Wednesday 28 March 2012

Okay, I'm back... and I'm angry...

These last 6 weeks or so have been turmoil, for reasons already explained, and my blog has taken a total backseat in the proceedings. But now I'm back, hopefully without any more breaks. And today I am angry. Actually, yesterday I was angry. And the day before.

Now, I need to give you some background information. I am not exactly the most religious and devout person in the world, but - like many people, I guess - I felt that if I was going to get real, genuine support anywhere, during the worst parts of the journey as a mum of a teenager spiralling downwards with anorexia, it was going to be in the church. I also had a gut feeling that we were being 'helped' through this, during the worst times, by 'something'. Maybe it was my imagination or just me clinging onto some kind of hope when I was going through hell, but it's something that has stayed with me ever since.

But - to cut a very long and extremely disheartening story short - the church (or, rather, 3 churches I attempted to become part of) let me down. I won't go into details, because that's not what this blog post is about. It's about the fact that our local church has let Ben down, Big Style.

During the worst times, Ben, also, was reaching out for some kind of spiritual support and he firmly believed he had found it. Reading through the 60 page transcript of an interview he's done for Oxford University on his journey through the eating disorder, he states that he believes it was his new Christian faith that brought him through. Without it, he explains, he probably wouldn't be here today. In other words,  he'd probably be dead.

Back in November 2009, during Ben's rapid spiral downwards, I spent a few months in Church A, but used to come home more depressed than when I set out - and so lonely. The Church paid lip service to me, as a newcomer, but after a while I was just left to my own devices. And I don't think they could handle, or even attempt to understand, the sheer hell I was going through. So I looked around and after a brief fling with a very similar Church B, I decided on Church C.

Now, Church C hasn't been all Bad News. Out of it came my fantastic friend, S, the friend with breast cancer who has been the most amazingly supportive non-ED related person I have known over the past couple of years. She was the only person who, on my first visit, spied me sitting nervously at the back, strode over and persuaded me to sit with her. The rest, as they say, is history. However I am all too aware that she, too, feels sidelined by the Church. Most of her really good and supportive friends are non-Church goers and she is rarely, if ever, visited by Church C members. When she's in church, people tap her on the shoulder, ask how things are going, and look all concerned and serious, and all that. But no-one invites her round or visits her. I just can't get my head around it. Yet, despite this and despite her serious cancer, her own faith is rock solid.

However, although I personally was having problems with Church C, for exactly the same reasons as the other two churches, Ben took to it like a duck to water, which I thought was fantastic. It gave him a focus and he had a new faith which he believed was pushing him through the eating disorder in the right direction. Indeed after my own initial optimism about Church C fizzled out and I started to attend church less and less (again, because I felt so incredibly isolated in what I was going through and the way everyone seemed to know each other and I'd often just 'hang around', not sure what to do, so I'd simply go home feeling terrible). But Ben continued - and he went to church virtually every Sunday for 18 months or so.

I am astonished and amazed at his sheer staying power, especially as - in my opinion - the other young people and the youth leaders weren't offering him any real support or friendship. Not once, I think, did they ever invite him to the Sunday evening youth group, for example. Crazy!

So, in effect, Ben was just going to church, getting something from the pastor's message, sitting in the background in the morning youth group, maybe chatting to a few adults or my friend S, if she was well enough to attend church, then coming back home again.

For months and months and months. What staying power!

Over the last 2.5 years, as you know, Ben's social life has dwindled to a complete halt. His school friends sideline him and he is so incredibly lonely and solitary. But, I always thought, at least there is the church - and, surely, Great Things would come out of that... soon...

Then it hit me that he'd been attending that church for all those months, yet still didn't really know anyone well enough to have a conversation with, let alone get really involved in the youth group's fun events.

He'd even got baptized (his own decision). But the church failed to follow that up with any spiritual counselling. He was just left to his own devices. And with a mum that was having serious doubts herself about her beliefs and the church, not to mention Ben still fighting the ED and hating his social isolation, that was never going to be a brilliant place to be.

