Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A True Story About Answered Prayers

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.
 

16 comments:

  1. You're my resource and my rock. Love you Rach. <3

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  2. It makes me so happy that you are in a place now where you can go public with this story completely. That is a true sign of recovery! Once you can take the eating disorder and put it on a shelf and talk about it, analyze it and see it for what it really is....you have crossed a threshold never to return. Sure there's still little battles here and there...but you are no longer the disorder's prisoner. I am so proud of you!! Welcome to the light;) xo

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  3. Thank you, "Rachel J." And thank you for being willing to share with me during our run a year ago! You will never know how you've blessed my life.

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  4. This is really really awesome.
    I have heard about the intuitive eating book (and want to talk about it with you!) I love the idea that you can give yourself permission to eat certain things so you don't end up binging in secret because you have made them off limits. Psychology is crazy! I have definitely been on a journey with food for the last 10 years post diabetes diagnosis--and it feels so different to eat or not eat something because it helps me have energy and feel good rather than because I "shouldn't" eat it. Anyway, I would love to hang out soon! And talk and talk and talk. :) Love you!

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  5. I am so proud of you, Rachel!

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  6. One of my favorite lines from a Josh Ritter song is this one, from the point of view of a sailor: "All of us need all of us to ever find the land."

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  7. I so love hearing your insights. I loved what you had to say about seeking help and agree with every word. Thanks for sharing!

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  8. I love this post! I always recommend the book Intuitive Eating to all my clients! I think all women should read that book. Thank you for posting this. As a therapist, it is so nice to see someone openly sharing a positive counseling experience. So many people are ashamed to admit that they received help from a counselor. That makes me sad because so many people's problems could be resolved if they allowed a therapist to help them! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your story. It isn't easy to do. I'm so happy for you as well.

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  9. I am continually impressed by you, Rachel. All you have done, all the change you have affected in yourself and other's lives. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. PS, that comment was from me, Chrissy, not Pete. :)

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  11. Wow! You are so strong! You're right, Faith alone is not enough. We have to work hard and through that we are carried the extra that we cannot do alone. Thank you for sharing this personal story.

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  12. Thank you for the comment, Lacey!! I don't think we are just carried the extra that we cannot be alone--I think we are carried the whole way because we can't do any of it alone! But that doesn't mean we don't seek the help that we need. I think we can seek the help that we need AND rely on God at the same time. That's what I've learned from this journey. I'm grateful that you've shared your experience of getting Emme the support that she needs. You are going to bless lots of moms by sharing your discoveries!

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  13. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  14. Even though I just randomly linked to your blog through a friend of a friend a couple of years ago, I periodically check in on it. And this is why! Because it rocks! And because it's about love! I love your adoption story and I'm so glad that you shared your eating disorder story as well.

    I struggled with binge-eating disorder for many years and am happy to hear someone actually describe it as an EATING DISORDER. I was always so ashamed because I knew I was broken but it wasn't anorexia, it wasn't bulimia.....it was just.....uncontrollable eating. It took years of little graces to finally overcome it....things like a fireside on eating disorders, finally deciding to love myself at any weight, quitting diets, connecting with paintings of very curvaceous women, and Geneen Roth's "Overcoming Overeating" were big helps for me.

    Okay, anyway, this is probably TMI, but I'm just so glad that you shared that I felt compelled to share too.

    Thank you!

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  15. Thank you for your comment, Rachel! When I share something this personal on my blog, it's so awesome to know that someone out there connects with it! Thank you for taking the time to comment!! Our journeys sound quite similar! I've heard good things about that book...maybe I need to read it!

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I love hearing from you!! Thanks for the comment!