Several months ago, in the middle of another snowy Michigan winter, Josh and I joined the millions of people who make a post-holiday switch in their routine toward a healthier lifestyle. It’s been no secret that we have been steadily journeying on the road to wellness for quite some time. After Jack was born, we did the Abs diet together where we both lost loads of weight and realized that healthy eating was not only important to us individually, but also a shared interest and value. Slowly, we began learning and reading about what good nutrition is, trying do demystify so much of the culture’s manipulations and falsehoods around this topic. We’ve tackled the Paleo diet, put in a garden (and, sadly, removed it), read books like In Defense of Food, and we’ve come to believe our table—including everything on it—is one of our most sacred spaces. Almost 7 years later, we still love digging deeper into nourishment together, taking things in and out of our diets for periods of time, and doing our best to take care of both ourselves and the little bodies we’ve been given to protect and strengthen.
This February, when there was nothing better to do and a few Christmas pounds to lose, I suggested to Josh that we try a week-long cleanse. After all the things we’d tried for much longer, 7 days seemed like a piece of cake. Because this was just a week, I did not have huge expectations nor did I take it all that seriously. I knew it would help Josh’s winter weight loss regimen (as a fitness instructor at this point, I realized I didn’t have much—or anything, really—to lose) and it’d give me something to focus on other than the fact that I wanted to pack my bags for Florida. So, I purchased about 6 heads of cabbage, made multiple pots of soup, and posted the simple cleanse schedule on our fridge. No big thing. I had absolutely no idea that the first 3 days of this cleanse would change the course of the next 5 months (and counting!) and possibly the rest of my entire life.
You may recall that a few posts (and many, many months) ago, I wrote about how chronic pain initially drew me to yoga. This all began when Jackson was born. Because God’s greatest blessings usually require major growth and uprooting, becoming a mother turned me inside out.
I’ve known deep down, quite literally in my bones, that things have not been right with me since. But for the better part of a decade, I haven’t been able to piece together all that changed, moved, broke, and shifted in me as I brought Jack into the world. Over the years, I’ve written about how incredibly hard it’s been to give up running because my body isn’t what it used to be and it just can’t handle the impact. I’ve mentioned here and there that I’ve seen physical therapists and my chiropractic adjustments usually get a Facebook “Hallelujah!” all their own because of the (temporary) relief I feel. I’ve raved about my experience of being a Group Ride instructor and then a yoga teacher and how these forms of fitness have lead me not just to a career choice, but a calling. Well before February, it seemed—at least to most people—that I was the picture of healthy.
But underneath it all, I’ve been in pain. No doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, diet or lifestyle change was truly addressing or correcting the root issue or taking away the hurt. What pain exactly? Since no one can crawl inside my skin and feel what I do, the best way for me describe this pain is a dull ache in the lower back and around my pelvis. I’ve felt pockets of inflammation around my sacrum and my nerves always seem to be achy and disrupted. Obviously it’s been livable because I have (stubbornly and selfishly) put more miles on this body in my running shoes; I had another child; I became a fitness instructor; I learned to pretzel myself and stand on my head. But through the course of all this education and with such improvements in lifestyle choices, the pain never went away. I was hurting everyday. Because I rarely stop moving, many grew concerned that my exercising was perhaps a cause of this pain. But I knew that there was something deeper here that I did not understand. I just had no idea who to ask or where to turn to at this point. I was still paying the bills of the previous medical and alternative specialists I’d seen. And, frankly, there was a part of me that was so used to the pain that I didn’t know what it would be like to live without it.
Backing up a bit, the food struggle greatly precedes having Jackson. I’ve always been an avid exerciser and had a few bouts with worrisome activity like not eating (thank you, high school), over-exercising, or other destructive behavior. I come from a family that has deeply-rooted, generational sin and struggle with food and body image. It’s hard to admit that it’s always been an issue for me, but I grew up with this struggle being not just a part of life, but a big one. Thankfully, I did emerge onto the college scene with a decent self-image and the Lord put several key people in my path to do some healthy correcting in my mind and heart over this issue. And, He continues to do that today (bless you, Holy Yoga). (Side note: The Lord couldn’t have given me a better husband to come alongside me and love me fiercely through every size, battle and season. Love you, Josh.)
