Interview

A Light in the Darkness

Q&A with Lee Wolfe Blum

by Eileen Walsh

InterVarsity Press, 2013

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Lee Wolfe Blum is an author, wife, mother and survivor of an eating disorder that almost took her life. Her book Table in the Darkness: A Healing Journey through an Eating Disorder (InterVarsity Press, 2013) describes her life and battle with an eating disorder along with a severe case of depression. Through her recovery, Blum finds her faith in God again and is transformed by the overpowering love of God she experiences. She now works with eating disorder patients and speaks around the United States about recovery, life, body acceptance and faith. Eileen Walsh spoke with her about her book and her ministry.

You struggled with many issues in your early life: depression, faith, and body image being a few. What did you most prominently want to address in your book Table in the Darkness?

Most of my life I didn’t feel good enough, and really struggled with questions like, “Who am I?” and “What’s wrong with me that I don’t fit into the world?” When I was in my freshman year of college, I started dieting and at the same time I started to experience signs of depression. Dieting served a purpose for me; it helped me to not have to feel, which led me into a destructive cycle of trying to make myself better and to fit into society. Then all these things started to happen in my family life and it became a way for me to numb out. The book is about my struggle with my faith, God and not feeling good enough for God, as well as my struggle with my family and my struggle with my body. I struggled to find my voice and try to be the person God created me to be, not who the world wanted me to be.

In your book, the character of Chris grabbed my attention. As a boyfriend, and someone you looked up to as a religious role model, he was such a powerful influence in your life, maybe even a kind of guardian angel. What advice would you give to someone like him who’s dealing with a loved one with an eating disorder?

Millions of people out there are in the same situation he was. They love someone who also has this disease. He had to learn to love me and hate the disease. He continually would say, “I’m not talking to your eating disorder,” and “I love you, but there’s not room for your eating disorder in this relationship.” I work with drug addicts and alcoholics with eating disorders, co-occurring addiction patients, and I can see that loving someone with an eating disorder is very similar to loving someone with alcoholism. The addiction takes over the relationship. When that happens it can be really destructive.

What would you say are the different motivations and causes of eating disorders?

For me, it started a little tiny bit about fixing the way I look, but it was so much more about not having to feel. I knew if I could just focus on and fix the outside, then I didn’t have to deal with what was going on inside. I was really unhappy and depressed and unable to express my own emotions. I think there’s this misconception that someone is just obsessed with his or her appearance, which is not true. I like to say it’s biological, psychological and social. Usually for someone to develop an eating disorder, something has to pull that trigger, such as a set of overwhelming emotional circumstances. When that happened to me, it almost ruined my life. I was told I wouldn’t have children, I lost friends, I was isolated, my body was falling apart, my social life was falling apart, and I was having a hard time functioning. It ruins your entire life.

One of the things I tell parents is that you cannot use rational thought to counter something that’s not rational. It’s like telling an alcoholic to just stop drinking. If it were that easy we wouldn’t have all these treatment centers all around the world, right? It’s very similar to an abusive relationship. Everyone else on the outside can see that it’s killing you, but when you’re on the inside you feel like you need it. It’s completely irrational.

You mentioned in the book your feelings of unworthiness and the pain from your past. How did you overcome those negative internal beliefs?

The biggest problem was that I didn’t feel good enough for God. I felt like I had to be better for God. It was a very messed up theology. I had to restore that relationship. I think when I did, that’s what healed me the most. I eventually realized that God adored me, and that we all are adored and loved by God just as we are. I found what helped me the most is realizing that Jesus is the one who is supposed to be perfect, and that allowing him to be perfect allows me to be a mess. I needed to stop the striving and be comfortable in who I was.  We’re all on that journey, radically accepting the person we are and also the body God gave us.

How did you utilize your community in your recovery—such things as the church and your faith, Chris, your family, and friends?

I had to take off the mask and start being real. When I had my eating disorder, I would never tell anyone what was going on. I had to figure out who my tribe was. I couldn’t do recovery alone, so I was constantly reaching out to people and not isolating myself. I feel like my friends were different forms of Jesus. They helped me along the journey and still do to this day. Relationships were most important, but I had to show up for them.

Were you ever able to see that God was working in your life through the eating disorder somehow?

Do I think that it was in God’s plan for me to have an eating disorder? No. Do I think that God was there the entire time? Yes. Do I think God was bringing glory out of every turn that I took? Yes.

What is the best thing about your life now that you might not have had if you continued on your previous path?

The best thing I have now is perspective. So many times every day I realize that had I died, I would have missed this. I would have missed the hugs from my kids. Not only would I have missed the good things, but also the hard stuff. If I had to live my life over again, would I want to go through that again? No, but also I would say I’m a much more compassionate person because of what I went through.

I also have a zest for life I didn’t have before. Life is meant to be lived, and life can be pretty awesome. I also have a realization of how important relationships are. I wouldn’t survive without friends and really strong relationships in my life, including my relationship with God. That’s kind of what life is about; its about living in community with other people.

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