My Toughest Place

Stacee - brick stairsI want to dedicate this post to the ladies I shared a table with for the last several months!  I don’t know if you’ve ever gone through a life-changing experience with a group of people, but it is a bonding experience difficult to explain because the emotional attachment “just happens.”  This post is about where things got real for me. All of my coping tools were outsmarted, all of my rules were broken, all of my fears surfaced. And it happened not once, but multiple times a day without fail because I chose for it to.   But I wasn’t alone. Not for a moment. This is not a writing to exclude anyone, but the people I ate around 350 meals with during in-patient treatment deserve a shout out. They are courageous and loving and selfless.  Picture this…ladies going through a line in a small restaurant setting, facing food.  Sounds enticing if you love food and aren’t afraid of what different foods will do to you, but we are afraid because of the messages the media crams down our throats.  Combine with that fear the eating disorder relentlessly yelling in our heads, telling us we are weak and giving in if we take a bite of the pasta or chicken fried steak or cinnamon roll, and you have the potential for a perfect storm.

Why? Because we go to intensive inpatient treatment to face those fears over and over so that maybe…just maybe…we will discover our fear is an illness, not a reality. But it’s not only that. If you are in this level of treatment, the eating disorder is so loud our health is greatly compromised and there is a window of time to get nourished.

So…we spent a great deal of time eating at a table…like most people do, but we hadn’t.  Facing this fear six times a day is the hardest thing I’ve personally done. Not getting to carefully control what I put my mouth, was emotional - at least for me. I cried through most of my meals and that’s okay because I had professional and peer support. We ate with trained technicians, nutritionists, and therapists. Our anxiety was usually “at a 10 out of 10,” but if I wanted to get nourished, this was the deal. The most important part of getting through each meal, which had been prepared by a chef and staff who cared deeply about the quality of the food and about our recovery, were my peers who sat on either side of me.

These ladies were cheerleaders as well as patients, once they reached a certain point of their care, and their mindset was to go for a level closer to freedom. When being re-fed, I was scared because of my many food rules but, more than that, because my stomach wasn’t used to food and at first it wasn’t a  welcoming host.  I felt pretty bad. But this is why I was away from my family. I absolutely couldn’t do this on my own, and God provided amazing support. Those around me, and I with them, got to where we could read the outward signs of struggle and extreme stress - a shaking leg, a shaking hand trying to hold on to something as basic as a fork, not picking up a utensil at all, and for me…tears. I never rejected the food. I wanted to show the eating disorder it had taken enough from me, and I was not going to continue to surrender to it, but the tears just flowed.

As we would sit there together and progress through the meal at a reasonable pace, which was and is a struggle for me, the bites would become more delayed and those around me would begin to talk to me and remind me of why the struggle is real and why I was going to get through it. “Stace…Doug loves you and wants you to be healthy.”  “When you eat you’ll get strong enough to go watch Rylee dance and take her to and from school.” “Hasn’t Shelbee been asking you to come to see her at college and meet her new friends?” “Stacee…when your brain gets fed over time, you will get to write again.” There was nothing enabling about my soul sisters.  Nothing.  With few exceptions these gals wanted to get better, and they weren’t going to leave me behind.

I miss my peers every single meal because we got each other. And those called to often take the brunt of the sickness and anxiety and the killer in our heads, are often in a thankless position. But they see more in us. They see potential in our lives if we will just choose to take one more bite and then the next. God foresaw who I would need and most certainly who they would need as we coexisted in this vulnerable position. There were no coincidences.

I am better for knowing them and laughing with them and crying with them, and loving on them and them loving on me. God is more than good. He is the gifter of all good things. So putting people in our lives when we just can’t struggle alone one more moment, is Him. I felt guilt at first for needing more than Him. I beat myself up relentlessly for this, but then I was reminded we are made for community living…and this was the community I needed.  The therapists’ hugs which made me know I could get through this and the hugs from peers who didn’t let go until we were okay to do so. This was God showing me survival was within my reach…our reach.