So my friend S (who knows my situation inside out) and I went to see the pastor for a chat. We explained everything and the pastor enthusiastically worked out what promised to be the ultimate successful plan to help integrate Ben into the church and, especially, the youth group. And to get the spiritual mentoring support he so urgently needed, being in both spirital and social isolation.

But, you know, nothing happened. And this was a couple of months ago.

Then the other day Ben announced that he was no longer a Christian. He removed the cross that had been permanently around his neck. He discarded the Bible he used to carry in his school bag to read on the school bus. He started to eat chocolate again (given up for Lent now there was "no point") and announced he didn't believe in God any longer.

What we are left with is a boy who is hurting so much, who feels so incredibly let down by the people he was sure would offer him support and friendship, who believes that any spiritual experiences he did have were fake, probably induced by the eating disorder mind or what he terms "the earth's magnetic forces affecting the front lobes of the brain" (or something along those lines). You can tell he is spiritually dead. It's almost like when a child finds out too young that Father Christmas doesn't exist and that it was their Dad all the time.

That is it in a nutshell. A long nutshell, albeit... And I am angry. I am angry with all 3 churches for letting us down. Angry because I believe that no matter which church we chose we would find the same reception. Angry because the church preaches out about reaching out to the community and the suffering, only to give money to Good Causes in the Third World or Inner Cities, yet when 'the suffering' come to them they don't recognise it because they're all chatting away in their little cliques, reluctant to venture out of their comfort zones.

Even when we explain it in no uncertain termsand appeal almost emotionally to the Pastor for help, they still don't 'get it'.

I am hoping like hell that this utter disappointment and disillusion doesn't spark off another bout of the eating disorder as Ben's glimmer of spiritual hope that kept him going is snuffed out dead.

I spent two years making excuses for the reception I / we were receiving in the various churches - you know, along the lines of the church being far from perfect, run by people who aren't perfect, you know you have to expect that no-one is perfect, not even Christians... and so on and so forth.

But I am no longer making excuses for them.

I am just angry.


  1. Oh Batty, I know of this far too well. Sometimes the abuse you receive at the hands of the church is worse than what was there before. I wonder if it would be okay if I were to write Ben a letter to encourage him. Sometimes in church we loose site of the forest because of all the trees. The purpose of church is to fellowship, that's true, but it is to worship God. And although the people there (and in our case, here) have let us down, God *never* will. Would that be alright with you. You are so much in our thoughts. We love you all. <3

  2. I'm angry on your behalf and sorry to hear Ben has lost his faith. Is ther anything else he can be a part of? Beat ambassodor?

  3. I haven't been ignoring this, I've been thinking about it a lot and for the last day and a half have been trying unsuccessfully to post a reply (old version of explorer playing up on new shiny blogs).

    Would you allow me to show it to a couple of priest/minister friends NOT to shame them but just to emphasise what an extra responsibility the Church has to nurture those who come to it and how easy it is to fail, not by doing bad things (much though that sadly happens) but by the things that are left undone?

  4. Yes of course you can, Marcella. When I've voiced my concerns I'm almost always met with responses like "Well, Christians are human, too. The church isn't perfect" or "Well, we don't like to appear to be pressurising people" or whatever. Or they just say they'll pray for us, or they ask if they can pray then and there, which they do, but then we're left alone again. Having been through 3 churches now, I am fed up with trying to find one that ticks our boxes, my son's and mine... But, as I said, he has completely lost his faith. Gone, as if in a puff of smoke...

  5. I'm so sorry to hear the pain and hurt you've experienced regarding the church. It can be so disappointing when the very body representing God's love does a better job at representing condemnation. I agree that it's frustrating, we get enough of condemnation from monday-saturday, right? I can't stick up for the church, but I can stick up for God. He's not pursuing you in an effort to write you up. He's pursuing you and your son because He loves you. Period.

    I can see you're at a very maddening place right now, with your son's decision to reject faith and perhaps backsliding in his recovery. There are so many students who struggle with disordered eating, boys as well as girls. If you're interesting in reading more about the stressors and pressures present in college life that contribute to disordered eating, as well strategies for recovery, you can visit the following link:

    I wish you and your son the best of luck in battling this frustration and finding community.