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  • Writer's pictureSue Bowles

My Broken Hallelujah Search for Joy in the Journey

** Notice: might want to get a beverage and / or snack….this is a little long because…well….there’s been a lot going on. But I promise….it’ll be worth it. **

I like to think I have a high tolerance for stress. I can roll with the punches, find the positive in things, and use that for momentum…or at least balance…even against the waves. Or to try to ride the waves. Anything but go under when it seems stuff is crashing in. “Eternal Optimist.” “Sunny side up.” Those and other phrases have been used to describe me in the past.

You see them on tv. Those folks who have all kinds of obstacles thrown in their faces who

somehow still come out smiling on the other side. Simone Biles of the USA Women’s Gymnastics Team is one such example. I have told others I want to be one of the ones who ‘rises above the circumstances’ and still smiles huge. I want to be that example. I’ve had a LOT of life thrown at me….more than you could possibly know. I’m writing about it in my book so no spoilers here. But the last week in particular has been a tough one and I’m experiencing all the rocky paths that lead to that example on the other side that I want to be. I want to share it with you. It’s a few different situations (story lines) and how it’s all starting to come together. And the crazy thing is I’m seeing it all through the lenses of my eating disordered thinking.

The ‘skills’ (loosely) used to live with an eating disorder can be transferrable and actually useful…any tool is useful when properly applied. I’m in the painstaking process of rewiring my brain to use those skills for their proper uses. How I manage stress is one of those….attitude, flexibility, etc. Those can be good things. But the converse of those in

an eating disorder can have hugely detrimental effects. Black and white thinking is a huge one for me. I’m seeing that come out. That black and white thinking can add to the stress and negatively affect the attitude and flexibility, which can add to the stress even more, which adversely affects the eating, which goes back to the thinking and the stress and the attitude and the… get the idea of the cycle already. Try living it, not to mention breaking free from it! Welcome to hell in the brain and the work God is doing to change it!

Story line 1 – The Injury

So last week I shared about my leg injury. Stressful enough. Pretty colors. You should see what it’s become!

Thankfully it’s starting to return to normal flesh tones, and even more thankfully the discoloration was ‘dramatic’ as a nurse friend said but it wasn’t a painful bruise. It ended up going all the way down to the high ankle, circled the calf, showed on the hip, and showed on both sides of the knee as well…a brilliant dark purple dotting the black, brown and yellow hues.

When I saw the bruising start it concerned me. Up until then I was all ‘nuisance and details.’ That’s what I told folks: “It’s attached. It works. It’s just nuisance and details after that.” And it is. But notice already the subtle shift to downplaying the seriousness of the injury? That’s an old eating disorder (ED) trick…deflect the attention from lack of self care. There’s a balance between good attitude and lack of self care and I was coming close to crossing it. I was walking short stints at work and at home without crutches or with one, all in the name of keeping it as stretched as possible without giving it time to heal and rest first. After all, I’m tough, I can handle it….it won’t keep me down. It’s just a nuisance and a detail.

I had an appointment with my orthopedic two days after the bruising started. I was very thankful. He had changed agencies but I will follow this man wherever in central Ohio he goes. Shoot…he’s been the team physician for USA Wrestling and other professional sports teams in Columbus! The man knows his sports injuries and he did my knee surgery in the late 90’s. He knows my appendages and I trust him.

As I told the nurse about the injury she said she wanted to talk with him before taking me xray. That’s never a good sign! Turned out he ordered just an xray of the pelvis to be sure there was no muscle detachment which would have been automatic surgery. Thankfully there wasn’t.

Doc did his exam, put me in pain as he identified the specific areas of the hamstring, and asked a lot of questions. In the end he said it’s a pretty severe injury ‘but the good news, Sue, is this one will heal. This one will get better.’ That was comforting and reassuring even with all he had just given me as protocol: crutches until I can walk on it without pain (so no more 1 crutch or no crutch stints at the house or office – aka: no free hands with which to take care of me and not have to ask for help), steroid to take and an anti-inflammatory after that’s done, PT 3x a week for a month, no lifting, and see him in a month. He said it will take 6 weeks to heal and his staff said I’d probably still have trouble with it after that. Oh yeah!

