Recovery through Acceptance and Faith
To love what is ahead, we must learn to love what has come before. There is so much happiness, so much peace, so much love to be gained when we learn the valuable lesson of acceptance:
Acceptance of what has come before.
Acceptance of where we are now.
And acceptance of not always knowing what lies ahead but being open to all the possibilities of greatness within our reach.
A few weeks ago, I accepted a job as a new-graduate registered nurse at one of the greatest hospitals in the world. Last week, I presented my evidence-based practice research, finishing up my master’s degree in nursing. The last two years have been the greatest whirlwind of my life; I honestly think that nursing school is some sort of retrograde black hole. I say this because while we are sucked in and swirl around for a while in what seems like a dark abyss of projects, clinical hours, late nights and early mornings of studying, we are able to successfully exit, bringing so much radiance and light along with us.
Nursing school was never a path that I saw for myself. If anything, working in health care seemed like an unattainable ambition. I believed I was unworthy of anything great, incapable of giving the gift of healing to others, often conceding to the fact that I’d always be the patient, never the provider. My eating disorder took away all sense of what I could be beyond “the thinnest”, “the quietest”, “the most unseen”. It told me that I should be neither seen nor heard. What I had to say or who I was didn’t matter, but what I saw in the mirror and on the scale every day mattered a great deal.
However, my eating disorder story and all of its tragedies is not what I am here to share with you today. In fact, my story has many parallels to most stories in how it began, what I experienced, the sliver of hope that kept me going. I commend the countless genuine beings who have so bravely shared their testimonies. I will say that I am always open to sharing the nitty-gritty details with anyone who sincerely wants to understand what the inside of a mentally ill mind looks like. Spoiler – it is not glamorous; it is ridden with shame, guilt and an indescribable ache to be something that no human being could or should ever strive to attain. There were hospitalizations and relapses and everything in between. While I thought I was only hiding from the world, I was also hiding from myself. What I am here to share with you, is that despite the eleven years my eating disorder stole from me, I have come to realize that those years formed me into a person I am beginning to love a little more each day. Those years are integrated into who I am. As I have come to accept the shortcomings, the pain I caused others, the disappointment I was to myself then, I am even more-so accepting who I am today.
As I accept myself in this moment, I am courageously stepping into a future where I will be in a position to provide care to those who are also suffering greatly.
As I’ve expressed, I honestly did not think that nursing would be the profession I felt called to in the end. I think that for a long time, my life’s choices were dictated by the voice in my head saying I’d never be good enough. I went to college in 2011 pursuing a degree in wildlife biology after a lifetime of wanting to go to veterinary school. My eating disorder told me that I would not make it into vet school, so why bother even trying? I’d settled for something that seemed “safer”. Despite this life-altering decision, I can say that my choice was not in vain. I interned on beautiful islands, learning about and protecting endangered sea turtles and shorebirds. I helped children to find the excitement in going outside, and how to love and respect our planet. All along the way, I met some beautiful human beings who each touched my heart in their own unique way. Without their knowledge, I was prompted to regain my life because they saw the good things in me that I could not see in myself.
In 2015, I enrolled in 200-hour yoga teacher training. I’d been practicing loosely for several years but felt a strong urge to dive in a little deeper and see what would happen. I was in a pretty good place with my health after years of working incredibly hard in my post-relapse recovery, and knew that this was my voice, not my eating disorder, motivating me to do this. The connection with those in my training was unlike anything I’d ever felt before. For so long, my eating disorder isolated me from most people I met. I never wanted to get too close, for fear that I would lose control of the only “stable”, “reliable” thing I felt I had in my life.
But here, we were all open and vulnerable. Here, there were no judgments or comparisons. I was there to support them, and they supported me. I felt I was being set free.
Now, in order for me to go on with this story, I need to steer in another direction just a little bit. One thing that I have not come across often when people talk about their eating disorders and subsequent recoveries, is faith. I want to share this because, while this topic may not be for everyone, it was an important aspect in my healing and life’s direction. I was born Catholic, went to Catholic school all of my life, and continued to practice my faith even after leaving home for college. I’d always found comfort in my religion. When I was really sick and at the lowest point of my eating disorder, I remember praying my rosary at night, asking God to end my suffering, but at the same time being genuinely fearful that my heart would shut down as I slept, and I would not awake to see another day. Part of me still wanted to live, but my eating disorder sometimes made it very difficult for me to keep my trust in God that I’d ever overcome this demon. I often became angry at Him for giving me this terrible illness. Why was this my burden to bear? I went through the motions at church and felt almost nothing. For a while, I stopped going to mass and talking to God altogether.
The miraculous thing is, that God never left me, even when I pulled away. He used His unfailing love to guide my path as I began teaching more and more yoga classes, connecting with so many inspiring human beings. Without my being aware at the time, I was being led toward my true calling in life – serving others. For so long, I’d felt lost and without direction, but as soon as I went back to Him, and asked, “what do YOU want me to do God?”, He answered me. In a breathtaking way, and for the first time in so many years, I heard His voice over the one of my eating disorder. I heard that I was to go to nursing school. With this realization, I felt confidence, peace, and joy. This decision did not instill fear and trepidation within me, as those of my eating disorder once had.
It was beautifully overwhelming… One day, I would be a Registered Nurse. One day, now that I had helped myself, I would be able to support so many others.
Now here I am at the end of one journey, about to begin another. I came into this program as barely a bud on a twig but have since blossomed and bloomed (a generic analogy, but so true!). My heart has been filled to the brim with an overflow of every emotion imaginable. I have connected with human beings on a level that I did not know existed. My heart was waiting to be shared with others for so very long, and now that it has, I could never go back to the shadow of a young girl that I was. Nursing school has rewarded me with an irreplaceable and lasting impact from the patients I’ve cared for, professors I’ve learned from, friends I’ve laughed with. My faith has been restored and my prayer life has increased exponentially. Since I’ve made peace with God and allowed His voice to overpower that of my disorder, my world has changed in beautiful ways.
In full disclosure, the voice of my eating disorder still likes to linger around, whispering some seemingly harmless messages. I’ll listen patiently to its wants, its demands, but I always decide to do what my heart desires instead. I know better, and it no longer has power over me. Now, serving as an Ambassador for Project HEAL, I can use that old pain and transform it into renewed power. I can use my energy that was once given to my eating disorder and channel it into something amazing. My recovery has been a blessing, and I am so grateful for all of you on this journey as well.
Though painful, I love and accept what has come before.
Though I need to continue to be strong and push forward, I love and accept who I am today.
Though the future promises to be full of highs and lows, uncertainty and great triumph, I know that I’ll be led exactly where I am meant to be, because God and recovery are on my side.
To my eating disorder: thank you for trying to tear me down. Without you, I would have never risen above and created a better life for myself. I’ve found that my reason for being here is to dedicate myself to loving and serving others. While you may have stolen 11 years from me, a lifetime of opportunity awaits to love greatly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: AMANDA KROW
Amanda is one of the Ambassadors for Project HEAL in Baltimore, MD. She is a recent nursing school graduate, about to begin her career in adult medicine. Amanda is passionate about advocating for those with mental illness and promoting eating disorder recovery. In her free time, she enjoys taking long walks outside, practicing yoga, reading and journaling. She and the additional Baltimore Ambassadors are striving to attain Chapter status by the end of the year. It is her goal to be a connecting force among the numerous treatment facilities in the city, and build a community of support for those seeking recovery from their eating disorders.