The Line That Changes You



My sister Holly has been my biggest fan and supporter as I've begun this recovery journey. She has written me Trader Joe's cards with birds and flowers to say she is proud of me for figuring out and following through on the process of going to therapy, that she hopes I'm doing okay with my non-exercise routine, and that she will do anything she can to help and encourage me. I know her words are as true as they come.

Part of this week's session with my counselor was talking about the replacement activity of reaching out to safe people to verbally process, accept support, and say "I'm not okay." Holly was the first safe person who came to mind when my counselor asked me to name names. We spent a considerable amount of time talking about where TJ fits into my support system and me being able to draw on his strength. It was really good stuff.

But for everyone in therapy, I think there comes a moment where something is said, and looking back, you know that was the line that changes you. Let me try to describe the place I was in leading up to that moment.

I figured out a few years ago, with the help of a different counselor, that exercise is one of the things I use to keep my unhappiness at bay. When I shared this insight with my current counselor, she gave me a visual that expresses the same idea. She said to imagine my pain is in a box, and exercise has been the lid to my box (I have other lids too, but one at a time...). As long as the lid stays on, the pain stays in and the unhappiness is kept at bay. My denial about the pain in the box and the lid-issue has masked itself for many years as general peace and stability, control and management. The problem, however, is that all the rest of my life has hinged on whether the exercise lid stays in place.

Though I have wished for freedom, I have felt stuck and unable to surrender. I have resisted the notion of placing exercise on the altar. In fact, since implementing this new every-other-day workout schedule during Lent, I had already found myself striving and conniving to work out for longer periods on the "on" days to make up for the "off" days. I wasn't fooling myself, and I knew it. I was keeping the letter of the exercise law but not the spirit. And that is no path to freedom. Even as recently as a few days ago, I was questioning whether it would have been better to stay where I was forever.

And yet...

I have prayed during this season of Lent for God to bring me to place of godly sorrow and for me to have a repentant heart over idolizing the management of my life (specifically played out in the realm of exercise).

There's a Buddhist saying that When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

I take zero credit for being the ready student or for finding the teacher.

But this past week, a word was spoken by my counselor that was as if she found the missing key, put it in the lock, and opened my heart a crack to let the light in. It's a verse from Isaiah 44, where Isaiah proclaimed these words on God's behalf to the nation of Israel:

Can't you see that this thing you hold in your right hand is a lie?

The tears began to flow as my counselor gently spoke this truth into my life. This thing I have held on to, my exercise as a management system for my pain, has so deceived me and veiled my eyes, yet God's Word broke into the darkness on Tuesday. I have been tricked by the enemy to believe I'm in control when in reality he uses our addictions to control us.

There was talk of the kings of Israel in the Old Testament being commanded to tear down the high places they had built because they were an affront to the One True God, and there was talk about the goal being to place exercise under the authority of this same God.

I listened and took notes and cried and blew my nose and cried some more.

Recovery hurts, my counselor said, but freedom is worth it. And God's Spirit in me is strong enough to deal with the pain. 

I told her I need somebody to tell me that over and over.

I have a whole page of notes that I won't include in this blog post because the only necessary thing is the line that changes you. My line was that Isaiah verse, and somehow, now, it feels like I am walking up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac.

It is hard to describe what is happening to me. Today was my exercise day, but it did not feel like exercise as I have known it. There was not the demand for it, only the acceptance of a gift. It felt, for today at least, like the spell has been broken, like the veil has been lifted. I hate to claim victory yet, as I know this is only the beginning, and once the exercise beast is taken down, there are still other lids to lift.

But by the grace of God, I am seeing what I've held in my right hand, and I am saying Yes to the Isaiah question.

I am listening to my counselor speak bold and wise words each week, and I am saying Yes to believing that God's Spirit in me is strong enough to deal with the pain.

And I know before my sister even reads the Trader Joe's card I sent her today that she is saying Yes to the question on the front. I feel the solidarity and the friendship, and that is a beautiful thing. That, and the line that changes you.