Now to put this in perspective: I’m the main caregiver for my mother and help her overnight. I work 50 hours a week and was averaging about 13,500 steps PER DAY in my work, I hate taking pills, and I am already over-responsible at the house feeling like I have to do it ‘all’ (when in reality there is able-bodied help). I basically went from the ‘depended upon one’ to the ‘dependent one’ for 6 weeks. And when I had let my identity be wrapped up in what I did…well…it was a big blow to the ego. I don’t have TIME to be hurt! Everyone needs me. That’s what I do! It’s who I am!

See all the unhealthy patterns emerging? God has a way of purging and refocusing and will use life circumstances to teach His lessons if we will just listen.

Story line 2 – The Eating

I’ve been working with a dietician for just over a month, now, to get my eating on track. I’ve never met with one and it took a few years of periodic suggestions from my counselor until I finally agreed. I have since thanked her a few times for her persistence and have told the dietician just last night that I really like what we have going. I am seeing things starting to improve. Slower than I had hoped, but that’s not surprising for anyone who knows me as they know I like things done NOW. Waiting and patience is not my portion most of the time. I’m growing in that. And as she reminds me, I’ve had an eating disorder for decades. It’s not going to change overnight. She has also said a few times that she is intentionally not pushing hard and that she thinks not pushing me is pushing me….challenging me to relax and let go of the control ED likes to make me crave. She is SO very wise…and right! She said last night she thinks if she had pushed harder I would’ve been out the door by now and she’s probably right. It’s stressful enough trying to “get my act together” that so doing causes more stress. And ED folks don’t do well with handling stress correctly. It’s a fine line and she walks it well for me.

We have been working on getting me on a set eating schedule to train my body to

listen to hunger cues and to kick start my protein metabolism. Now I realize all I’m about to write hear may sound insanely foreign to you. I don’t expect you to understand. And I can’t be expected to explain all the intricacies of an eating disorder or how old ED shows his face (yes, I’ve gone to calling it ED…my apologies if that is your name. For the record I like the name Ed, just not ED). My only hope and prayer is that through my risk-taking you can get a small hint into the hell inside the mind and how hard it is to rewire it. It CAN be done. Just with a lot of support, professional help, patience and direction. In short…humility to start.

You’ve seen the food log I keep each day as part of the process. We’ve built to the point that breakfast seems to be off to a good stable start so we’re in the building phase now. We’re specifically focusing on dinners….namely 2-3 dinners a week planned and cooked. Sounds like no big deal, right? I mean shoot, everyone has to eat dinner! But we’ve gone 3 months without a home aide for Mom so when I leave job # 1 I walk in the door at the house to job # 2 to attend to Mom and get her laundry done, personal care, take care of whatever I might need to get done, let the cat know I still love him, cut the grass or attend to the garden or pull weeds or whatever other yard work needs done all before the sun goes down (because again, I’m superwoman and have to do it all!). And gee, if I’m lucky I might get a few minutes to sit and relax…AFTER fixing dinner! So to say planning a couple dinners a week to prepare for and cook should be easy was instead a HUGE mountain to climb! We had been focusing on that for the last couple weeks before my accident.

What I noticed last week was that after I had been to the doctor and it was obvious I would be severely limited in what I could do – and in pain – this dinner thing was going to tank and it was going to tank fast. Here I was after years of denying the need for a dietician’s involvement finally to the point of wanting the help – appreciating and looking forward to the weekly help – only to see it all feel like it was going to slip through my grasp. Again. Devastating. Deflating. Demotivating. Two consecutive nights last week we bought out….for ease and practicality. But that drove my black and white thinking off the scale and the stress shot up even more.

