navigate you away from my blog (to the original photo), and end up interrupting the music player. :( But anyway, with that clarified, here is my testimony...
Let’s rewind 15, nearly 16, years. At that point in time, I was Lily Berger, age 8. I was short, with blonde hair and bright green eyes...and I was hyper beyond all means. I had already become the school outcast, lost friends, irritated adults, and exasperated my parents. I quickly realised that I needed desperately to calm myself down in any way possible. I had noticed that when I didn't eat lunch, or didn't have a full meal, I would start to drag in energy after awhile. It made me less of an annoyance, less "obnoxious," as I was often described. And so it began. Throw away a juice box here, a sandwich there.
By age 12, I had extremely low self-esteem, due to a childhood of frequent physical, verbal and emotional abuse. My view of what it meant to be Christian was also warped by my staunchly atheist upbringing. Although my parents provided my sister and me with a constant whirlwind of extracurricular opportunities that their parents were never able to afford, they also expected perfection. As I had many female family members who often vocally expressed their dissatisfaction with their weight, I began to use that perfectionist mentality on my physical looks, as well as to determine my worth as a person. Now the eating disorder was not just about calming my hyperactive mind; I was restricting and throwing things away in order to slim down my legs.
At age 15, the abuse and trauma that I had been experiencing heightened, and my thoughts became more and more suicidal. I even made a pact to myself to lose weight, lose my mind, and then lose my life by age 20. I began self-inflicting as a secondary way to punish myself for reasons only known to me. I never felt like I could do anything well enough, and thus, I couldn't be worthy of happiness. I began restricting and purging on a daily basis, taking illegal diet drugs, and covering up self-inflicted pain by downing sleeping pills and cough syrup. I spent my days in either a fog or in rapid motion, running at a 100 MPH. I felt like I was in a perpetual cycle of exhausting pain. I had to find an alternative, it seemed, but I had no clue what that could be.
A month after my 17th birthday in May, I went on my 1st date—the prom—with Kevin Mershon, who was a year older than me. Four months later, Kevin moved from our hometown of Bakersfield to go to San Jose State University, and we began a long distance relationship. A year and a half later, I graduated high school, began attending Bakersfield College, and started working at Starbucks.
When I was 19, Kevin and I got engaged. I was elated and moved up to San Jose to be with him. Finally free from the control and abuse at home, I drank constantly, skipping school in favour of vodka. I could keep things "under control" until my 20th birthday, when I bought my own scale. The next day, my descent into restrictive anorexia nervosa began spiraling out of control. I was also terrified that I had lived past my 20th birthday, even after multiple previous attempts to take my own life. Fear dominated my thoughts and actions.
Within 6 months, I had become dangerously underweight. During that time, I had also taken a second job as a student assistant in the department of foreign languages at San Jose State University, where I was also a full-time French student. Kevin eventually convinced me to see a university counselor, as I was slipping at work, fainting, and though I was still getting straight A's in school, I couldn't concentrate. I had also begun to isolate and beg co-workers for prescription pain medication...just to get out of my head. I was literally starving myself to death, and every moment seemed too bright, too warped to handle. Though the counselor was nice, I lied my way around her questions, trying to “fix myself” on my own.
Kevin and I were married on the 21 December 2006, during the university's winter recess, in the courthouse of Bakersfield, CA. I felt like maybe I could finally be happy, feel loved. Three months later, however, I admitted to my counselor that I was taking sleeping pills in large amounts to numb my mind, and she had me admitted to a psych ward immediately. After a month in the hospital, Kevin and my parents were informed that I no longer had any insurance coverage left. I was discharged in April and immediately admitted to a residential facility for eating disorders. My father informed me sternly that I needed to get better because they were going to pay out-of-pocket for me. I had finally gotten my parents’ attention, and began to believe that the only thing that made me unique or I could be good at was being “the sickly anorexic daughter.”
The next 2.5 years were spent in and out of hospitals for seizures, heart problems, and near kidney failure. Again, my parents poured money into 2 more inpatient facilities. These last two stays were at Christian facilities, and my eyes were opened to who God is. However, I continued to be ruled by my “anorexic victim” identity and the doubt and skepticism of atheism. God simply wasn’t real for me—He worked for other, more carefree people—and He certainly couldn’t miraculously “heal” people of a “medically-documented psychiatric illness like anorexia nervosa." These traumatic experiences also only planted more fear in my heart.
After my last inpatient stay, I spent my time trying to help others get into treatment. All the while, I was starving myself and spent several hours per day running and walking around town, just in order to be “good at something” and to somehow find something to fill the empty loneliness I felt deep in my heart. It was only when I was looking for free-of-charge treatment for another woman that I stumbled across Mercy Ministries’ website. When I attempted to convince a friend to sponsor me for the 2008 Run For Mercy, she refused, saying that the only way she’d donate is if I was a resident!
Almost exactly a year later (October 2009), I walked though those front doors, both physically and spiritually emaciated. I was full of bitterness, anger, and literally had no hope of being free from the bondage of anorexia.
Taken only a couple weeks into my stay, with a former resident. I was still rebelling by exercising at any chance I got, despite the staff's audible concern about my failing health.
BUT! In those 5.5 months, God completely transformed my life! Within the first week, He completely delivered me from a pack-a-day smoking habit and a reliance on multiple psychotropic medications. As I continued to immerse myself in the Word, I began to see myself as God does—uniquely made, inside and out, for an awesome purpose that I cannot even truly fathom! He showed me, through the staff at Mercy, that His perfect and unfailing love pours into and out of me, casting out all fear. (The staff also taught me all about respect, humility, and submission to Godly authority, too! :D)
Taken a month into my stay, during the grand opening, with my parents. That day, I expressed my unconditional forgiveness and asked for their forgiveness, as well.
By God forgiving me for all the pain I’ve caused others, I have been able to forgive myself and those who hurt me in the past. I no longer have to identify myself by what others say or do to me, because God does that for me instead! I now know who I am in Christ—capable, accepted, joyful, strong, confident, and healed, a unique piece of His beautiful handiwork, and a totally new creation! At Mercy, I learned to trust in God’s promises to take everything I went through and use it solely for my good. I can see now that He used all those negative experiences to get me to Mercy Ministries where He could hold me close and show me that He is my Protector, my Healer, and the only one I should seek approval from. Through it all, I was sheltered by the covering of His Son’s precious blood. He was nailed to the cross, so I could live freely, not just “coping” or maintaining a façade. What’s more, God became my Rock—I no longer have to be self-reliant, nor do I have to continue in the victim role because He empowers me to make that choice between life and death. I realized that even though I felt like my way was working just enough to get me through the day, that path led not only to mortal death but eternal death as well. His grace has become sufficient for me. I am finally able to sleep through the night, because I am wrapped up in His peace. As I seek out God’s will for my life, He has continued to provide, and when I give everything over to Him, He opens doors I doubted could ever even be unlocked. My life wasn't and isn't perfect, nor will it ever be, but I don't need to be scared of that. It's so awesome to know that God will always and forever be there to guide me, even if I don't get what He's doing in my life. My favorite verse, 2 Timothy 1:7, sums it up best (I’ve paraphrased just a bit): “God didn’t give me a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind!”
While at Mercy, my aimless, unceasing running in search of something to fill a void has charged its course— I am now running for the prize of eternal life!
Taken on 24 March 2010, after graduation, with programme director Cheryl Bangs and two other graduates. I'm the one in white! Read more about Beth's (right) journey here!
Later edit- Read more about God's awesome and transforming power here: "Who Am I?"