Needless to say, this didn’t begin with having children. And, even with my growth and change, it hasn’t totally ended either. But this past February, I was in a good place. Other than being in constant pain, I had grown to love my body and all it can do. I’d matured and healed in many ways on the inside. I was beginning to not only accept the flaws and limitations of my body, but actually appreciate them! The pain was inescapable (and, if I’m honest, this was leading to deep hopelessness), but I could live around it and was so pleased with the many changes my body HAD undergone. Therefore, the cleanse really didn’t seem like a big deal. Until, it was.
The first three days of this cleanse involved removing everything from my plate besides fruits and veggies. Fruits only the first day. Vegetables the second. Fruits AND vegetables on the third day. And day four was the day I may remember for the rest of my life. I had almost NO pain in my body. Anywhere. This was almost confusing and frustrating because I wasn’t in “fix it” mode. I wasn’t seeking treatment. I wasn’t trying to control symptoms or participate in any improvement plan. I just ate fruits and vegetables, and I was nearly liberated.
Considering how healthy our diet already was, I was overwhelmed, stupefied, and amazed that my answer could have been served on a platter all along. It’s worth mentioning here that two of my wonderful friends, Jen and Audrey, became health coaches within the last year while I was learning the techniques of vinyasa flow. I’m blessed with friends who are all on the wellness journey together, each with our own angle using our distinct gifts. And while they were studying at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Jen mentioned to me (more than once), that perhaps my pain could be a gut issue. Considering good nutrition was already such a huge part of my life, I did not have ears to hear what she was suggesting. I let a partition divide us in those conversations, even though she is a person I trust more than anyone.
Once I discovered this freedom, I never wanted to return to feeling achy again. So, I put myself on a directionless elimination diet just to live without the pain. Inspired by my own faulty research, I spent over two months eating only fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds and beans. I leaned on my friends for advice here and there, but I did not have the desire to hire them or any other holistic professional because I thought I could do this on my own. I got as creative as possible with meal planning and didn’t care the my grocery bills sky-rocketed and I spent as much time in the kitchen as before, not expecting my children to always eat like me. For months, I felt FREE. I didn’t care one bit that I was a social difficulty. I didn’t mind that I had to pack my own meals and snacks for any gathering or get-together. And I didn’t miss eating out at restaurants either, which was good because with our grocery bills so high, we couldn’t afford it anyway! Food became my whole life. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I didn’t care. I was so preoccupied with all that I was doing—building into Holy Yoga, sharing Young Living, teaching at MVP, raising my boys—that I didn’t even mind that there was no end in site to this severely strict diet. I just knew I didn’t want to be in pain. Healing is powerful, and I couldn’t believe I had the ability to live inside my own body pain-free. That was all that mattered.
But, like most journeys that lack wisdom, darkness was around the corner. After several months, deprivation began to settle in. Rather than freedom, I increasingly felt restricted and restrained. I started longing for any food other than the loads of produce that packed my fridge. Although my body didn’t hurt, the ache was now within. I began to obsess over food, almost more than ever before but in a uniquely different way. I did crazy things like make unsweetened almond milk chia pudding at midnight. When one meal was done and the kitchen spotless, I began making the next snack or prepare the next meal. I began to unravel. All the while, a new pain was introduced: stomach pain. My system was imbalanced and my body needed more than it was receiving (not in quantity, that’s for sure!). I became not only miserable, but horribly depressed.
I spent the next few weeks sinking into depression, praying myself back out, and dealing with a permanent stomach ache. My thoughts darkened, wanting to escape this whole problem and process. With my disposition, maturity, and faith, I was caught off guard when I considered self-harm as a way to cope with the isolation and misery of this elimination diet. I was in a bad place, and realized yet again that this issue was so much bigger than me and that I needed help to move forward. Every meal was stressful and exhausting, and no matter how I tried to improve my thought life, my mind and heart were battling constantly.
I made an appointment with Grand Rapids Natural Health and decided to begin seeing a Naturopath for this food issue and also a side agenda of discussing sleep patterns and hormone balance.* Audrey had started health coaching there months before and my cousin Stacy also had fallen in love with the place. I prayed it would be a good fit for me and that just getting help would pull me out of the darkness and help me experience freedom and joy again. I sat drinking cucumber water with a doctor who listened to my story for over an hour and rapidly took notes. I shared with her the details of the cleanse and every bit of journey since, and she pricked into some of my past as well. I tried to come across like I’m total normal aside from the chronic pain issue, but she pressed just enough to discover that food and body image for me (as it is for most women, I believe) was complicated and had long, twisted history. I began the process of the Reintroduction Diet which held great promise. I had begun this process with a chart from Jen, but didn’t have much luck with the foods I introduced. Pain came back pretty quickly, and I didn’t want to fill up an entire chart with new foods I only had to reject because I was yet again hurting. Plus, I felt at the time like documenting every evidence of pain required too much self-study for my already-critical self. But, after my visit with the Naturopath, I hung the chart back on my fridge and kept going. I purchased the necessary supplements and, aside from wanting to punch her in the throat for taking coffee from me, I felt empowered and understood. Glory.
