The Word in the Wings
The Word in the Wings > Home to live in my body: an interview with Deanna
Home to live in my body: an interview with Deanna
By: KAYA PRASAD
This summer, The Word in the Wings will feature stories of how the work of Glorify Performing Arts addresses problems with the ways our culture often views the human body. In the 21st-century US, even at times within the church, it is common to discount, abuse, or idolize the body. But in GPA’s work of creating professional, empowering, Spirit-inspired dance productions, we aim to value the body’s God-given capacities for meaning-making and beauty. We aim to protect the body from exploitation by the art and industry of dance, and we orient the body’s efforts toward the glory of God.
As part of this series, I interviewed Deanna Pfau, who has been an audience member and volunteer at GPA events since November 2021. In the first part of our conversation, Deanna shares about factors that influenced her relationship to her body for many years, and she describes how God led her into recovery from an eating disorder.
Kaya: Thanks for getting on this call with me today and being so willing to share your story. To start off, how did you get connected with GPA, and what has drawn you to become involved with our work and ministry?
Deanna: It was quite coincidental, but I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe in God-incidences. I taught at The Christian Academy for eleven years. You came on a particular school day to promote Label: Beauty, and I was out of teaching, but I was subbing at the school here and there. That particular day, the fourth grade teacher needed a substitute, so I was subbing for her class when I saw you guys. That was the first live production of anything I had seen post-pandemic, and it literally took my breath away. Even now, I’m still on the verge of tears. It was beautiful! The color, the costuming, the choreography, the topic–it was just over the top. I took a friend to see the show, and I was transfixed.
I was so impressed by Melody’s mission, and I thought, “Wow, we need this so desperately in the arts,” because true beauty is from the inside, out, and transformative that way, versus the way that culture looks at it, which is imposing it from the outside in. It’s always going to be backwards that way, because when you’re looking for beauty outside of yourself and grasping for it that way, it’s never going to happen. It’s seeded from within, and true beauty is the holiness of God in us. I could tell that for Melody, she understood that, and she gets it. I could tell that quickly because of the content of the storyline, and that really moved me.
I’m a total color geek–one of those people who will go to Home Depot and stand in front of the color swatches and take forever to pick a paint color–so the costuming really caught me that day, and when the girls did the spins with the dresses it reminded me of flowers blossoming and opening up. I’m somewhere in my head when that stuff is going on. It’s magical. And every performance I’ve seen since then has blown me away.
So I told my husband, “I have to get involved!” Not having been a dancer, but really admiring them and reading about them, what they put their body through and how many dancers suffer with eating disorders, makes me really sad. It’s a real problem, and that’s another place where I intersect with the world of dance. My heart goes out to young girls who are forced to conform to a cultural message that’s telling them that they must do this for their body in order to achieve.
Kaya: I’ve heard a few bits and pieces from Melody and Angela, and from what they’ve mentioned it seems like you’ve experienced some significant transformation in how you view your own body and your relationship with your body and your body image. How would you describe the value that you ascribe to your body now?
Deanna: For my whole life I was so obsessed with it, and because of my eating disorder I had such body dysmorphia for so long. Not long ago, I was looking at pictures of myself when I was in college, and I thought, “Why did I feel like I was overweight when I was just fine?”
Now, as you’re in an aging body, if you’re not doing the work spiritually, you’re going to come up short no matter what. I look at everything that’s not perfect with my body as an indicator that I’m just one step closer to seeing my savior, when my body will be completely reborn and re-formed. I don’t have shame around it like I used to.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t still struggle; don’t get me wrong there. But I’m so busy about the inward journey, and what the internal landscape of my heart looks like, it’s secondary now. Any weight loss I’ve had–I don’t even really think about that as much as I’m so focused on that inward aspect that’s really important.
Kaya: I love what you’ve said about being freed from shame, not having shame around your perception of your body now, and also about hope, knowing that your body, whatever you feel changing in it right now, ultimately one day is going to be fully restored and renewed because of Christ.
Would you share a little bit more about what you’ve been through in the past with body dysmorphia and the eating disorder?
The one thing I could control
Deanna: The way our food industry and our diet industry compete for our attention, and all the social media messaging young girls are exposed to–there is a standard for beauty, and whatever that standard is, you’re taught as a young girl to try to conform to that. A lot of the issues that I began to have with food maybe had something to do with culture and society, but they had more to do with early childhood trauma than anything. Even though I was brought up in a Christian home, it was a very dysfunctional home.
A lot of people that I know in the recovery community, whether they have bulimia, anorexia, compulsive overeating, or compulsive under-eating–it all stems from the need to control. Usually the need to control comes because things were out of control in your home life, or you had trauma. I had a fair amount of trauma from the age of three to five that set the stage for the entrance of an eating disorder. It was the one thing that I could control–or I thought that I could control.
I would fluctuate between restricting and overeating, and it was my way to navigate the inner turmoil I was in a lot of the time. I did things with food that other people do with drugs and drinking.
“The okay sin”
Sadly, the church looks upon overeating as “the okay sin.” If you go to a potluck at the church–and I don’t want to come across as judging people, but it’s like “the okay thing,” to overindulge. In reality, there could be a lot of people there that have a serious eating disorder, and we just don’t want to talk about it.
No one told me that I had a serious illness. No one said to me, “Deanna, when you eat sugar and white flour and you put that into your body, you have an allergic reaction to it.” Other people could eat a piece of pie with immunity. I couldn’t eat a piece of pie with immunity because eventually I had abused my body so much in that direction that it wouldn’t stop there. I would eat that piece, but in private I would eat the whole pie, and I would eat something else, and something else, and something else. I did not understand the physical piece of the illness.
