Amazing Grace

About two weeks into my time of “funemployment,” I decided that I needed a project. More realistically, I guess, I craved anything that would provide some structure to my days. I wanted something to focus on more than, “finding myself” and taking some time off to relax…and I was running out of things to clean. I desired purpose. My original blog, which was once called Bridgette’s Recovery Blog and subsequently Bridgette and Goliath, had often been suggested to be turned into a book. This was years ago, though, when that blog was my life. As in, it was my life that I was very presently trying to stay afloat in. The act of me publishing my journal to the internet was already an incredible act of vulnerability, so the prospect of me turning that into a book, yet another form of publicly declaring my struggle and then additionally working with an editor and a publisher, was absolutely not at the top of my “to do” list. I really had brushed off the idea as something that I just wasn’t interested in, until recently. After reading one of my more recent blog posts, my Mother-in-Law texted me and said, “You really should write a book,” and for the first time, I considered the idea. It had been over a year since my last “recovery” blog entry, and I realized that I was in a way better headspace to revisit my old entries, and consider compiling them into a story. That, in conjunction with not working and having ample time to do pretty much whatever the heck I wanted, brought me to the decision that, Yes. I was going to write a book.

And so began the journey of this new project, which I have now been working on for the last three weeks. As I write this, Cody and I are sitting at a coffee shop inside of a hotel in downtown Portland. I’m sipping on an iced americano next to my husband, who is reviewing construction-y things for work (clearly, that is NOT my field). I’m so proud of him and the position he’s quickly risen to over his first year in a real, career job, after graduating from Oregon State with a degree in construction engineering management. We’ve been married for almost half a year now. Wow. Where did the time go? Our first five months of marriage have brought with them a plethora of challenges, prayers, joys, and successes. Tomorrow I will begin my first day at a new job, one that I’m excited about, and hopeful will last me longer than my previous three. The last five weeks of not working have given me the space, and grace, to re-evaluate my priorities, desires, and career goals. They have also allowed me to continue resting my back, and adamantly doing my rehab exercises, taking supplements that help to reduce chronic inflammation (I use a combination of circumin, fish oil, and apple cider vinegar), foam roll, use my rock ball, take epsom salt baths, and more than anything, just. slow. down.

The last few weeks have been of a different pace for me, but they’ve been amazing. I finally had the space to do what I hadn’t yet done: appreciate where I am, and how far I’ve come in this journey. The last year and a half of my life has been the most dramatic of my 22 thus far, in terms of finally gaining traction in the goals I’d been working so hard for years to achieve. Living in a state of recovery became my normal, and no longer something I had to strive every day to attain. Not having to put my energy into fighting my eating disorder meant that for the first time, I had all of this energy to put elsewhere: living my life.

I have been really emotional these last couple weeks, but it’s been a different kind of emotional than I’m used to. It’s not stemming from being overly stressed, exhausted, or frustrated. It is stemming from being in awe of the goodness of our God. As of today, my book is 164 pages long, and I still have quite a ways to go. When I was moving over my childhood things from my mom’s house to Cody’s and mine, I came across my journal that I had while I was at Canopy Cove, in residential treatment. I finally sat down and read it once I decided to do this whole book thing. Rereading those entries opened a floodgate of emotions I hadn’t experienced in a long, long time. From that point on, I forced myself to reread every journal entry I’d ever written. I ended up putting some parameters on it and making myself take breaks, because a few days it was just too much to bear. It’s challenging to read that many thoughts that were going on in your own mind, especially the ones that were incredibly dark. What essentially ended up happening, is that I watched the last four years of my life unfold like a full-length, feature film movie. I revisited the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly. Some of the things that I read, I couldn’t believe that I ever allowed myself to post to the internet. I understand on a much greater level now why my blog had as much success as it did: It was raw, real, and vulnerable, before there was ever a happy ending. I wrote in real time all of the stuff I was dealing with, and I didn’t know that I was ultimately going to rise to the top.

I went on a short hike with my good friend, Lauren the other day. She’s been a solid friend for me throughout this journey, providing countless words of affirmation and encouragement. The craziest thing to me about that, is that our friendship started during a time when I was at my ugliest. I don’t mean literal ugliness, though I will say, I personally don’t think I look good when I’m underweight. I’m talking about internal ugliness: the state of my heart and my soul. Lauren and I met during my freshman year of college. She was my Younglife leader. Being only a year older than us, she served more as a facilitator for our group than a leader, but I still don’t think she realized then the impact she had on me. My first year at Oregon State holds very painful memories for me. Lauren and my relationship is one of the few things that came out of that year that make me thankful for it. I was such a different person during that year, largely because of how consumed I was with myself, and maintaining the secrecy of my eating disorder. The amount of grace Lauren has given me, and the fact that we are still friends (now, much better than we were before!) is so inspiring to me, and not only that, but a testament to the grace that Jesus gives us.

