My parents divorced soon after I’d turned four back in 1972. I was part of that first wave of somewhat acceptable children of divorce. Raised by a single, working mom while living in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Knoxville, I felt a sense of shame about my small house in relation to friends who lived only blocks away. I benefitted from a fabulous neighborhood school while simultaneously realizing I would have to find other ways to be “enough” since my material wealth and single mom/only child status didn’t really offer me a sense of fitting in. One of the ways I compensated for my sense of being “less than” was through achievement. I learned over time how to do well in school and graduated top of my class in both high school and college. I actually was salutatorian and voted Most Likely To Succeed in my small high school class of 73 and was fortunate enough to earn grades in college that qualified me for Phi Beta Kappa membership.
And yet, somewhere during those years of academic achievement, I began to believe that my physical body needed to be perfect for any of it to actually matter. From my senior year of high school through my senior year of college, I was bulimic and often miserable while achieving great things. We never really know how people are truly feeling, do we?
I recently attended a seminar that talked about “The Ladder” and explained a coping style that makes life all about reaching some perfect place of “est” meaning the best, greatest, smartest, skinniest, prettiest, etc. The philosophy is: If I just can do/be . . . then, I’ll be happy, okay, safe, etc. At a very young age, I can remember vowing to myself that if I was perfect, I would feel secure; therefore, I needed to be perfect. And that lovely plan, led me to an eating disorder and a lifetime of addictive tendencies in an effort to manage my feelings about myself.
The problem with the ladder is that there is no “est” or top rung to reach. There are always more rungs. If you get pretty high up, it’s hard not to judge those below you. And if you are closer to the bottom, you often feel contempt and jealous of those above you. The ladder kind of sucks.
Even as I find myself closer to 50 than 40, I still have thoughts DAILY about both my weight and my modest home in the fantasy land of Williamson County. Even with Jesus – who graciously released me from bulimia my senior year of college and showed me that surrender to him is better than the ladder – I still find myself on the ladder in those two areas decades later. The little girl who believed that wealth and physical beauty are sure things for security is now grown up, knows that’s a lie, and still feels periodic shame about both her body and home.
Everyone has their own personal ladder with the areas you’ve come to use to measure yourself against those around you. I recently realized much of my mental energy for most of my life has been linked to my insatiable desire to have a bigger house but a smaller me. I know that God has more for me than those two desires! And perhaps I’ve been kept from reaching the “rung” I want on those two things so I keep running to him with my real need: a vibrant relationship with him.