I am about to tell you the story of how Empowered Sustenance came to be. It’s a story that I’ve never told before.
A few months ago, I woke up with an intense desire to write my story. I needed to spit it out from my body and put it on paper. This has been sitting in the Drafts section of my blog for those three months. Today, I woke up ready to share it. Although it felt liberating, it has never been so nerve-wracking to press that “Publish” button next to a post.
Chapter 1: The Hard Time, age 11 (maybe 12?)
The Hard Time is what I call my first Dark Night Of the Soul. During this period, emotional trauma as well as my coping mechanisms opened the gate to developing severe disease.
The Hard Time was a period when I experienced trauma in my home. I don’t know how long it lasted… perhaps 3 months or months. The Hard Time seeped into my bloodstream and literally infected every cell in my body. Now, after researching the mind-body connection, I firmly believe that emotional trauma leaves a physical imprint in our body, something that requires emotional, physical and spiritual healing to ameliorate.
And through it all, nobody knew that the Hard Time was slowly suffocating me. Because I didn’t feel able to seek help or show my distress.
Chapter 2: The Lifeboat With Holes, age 12
How did I escape the Hard Time? With my last ounce of hope, I pulled myself into a lifeboat. It was riddled with holes and slowly sinking, but at least it would keep me afloat for the near future.
What was the lifeboat? Anorexia.
I desperately needed some form of control in my life. Flailing in the waves, I needed some form of escape. The only control I saw was food. My eating disorder was also a cry for help.
I wanted to show I was hurting. I wanted to show I was starving for something that wasn’t food. It was never about the food.
And it was never about weight. Always the “naturally skinny girl,” I never had concerned myself with weighing myself or equating a meal with fat gain. Calorie counting and calorie restriction gave me two things: a sense of control when I felt no control over the trauma in my home and, secondly, a voice to plead for help.
How long did this eating disorder last? I don’t know. Maybe six months. Maybe nine. If I could sum up the food I ate in this period, it would be: Special K cereal, skim milk, Splenda, Diet Coke. Yes, these foods that (now I know) promise extreme illness, including cancer and autoimmune disease. I didn’t concern myself with educating myself about these foods – I didn’t care. I think, deep down, I knew these were foods were destroying my body.
Looking back, I see how our food marketing industry creates an appealing trap to pull young girls into eating disorders. Commercials and food labels teach us to equate terms like “low calorie”, “sugar free,” and “low fat” with healthy. I started innocently favoring highly processed foods with these labels, thinking I was making a healthy choice. Before I knew it, I became addicted to the false sense of control over my life that I gained by counting calories.
Needless to say, this whole period was also a time of depression, due to the emotional trauma and the malnutrition. As a generally exuberant person, I’ve literally gone around my house dancing and singing ever since I was 3. This was the longest time I’ve ever gone without a song passing my lips.
After a while, my silent cry for help worked. Suddenly, I was recognized in my eating disorder was provided with therapy and support. As suddenly as I had started, I ended my anorexia. I know that I am extremely lucky to have recovered so completely and quickly from an eating disorder, because so many who’ve faced disordered eating habits in the past have an ongoing struggle with recovery.
But damage was done. The emotional wounds of the Hard Time coupled with the physical abuse of malnutrition and soy-based foods set the stage for my future autoimmune disease, ulcerative colitis.
Chapter 3: The Storm, age 13-14
The Storm brewed for, I think, two years. During these years, my health quickly slid down hill as I began experiencing severe digestive disorders like constipation, gas, and chronic heartburn. It seemed like I was in a doctor’s office each month. They gave me numerous prescriptions and I naively took the pills they handed me. My digestive symptoms only increased, and I didn’t go a single day without heartburn.
The Storm hit when I was 14. It came out of the blue: a terrible stomach bug that lasted a week. Then, suddenly, I was doubled over in pain and rushing to the toilet. Only blood came out. Over the next two days, I was in unbearable pain and running to the bathroom every 20 minutes.
Finally, I was taken to the hospital, where I spent two weeks laying in a hospital bed. I was unable to eat anything and instead received nutrients through IV tubes. Too weak to walk the halls, I was wheeled from doctor to x-ray to specialist. I remember getting a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror about a week in… I looked dead.
I left the hospital on a mega-dose of Prednisone, a corticosteroid. I just took the pills my parents gave to me and I accepted the doctor when he told my mom that “dietary changes aren’t shown to help ulcerative colitis, just have her gain weight when she is not on a flare because she will lose it during a flare.”
Chapter 5: The Swirled Pie, age 14-18
My years in high school were both bitter and sweet, but wholly unconventional. By now, I had resigned myself to not fitting in with my peers. I had always felt foreign to the interests and conversations of my peers, but now my health challenges made me withdraw further into myself.
I was homeschooled starting in middle school, which was convenient for my health. In addition to school, I worked in a small shop hand-pouring beeswax candles. Like I said, unconventional.