It’s ironic, I think, that as much difficulty as I have creating boundaries, and separating things from one another, like work from personal relationships, I have done an exceptional job at compartmentalizing my eating disorder past from my current life. I have never hidden it, since being in recovery, that’s for sure. But internally, it’s not something that I frequently revisit and allow myself to process. Honestly, my guess is that it’s somewhat PTSD-related, and I don’t say that lightly. The trauma that those seven, excruciatingly painful years caused, is still hard for me to comprehend. However, it’s because of how painful those years were, that there is so much beauty in where I am now.

I am unable to put into words how difficult it has been for me to read through, and edit, and rewrite, the hundreds of journal entries that are now being put into a book format. With every journal entry comes a fountain of memories, most of which I never wanted to revisit. Times when I was deeply suicidal, self-harming, and couldn’t walk past a mirror without wanting to make myself throw up are engrained in my brain in much more detail than I ever documented them in my journal, because I didn’t just write about it, I lived it. I can recall when I would manipulate meals and snacks around whenever my mom would be out of my sight like they were yesterday, just for the sake of evading those calories. Likewise, I vividly remember each challenge meal or snack I had, and the willpower it required for me to pick up my fork, bring it to my mouth, chew, and swallow, and then repeat fifty or sixty more times. Eating through severe stomach pains, experiencing grueling headaches from caffeine withdrawal, being restless beyond measure because I wasn’t allowed to do even so much physical activity as walking through the grocery store. I remember the night sweats, the heart pounding sensations before each and every weigh-in, the feeling of failure when I knew I’d let my mom and the rest of my treatment team down when the scale didn’t move in the direction I was working towards.

I remember it all… But I’d honestly shoved almost all of it out of my memory until I began this project.

I wish that I would have better documented the transition that took place during the year or so which I am now referring to as my “transformation” year. Don’t get me wrong, there was a TON of change that took place in the years leading up to that time, but I can now see that they were all preparing me for that year, which ended up being my senior year of college. To look back at where I was on the first day of my senior year, and then the last, is like comparing a caterpillar to a butterfly. September of that year, when I moved into my new house, I brought my food scale, and I was weaning off of meeting with my dietitian weekly, having phone appointments with my therapist, and following meal plans. I had recently turned 21 but had yet to drink alcohol. My life still revolved so greatly around structure. Come May of that school year, I hadn’t been weighed in since December. Meal plans were a far thought from my mind, and IPAs were a newfound love of mine. I spent almost every weekend in Portland, with Cody, and the remainder of the week in Corvallis with my roomies and the gymnastics team. It’s pretty interesting, actually, to see the transition between my junior year, during which I spent every weekend going home, to my mom, to have her support, and then senior year, when I spent every weekend during fall term at school, finally getting to enjoy being in Corvallis, to winter term, when I spent most weekends traveling with the gymnastics team, and then spring term, when I spent almost every weekend in Portland, again, but this time, not for anything eating disorder related at all. I went to Portland to spend time with my boyfriend, soon to be fiancĂ©, and of course, now husband…and our time together had nothing to do with my eating disorder, at all. As much as I wish that I would have continued my detailed journal entries, though, I think that the decrease in their frequency was pretty synonymous with the increase in freedom I was finally experiencing. I no longer depended on writing to process the craziness that was consuming my thoughts, because the thoughts were becoming less and less. I laugh, now, looking back at some of the entries I wrote, photos I took, and screenshots of messages I sent to my mom, from as little as two years ago. It’s almost as if I just want to grab the Bridgette I was back then, look myself in the eye, shake me around a bit, and say, “IF YOU ONLY KNEW.” If I only knew what was coming… Of course, that’s the beauty of hindsight, the beauty of our journeys here on earth, and the beauty of faith. We can’t see what’s to come when we’re in the midst of the battle. We just have to trust Jesus anyway.

This morning, at church, I was brought to tears (that seems to be happening more and more lately…) when the two songs the worship team chose to sing in closing were two that I had just reread in my journal as significant to me during my time in treatment (What a Beautiful Name and Broken Vessels). As I was singing the lyrics of the latter, we came to the bridge, which goes:

Oh I can see you now

Oh I can see the love in Your eyes

Laying yourself down

Raising up the broken to life

Hillsong Worship – Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)

If there’s one thing I can’t get over, that keeps hitting me repeatedly as I read through my journals, its this: I did not know I would get to this place. I could not see the landing pad I was reaching for. I quite consistently felt like I was drowning, for seven years. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I was aiming for half of the time, I just knew that it was wherever I wasn’t. I knew God had to have something better in store for me than the life I was living. I trusted Him, at all times, even when I didn’t know why.

And now, I can see it. I know the saying is hindsight is 20/20, but I don’t even think that explains just how clearly I can see what was happening during those years of my life now. It’s like 2,000,000/20.

Wherever you are today, even if you don’t know what you’re reaching for, and you can’t see the landing pad, I want to give you this encouragement:

Cling to the one who created you, the one who knows you better than you know yourself. Love those who love you, trust those who are there for you to put your trust in, and don’t stop trying. You don’t need to see the finish line to just take the next step. At the end of the day, that’s all you can ask for. Ultimately, if you keep taking those steps, you’ll get to your finish line.

And I can promise you, that when you do, you’ll want to look back at this version of you, shake yourself, and say:

If you only knew.

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