I’m still in the reintroduction process today, but it’s been wonderful to discover that I can eat organic chicken, gluten-free grains, and even small amounts of sugar. My menus almost resemble normal now and my emotional health has almost been restored. To be frank, I absolutely hate this reintroduction process because of the nutritional micro-management. This entire journey has gone against my free-spirited personality. I don’t think this critically. I don’t want to be this aware. But, as I have mentioned in a previous blog, I often come back to John 5:6. It’s a peculiar verse to carry around, but I tucked it away a long time ago. It says, “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?‘”.
What if He asked me this? Was I tired enough of hurting to actually participate in my healing? I can tell you that if I had known how long this road would stretch before me, I absolutely, without-a-doubt never would have begun. I would have said that this was too difficult for this particular season of life when I’m feeding a young family each day (sometimes ALL day!). I would have worried about my own emotional health and my mental capacity to view food more as medicine than as life-giving nourishment (and—let’s be real—mindless comfort). I would have leaned away from the exhaustion of food charts and the toil of saying no to foods every day that I wanted so badly. Apart from pregnancy, this has been the most interesting, challenging, and refining thing I’ve ever gone through.
I’ve been waiting to share the details of this process because I’ve wanted to be sure that I’m speaking from a place of honest reflection and clarity rather than confusion, defeat, or false arrival. Although my reintroduction process isn’t over, I know I’m on the road to healing and am so thankful for all the important little pieces that have contributed to my journey. My biggest reason for sharing is not only so I will remember these details in the long run, but to encourage you to think differently about all the aches, pains, ailments and illnesses that plague us. I’m pretty convinced that what I actually have is Leaky Gut and a slight estrogen imbalance. But, since I was 19, I’ve been told over and over that I have an anxiety disorder. And since Jack was born, there hasn’t been a single doctor or other medical professional that has been even in the ballpark of the root cause of my dysfunction. (But I sure have been offered a variety of pain medications and treatment suggestions.)
I want to help rescue other people from their pain that may seem like a life-sentence. I want to bring others back to the Garden, encourage them toward this natural lifestyle, & help people find answers to long-perplexing conditions. I want to direct them to Jen, Audrey and Naturopaths. I don’t know exactly why or how I ended up with this. I do know my first experience giving birth was beautiful but traumatizing, and my body has been more honest about the trauma than I have. I know that the years after having Jack were emotional tsunamis in my marriage and home. And my body has been more truthful than me or anyone else in trying to piece me together. And I know that God has provided so many resources to help heal, soothe, correct, straighten, and care for us. And yet somehow collectively we’ve grown to trust chemists more than we trust the One who designed the cabbage leaf.
I’m not suggesting that medicine doesn’t have it’s rightful, good place. But I’m certainly living proof that it doesn’t have all the answers. The simple truth is, the closer we live to the way God intended us to, the better off we will be. The implications of this truth stretch across every area of life. And if we move on the continuum toward more holistic thinking and problem-solving, the better off I believe we will be. At the end of all of this, I’m going to give God the glory and thank Him for drawing me to that cleanse. For using my pain to draw me to Holy Yoga. Maybe even for putting it there in the first place. For bringing me to Young Living. For establishing my dear relationship with my chiropractor and his family. For telling my redemption story. For rescuing me, even though it feels like I’m being dragged through the mud on the way to freedom.
This process has been awfully difficult. But I’m grateful for the strength and perseverance I now have because of it. And as I continue to hear Jesus’ question, my answer remains the same.
“Do you want to be well?” Yes. Yes I do. I really want to be well. As wholly and completely as I can on this side of heaven. And I’m willing to do what it takes.
*Another piece to this story is my withdrawal from nightly sleeping medication and removal of all birth control and other medications intended for hormone help. But, this post could only contain so much crazy.