I bet you haven't stared at the doctor who has a big needle in his hands and thought, "Oh - this is what it's all about, I'm supposed to be here, going through this difficult time because it's going to make me a better person." I highly doubt you've watched or driven past a car accident or stood outside of your own car wrecked to pieces and thought "Wow, this is all for my good! This is God's way of saying, I love you! I see you and you are here for a reason. This is my call to you, yes, it's painful because this is the only way I could get your attention. And now that I have your attention, I want you to know how much I love you. How much I want to use you to help others."
If you've had any tragic, traumatic, or painfully difficult experiences in your life, you may be able to shake your head "YES!" in conviction to that statement. Or you may be thinking, "What new green juice is Gretchen drinking because it's gone to her head, annnnd she's lost it!"
The past few months have been extremely painful. Physically, emotionally, and somewhat challenging spiritually. Mostly, looking back, my faith has grown tremendously and I've never felt closer to God than I do at this very moment.
You may not know my entire life story.. but if you know pieces of it, then you know that I have been through trials, tests, errors and pretty difficult circumstances. Most of them though, I have put myself through. They have been consequences of poor decisions. Those on the outside witnessing and who don't fully understand addiction usually just point their fingers, whisper to their friends and family, and stay away from you like the plague.
Those who do have compassion for those struggling with addiction may be thinking, "But Gretchen, you've been through some really tough stuff, what could possibly have been more devastating than having to go to treatment three times, withdraw from college three times, live in a halfway house, do jail time, and not to mention the physical pain you overcame in the years of your anorexia and bulimia?" Great question. The longer I am in recovery and the more I come to understand and live in the world without numbing out and actually feel things, the more I truly grasp the depth of God in my life and in my soul. The difficulties and struggles just seem to touch me in a deeper place than before. I cry when I see dogs on Netflix for gosh's sakes! I guess you could say, I continue to get more in touch with my emotions the longer that I am sober. I feel things, very deeply. I guess that's what happens when you're finally present and in tune with yourself and the world around you. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to live that vulnerably. But I strive to do it every single day.
So.. what has happened the past few months that has caused me to have this epiphany and yet another come-to-Jesus moment?! Well, I had a mishap at a chiropractic appointment that ended up pinching a nerve in my neck that felt like I was literally going to die! Dramatic, I know. But honestly, I wouldn't wish that kind of pain on my worst enemy. I've learned quite a lot after experiencing what I later found out to be a herniated C6-C7 injury and I have felt it heavy on my heart to share those lessons with you.
For those that don't know, I was in a car accident in October 2016. It was the day after my grandmother's passing. I had reached for my phone, after zero sleep the night before, and before I knew it I had hit a cement wall going 65 mph, twice, and rolled my car. I walked away from that accident with a skinned arm, but luckily (by the grace of God) nothing else seemed to have been out of place. However, the doctor thinks that my neck may have been a little injured and it hadn't caught up until the recent chiropractic mishap.
We need connection.
Three months ago, I was spending ALL of my energy running around as fast as I could to jobs, gyms, coffee shops, grocery stores, etc. never spending a minute to just be still and rest. I was working a full-time and part-time job, working out like a mad-woman every day, trying to hustle with Instagram on the side, and yet - I would lay down at night and have the most intense anxiety, wondering why I was feeling so overwhelmed. I had convinced myself that I had it all together, and I'm sure many of you thought the same. A quick smiling selfie on Snapchat sent the message to the world that "I've got this..look at how happy I am!" When deep down, I was lost, broken and unfulfilled. In the darkest days of my addiction, I was doing the exact same thing. Running around town from bar to bar and house party to house party - and then wondering why I was waking up the next morning feeling so empty and depressed. It's a lot easier to cover up these dark feelings when you have a good job, a reliable car, and nice apartment and food in the fridge. Plus, even if I wanted to ask for help or cry out in surrender, I was afraid that people would say, "My gosh, Gretchen! What do you have to complain about?! Look at your life! You should be more grateful, etc. etc." So the shame continued to push me through the whispers and nudges that God was sending to slow me down. I would notice them, and justify my workaholic behavior. "But God, I have credit cards to pay off! I have student loans to pay, I have people that need me!" If only I could stop for a second to hear the grace and love that God wanted me to feel.
Humility is a virtue.
