This post is about the intersection of my life with a book two distinct times, more than five years apart, and a chasm of change between. I believe books choose us. I can’t explain in much greater detail that that, other than to say that books seem to show up in my life through various channels and guide me through necessary growth and pain. That being said, I rarely read a book twice as it seems a disappointment to already know how the story ends. In this case, it wasn’t the ending that I needed to read again, it was the journey in between.
I do not specifically recall when I first read Eat, Pray, Love, but it was sometime between seeing Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah and the debut of the movie. I have an unwritten rule to never see a book-based movie without first reading the book, and as a first-born, rule follower this was no exception. In that season of my life, I was a fairly new mom with two little girls and was somewhat desperately attempting to keep my head above water after leaving the corporate world to stay at home while my daughters were young. I was naïve about the demands of motherhood, missing the achievement and drive of being in the workforce, and trying to repress the feeling that I wasn’t doing this right at all.
I was “ in between.” In between life stages, in between feelings, in between relationships…just in between. And I remember feeling envious of Elizabeth’s story and even a bit skeptical. I mean, she was able to just pick up and visit three countries for three months each? Who gets to do that? Certainly not me stuck at home because we had just one family car, not to mention two adorable little girls with separation anxiety. And what about those coincidences that kept happening to her? She hears the voice of God on the bathroom floor? I had been a Christian my entire life and never had that honor. She speaks the name of people on her side and miraculously receives a call that her husband finally accepts the divorce? She meets incredible friends everywhere she goes, gets herself off anti-depressants, and meets the love of her life? Yes, I was skeptical and jealous, but I was also inspired and encouraged – on a surface level, not yet a soul level. The truth was that I had not yet experienced enough suffering in my own life for Elizabeth’s journey to sear a mark on my soul. This book needed to find me again, and it did.
This next part of the story, I hadn’t written about before this 31 day series. I hinted at it for a while here at Seeking The Still. I tried to write it many times, but words wouldn’t come. This is what Eat, Pray, Love helped me do the second time around…it finally helped me share my story.
I am the quintessential first-born of four girls. Highly driven, intelligent, responsible, high achiever, people-pleaser, and perfectionist. The girl with the midas touch. And 18 months ago, at the age of 37, I had a complete emotional and physical breakdown. It was a perfect storm of events. With my girls old enough to be in school, I was working part-time at the church connected to their private school and was also chairing the upcoming school auction – the biggest fundraiser of the year. My husband was traveling out of the country three weeks at a time, and the stress tightened me like a violin string until I did something I never thought possible. I snapped. Anxiety gripped me like a vice. I didn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t eat during the day. My mind raced with “what-ifs” and “why me” and “what the hell?”
Finally, after three consecutive nights of no sleep, my husband got me out of bed on sunny morning and drove me to the nearest mental hospital for an evaluation. I didn’t want to go, but every psychiatrist I called said it would be at least 4 months before they had a new patient opening. I didn’t have four months. So, I packed my purse, said goodbye to my girls and told them I didn’t know if I would be home that night. I have never been so afraid in my life. People have asked me to describe anxiety to them and there are just no words. It’s like my thoughts and body are betraying me by trying to kill my soul and all I can do is say, “I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared.”
“What are you afraid of,” they asked.
“I don’t know…and everything,” I replied.
The hospital did not think I was a risk to myself or others, but took one look at me and promptly admitted me to an intensive outpatient program where I participated in group therapy for three hours a day, three days a week, for 8 weeks. This for the girl who had never been in counseling, never seen a psychiatrist, never had an inkling of this kind of pain. I had worn a mask for 37 years, and it was about to be ripped off. This time it would be me crying relentlessly on the bathroom floor begging God to tell me what to do next.
For the next year, I was in survival mode. I dutifully saw my doctor, sought out a naturopath, went to counseling, and fought medication every step of the way. I tried to control my way out of this mess the same way I had controlled my life from the time I could remember. The more books I read, the more yoga or meditation techniques I tried, the more I resisted and despaired, the deeper and deeper I fell. And then slowly, reluctantly, I did the only thing that truly helps anxiety, I gave in. I saw a new doctor and new therapist and did everything they told me, including taking an anti-depressant. Acceptance and healing did not happen instantly the way I wanted it to. It is happening more in patches, like a few sunbeams breaking through the clouds here and there. And in the midst of those patches, Eat, Pray, Love found me once again.
A girl in group therapy suggested that I read it. A friend told me she listens to it on CD in her car. I started following Elizabeth on Facebook and saw the request to share Eat, Pray, Love stories. Then I went to my sister’s house the day before summer vacation and Eat, Pray, Love was sitting there on her steps, bidding me to pick it up once more. So I did.
And this is what Eat, Pray, Love did this time around.
It made me feel known. I wasn’t the only strong, successful person to fall into the pit of depression and anxiety.
It made me believe in my own miracles. Those coincidences in the book were validated by my own experiences over the past year when the seemingly impossible became possible.
It made me appreciate the people in my life. I didn’t have to travel to Italy, India, or Indonesia to meet people who would change my life. They were right there in my family, community, and church. I just had to learn to be vulnerable to receive their love.
It made me laugh. I saw myself comically reflected in Elizabeth’s story so frequently that it truly was laughable, right down to the blond hair, light skin, and penchant for good pasta.
It made me hope. I began to wonder what was right around the bend for me, and I dared to believe it would be good.
It made me trust. I realized that my idea of God was way too small. At the risk of being cliché, He truly does have the whole world in His hands.
Most importantly, Eat, Pray, Love gave me the confidence to begin writing again. My blogging and journaling had screeched to a halt during this time and through Elizabeth, I realized that it just might be a key to healing, not only for myself but also an instrument that God could use to heal others.
I’m so thankful for authors like Elizabeth Gilbert who have the strength to share their stories, and this opportunity to finally share mine. Revelation 12:11 says we will “overcome by the blood of Lamb and the word of our testimony.” I am beginning to overcome and these are the words of my testimony.
Seeking The Still and Smiling with My Liver,
P.S. Elizabeth Gilbert just released a new book called Big Magic. Please, oh, please read this book. You have treasures inside, and the world desperately needs you to share.
This series is not a tidy story of a fairy tale life. It is messy and truthful. For 31 days, I will share pieces of my journey, practical coping techniques for dealing with anxiety, spiritual insights, emotional struggles, and a whole lot of other. I will likely jump from here to there as the Spirit leads. I invite you along as I share my experience, my strength, and my hope. Thank you for being part of this journey with me. Together, we shall seek the still.