I have been aggressively paying down debt this year. I HATE the thought of going out to eat and spending money like that when there’s stuff to cook at home. We were doing so much better at eating at home…and we were healthier as a result. So to fall back on eating out twice in 2 days….it just kicked me in the gut….not only from the financial aspect but also for the food journal side of things. I am working off the diabetic exchange system for a certain amount of servings per meal of carbs, proteins and endurance fuels (fats). I can log it great by scanning or reading food product labels and writing it on my log. But how do I do it if a restaurant or item is ‘off the grid’ and doesn’t have nutritional information at the ready. That thought DRIVES ME ABSOLUTELY BONKERS! It’s the black and white thinking all over the place…it IS or it ISN’T. There is no gray here! There are only 2 options and in this case neither one exists! OH. MY. GOSH! Even last night I lamented about it with the dietician. I have the same struggle with ‘off the grid’ cooking…you know, those homemade recipes or family traditions. Yeah…think of your favorite meal ‘your family’ makes that no one else makes…and now try to log how much of each ingredient constitutes the serving you put on your plate and figure the nutritional value of each, add it all together, and see how many exchanges you just met. Headache? Yep. And beyond. STRESS!!! Because ‘how do you know it’s RIGHT?!’ That black and white thinking…all. over. the. place.

So now I have all this starting to flare and I’m just trying to keep my head above water. Not only do I have the injury, the helplessness, the eating plan and trying to keep that going, but now I have the eating plan I’m fighting so hard to manage and keep going start to spin out of control. And lack of control for an ED person is danger. It causes eating flares. Which in my case means I start restricting and losing all the ground we just started to reclaim. Suddenly it felt like it was starting to slip through my fingers….all because I played whiffleball and had some fun with new church friends.

I told my counselor and dietician both this week I am concerned for how my leg injury is going to affect the dinner cooking and planning. Yes…it’s on my mind that much.

Story line 3 – Physical Therapy

That takes me to this past Monday. You have an idea of all that was brewing in my head up for the 4 days since the doc apt. I just wanted to strike on the PT and get started before too much scar tissue developed. I was actually looking forward to it. It was the first step to healing. I knew we would be limited in what we could do until I’m off the crutches but this would get me to that point…OFF the crutches! I was ready to go. Until…..

The phone rang. PT was calling. Odd to call to confirm an appointment an hour before, especially when it was confirmed the night before. Oh how I wish it was only that easy.

Long stressful story short…..there was question if PT was covered by my insurance.

From what I could tell it seemed like it would be covered in network as a ‘specialist’ appointment which put me on the hook for a $55 copay per visit. All told I had figured I’d have about $650 or so tied up in my leg over the next month. That alone is stressful and I was already making plans to ask for a payment plan to pay it off over a couple months. You see I am very in tune with my budget, especially since my mortgage goes full amortization on Sept. 1 to the tune of an additional $230 / month! I know what I have and what I don’t. I have been on an aggressive debt reduction plan over the last year and have paid off 2 credit cards, a small loan balance, and a dental bill. I have a plan and I have been working it. Again, I can be flexible within limits. I have reworked bills and plans and have cut the budget just from doing that. I was prepared.

I wasn’t the best on the phone with the receptionist who had the daunting task of figuring out how I was suddenly going to be made of money in an hour’s time. Without insurance their self-pay plan was $100 for the initial evaluation (in an hour mind you) and $65 per session after that. Doc had asked for 3 sessions a week for 4 weeks. Do the math. Cha-ching. Times 2. And being self-pay no payment plans. Now since I’m paying down debt the thought of running up a credit card churned my stomach more than sour milk. I felt like my chance to heal was getting pulled out from under my feet. “I JUST WANT TO GET BETTER” is all I could think. It’s also all I could say as the tears started.

My boss had come back upstairs and I’m sure he overheard a bit of the conversation when I said “I don’t have $100 for tonight and another $130 more for this week. There’s no way!” He stopped by, saw the tears, and asked if I was okay. I work hard to keep personal stuff out of work but I was at my breaking point. I don’t cry often from stress. It was at this specific moment I had to admit I was a ‘little’ more stressed over things than I like to think…or admit. I explained the situation and by then they had finally offered their ‘lowest’ option…$30 for 30 days. In essence it would require the initial evaluation and at least one follow up and then I could use their gym and facilities just without the supervision or recheck reports for the doc. By the time I left work I knew what I was doing: eval and then the $30 special as soon as possible, knowing it would be a couple weeks until I got to that point. Thankfully they had also talked with the therapist so she could plan as well from the start.