Significant to my life was the discovery of dance. I took my first ballet class as a freshman in highschool, and my soul felt magnetized to it. I breathed in the music and felt a new courage and desire to express myself through movement. While dancing, I felt more ME.
Also during this time, my perfectionistic personality continued to undermine my health. I was known as “Little Miss Overachiever” – a title that I relished but now it makes me very sad. Yes, my competitive drive to be the best secured me first place in academic competitions and secured a weighty scholarship for college. I thought those things were important. Now I know: they were not important, at least not important if it meant compromising my health. I also believe my perfectionism was a way to mask my inner emotional scars. Now, I call myself a “Recovering type-A” because I understand that the only way to reach optimal health is to shed my perfectionistic tendencies.
I was constantly challenged with medications for my colitis and the frequent colitis flares. Doctors bounced me from one medication to the next (stronger) one. And so, so many pills for the side effects. I lost so much hair from one of the medications, just so much, I would cry in the shower as I cupped the heaping handfuls of hair that came out. Nothing was working.
Multiple 6-month stretches of heavy-duty prednisone treatment was the worst. While on these mega-doses of cortico-steroids, I felt too ugly to leave the house. I had all the side effects – bloating, terrible facial swelling, mood swings and sudden rages, acne, extreme hair loss… it hit all my pain points. I felt utterly helpless, a situation made worse by the extreme and frightening mood-altering effects of the medications.
During this chapter, my mom took me to various naturopaths, alternative medicine practitioners, and energy practitioners. I am grateful that she believed alternative medicine was worth a try, even though we saw no success. She drove me from appointment to appointment. Unfortunately, these practitioners never hit the nail on the head. At their suggestions, I removed gluten and dairy, and took their numerous recommended supplements. But none of them knew to offer the solution I needed: an intense gut-healing protocol.
I don’t remember researching ways to get better. I don’t think I realized this was an option. After all, doctors told me that my only hope was medication and that dietary changes would do nothing. I think, also, I was just too emotionally exhausted while dealing with the intense stress of the medications and the side effects.
Chapter 6: The Most Dire Words, age 18
The summer after graduating high school, my family moved from the Seattle area to Northern Virginia. I had applied to schools in the area and was accepted into my dream school with the largest academic scholarship they offered and had been accepted into their dance program. The future looked too bright to let me down.
A few weeks after arriving in our new house that summer, I fell into an intense flare – most likely due to the stress of moving and finishing high school. Touted to a new hospital, the doctor gave me a dire report: “If we can’t find a medication that will work,” the doctor told me, “we will need to remove your large intestine.”
Those were the most horrifying words I have ever heard, and I felt intensely helpless. Back on a mega-dose of Prednisone to stop the flare, I could see no light at the end of the tunnel.
Back at home, I spent the rest of the month in bed, with barely the strength to walk up the stairs to my bedroom. That whole month I consumed nothing but AbsorbPlus Elemental Diet Shakes. I was relieved to have found this resource that summer, because it gave me nutrients without irritating my GI tract. I recommend it now to those with colitis who wish to stop a flare without drugs, and then I suggest they start the Autoimmune Paleo Diet. However, I still did not understand the dietary changes I needed to make to heal my body.
Now, I was only a few weeks away from move-in day at college. I couldn’t believe I would start college while on Prednisone, the little white pill that felt like the devil inside me.
Chapter 7: At college, age 18
I moved into my dorm. I started college. And I hid everything. I felt like my only chance to gain normal health was to appear like my health was normal.
No one knew that would flush blood down the toilet when I used the bathroom. Or that I cried in the shower when a full handful of hair came out. Or that I put eyeshadow on my scalp to hide the balding spots. Or that I was so physically weakened that walking across the campus left me exhausted.
I made friends. I aced my classes. My professors adored me. I thought if I could make everything else perfect, my health would have to follow. I kept it up for an entire semester, but I could hold out no longer. Utterly dismayed and ready to collapse, I returned home.
Chapter 8: The rest is history!
Back at home, I discovered how to change my life after a week of non-stop research. After learning about the gut-disease connection, I started the Specific Carbohydrate Diet which led me to find the GAPS Diet. Within 2 weeks, my symptoms had disappeared and I decided to stop my medications. (Yes – without the guidance of a doctor, and I have not been back to an M.D.’s office since then.)
Then, I started a blog. I wrote some books. I completed two years of college courses through online classes. I even became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. And through it all, I continue to learn new modalities and resources to support my healing journey (including Lunaception, acupuncture, and essential oils… to name just a few!)
Are my health issues “fixed”? Certainly not, but I’m on the right track. I still face various health problems, but this is because my health was in such a dire place to begin with. My health progress has truly astounded me. My health will never be 100%, and you know what? I’m glad! Because it gives me the incentive to continually learn, experiment and share. My health challenges shape who I am, and I’m proud of that.
And that is my story… for now.