The Doorknob: Spirituality in Eating Disorder Recovery

by Jenni Schaefer, Author of “Life Without Ed

What does God have to do with it? Why are they talking about a higher power? And how does a doorknob fit into eating disorder recovery?

I was following my food plan. I was not worrying about my body. I was finally free from food and weight obsessions, and I was miserable. One day I remember driving in my car on an overpass and thinking, “I really don’t care if my car crashes and flips over the guardrail. I don’t care if I die.”

I had not specifically devised a scheme to kill myself, but I was apathetic about whether or not I continued living. I did not understand why I was so unhappy. I was no longer bingeing, purging, and restricting. After battling food for over twenty years, what more could I possibly want?

My friends in recovery from alcoholism and other addictions encouraged me to incorporate spirituality into my life. They said to let go, give up control, and believe in something other than me. They talked about God, a higher power, and even a doorknob. “If you have difficulty with the concept of God,” they said, “choose anything — even a doorknob — to be your higher power. Just believe in something other than you.”

I actually did not have difficulty with the idea of God. No, I definitely knew my higher power, and I did not like Him. I thought that God hated me, so we were not on speaking terms. We had gone our separate ways. (Looking back, I think that I was the one who walked away, not God.) I did not understand what God had to do with my recovery anyway.

Aaron, a recovered alcoholic, told me that filling up my gas tank with anything but God would only keep me going for a little while. Eventually I would feel empty again and probably turn to food. “If you fill up with God,” Aaron said, “you will feel full for a lifetime.”

I immediately understood what Aaron meant. I remembered getting report cards in school — always straight A’s. I would think that everything in life was great. I even seemed to eat better and feel better about my body. My self-esteem was charged and nothing could go wrong. Wrong! Eventually that most recent report card did not matter, and all of my energy was focused on doing just as well or better on the next report card. I felt empty again, and food filled that hole. Could God really fill the hole instead?

I had spent a lot of time in twelve-step meetings, and I had seen what God had done for many of the people within those rooms. Deep inside I believed that God could provide peace and serenity for me, too. I knew that every time in my life I had focused on putting God first, I felt good. But I would only stay connected to Him for short periods of time. After all, He did hate me or so I thought.

I let influential people in my life dissuade me. People who I respected put down my image of God and laughed at the concept of a higher power. I wanted to impress these people; I wanted to fit in. So I shut God out.

I shut God out until I lost the desire to live. I knew that most people did not have thoughts about driving their cars off bridges, and I wanted to change. I had tried everything else, so I decided that maybe I should try to develop a healthy relationship with my higher power.

If I wanted to experience both long-lasting freedom from my eating disorder and happiness in my life, I needed God. I began reading spiritual literature and talking to people who I admired for their connection with God. I committed to working the Twelve Steps. Unlike recovery from alcoholism, balance — not abstinence — was my goal. I obviously could not abstain from food like an alcoholic quits drinking alcohol, but I could find balance at mealtimes. I could find balance within my life.

I have learned that those of us in recovery from eating disorders need spirituality just like everyone else. A lot of us have difficulty grasping the concept. Some of us hate God; some of us think God hates us. Some of us reach for a doorknob as a starting point for our higher power.

Whether we choose a doorknob as our higher power or not, we all open the door to an amazing life and eventually to a new concept of spirituality and God. We walk forward and embrace the future. We close the door behind us.

Jenni Schaefer is a singer/songwriter, speaker, and the author of Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too (McGraw-Hill). She is a consultant and spokesperson with Center for Change in Orem, Utah. For more information, visit or email [email protected]

Published Date: January 1, 2010
Last reviewed: By Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 4, 2012
Page last updated: June 12, 2012

Published on, Online Eating Disorder Help