Hi. My name is Stacie, and this is my story… I know it’s long, but I hope you read it to the end. I hope you see that this is a story of resilience. A story of strength. A story of perseverance. A story of growth. A story of triumph and victory. A story of gaining my health in every way possible. My hope is that you read this and feel empowered to take charge of YOUR life. To find YOUR power. To change the behaviors, habits, and circumstances that aren’t serving YOU to be healthy. However, I realize you may read this and think “This chick is a hot mess! Why on earth would I listen to her for any guidance on health or anything else for that matter?!”… and that’s okay too. Your opinion of me is none of my business. 😉
However you view me, I hope you know that we are ALL capable of great things, we all deserve to be healthy, and we have a purpose in this world… none of us are an accident, we are all more similar than we like to think, our struggles are not unique to us, and the obstacles we face in life can be used to learn, grow, and help others… which is my intent. Being healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually allows us to show up, fulfill our purpose, and live life to the fullest.
I am a nutritionist, a personal trainer, a health coach, an Nationally Registered EMT, a WBFF Pro competitor, a 5x Tough Mudder Legionnaire, a single mom, and most importantly a Christian. These are some of the titles I hold, but they are not me… however, the path I took to earn all of these titles makes up the story of my life.
So, here it goes…
I grew up in chaos and dysfunction. My dad is an alcoholic, and although he didn’t drink for most of the 18 years I lived at home, it didn’t mean he was sober. There are certain traits and characteristics that alcoholics/addicts tend to have even if they are not actively drinking, unless they do the work to truly get sober… without that work they tend to be abusive, controlling, have unreal expectations of others, blame others for their own mistakes or inadequacies, etc. Growing up I sustained a lot of verbal, mental, and emotional abuse, and some physical abuse as well. Living at home was like walking through a landmine… you never knew what would set things off. The habits I learned to survive were to keep quiet and hide, to strive for perfection, to take the blame when others mistreated me, to never speak what was on my mind, to try and control things so I felt like I had a little bit of security… these behaviors stayed with me most of my life. Despite trying not to rock the boat, for some reason I was inherently strong-willed at times, and I would occasionally stand up for myself, my mom, my brother, and sister who were also a victims of his abuse… which pissed my dad off. lol… and made for a childhood where I was counting down the days to my escape into a life outside of that house. I used to pray that my parents would get a divorce, so I could have peace.
When my mom finally decided that she had enough… 23 years into the marriage… she filed for divorce. On Halloween the year I graduated high school I moved out of my parents’ house… my mom took my little sister trick-or-treating while my father was served with divorce papers and a restraining order by the Sheriff. I moved all of my belongings out while he was at work that day, so he had no idea where I went. Doing so provided my mom a safe place to stay while it all went down. My mom and my little sister came to my apartment after trick-or-treating and basically hid out for the weekend, until it was safe for them to return to the house without my dad there. My brother stayed with friends.
I think most kids move out of their parents house with dreams of their future… college, travel, etc. But, living that life kept me from ever really dreaming of what my future would actually look like. My instinct was just to survive. I never thought about what I would become, or what talents I had that I could use… I never realized I could actually have a purpose in this world. I was encouraged by my parents to find a man to marry, and learn the skills necessary for a clerical job, as this would provide a secure future for me… so, that is the narrative I told myself would be the story of my life…
Why is this important for a nutritionist/health coach to talk about? Because the experiences we have in life, especially at an early age, will have an influence on our mindset, our behaviors, and ultimately our health… whether we like to think so or not. For most of my life I told myself that the abuse didn’t affect me. That I had somehow avoided the typical multi-generational effect abuse has, but that’s simply not true as you’re about to read. Acknowledging this was the first step to truly becoming healthy.
Now onto the rest…
I got married at the age of 19 to my high school boyfriend. I realized very quickly that I was not ready to be married, so I I filed for divorce. Selfish, yes… but, not really. After many years of introspection, I now realize that I got married as an escape out of my chaotic home life. We were both so young, and in reality neither one of us was happy… and honestly, it wasn’t a healthy relationship to be in. The reason I got married was not for the right reasons. I wasn’t ready to make a life-long commitment to someone else. I wasn’t ready to compromise and sacrifice to make a relationship work. I didn’t realize it at the time, because I truly did love him… but I used him as my support, my safety net, my world. That was a big burden for him to carry, especially at such a young age. We didn’t have any children, or anything that tied us together besides a piece of paper… I knew I was at a crossroads, where I could continue making this mistake, and possibly bring children into it, simply because I had invested so much time and energy making the mistake, or I could let him go… and we could both be free to choose a life that would make us both happy. I chose the latter, and I don’t regret it. I don’t believe he does either. I don’t believe in getting a divorce just because you’re unhappy, because I believe the grass is green where you water it… and if you want a happy marriage, then YOU need to be happy and do the work to be a spouse required to make a marriage happy… so, I know it sounds hypocritical for me to say I don’t believe in divorce, but it was the right decision for two 20 year old kids who didn’t understand what a commitment like marriage was all about. I know it was the right decision because I didn’t know who I was yet, so there’s no way I could be a good wife to him or anybody else. My identity up to that point was set in dysfunction…. I hated it, so to escape that identity I put my identity in him. This relationship defined my worth, and when I knew I couldn’t live up to the standards needed to maintain it… I lost my identity, and felt no worth.
