Spoiler alert: this one’s not a recipe. If you happen to be following this blog (thank you by the way), you may notice I’m expanding a bit to share more about myself. I still plan to post my favorite plant-based recipes, but I keep finding myself wanting to say a little more, so today I will start with my story.
It’s taken me quite a while to find the courage to get around to writing this. I realize now, I can finally do it because I’m healed. The gratitude and passion I’m left with fill me with so much joy that I want to share, need to share. The things I’ve learned so far have changed me from the inside out; it just doesn’t feel right to keep it all to myself. I’ve realized that to keep growing and trusting in my journey, it’s time to experience a little more vulnerability.
In short, I’ve come a long, long way from where I started. My new journey began in April of 2012, when I saw a job posting for a dietitian in Austin, TX and instantly knew it was mine. Shortly after I packed up my car, my life, and little Shih-Tzu, Tucker, and drove a thousand miles west to a city I’d never visited before (except for the job interview) and where I knew no one. I was nervous, but I hadn’t taken this huge step to just sit around and mope. So, I started going places and doing things around Austin, anything that sounded fun and interesting. I went to parks, festivals, happy hour events, a cave tour, boot camp workouts, and running group meet-ups. Within a couple weeks, I had made new friends and even been asked out on a couple dates. It didn’t hurt that Austin turned out to be an amazingly vibrant and welcoming place, full of new-comers like myself. I had one rule: if someone asked me to do something, I had to say “yes.” There were some tough days mixed in there, but once I dared to step into the unknown and open myself up to new possibilities, the payoff was undeniable. It was as if the Universe was reassuring me I had done the right thing. I was high on life to say the least, especially as someone coming out of a very dark time.
It’s hard to look back. It’s painful to remember things that have happened and how I used to be. I’m not one for dwelling on the past, but that’s not what this is about. It’s important to be connected with our former selves, it’s a part of us. Denying our past is like covering a huge hole with a blanket. It leaves an empty space, and a trap to fall in. My favorite writer and spiritual journalist, Melody Beattie, says that “sometimes to stay clear in the present we need to visit the past, to clear out an old feeling, to heal an old, limiting belief.”
At 28, I was completely disconnected from myself. I had been drifting through life for years. I was lost and totally unaware of being off course, or that there even was a course. My marriage was in shambles. The person I’d shared everything with for ten years had become a total stranger. We had been headed down the wrong track from the beginning, and ultimately suffered a train wreck from which we did not recover. We were careless, codependent, and both in a lot of pain. I tried for a long time to fix it, to fix him, to make him see… all the while growing more desperate and hopeless, and blind to the fact that I was subconsciously killing myself with stress and dangerously self-destructive behaviors. I was drowning under massive debt and dependent on prescriptions for depression and anxiety. I abused substances habitually to keep myself numb, and I starved myself until I was weak and frail to drown out my emotional pain with a physical one. My body, which I’ve learned is a reflection of the soul, was breaking down along with my spirit. The scary part was I just didn’t care. I felt alone and ashamed at what I’d let my life become. I felt trapped, knowing in my heart I needed to break free to heal myself, but terrified of hurting someone.
Then on March 25, 2011, an awakening changed my life forever. I was alone, at home staring at this laptop screen, trying to put my turmoil into words in an attempt to process what was happening and what to do. But all I could do was shake and sob. I felt at a total loss, and I knew I could not carry on that way another step. In the very next moment, it suddenly felt as if I were being wrapped in a soft, warm blanket. A sense of quiet peace began to wash over and through me, and in that instant the blur of confusion snapped into focus. My mind was flooded with new thoughts of clarity and I was blown away by their simplicity. I had been holding on to people and things in my life with a death grip, trying to control and force and push… the answer was simply to let go. A phrase was repeating in the back of my mind: “You can only change yourself.” I’d heard it a thousand times, but on this day, it became my truth. I decided that sinking with someone else was not love, and it was not going to save them anyway. It was time to say goodbye, and get right with me.
I had to swallow a huge dose of pride, but from that moment on I became devoted to learning how to find a better path in life. Unfortunately, I had a lot of weeds to clear to get started, including the guilt and shame that kept me from sharing my problems with others. So, I marched myself to a therapist’s office and went religiously twice a week (individual and small group) for 15 months. It was quickly evident that all my “issues” stemmed from a deeper one; I was disconnected. I distrusted and judged my own thoughts, abused my body and denied my emotions to avoid having to feel. Ironically, I learned the only way to heal pain was to feel it, and then release it. It wasn’t easy, but gradually I learned to appreciate pain as the precursor to growth, and that for growth to happen I had to tolerate pain rather than numb it. The more I could fight through rough spots the better I felt.
It wasn’t all forward progress. There were slip ups, back slides and side steps, but I was moving. And little by little, I made my way. With a lot of hard work and the incredible guidance of my patient therapist, I learned to embrace change rather than fear it. The key, for me, was to find acceptance for everything in life as it is, including myself. I felt liberated from needing to control and fight reality. I became a new person with a second chance in life, and I decided to run with it.
Sitting here almost two years later, I’m still on the ride of a lifetime. I’ve advanced in my career as a Specialist in renal nutrition. I’ve transitioned to a plant-based, whole foods diet which makes me feel great and inspires me to cook and try new foods. By next month, I will have completed three marathons, a 30K, and six half marathons. I’m part of an awesome running club, an inspiring writing workshop, and a motivating boot camp group. I’ve traveled on my own to explore San Francisco, hike in the Colorado Rockies, and go rock climbing and trail running in Sedona, AZ. I have established meaningful friendships I plan to keep forever, and I’ve learned what it means to be in a healthy relationship. It’s taken some serious soul-searching, spiritual cleansing, and tremendous growing pains to reach this point. The me sitting here today would barely recognize the me of a few years ago. At 31, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been. Most importantly, my heart is open, and I feel well deep down in my soul.
I have learned to hear and trust my inner voice, which enables me to know which choices and directions are right for me. It certainly doesn’t prevent mistakes, but by not judging myself I’m able to continue growing and learning. I love my life. I try to remind myself to feel gratitude every single day for all of it. I am able to find renewable peace in the idea that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, wherever that is. The following is my favorite line from a wonderful book, Finding Your Way Home, and how I now try to live each day:
“You don’t have to search so hard for meaning and destiny. If you focus on keeping yourself clear and in balance and you live from your heart, destiny and your highest-good path will unfold naturally at your feet. You’ll be led to where you need to go.” – Melody Beattie