One of the first things I did as Ben plummeted downhill into anorexia was to look for support: practical support, emotional support, spiritual support, any support! And, like some people, I was drawn to seeking it in the church despite the fact I hadn't been to church for 25 years or so... But it didn't turn out quite as I expected and one year ago I stopped going. Tonight, however, I've accepted an invitation to be at the launch of community event the church has been working on for some time - and I feel a bit strange about going back...
Back in 2009 & 2010 I tried three churches in total, none of which 'floated my boat' mainly because, there I was, desperate for emotional support which I assumed I'd find in the church when, in reality, I found myself faced with people who were pleasant enough, but who often left me standing alone while they chatted in their usual friendship groups.
It's something I found hard to get my head around.
Here were three churches talking endlessly about how their 'mission' was to reach out to the community to help those in need.
Yet when someone who was massively 'in need' turned up on their doorstep, they seemed blind to it.
Oh, everyone politely asked how things were going once I 'came clean' and explained our situation. I was even invited out to some social events and to people's houses for coffee.
Yet I was always kept at a polite arm's distance with the distinct impression that my problem wasn't something they wanted to or indeed were able to deal with. If I could just chit-chat about everyday stuff like everyone else, then that would be fine, but here I was dumping something altogether new into the pot and I don't think they knew how to deal with it.
The result was that I used to go to church services and feel incredibly lonely - especially afterwards as people gathered for refreshments. I'd just stand there totally unable to engage in everyday smiley chit-chat when my brain was exploding with all the heartache and emotions that go round your head as a parent of a child whose life you're fighting to save.
I'd return home feeling really naff and I'd wonder why I'd gone to church in the first place. After all, wasn't religion supposed to make you feel uplifted?
So I stopped going. Especially after a couple of embarrassing episodes (at churches #1 & #3) where I ended up in floods of tears.
The first time it happened when the preacher was talking about the importance of families and children - and I'd find myself looking at all these young families with children, then wonder how the heck our family ended up in the hell we were in.
I can't remember what caused the 2nd breakdown, but I ended up fleeing from the church in tears...
Tonight I will be returning. Why am I choosing to return?
Two reasons, really.
Curiously, despite the fact that I stopped going to church, Ben continued. He'd come along with me a couple of times, but wasn't really 'into it' back then. However once I stopped going, he kind of started - and he's taken himself along there most Sundays ever since. Tonight he is helping out with the community event and he's persuaded me to go (and to the event tomorrow and the service on Sunday...) (He's still to really get 'in' with the other youth group members, though...)
The other reason is that there was one massive exception to the polite-distance welcome I received and that was an amazing lady who I will call Sarah.
I met Sarah at Church #3 (tonight's church) the first time I went. She was the one who saw me sitting alone at the back about to flee and came over, scooped me up and invited me to sit next to her. Over the next weeks and months, and still to this day, we are firm friends. She is one of the key people that has given me masses of emotional support over the past 18 months and she still continues to do so.
I've mentioned Sarah before. She's the one with secondary breast cancer and it seems to be getting worse. But, being Sarah, she's always ultra-chirpy and smiling. Typical. One of the reasons why I think we get on so well is the fact that both of us have been going through such traumas. While the rest of the church appeared to live pretty normal lives ours were both abnormal. And out of this has come a rock-solid and supportive friendship.
So I guess in a way I did find what I was looking for when I nervously ventured into church #3 all those months ago. But it will be interesting to see how tonight goes and if I'll still feel a bit of an outcast as regards the other people in the congregation... I hope Sarah goes. It really depends how well she feels...
Mind you, these days, I'm great at jolly chit-chat conversation. Now the fear has gone...