You don’t have to live in a group like this for 4 months to be changed to the degree that you can continue to fight a battle. Who surrounds you now? Who reminds you and cheers you on and unconditionally reminds you that God isn’t going anywhere and those who love you who don’t want you to go anywhere? If there is no one, that’s my prayer for you. That God will put you in the direct path of those precious people who want you to do more than survive. They won’t stop praying and reassuring and loving until you thrive! This, my friends, is why I fight and let others help me do so.  Let there come a point in your life, where you just want more.

So here’s to those who worked, served, and temporarily resided by my side. And to those who prayed for all of the above from home.  You are my kindred spirits, my inspirations, my motivators so I could come home to my loves. Ladies…“ You are so worth saving.”

Love,

Stacee

“I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13

Light in the Tunnel

You know how it is when you have done the same thing for years, and you are trying so hard to stop and do better, but you have setbacks?  It can be disheartening.  Let’s look at 2 verses, and then I have a few things to share to keep us desiring to move forward even with a tough road in recovery or really, in life. “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.”(Psalm 27:4-5)

I’ve been memorizing these 2 verses. My mind has been giving me more trouble than usual, and Scripture memory is the only way I can escape when my mind feels so full. Thinking about God keeping me safe and protecting me, at times from myself, is more than encouraging…it’s amazing, and so is He.

Learning to cope with the mind God has given me …without self-harm…has been more difficult than I could have ever imagined and a few days ago, God reminded me of a funny memory. When our youngest daughter, Rylee, was in middle school, one of her good friends, who had a boyfriend, became “so over him.” She just wanted to be friends.  After much thought, I’m sure, she went to break up with him.  He was surprised she wanted this split, and he asked her why.  She, in her quick defense and confidence said, “it’s not me, it’s you,” and that was it.  Now… I don’t know the particulars of the situation, but I heard both recovered rather quickly.  I have heard people say, “it’s not you, it’s me,” but this was too funny.

I so often want to tell my mind, “it’s not me…it’s you!”  I am grateful to have the mind God has given me, but it is too much for me and sometimes even for my doctors.  I’ve been so tired of the journey lately, and I know I have written mostly from past experiences, but this, this post is about the present. My mind and heart seem to heal more and more when I focus on bringing you and me encouragement which can only come from the Lord, so let’s continue to strive to get better and look to the only One who can heal us physically and spiritually.

Growing up, when I reacted wrong or messed something up,  verbal and or physical abuse came quickly. So when home left me, I continued the cycle. Now, when I am frustrated or upset with myself…those learned responses (now self-inflicted) can no longer be a “go to drug” for me, and I can feel lost. Letting God love on me when I do the wrong thing? So foreign. So gracious.

God doesn’t react to me like I react to me, and I don’t react to others like I do to myself. I don’t know…I guess the best way for me to describe my mind would be that it’s like I’m looking down a long tunnel. My mind…the way it works and shows me a situation….it’s tricky.  But some days the tunnel has light streaming through it, and some days it’s pitch black. I don’t want it to stay black. I never win when it does.

When my sister and I were little, we would take empty paper towel rolls and poke holes in them and look through one end of the roll outside.  We would cup our hand over the open end of the roll. The light couldn’t help but push its way through the holes, and it would look so cool, especially if we poked holes to make a certain design.  If we wouldn’t have poked the holes in the tubes, what would the point have been?  On the days my mind and heart start out hopeless, the tunnel is dark and without holes. There is light all around me, but until I surrender and let God “put the holes” in the tube or tunnel, I can’t see anything hopeful. The enemy wants me to believe there is no way to have hope and see light coming through because of the way my mind works.  He wants me to cut, or give up writing to you, or see only the path of destruction I have left behind.  In order to bring light into my mind so that I can see hope, I have to cope differently, and it’s extremely hard. It requires doing something that at the time seems weak and powerless when I am used to feeling empowered by restricting my food for a few days so that I can’t remember.  Or it may mean repeating the action of surrendering to God and asking Him to take away my strong desire to punish myself physically so that I won’t repeat my mistakes again. It’s new for me and I am not all that awesome at it…yet. But I’m not giving up.