Up until three months ago, when things got tough, when I felt overwhelmed, or my emotions began to rise up and the knot in my throat would start to swell, the first thing I would do was lace up my trainers, grab my rap music and hit the gym. The gym was my savior in early recovery. It was my church, my therapy, my fellowship. It gave me the high and peace that the drugs and alcohol gave me. Plus, I've always been competitive. There's no doubt in mind that I kicked my twin brother around in my mother's womb so that I could come out first! I've always strived to be the best, the first, the star! Therapy has helped me tame my competitive nature so that is serves me. But, there are still times when I know better and my competitive side rears it's ugly head and gets the best of me. (For ex: going to the gym after an incredibly exhausting day and then doing acrobatic jumps and swings in the gym that I have no business doing!) When the doctor came back in the room after reviewing my MRI and x-rays, the words out of his mouth were, "No wonder you feel the way you do! You're not going to like what I have to say." I thought "Oh, I'm okay - I'm tough, I'm sure it's not that big of a deal. I'll be back in the gym next week. I mean.. I was at hot yoga two weeks after my car accident!" Well, the truth was.. I was not in control. Spinal cord injuries are NOTHING to be messed with. The injury I was experiencing started to affect my bowels, my nervous system, my eyesight - it was no laughing matter. My hands were tied. I was at the mercy of the doctors, the physical therapists and God's grace.
I have surrendered in the past. Granted, I was forced to surrender. Two DUI's back to back pretty much keeps you from doing what you want to do. However, my spirit still fought to take back the reins. I know now that the message that God was helping me to finally understand is that I now longer have to prove myself or kill myself to keep striving to be the best. All I need to do is let go and let God take over - completely.
I remember sitting in the physical therapy waiting room after the doctor told me to sit and rest as much as possible and that the symptoms may last anywhere from 6 months to 2 years, and that surgery may have to be considered, balling my eyes out. Probably the hardest I've cried in a very long time. I was embarrassed and felt more vulnerable than ever. I was using every ounce of my energy to hold back the tears. "Gretchen, you've been through way worse. You're going to be okay, why are you crying?!" And honestly, I knew in my gut that everything was going to be okay, it was baffling why the tears just KEPT coming. I took me weeks to finally understand where all of those tears were coming from. But then like a message from God, a question came out of nowhere when sitting in traffic, "Who are you without weightlifting? Who are you without the gym? Who are you and why are you here? Despite facing death three times in thirty years, there has GOT to be a bigger plan than just getting sweaty and eating healthy every day." That was it! Sitting in that waiting room, I didn't realize it at the time but I was having of an identity crisis. And what a large pill to swallow. When you think you have your life exactly as it supposed to be, you think you're doing the right things, then God shows up and says, "Yeah, remember those whispers? You weren't listening. So now that I have your attention, look up and follow me. I've got you, girl. I will always have your back. I will always provide, just trust me." So I left that PT session and barely even recognized myself. I felt lighter and freer than I've ever felt (yes, even more than the day I was let out of jail!) It was as if God had finally placed on my heart and it finally sunk in that I AM ENOUGH. Just as I am.
Grace is magical.
If you asked me three months ago if I had felt God's grace in my life, I would've said, "of course! I get really close parking spots at Whole Foods all the time!" But the grace that I have felt the past three months. The moments of utter fear that my body wouldn't be able to heal itself. The moments of loneliness and solitude when my routines had completely been dismembered and I was forced to finally listen to the silence. But I think the main lesson is all of this is that once I fully surrendered, I began to feel more ALIVE, FULL and ENERGIZED than I've felt in years! The past three months have been filled with more love, joy, laughter, connection, service and contentment that I've felt since I was a child. There are some days when I truly feel like I'm 10 years old again! Almost like it's finally my chance to be God's hands and feet and eyes and ears. He has saved me countless times and I never allowed myself to feel saved. I still felt as if I was lacking, not good enough, 'lucky' and now I know, I am saved because my purpose on this life is not to be in control but to fully be OF service to others in all walks of life. I've learned that I can't serve others when I'm constantly spending my energy on proving and striving. I have everything that I need. After finally realizing this truth, I have began to live from a place where my love and compassion give me the highest high. No drug, drink, or exercise session will ever be able to live up to the feeling of fully being connected to a power greater than me and letting that be the source of my strength.
The truth is.. ALL difficult and painful experiences are here to make us stronger and mature us in ways that we can not possibly do on our own. They are here to teach us and to help us grow. I'm so incredibly grateful I'm here to share these lessons with you and can't wait to see what the future has in store! I hope this gives you the confidence to let go of your inner struggle and trust that He will never fail you. Ever.
With overwhelming love and hands lifted...