I did so many things; I prayed, I did all the spiritual things that you can do, I begged God, I fasted, I went on prayer retreats. I did all the spiritual things that I thought were the right things to address this problem.
Eating disorders are threefold in nature; they’re physical, spiritual, and emotional. I’d be addressing one leg of a three-legged stool and never addressing all three legs. That’s why I think it takes so long for people to realize, “This is much bigger than me. I need help, and I can’t do this by myself.”
It’s also hard to get to that place because the diet industry and food industry say, “You can have whatever you want! Just go and exercise it off.” It’s all formulated to keep us in the idea that, “You can control this. You got this.”
After forty years of that–because that’s how long I suffered–you get to the place where you don’t have a life anymore. Your life revolves around what you ate yesterday, what you might eat today. What can I avoid eating today so I can eat what I really, really want to eat? How many calories do I have to consume? It’s obsessive, and it begins to rule your entire life. You wake up one day, and your world is very myopic and lonely.
From the outside looking in, I had everything that you would think a Christian woman should have–two beautiful daughters, a wonderful home, thirty-seven years of marriage to my best friend–but I was dying inside because of this, and I did not know what to do.
Kaya: When would you say you made that transition from forty years of suffering with that disorder into this phase of recovery where you are now?
Deanna: God is so kind, because God will use any and all means to get our attention. In my journey with the Lord, I see him come in sideways. What I mean by that is, you know the peripheral vision we have? If you’re driving down the road and someone passes you, and you see it coming but you don’t see it coming–that’s how God is with me sometimes. It’s just like, whshew! And it’s this beautiful thing that God does.
So in 2017 when we moved here to North Wilmington, I needed to change chiropractors. I found Dr. Shavneet Kler, who is more holistic in her approach than my other chiropractor had been. I was an absolute mess with her. I was the highest weight that I had been. My stress levels were through the roof. I cannot explain what happened when I went to her…but God gives me visions.
When I would go there, she would lower the lights in the room, and I would be on the table, and it was dark and she had really calming music. For the good part of a year, the Lord gave me visions of being a little girl again, and God was doing a healing work during that time that I would be in her office; I can’t explain it. How can you explain something like that, other than that it was very healing for me? God was using Dr. Kler’s work and the safe space she created to bring healing in my life.
“I really want to come home to live in my body”
That was the start, and I remember my prayer being, “God, I feel like my whole life, I’ve lived my life from the neck up.” By that I meant that I was in my head all the time; everything was cerebral. I didn’t know how to inhabit my body because I hated it so much and because I was ashamed of it so much.
I said to God, “I really want to come home to live in my body. I’ve been taught it’s a temple, and you inhabit your temple. You love me enough to live in me. Why don’t I want to live in me? That’s a problem, right? But I don’t know how to do that.” It’s a very long journey to get from the head to the heart, but God made it possible. I didn’t do anything.
During that time, I was being integrated back into myself. In the visions it would be Jesus, my adult self, and my younger self having conversations in this beautiful setting that God set for me. I got to the point where I thought, “I don’t know what to do. We can’t afford therapy. I don’t want to go back to therapy. I don’t want to do this anymore. Please, God, please tell me what to do!”
I knew that wasn’t me
God used a book about eating disorders called Full Lives [by Lindsey Hall].It’s written by a number of women who’ve had many different issues with eating. One of them was a former nun, and when she went into the convent, I guess she was about eighteen, and she had an eating disorder. She would be praying to God, but she would also be sneaking into the kitchen at night to steal food, and she would eat food under her habit during prayers. She abandoned her faith because of her eating disorder, because she was so ashamed. She thought, “I am a fraud. I don’t belong here.” So she left her Catholic faith for many years, but she eventually did find her way back to God.
God used that story in the spring of 2019 to captivate me. She said when she came to her recovery, it was the “Easter” of her recovery, and that phrase was resurrectional for me. I was crying reading her story, just sobbing, and said, “God, please help me. I don’t know what to do.” And God said, “You need to go to Overeaters Anonymous.” Boom. Like that.
In my experience, the Lord is very directive. It’s a firm thing; it’s loving, it’s never shaming. I knew that wasn’t me.
I had the worst possible vision in my head of what that would be like. I remember sitting in the parking lot and looking at all the women who were going into this church where the meeting was and looking at their bodies. I look at it now and think, “Gosh Deanna, it was so bad, what you were doing!” “Oh, she’s thin. She can’t possibly be in Overeaters Anonymous.” God has a sense of humor, because she was the greeter that day, and she’s a really good friend today.
I’ll never forget it. I went into that meeting and knew I was home. All the women there were so loving. They started talking about food and what they did with food, and I thought, “You do that with food too? I had no idea!” Hearing their stories, I would compare myself: “I’m not that bad.” But I thought, “No, Deanna, you have a really big problem.” It took me many meetings to figure that out, but they were always loving.
Deanna’s story illustrates how important it is to have a healthy perspective on the body. When the body is seen as an instrument that can be abused to exercise control, the effects are spiritually and emotionally damaging as well as harmful to physical health. God values the physical body enough to bring healing and rescue, to make the body a holy place where God abides with us.
Check back next week to read about how Deanna’s journey of recovery from her eating disorder has strengthened her walk with God. In the second part of our conversation, we also discuss the relational aspects of recovery and how that reflects the Church’s collective vocation.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you are not alone, and help is available. Access a support hotline and other resources at https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/.
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