I believe there’s a way for each and every one of us to access an infinite healing potential that lies deep within all of us – but our paths to get there are varied and unique. Each path will surely be unpredictable, encourage us to expand our minds, and challenge us to let go of our old beliefs.
But there is no one single path, and each of us is a passenger on our own sacred and individual journeys.
Here’s my journey so far…
The Bad News
I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in November 2010 at age 26. In retrospect, the signs of imbalance were there, but at the time it seemed to come out of the blue and was a total shock. Following this diagnosis, the next five years became an all-encompassing experiment in trying to heal myself naturally with what I thought was everything. I mean, I would try just about anything.
I was striving so hard towards health with mixed success, yet in June of 2015 I found myself with a perforated intestine, an abscess so large it had it’s own medical name, and at a place where surgery and medications were the only option left in that moment. I was devastated.
A Sense of Relief
The irony is that I felt this incredible sense of relief that first day in the hospital, as I was preparing for the upcoming surgery – it was a relief that I no longer had to follow this particularly strict “healing diet” that I had been following for the last eight months. I felt I could finally allow myself to admit that it wasn’t working for me. Prior to that moment, I couldn’t see how stressed out that diet was making me become, flaring up my perfectionist all-or-none tendencies and sucking the joy from my heart.
Funny how stubborn we can become, refusing to see things until they cannot be ignored. But I was holding on to it so tightly, determined that it would finally be the magic cure I was seeking. Here I was facing surgeries, yet what I was feeling – after getting over the initial soul shaking anguish of the bad news – was relief.
It’s true that everything we need to learn has a way of making its way to us, even in strange and unexpected ways. And there were plenty of things I still needed to learn.
The Beginning of a New Chapter…and a Long Road
I was facing a series of three surgeries that would include the creation of a temporary ileostomy and the removal of a section of my intestines. An ostomy diverts the flow of the intestines away from an area that needs to heal, by creating an opening in the abdomen that is covered with a bag.
Needing an ostomy pouch seemed like the end of life as I knew it – but it was also this very experience that allowed me to feel such intense gratitude for life and the gift of having a second chance. It was the end of life as I knew it; it was the end of that chapter and the beginning of a new and better chapter.
Of course, that perspective came with time, as this particular chapter began with the unfortunate discovery that the original surgery to create the ileostomy was done improperly! This led to 30 hospital nights over the course of six weeks and losing so much weight I was just shy of 100 pounds.
I finally escaped that hospital and got to a much better facility – the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. From that point on, they were able to help put the pieces of my physical existence back together, but it still involved some bizarre and temporary solutions such as learning to manually irrigate and pump my intestines using a giant plastic syringe.
Let’s just say that having an ostomy can absolutely become part of a very normal and discreet existence – but this was one bang up job!
The Strangest Thing that Happened
Despite this being a strange time overall, perhaps the strangest thing that happened during that year was that I kept getting complimented on my attitude.
Let me explain: I was never complimented on my attitude prior to this!
I had the nickname in high school of “angry Angie” and I spent equal amounts of time pursuing straight A’s as I did defying my teachers who I often saw as my arch nemeses. I felt most comfortable expressing the emotion of frustration, and my friends would chide me for not hugging them and refusing to cry at sad movies.
In college I found a few teachers I respected, began to explore the world, and embraced dancing as a way to feel emotionally expressive (on some days). But I maintained close contact with my old friend frustration and no one, including myself, was giving me five stars for overall attitude.
So that year when people started going out of their way to tell me what a great attitude I was having about all my health efforts failing, my insides exploding, a botched surgery, and hanging out in a hospital day after day, I had to pause and wonder why? Why was I suddenly this master of the good attitude? Why wasn’t I falling apart? Why wasn’t I frustrated anymore?
The beauty of looking back on our stories is that we have the vantage point to make sense of them. Finding meaning in suffering is one of the definitions of “healing.”
Some might make the argument that we’re just kidding ourselves, trying to create meaning out of the seemingly random events of our lives. I don’t think everything is completely random and I think the real tragedy would be missing out on a great source for healing. Lucky for me I love finding meaning in seemingly random events and…I happen to be pretty good at it!
So when I stopped to consider the course my life had taken, I was tickled to discover an important order of events.