I was deflated by this point. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person but after all this I was emotionally exhausted. I was trying to find the joy in the journey but it wasn’t a super enthusiastic “Yeah! I get to go to PT and start healing” enthusiasm. It was more like “Thank you Lord for making a way…not the way I was hoping it was going to go but You are faithful and I am thankful. I just want to get well. Please, Lord…I just want to get well.”

By the end of the session the therapist and I had talked about the financial stuff.

Due to the severity of the injury (she, too, confirmed it’s severe….a bad grade 2….grade 3 is a full tear). There are a few spots where there is injury, not just one, and one of the muscles involved prevents me from doing one of the start up home exercises. We were trying for 4 and have to settle for 3. So the plan is just the eval this week….she didn’t think we would be able to advance it this week anyway as it just needs rest. We are going to do 2 sessions a week for 2 weeks and then see where we are with things. She is hoping I am off crutches by those 2 weeks (no guarantees of course but that’s the hope).

As I was driving home I was of course focused on all that had happened to wipe me out in the last 2 hours. As I drove up the exit from the highway a song came on the radio and I had a crazy line of thought happen. I was obviously weighted and just praying.  I remember thinking of someone saying ‘you’re either in a trial, coming out of one, or going into one.’ I had been in a good place….now I’m in a trial and it felt like the wheels were wobbling. And I thought about how I’ve said for a long time I want to be that ‘example’ that comes out smiling on the other side. And I started to think about what characteristics ‘that kind of person’ shows. Gratefulness and faith came to mind. The song lyrics became my focus for prayer. I needed to give my ‘broken hallelujah’ to the Lord.

I can barely stand right now Everything is crashing down And I wonder where You are

I try to find the words to pray I don’t always know what to say But You’re the one who can hear my heart

Even though I don’t know what Your plan is I know You make beauty from these ashes

I’ve seen joy and I’ve seen pain And on my knees I call Your name Here’s my broken Hallelujah With nothing left to hold onto I raise these empty hands to You Here’s my broken Here’s my broken Hallelujah (from Broken Hallelujah by The Afters)

I was talking to God about His faithfulness and with all I could muster was determined to thank Him and trust Him and let go of the control. He made a way for PT….just not the way I had thought. And as I thought and prayed and talked to God and remembered His character and thanked Him for it and how it was shown to me in the last 2 hours, I believe God showed me how to handle the financial burden. Here’s where that ED black & white thinking comes in.

The plan? Take the money I have in the budget already for debt reduction and use it to pay cash for the sessions over the next 2 weeks. Sounds easy enough, right? Yeah…about that.

My B&W thinking tells me I’m abandoning my debt reduction program by doing that. The ‘living in the gray’ thinking I’m learning tells me I am still paying down debt…it’s just new debt so I am actually preventing debt. My B&W side says ‘but it’s not what credit agencies can see so it doesn’t help me get where I want to be to get the best mortgage refinance rate.’ My gray side says ‘you’re still paying on the other cards and preventing new debt. It’s a win-win both ways.’ See how ED gets his paws in at every little opportunity?!

So as I drove the rest of the way home the phrase ‘joy in the journey’ came to mind. I think that’s the key to ‘those people’ who come out the other side of seemingly relentless trials and somehow seem to smile and be ‘that example.’ We’ve all heard ‘choose joy.’ It’s a WHOLE different thing when faced with that choice. Easy to say. NOT so easy to do. And while I chose to thank God for His provision and guidance…albeit with some disappointment attached to it…I know it all starts there. It’s not joyous. It’s probably not even to the level of contentment. It’s more like….hmmm….probably just acceptance. It’s not what “I” wanted to see happen. But what’s really cool is…when I choose to see it this way in the bigger picture…God has provided the treatment needed without additional debt and the strengthening program at the PT gym with their plan and equipment…for a WHOLE lot less than my ‘best plan’ would’ve been able to devise. How can I NOT have joy in the journey?! Okay…we’ll start with thankfulness. It will build from there.

** thoughts on the journey from my friends can be found at and (Jenn and Leisa respectively)

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