It’s a waste of life to believe the lies that the world yells at you and me. It’s a waste of life to live as if the enemy is suddenly going to help us and not hurt us. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and life requires obedience to God who will only guide us to a fulfilling life on earth in order to get better. Although my brain is whole, my mind is also divided, and the same brain that fights to get better is the same brain which can hear the enemy … which can have endless flashes of vivid memories - both good and bad, and which can believe God is carrying me from the front lines of this battle. But because it’s the same brain, it  holds out mercy for you as you fight and fail and fight and triumph.  Please know that everyone doesn’t have to validate the reality of the difficulty of this journey you are on. Don’t wait to fight until everyone is on board and supportive.   When I wake up and can only see darkness, God is  ever-present to help.  This fight is real so yes…I do get down and that’s just me being honest with you. I do experience setbacks with my anorexia recovery and my mental health issues, but God is so big that if I will let Him poke a hole in the darkness of the tunnel, He will fill it with light that can only come from Him.

What does this look like for me? It looks like reading a verse from His Word,  the Bible. Then, it looks like letting Jesus give me the courage to let Him help me get my clothes on one piece at a time and get ready to go out and meet a friend who may need encouragement, or get things done at home which help  my family.  Do not compare yourself to me or anyone else.  Comparison can kill us.  Learning new ways to survive and live without doing harmful things (including ones I may not have even mentioned) is hard, and God has a personal track for each of us who desire healing.   But one step at a time God pokes light into my day, and I never regret venturing out with His help. It’s the only way to let go of the behaviors that have worked so hard to kill me…and you.  This road, for me, has been 20 years, and if it keeps me close to Jesus and if the battle reminds me to have mercy for those around me, those God has placed in my life to walk this out with - like you…I’m in. I’m all in friend.

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak: the Lord delivers him in the times of trouble. The Lord will protect him and preserve his life; he will bless him in the land and not surrender him to his foes. The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.” (Psalm 41:1-3) I love you and feel the joys and pains of getting better right along with you. You are precious to me, but most important, to Jesus who has given His very life to spare yours and mine. Right now…wherever you might be, please let God know you need His help in this fight to stop using the same harmful coping mechanisms and to separate yourself  from addictive behaviors. Maybe you need help dealing with the discouragement which can come from setbacks in sickness and struggle.  I encourage you and me to say to the enemy… “It’s not ME…It’s YOU. Now GO in Jesus name,” and let God show us His light today.

Love to You!

Stacee

Where is the Hope?

Stacee and girls at Lake Hefner Today, as I am writing to you, I am sitting in my dining room beside a big window where I can look out and see our pretty little purple, pink, and white flowers. They are small but so strong to withstand our Oklahoma wind. It’s a beautiful fall day and the leaves are an indescribable color somewhere in the orange family. I am choosing to ignore the weeds I see because they are just frustrating and ridiculous. However, every time I look out the weeds do seem to have moved closer to the window. Creepy! In spite of them, I look out and what I see absolutely reminds me of hope. Hope, in my life, shows most when my fight can be the most difficult. Like white chalk on black paper. Offering you substance does not come from my mind and heart alone…by far! My mind can fail me, not so much in my memory, but in remembering that I have hope. I can lose sight of the many things the Father has carried me (us)through, so recalling a few of them daily as an accountability that cannot be avoided or discounted is essential. God’s faithfulness in my life deserves to be shared because it is real. This is awesome because the enemy wants us to be hopeLESS, so let’s do this!

I have evidence of God’s hope walking around my house, eating all of our food, singing, dancing, watching vines and TV. I have hope asking me if they look okay before meeting up with friends, and I have hope sitting on their beds at night spending time with Jesus. I see hope sleeping late on Saturday mornings after a long week of school and activities. I have hope looking at me across the sanctuary at church on Sunday to smile at me because I made it to church that morning because sometimes I haven’t. I have hope encouraging me to eat so I can feel good and be fully present at an event like some of the other moms. I have hope in the imperfections of their lives because they don’t evoke the same response from them that mine have in me. My two “hopes” are full of joy and passion about life and for God. I can see hope, and it makes me speechless.

