It was about a year ago that my prayers were answered in a most unexpected way.
I was out for a run with a new friend--someone I didn't know very well but whom I hoped to get to know better--when totally out of the blue, she said, "Did I ever tell you that I went to counseling for an eating disorder a few years ago?"
"No!" I said, surprised and concerned. "Are you okay now?"
"Oh yes," she said, "but that was such a difficult time in my life. When I look back now, it's hard to believe that person was even me."
As we jogged along on the Highline Canal trail, she talked for probably ten minutes about the nightmare of living with binge-eating disorder. She talked about waking up in the morning or the middle of the night thinking about food, feeling swallowed up by perfectionism and the fear that she would never be enough, grazing on junkfood all day and yet still feeling empty, eating in secret because she was ashamed, knowing she had a problem but not sure how to fix it.
I listened to her, but I didn't say much. My friend has since told me that she thought I was so silent because I was confused by what she was telling me, because I just didn't get it. What she didn't know then was that I was quiet because my heart was pounding and a lump had gathered in my throat.
There's no way my friend could've known that she was describing me and my life. There's no way she could've known that I had been yearning, for several years, to be delivered from a struggle with food and body image that felt all-consuming.
When she was done talking, she said, "I know this sounds crazy. Most people just don't get it. But through counseling and prayer and a lot of hard work, my life is so different now. I don't struggle with food issues at all."
I was silent for a moment, and then I took a deep breath and said, "It doesn't sound crazy. And I do get it. In fact, everything that you just described...it's what I am living with right now."
It was one of the first times I allowed myself to talk aloud about my problem. I had talked to Ryan, my sisters, and a few of my closest friends about my struggles--but I felt so ashamed, and I think I tried to tone down just how truly desperate I felt, even when I was talking to them. "I should be able to fix this," I always told myself. "I should have the willpower. I should have the faith." But no matter how many resolutions I made and how many lofty goals I set, I didn't change.
I felt trapped. I felt discouraged. To be honest, and it hurts to even write this, I felt worthless. And so so alone.
I finally realized that my own willpower was not going to be enough to deliver me. And that's when I turned to God in earnest. Every moment of every day, I asked Him, "What should I do, Father? What should I do?" These words were sometimes audible, but most often, they were deep within my heart.
He was always, always listening--but for months, He let me grapple with my question. I had to come to a place of total humility and reliance on Him. And then He gave me my answer. On a run with a friend whom I barely knew.
As we continued jogging along the dirt path, she told me about her experience in counseling. She told me there was hope. She told me about a book that she had used in her therapy called Intuitive Eating, and by the time I got home from running errands later that day, she had ordered me a copy from Amazon.
This was just the beginning of my journey. I read the book, and I loved the principles that it taught, but I wasn't quite sure how to implement them. I thought about them on and off for months, sharing insights with Ryan as they came to me, occasionally discussing my progress with that same friend who had been an answer to my prayers. But the change was slow. A seed had been planted, but I wasn't totally ready to change.
And then in September, with support from my sisters, Ryan, and my dad, I started counseling. I Googled "intuitive eating counselors, Denver" and found a counseling center that focused on eating disorders. I spoke on the phone with a therapist who had overcome her own food and body-image battles several decades before, and I felt good about it, so I moved forward. I did one-on-one counseling with her for six months, first once a week and then twice a month. I also attended a weekly group lead by another counselor about dealing with stress in healthy ways. And now, I am doing a four-week "narrative therapy" group with yet another counselor at the office. She is encouraging me to write my story, and it has been so helpful and eye-opening.
I am amazed by the impact all three of these counselors have had on my life. They've each contributed in their own way to my journey and my recovery. I sometimes think about the countless hours that they have sacrificed for their education, and the countless hours they spend listening to other people's problems (sounds so draining to me!), and I feel so grateful to them. They will never know how they've blessed my life.
As for me...I am so much happier than I was a year ago. Incomparably happier. I now relate to what my friend said on the running path--looking back, it's hard to believe that lost, hopeless person was even me. Though I am not yet totally "free" of my eating disorder (and yes, I've realized over the course of my therapy that this truly was an eating disorder, not just "struggles with food" as I used to describe it), I am well on my way to living a healthy, balanced life.
I feel hope, and I feel happy, and I feel very, very grateful.
I've grown so much and learned so much from this struggle. More than anything, I've learned that the wise words of Spencer W. Kimball, one of the leaders of my church, are true: "God does nothing by chance, but always by design as a loving father...God does notice us, and He watches over us, but it is usually through another person that He meets our needs."
God worked through my friend when He inspired her to open up to me during our jog just over a year ago. Looking back, I find it remarkable that she randomly shared something so personal with someone whom she didn't know very well. She has since become one of my closest friends, and I've asked her if she had any suspicion of what I was going through when she brought up the conversation. Maybe I had said something in passing that alerted her to my struggle? But she claims that she had no idea what I was going through when she started talking that day on the running path. I know God prompted her to share, and I know that He knew I needed her friendship in my life.
God worked through my family as I slowly opened up to them over the course of several years. He encouraged Ryan, who witnessed more of my eating disorder behaviors than anyone, to just keep loving me, being patient with me, and telling me of my beauty and value. He inspired my sisters to be a listening ear for me whenever I was actually willing to share. And He inspired my dad to talk to me about the option of going to counseling when I did not want to talk to anyone about it and constantly pushed him away. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my family, especially because I know that most people in the world do not have so much loving support. I try not to feel guilty about that and instead commit to loving and supporting anyone who may need it throughout my life. I want to bless others as I have been blessed.
God worked through my counselors to guide me and give me tools on my journey to recovery. I think sometimes there's a belief amongst religious people that if we just have enough faith, we should be able to power through anything difficult in our lives. If we just read scripture more and pray more, we shouldn't need the help of counselors or other professionals. But just as God inspires doctors to help heal our physical bodies, I believe He can inspire counselors to help heal our minds and hearts. I have felt Him in every step of this journey, both as I've knelt in prayer and as I've sat in a session with my counselor. God's power isn't limited to certain activities or places--I believe He can and does work through every method as He mercifully reaches out to bless His children.
And now, I hope and pray that God can work through me. He has always loved me, even when I didn't love myself. To Him, I am precious. Every one of us is precious. If sharing my story can help anyone else who has struggled as I have, I will do it. I want to be a resource to anyone who struggles with any sort of pain in this life. I want everyone to know just how valuable and loved they are.
I thank God for hearing my prayers. I thank Him for loving me and being mindful of me. And, most of all, I thank Him for sending His Son to redeem me and to set me free. No amount of willpower, no well-planned goals--even spiritual goals such as scripture study and prayer--will be enough to deliver me from my own humanity. I need Him. And, miraculously and mercifully, He is always willing to reach out and answer me, through various methods and various people, and often in the most unexpected ways.