Karen McIntosh shared a guilty secret with the beautiful and glamorous Princess Diana. They were both victims of bulimia, a mysterious and deadly eating disorder.
Bulimia brought Karen to the point of suicide. Trapped in a nightmare of self-delusion and physical decline, she was literally killing herself.
Bulimia just didn't happen, the causes lay in Karen's childhood. Feelings of self-rejection, mistaken judgements about herself and her family, prepared the way for the onset of the disease in her teenage years.
Tragically, the damage was self inflicted. Karen as an adult woman clearly recalls the jealousy she experienced at only eighteen months, when her baby brother Glenn arrived. Her father's delight was interpreted as a preference for boys over girls (she, Karen).
"This became the platform for my disappointment and self-deception. My little mind deduced that males were far more important than females. And this lie led to the lies of not being wanted and the lies of feeling that I had been replaced."
This deep unhappiness accompanied Karen through childhood and into adolescence.
At 16, she was in a private hell, imagining she was ugly and nobody liked her.
Her parents then told the children that their marriage was over. The effect was shattering, Karen embarked on the pattern of food bingeing.
"Bulimia arrived out of nowhere, my little secret. I had discovered the ultimate diet.
I could eat whatever I liked, so long as I got rid of it before digestion. With one simple action, placing two fingers down my throat, I could bring it all back up."
Attempted SuicideEleven years later, married with two children, Karen was considering suicide.
Life was a dark hole, she was tortured with images of what her body could be like.
No matter how thin she became, the voices in her mind told her she was "fat and ugly". She merely existed denying reality, refusing to acknowledge what the eating disorder was doing to her mind and body.
With hindsight, Karen says that an eating disorder's greatest deception is to persuade the victim that there is no problem. She simply didn't comprehend that she was so sick both mentally and physically.
But suddenly Karen realised that she had wasted all those years in pursuit of weight loss. Self revulsion and panic overwhelmed her, she was now bingeing and purging over twelve times a day.
One day, Karen decided that the emotional pain was too great. Her husband and children would be better off without her. She could end it all with a drug overdose, fall asleep and never wake up.
Now focussed on suicide, Karen went to the supermarket and bought packets of painkillers, along with the groceries. The pressure was unbearable, she was coming apart, knocking into shelves. Concerned onlookers offered to help, but the voices in Karen's mind grew more insistent: "Don't listen to them, they don't know your life and your pain. They don't have to exist in your world. Go on, today you can end it once and for all. Today you can be free."
On the verge of collapse, Karen grabbed her children, abandoned the trolley and ran out of the store. Back home, she hugged the children, still wanting to end her life, but realising she couldn't.
A multi-level marketing business opportunity seemed to offer a vehicle for Karen's ambitious and industrious personality and she was soon making good money.
But rehabilitation through financial success failed. The eating disorder remained.
A Sudden RealisationOne day, Karen was admiring her beautiful daughter. Then it hit her, a sudden realisation, the bulimia would rob Karen of a mother's joy in her future. No planning and attending her wedding. No holding her future grandchildren.
"In an instant I made a decision. With a surge of inner strength I had never experienced before, I determined never to put my fingers down my throat again.
Immediately I went into action, taking authority over my food intake and changing my mindset. From this moment on, I envisaged only what a recovered bulimic would be like: a person of strength and courage, one who ate sensibly and kept all her food down."
Lying next to her sleeping husband, Karen felt compassion for all that he had suffered in enduring her years of mental turmoil. She experienced a new peace and a hope for what was now ahead in their lives.
Near dawn, she experienced a deep desire to attend a church. After driving around for an hour she stopped outside a church near her house and went in, unsure and apprehensive.
Once seated, Karen felt a pervasive warmth and inner joy. When the pastor said: "You're only half a person until you take Jesus Christ into your life," the scales dropped from her eyes, she saw as if for the first time and believed.
Three hours later, she staggered up the steps of her house, "intoxicated with joy, a big grin on my face." She told Brett her husband and the children where she had been. He listened to her story and confided that for over nine years, he prayed every single night to God, the same prayer: "God, bring happiness and joy to my family and me, protect us and provide for us all we need."
Transformation Begins"My new relationship with God, gave me a fresh vision for life," recalls Karen. "Psalm 139 spoke volumes to me. It taught me how special life is and that I was created for a purpose, for something better than bulimia. I had wasted eleven years on ?what ifs' and the ?if onlys'."
"God had given me another chance at life. My future began right at that moment; I didn't have to go back to who I'd been and what I'd done. He had given me the gift of choice, to right my wrongs, overcome the obstacles in my mind, and embrace my destiny."
"Each of us has a God-appointed destiny. We must all work towards our destiny, write the words of our individual history. So I took the risk, stepped out hand-in-hand with God into faith."
"Opening up my mind, I carefully considered every thought. Instead of lamenting the loss of my past and the hurts of my youth, I took ownership of my mind and my tongue. Our tongues are such small things, but what enormous damage they can do."
"I could no longer tolerate being imprisoned by the illness. I didn't have much memory of the years leading up to this time because it was all bingeing, purging, food, hiding and shame. I felt that from this moment on, my past didn't have a future, and that my future didn't have a past. Today was a new day. I attached faith, like wings, to my courage and reached out for healing and wholeness."
Karen determined to fight the demons of bulimia and body image distortion. "For a bulimic or anorexic to defeat their demons can be like searching for treasure without a map or compass, and I was no exception. I wanted to be totally released, not just from the time-consuming habits, but also the thoughts and visions I had of myself. So I set out to find the truth of life, as God had ordained."
"Slowly I began to master my thoughts. They had the power to mould and shape me. Thoughts that once jailed me, now became agents of change, my agents of freedom. I began to connect with God's truth. I learnt that she who seeks within, finds what is buried, and she who knocks sees doors opened."
Sharing the PainOne wintry night, Karen sat down with Brett and told him about all the years of guilt and suffering. She poured it all out and he responded with love and understanding. He too had felt guilty about seeing the strange behaviour and choosing to ignore it.
Karen then wrote to her family, beginning with her recent healing and then honestly detailing the hurts and delusions that had caused the bulimia.
"When my family received their letters and absorbed the information, their love for me was overwhelming. Doors opened for us all to speak openly about our pasts. My brothers had also struggled painfully with our parents' divorce and, as I set myself free, I empowered them to share their own inner pain and confusion."
"I finally recognised that I didn't need to attain artificial perfection and that my world was filled with love. I discovered that the worry about dieting and being skinny and fat was just a smokescreen. That it was not the real illness. The real illness was caused by my bruised heart and the way I felt about myself."
After many years of secrecy and self deception, Karen sought the help of a highly qualified counsellor who was a Christian. Her words helped Karen comprehend the complexities lying buried in her soul. "I had to dig up the lies embedded in my mind, weeding out all the wrong, useless and impure thoughts and replanting news seeds of self-worth and pure thoughts, carefully nurturing them to take root and grow."
"Each session centred on the capability of God, and his willingness and ability to fully heal and restore me. As Ainslie prayed for me during our sessions together, the power of God flowed through her and eliminated my trauma, as my mind was rewired and my heart healed, transforming the person I had been for twenty seven years."
Choosing to ForgiveForgiveness was one of the hardest stages of Karen's journey. "By facing up squarely to perceived wrongs and pledging unequivocal forgiveness enabled me to stop replaying the pain in my life again and again."
"By letting go of my bitter experiences, I discovered an abundance of truth about myself. My life had been a wilderness of the unknown. As I retraced my steps through the ups and downs of life, forgiving as I found grudges and hurt, I learnt to push beyond my comfort zone to find healing and discover the new me."