All the while I had been striving so hard to fix the Crohn’s disease, I had also started doing some really useful things. About a year before needing these surgeries, I had finally taken a stress-reduction course, started meditating regularly, and began working with an amazing Life Coach on a 9-month transformational program that ended up spanning three years. Taking the plunge on those two programs was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself (if not THE best thing).
During the stress-reduction course there were glimpses of returning to health, times when all the symptoms abated and I felt like “me” again. It was powerful stuff. It really laid the groundwork for being able to get more out of my life coaching sessions, as well.
It was during that time that I first noticed people noticing my attitude shift – I distinctly remember meeting up with an old roommate and hearing her tell me, “You seem a lot calmer!”
It wasn’t a complete transformation, but it was an important addition of some really great tools to my healing toolbox. Perhaps the universe knew that I still had a major event coming up in that particular chapter called Crohn’s disease and guided me towards these tools that would help prepare me for it.
The Heart Breaks Open
But the final shift came on the day that I found out about the severity of my insides and the necessity of surgery within a few days. It was on that day that I felt my heart break open.
But it was a breaking in the best way possible. Like removing a protective shell I’d been wearing for so long, knowing that I wouldn’t need it anymore where I was headed.
With my heart open, I was particularly able to feel all this love pouring in towards me and I was bolstered, I was ready. Interesting how vulnerability can lead us to our strength.
Pausing to Listen
As I recovered from each surgery I continued to complete my 700 hours of nutrition studies, yet I was still feeling discouraged in my heart that the path of nutrition had seemingly failed me – I had been precisely following a strict dietary plan that was supposed to have cured me, but instead I ended up in the hospital.
I still graduated with honors as a certified Nutrition Consultant, yet instead of forging ahead and creating a business around solely teaching others how to fix up their diets, I paused, I waited, and I listened.
I started to feel a clear message deep down that nutrition – while fascinating, life-changing, and still able to help so many – wasn’t the end of my personal healing path, and it wasn’t the end of what I could teach to others.
I realized that I was still passionate about what we feed ourselves, but that the definition of “feeding ourselves” had changed for me. I realized I was passionate about all the ways that we truly feed ourselves – not just the quality of the food we put in our bodies, but the way we feel about that food; our stress levels and the ways that we help nourish and balance ourselves; our ability to connect to our heart and our sense of joy; our deeper understanding and appreciation of our unique selves.
I began to understand that I, too, still had much deeper work to be done.
Doing the Deeper Work
Each one of us is a culmination of our physical bodies, our minds, our emotions, and our energetic makeup.
By starting with the most inner, subtle aspect of understanding myself at the level of the soul and working outward from there:
- I began to dive into an understanding of my unique needs and innermost desires;
- I explored my connection to my heart and my ability to feel and express my own emotions;
- I began to develop an awareness of my mind and my pattern of thoughts;
- I started to discover new routines, habits and solutions that supported me in my day-to-day happiness and health.
This time the solutions were simpler, more joy-focused, and more aligned with who I really am.
I had tried too hard for too long to put together my puzzle using only some of the pieces – but all of that began to change.
We can’t put a puzzle back together using only some of the pieces – much as we can’t expect to find true healing by examining only some of our many parts.
Where I’m at Now
For me, this is where I’m at right now: I have less small and large intestine than I used to have and a couple badass scars that remind me of where I’ve been; I no longer have an ostomy after a third surgery that sewed my remaining intestines back together; I started taking medication for Crohn’s disease during the time of the surgeries that allowed me to return to what I call my “temporary state of peace” – meaning I’m still putting in the work and walking the path of healing from the inside out every single day until the day when I don’t need those medications anymore and I can pull them off like a Bandaid from a healed wound.
And I can say with all honesty for perhaps the first time in over a decade that I’m truly thriving, I’m happy, I’m healing.
I feel better than I ever have before; I feel joyful and not burdened when it comes to food choices; I understand myself better; I know how to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm; and for the first time in my life I’m living completely in alignment with my own truth and loving what I do.
And THAT is an amazing feeling.
I heard fellow Minnesotan and storyteller Kevin Kling speak a while back about the power of stories. He told us that, “illness disrupts storylines and causes us to have to adapt our story,” and he reminded us that, “healing cannot be a reversal, we can never go back to who we were.”
Thank you for letting me share my story, and I can’t wait to hear yours.