Since God alone can see the big picture of our lives, He knew part of my healing would involve two precious redheads. Our hope is not in their performance or achievements in this life, but in the truth that there is evidence of Jesus living in and through them. It’s a miracle, really. When I see them actively seeking God, I see that some of the family cycles passed on to me aren’t there anymore and that… is hope! To my knowledge, I come from three generations of women struggling with depression on my mom’s side of the family alone. My dad’s mom struggled greatly with mental illness also. Amazing women who sought relief to the best of their ability, but suffered and struggled greatly. So when I see my sweet girls thriving in this life, all I can do is thank God for the hope I see in this cycle of mental anguish releasing itself from our family. Two blog posts ago, I referred to my parents’ divorce during my senior year in high school. This year, our oldest daughter is a senior, and so many memories have been flooding my mind of my experiences during my last year at home. Can you imagine my thankfulness, that because of God, her experience does not compare with mine? That’s hope! She is okay and full of joy and hope for today and for her future, and her younger sister is following her lead.

I have written about “restricting “in my life several times, and this way of life naturally seeped in and stole my hope. For years I did not allow myself to hope because all I had to do was look at the path of destruction I was leaving, and I was instantly hopeless. If I stop and focus on the people I have lost, and the strain on my family and friends which sickness and addiction can leave, I don’t feel good at all. It’s too much to take in. My hope is not soi temporary most days, but I still have work to do here with God’s direction. So many who have eating disorder and self harm problems aren’t the unmotivated and self-absorbed, contrary to what many believe. Not at first anyway. They are often over achievers who have grown exhausted and perfectionists who’ve experienced one too many failures. Those are the more common to get sick.

Here is where I have to go straight to what God’s words to me say, or I get overwhelmed with sadness and hope starts to wash away. 1 Peter 5:8-11 serves as both a warning and a reassurance. It says, “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (That part is viciously true... but it gets better) “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power forever and ever. Amen.” The struggle is real! Do you want to get better? Whatever your problems may be, do you want to get better? God would never downplay that being here is hard, but His grace and mercy are strong and therein lies the hope. The enemy wants us to grovel and fail, so anything resembling this is not from God. How different would today be if you and I went to Jesus with our hurt and guilt and fear, rather than to our addictions which seek to “devour” us. Please know, friend, to deny the hope which is truly from God is to literally hand our freedom to the enemy. Hope placed in anyone or anything else is lost.

Consider this action…I often have to write down what is hurting me and what is keeping me from accepting hope. After I write these things, I hold the paper in my hands and lift this list up to God asking Him to take it, and then I tear the papers up and throw them away. When I hold these things inside, I get worse; so this, although simple, is a physical act to give them to the only One who can heal my heart and make room for a little more hope.

I have a final plea for you today. If you have never asked Jesus to come and live in your broken heart, would you please consider Him? If you have not, this hope (my lifeline I refer to) likely seems foreign. This does not have to be so! Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and him with Me.” (Revelations 3:20). There is no catch, no judgment no matter what your life looks like or who you are. I have been honest with you since beginning the Speak Out Loud blog, and my honesty won’t stop. But for true life and freedom to fight for our lives, Jesus is the key. Wherever you may be as you read this, in the U.S. or another country, Jesus translates the same. He died on the cross a criminal death for you and me, to pay the penalty our sin (wrong doing) deserved. That’s the truth, and His gift to us is His leadership and love in our lives and forgiveness when we do wrong. I have found that I lose everything without having a relationship with Him. I give Him my life and there is meaning beyond the next restriction or next cut. Jesus is hope.

“Jesus, I do not have to know where the people who are reading these words are spiritually, but I do care where they are. I care deeply. Things and choices and patterns of addiction, and the things we buy into, can be paralyzingly wrong and not of You. So Father, thank you for being so willing to meet each of us right where we are, without judgment, and with eager anticipation to give us the hope which is only found in You. If anyone who has looked at these words of hope at this time does not have a personal relationship with You, I pray in Jesus’ name that he/she will desire You more than anything else in life, and invite You to inhabit their heart. In Jesus name, Amen.”

