Dedication or Addiction?

Being transparent is not an easy thing to do. Especially in my first Blog post, and especially about addiction. I pray you’ll find something helpful in it.

Being honest with ourselves about our issues can be excruciatingly terrifying. It often causes self-alienation due to fear of rejection, and many other ailments that manifest within the mind, body, and soul. However, being transparent and honest with oneself is being real. It’s courageous and empowering. It’s the first step toward freedom from our hurts, habits, and hangups. Once we achieve this freedom and have the courage to share our truth with others, it has the power to change the lives of others.

Revelation

Revelation [12:11]:  “They triumphed over the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…”

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I was not saved when this picture was taken in 2003. Fitness and music engulfed my passions. I had three jobs that kept me very busy. On weekdays I spent ten hours working a corporate day job; then performed at least two singing gigs, one during the week and one on the weekend, (which burned about six hours each night); and I also worked as a part-time personal trainer, four hours per day, up to seven days per week. I managed to fit this in between the hours before and after my day job. I also managed to fit in time for being the single Mom of a teenage daughter, and my own fitness training.

To say that I “fit in” my own fitness training is an understatement. It drove me!  Not a single day would go by without killing myself in the gym applying strength and cardiovascular exercises no less than two hours per day−seven days per week!

I now say I was driven–and crazy, considering the amount of energy I spent living that way and sleeping no more than five hours each night, or less. My self-restricted daily food intake included complex carbohydrates and protein (never fat, and little water) amounted to approximately 1200 calories or less. I convinced myself that this was good, telling myself that I “had it all together.”

Addiction Disguised

I was proud of my physical, aesthetic achievements. I thought I looked great and believed I attained this greatness through hard work and dedication.  Being prideful, I decided to dabble in swimsuit and fitness modeling, as well as pursue figure competitions.  Much to my surprise, they began to take root. A couple of fitness and swimsuit magazines published my pictures; I landed a role as an exercise model in a fitness video; a reputable supplement company briefly sponsored me, and in the depth of my vanity, I allowed myself to be photographed in scenes of implied and partial nudity.

While trapped in this grip of pride, control, and perfectionism, I decided I was ready to enter my first figure competition. But I wasn’t just going for the local chapter, I aimed straight for the top by entering a high-ranking, multi-state amateur event known as The NPC Southern States Championships. This competition qualifies winners to enter the Nationals−one step away from Pro level.

There I was at age 36 never having competed before, but with misguided confidence and pride, I signed up for the most popular, Open Women’s division. (Even though I was the oldest in this category by about ten years, and should have entered the Masters). My drive had quite an engine!  This was my very first show, and I placed in the top 5 out of 25 women, with 2 of the judges scoring me in 1st place. This only gained more fuel for my raging internal pride.

Addiction Exposed

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Impressed? Many people are when they look at these pictures. They see the results of dedication and all the hard work that must have gone into looking like that. However, what they didn’t know and what they couldn’t see, was the truth. The truth is that I had a severe addiction and emotional disorder driving these achievements. It was an obsession growing intensely out of control.

Self-perpetuated oppression and bondage is the truth behind what it took for me to look like that. Trapped in my own life, unable to break free, I drove myself on a high-speed rail into a steel wall. Maintaining this image (facade) of physical and mental perfection was the #1 priority in my life over everything, and everyone else. Anything less was unacceptable to me. Anything less made me fear, rejection.

I was actually killing myself by working all those jobs and exercising far more than is necessary without proper rest or nutrition. The reason was so that I could “look” a certain way. The truth is that I was possessed by a smorgasbord of evils known as body-image disorder, general anxiety, and fear of rejection.

 

The Culprit

These evils took root years before they manifested into a fitness obsession−otherwise known as exercise bulimia. It began with anorexia until I couldn’t handle the fear of rejection in constantly being told that I looked too skinny. I had lost my appetite from starving myself and consuming cleansing aids, daily. But I thought I could take the fixing matters into my own hands.

I decided to work out incessantly to spark my appetite. It worked. But as I began to eat more, my fear of becoming fat made me work out, even more, to burn off the food I ate.  I raced from one extreme to another. Others around me suffered from my affliction because my priority was my body image and not my loved ones. I sacrificed precious, quality time with those who deserved my time. I wouldn’t dare allow them to interfere with my workout regimen, (my addiction).

The Savior

A fine line exists between dedication and addiction. Those pictures remind me. I now know the truth in my own choosing to disguise my addiction as dedication. In doing so, it devoured my emotional health like cancer. Those pictures remind me that I was completely lost and void of faith while I was living in my addictions, (which were many and far-reaching that are not mentioned in this blog but detailed in my published book Unforgotten”).

Today I am no longer chained to this disguise.  No longer killing myself to achieve that facade. Today I am grateful to Jesus for showing me a better way. His promise that I could live free from addiction and fear of rejection by accepting His love and sacrifices. By following His plan, and believing I am who He says I am, and who’s I am.

Addiction lives under many disguises. It does not discriminate and is most certainly, not reserved only for those who drink alcohol and use drugs. If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction(s), please know that recovery is attainable! Freedom from addiction is achieved through faith in Jesus, and believing in yourself. I know because I’m doing it.

His Truth

Today I work out for the purpose of staying healthy and performing optimally in everyday life. I’m much smarter when it comes to my time and workout regimen. I also enjoy eating, including healthy fats.

The Body Image Disorder I struggle with, at that time was more like an Eating Disorder coupled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder BDD.  This falls under the category of Anxiety and Depression. I do still struggle from time to time, as I am human, but I am conscious to combat those “lies” with the truth that I am fearfully and wonderfully made by my Heavenly Father. Struggling is a fact with any addiction or disorder. Enter the old cliche’, it’s not a matter of if you’ll be reminded but when. But with the right tools, you can overcome that struggle every time.  The words and promises of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are the tools that work for me.  A helpful scripture on the subject is found in: Romans 5:3-5

“…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

Prayer

If you can identify with any part of my blog, please know that you too are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are beautiful, loved, sought after, cherished and so much more! God has a plan and a purpose for you. He is not a respecter of persons. What He does for one of us, He will do for any of us.

Dear Father God, I thank you for your mercy and grace of which we cannot earn. Thank you for your unconditional, reckless love that will never cease fighting for the whole of our hearts.  Bless the lives of those caught in addictions, seeking your freedom, healing, and forgiveness. I pray that you will capture them in your powerful majesty and free them from the bondage that traps them, and exalt their lives to bring You glory Father, in Jesus name, Amen.

Brandee Nielsen

Helpful Links:

Celebrate Recovery

Help for Anxiety Disorders

Beauty and Appearance