Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Creating Intimacy

Intimacy. I was at a concert tonight where Derrell Evans (the singer/songwriter who wrote Trading My Sorrows) performed at my church. He spoke and sang about intimacy--how God desires intimacy with us. I spoke in an earlier blog about how everyone wants to be known. We want someone to know us with the layers peeled away--the real us. That's intimacy.

That's something we compulsive overeaters are not very good at. There are those in the field of psychiatry who have speculated that we surround ourselves with layers of fat in order to protect ourselves from intimacy--especially those who've been abused. Don't know if that's true, but I do think that food, like any addiction, can make real intimacy difficult. We do our best to keep the secret of how deep that addiction runs. There's a saying in recovery groups: We are only as sick as our secrets. How can another person truly know us if they don't know our addiction? How can we fully contribute to a relationship when so much time is spent protecting our secret?

I've heard people confess that they go from one fast food place to another ordering food at several places so that the order takers won't catch on that they're ordering so much food just for themselves. Others tell how they buy food and eat in their cars so their families won't know how much they're eating. Bulimia, whether using laxatives, throwing up, or excercise, is a way of hiding the compulsive overeating by not layering with fat. I have it on good authority that pizza is the hardest and worst food to throw up, while ice cream is the best because it tastes the same coming up as going down. One girl kept a bucket in her closet for throwing up so her family wouldn't suspect anything the way they would if she threw up in the toilet. We are all so good at hiding and stashing and sneaking food.

Combine secrets with low self-esteem and you've got a perfect recipe for getting involved with emotionally unavailable and even abusive people. Compulsive overeaters frequently stay in bad relationships because they don't believe anyone else would want to be with them. They're with people who are no more capable of receiving intimacy than we are of giving it.

So, yes, we have issues with intimacy. The rules in any dysfunctional family or relationship are: Don't talk(tell); Don't trust; and Don't feel. Keep the secret, trust no one with the peeled away version of yourself; and numb yourself (with the substance of your choice) so you don't have to feel.

So, how do we break the pattern of avoiding intimacy that we experience with God, with significant others, and with friends? In fact, food and other drugs put us in such a dissociative state that we may not even know, or experience intimacy, with ourselves.

First of all, I think God himself breaks through those barriers through the power of his Spirit and the sacrifice of his Son. We have to believe that and receive it. Nevertheless, we are going to have to accept help from other people--a 12 step sponsor and often a trained professional counselor--and possibly anti-depressants to help us get started on breaking the cycle. God generally works through human hands.

The counselor and/or a 12 step sponsor may be the first person we genuinely experience intimacy with as we begin to tell our secrets. We may find other safe people to practice intimacy with (like in 12 step groups) before we're able to share with those closest to us. And family are not always the safest recipients of our secrets. If they are not willing to work on their own intimacy issues, they may be people to whom we only go so far in revealing ourselves.

Working the steps takes us through the steps of intimacy. Taking our own moral inventory, sharing it with God and another human being, asking God to remove our defects of character, making amends to others, promptly admitting when we're wrong, sharing our recovery with others, passing it on, are all ways of learning intimacy. Writing is a great way to learn intimacy. To peel away layers and share what's underneath.

God already knows us, but like Adam and Eve we hide from him, too full of shame to walk in intimacy with him in the garden. He wants nothing more than to lavish us with love with arms opened wide. Go ahead. Fall into his arms. Let him peel away the layers. Nothing revealed will repell him. Ask him to put people in your life with whom you can experience intimacy. They may or may not be in a church. Not all church people are safe. But you can experience intimacy with God, with yourself, and with other human beings. It won't happen overnight. But full recovery from the effects of addiction requires learning intimacy.

"Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. For his mercy endureth forever."