Take Courage

Doug-Stacee Sept 29 Hey everyone! I’m on the road today, and I’ve hijacked Stacee’s blog for a little bit…..! Actually she knows about it - I asked her if I could write the next blog post. Hopefully she (and you) are ok with it after reading this ....! :)

I’m so proud of Stacee and so appreciative of you for reading Speak Out Loud. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” It’s easy to get lost in all the “comforts” in those two verses, but essentially it’s saying God gives us purpose in our pain. As we experience His hope and healing, He equips us to comfort and encourage others as they hurt and struggle. As fellow journeyers (we definitely haven’t arrived yet), we know it’s tough when you are stuck in the middle of it (oh, how we know), but there is a purpose for our pain! This purpose, that God would somehow take this story and use it, is what kept Stacee going many days I think - that and her determination to not quit for our family’s sake. And I am so thankful she didn’t.

As I stop and think about this journey Stacee and our family are on, I realize I’ve had a front-row seat to an incredible demonstration of courage as Stacee has walked the long road of recovery. I am fully convinced that battling mental illness, eating disorders, and all kinds of harmful ways we try to deal with pain, takes a tremendous amount of courage. Courage to enter the crucible of change. Courage to do the recovery process – the counseling, the medicine, the doctor visits (in many respects, the courage to relearn how to “emotionally and mentally walk”). Courage to trust the opposite of everything you feel. Courage to face the misunderstanding and judgment. Courage to not quit.

At each step of this journey, I’ve watched Stacee be courageous. Some weeks, months, and even years, that courage was demonstrated in the determination to not give up, to pick herself up even though she felt defeated, and to take that next step, eat that next bite, or make that next appointment. I’ve seen her courageously go to church, our daughters’ events, and other social events, when her feelings and illness screamed for isolation. As she wrote about last week, I have seen her courageously confront the negative thoughts that often “chant inside her head” by reading the Bible, meditating on Scriptures, and embracing Jesus through communion rather than pushing Him away.

All of these efforts, and many, many more, have been vitally important to her recovery process, and every one took courage on a daily basis. Mental illness possesses many cruelties, but I think one of the most sinister is that it not only robs a person of the ability to perceive reality correctly, but it also robs them of the spirit needed to fight something so sinister. It’s kind of a double whammy – the brain is sick, and the spirit, passion, and hope that are so critical to help overcome a major disease are gone. It takes courage to do the things necessary to get better, even when all hope feels lost and all you can see is darkness around you. But to those who struggle and to those who love them, God does provide the light of hope. God can and will bring you through this, but it requires the courage to trust Him.

The best definition I’ve ever heard of the word “encourage” simply breaks the word into its two parts: “en” and “courage” – literally, “to put courage into.” We all need encouragement, “infusions of courage,” to face head on the struggles and challenges life throws in front of us and onto our backs – and especially if those struggles include mental illness.

Allow me to share one vision of the future with you today to “infuse” you with the courage to not quit in your journey through your hurt and pain. Recently Stacee and I were talking about some of the negative cycles and patterns in our lives, how some we had “inherited” and some we had developed on our own, and the impact they’ve had on our lives and our marriage. In the midst of that conversation, it struck me, though, that Stacee's determination to not quit has broken those cycles from being passed down to our daughters. Yes, they may have issues they have to face and deal with on their own one day (both from their own choices and the fact that we are far from perfect parents…) but cycles and patterns handed down to Stacee are not being handed down to our daughters. The courage to change is going to have a generational impact on our two daughters, our future grandchildren, and generations to come!! Stacee’s courage, your courage to press on in this recovery journey, is not just impacting you or even your immediate family – you are impacting generations!

There is hope and there is light if you don’t give up on this healing change process God is taking you through! Take courage, take heart, and press on! Trust me, I’ve seen what courage can do – and it’s worth it!

--Doug (Stacee's Husband)