Chasing Perfection, This Christian Mom Found Herself Trapped in an Eating Disorder and Drug Abuse

My mind raced from the effects of the drugs in my system as I sat in my pastor’s office. Seemingly overnight, I found myself 25 pounds lighter and thinking I was healthier than ever, but in reality—I was in chains.

Confounded and ashamed, I couldn’t believe I was in this mess again—only this time the battle ground seemed different. Instead of fighting outward struggles, like a financial collapse or wayward kids—I was fighting myself and quickly losing ground.

In fear, I was afraid of admitting my struggle, I was worried I would be removed from ministry or lose my kids. How did I end up being a mom with an eating disorder on top of abusing prescribed drugs? How many of us are out there?

ABC News reports a 750 percent increase in women (moms) abusing drugs prescribed for ADHD, and when they can no longer get the drug, some resort to meth. And here I was—becoming a statistic.

Instead, as I sat there, I felt the chains of fear and shame being broken as I brought my struggles to light. My thoughts drifted once again to where I met God several years ago. Only eight years prior, He met me in an emergency room when I attempted to take my own life. I heard his voice above the noise of several doctors, nurses and officers as my soul hovered between life and death. That night, I heard his voice,

“Heather, I have plans for you. Your time here is not finished.” And since then, I’ve become a mom to three, a speaker, author and leader.

How then could I end up in a mess like this?

Between raising two kids with special needs and not being able to sleep, I was feeling so overwhelmed, failing and unable to focus. Shortly after picking up my kids’ medications from the pharmacy, I read through the side effects of one drug and thought, “If it helps her focus, maybe it can help me.” And in that moment, I crossed the line—the cardinal rule for a mother—the very medication that helped my children function became my lifeline to control and I couldn’t stop. I upped and altered the meds as needed. As weeks progressed and I sailed through my to-do lists, my body began to change, shedding the pounds from being overweight.

The comments of having it “together” and “looking good” fed my addiction of control and approval. As I sat in my pastors office, I thought I had gone too far. How could a leader and a mother come back from this? How could God still love me? I knew better. That one line kept playing like a broken record,

“You know better, he won’t take you back. You know better.”

And that’s when my pastor’s words awakened my heart, “Heather, it’s often those with the loudest roar that the enemy will take out. If everyone hears you roaring, you’re a threat, so he’s going to prey on your weakness. If he can take you out, he doesn’t need to worry about anyone else.

If the enemy is able to trap us in our mess of failures and lies, he doesn’t have to worry about the future generation we are raising. He doesn’t have to worry who is listening to you or watching you.

As his words sank in, he reminded me of why I fell in love with Jesus in the first place, of how much freedom I felt solely surrendering to God in everything. I had forgotten the freedom and my identity in Christ, and the more I felt alone, the more isolated I became and the easier it was to accept lies as truth. I had forgotten to take my struggles to Jesus and in the midst of it, I got lost—so lost.

Being lost in my own circumstances, the echo of criticism and failure struck my soul like pounding waves of the ocean against the shore leaving me awake at night. The need to keep it together, to look good, to be “that mom” or “that leader” pulled me further into the pit I was trying so desperately to dig out of as the need of perfection pulled me back under.

Little mama, your fight may be different than mine, but the universal message we hear when we we are facing our battles is this: “I’m alone, no one gets it. I’ve failed so badly, I’ve made mistakes and let my hope fail. No one can possibly understand.”

And when we listen to the lies, we hide in the darkness of our hurt and sin, but when we reach out, hope rises in our hearts. The road you are facing may be difficult, filled with obstacles, but know this: God sees you, you are not a failure and he can make you whole. The enemy wants you to believe that if you open your mouth, you will be perceived as a failure, but God says when we bring our struggles to the light, he can help us.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Today I am still in the process of recovering and have learned that it will be a life time of taking each moment to God. And my hope is to share my mess so you can be free to share yours. We’ve somehow come to believe that the pictures of perfect families and moms on Facebook is reality—when it isn’t. It’s a snapshot of a perfect moment, but it doesn’t reflect the day-to-day realities of following Christ or being a mama.

The reality is this: It’s hard, it’s messy, we have flaws, we’re imperfect. But when we share our struggles, God’s strength works through us and we are made strong. The key is to keep our eyes on Jesus, no matter what. No matter how messy life gets.

For those suffering from Anorexia:

If you suffer from the need for approval or control: Anorexia Nervosa

Those who are suffering with this illness have a low self-esteem and often a tremendous need to control their surroundings and emotions. The eating disorder Anorexia is a unique reaction to a variety of external and internal conflicts, such as stress, anxiety, unhappiness and feeling like life is out of control. Anorexia is a negative way to cope with these emotions. New research indicates that for a percentage of sufferers, a genetic predisposition may play a role in a sensitivity to develop Anorexia, with environmental factors being the trigger.

Get help. Take the first step to talk to someone, anyone. Ask God to place someone in your path that will help you get on the road to recovery.

Little mama, you’re already made whole in Christ, you’ve been redeemed, now it’s time to recover. 

For more of Heather’s great perspective on motherhood, check out Heather’s book Mama Needs A Time-Out: Daily Getaways for the Mom’s Soul.

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Heather Riggleman
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone). She roams small towns looking for stories and coffee with her husband and three kids. She writes to bring the perspective of bold truths and raw faith into universal concepts women face from marriage, career, mental health, depression, faith, relationships, to celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram Instagram, or at