Getting divorced at the age of 21 was devastating, and lonely… no one your age can identify with your struggles. I was ashamed of it for many years, and I never told people about it. Now I’m at peace with it… I just think of it like a tattoo most 19 year olds get and later regret… instead of a tattoo, I had a marriage and a subsequent divorce. The regretful tattoo doesn’t define them or ruin their lives, and the same is true about my marriage… it was a chapter of my story, but it is not the whole book.
My interest in fitness began shortly after high school as well. I gained 20 pounds pretty rapidly after graduation due to a poor diet combined with less physical activity because of my clerical job. At the age of 19 I began working as a receptionist in the Emergency Room of my local hospital. I worked the second shift. I wasn’t happy with how I looked with this extra weight, so I decided to get a gym membership. The 24 hour fitness center on the hospital campus was perfect for me as a gym newbie. I would go workout after my shift around 11:00 pm, and the place was empty. I had no idea what I was doing, so this let me experiment with different equipment and try different methods of workouts. It was during this time that I fell in love with strength training. I loved lifting weights, and I loved that it gave me the “toned” look I desired… you see, I spent most of my teenage years striving to be skinny. It was the 90s – the era of the “heroin chic” Kate Moss look. Throughout high school I hated how I looked. I’m a naturally muscular girl (now referred to as an “athletic build”)… this is my genetic make up. It didn’t matter how thin I got, I was never “skinny”… I had big thighs, a big butt, and a small waist. Now-a-days that’s the “in” look, but back then, the high-waisted skinny jeans of the era were not my friend. I spent many years hating my body for what it was, and in turn starving it, in an attempt to look good. I was never officially diagnosed with an eating disorder, but my weight fluctuated depending on how well I was able to “control” my food… at the peak of my anorexia I got down to 93 pounds. I tell this part of my story because disordered eating is never about the food… there is always an underlying root cause for the behavior. For me it was a way of “controlling” one aspect of my life, because everything in my surrounding circumstances at home was out of control. Later binge eating became a way of self-sabotage, and over-exercising became a way of punishing myself for not being in “control” of my food… it was miserable.
When I discovered strength training, things started to change about how I approached my weight and how I viewed myself… strength training made me feel strong… it made me feel more confident. Now, I’ll be honest, I didn’t instantly love myself or my looks, but it was the first step to self-acceptance. Strength training made me want to learn more about fitness. I began reading every fitness magazine I could find, so I could learn proper workout techniques and the latest information on the science behind what different workouts do. Discovering strength training was the first step in my health journey.
Around the age of 20 I saw a Fitness Competition on ESPN. This was back in the days before Figure or Bikini Competitions… back then it was strictly Women’s Bodybuilding or Women’s Fitness, which included an acrobatic routine. The Bodybuilding wasn’t really my jam, but I was captivated by the Fitness girls flying through the air, looking extremely lean, but still feminine… I thought to myself “I want to do that”, but self-doubt took over, and I very quickly pushed that thought to the side… besides, I was still learning HOW to workout properly, and I had NO idea what to do about nutrition, or how someone would even attempt such a feat as compete… so, the thought of ever stepping on stage quickly became a “that’s something other people are capable of, but not me” idea.
Shortly after starting my receptionist job in the ER, I wanted to do something else. I hated clerical work – filing paperwork, answering phones, computers, etc. However, I liked the people I worked with. One of the secretaries told me she was going to EMT school, and she suggested I should too… so, I registered for the next semester. I had no idea what an EMT did. Literally. No clue. lol… I would see the EMS crews come in. They would joke around for a few minutes after dropping off their patients, and then head back outside to the world…. seemed like a pretty good gig to me! As soon as I got my license, I got a job on the ambulance, and the rest is history… that’s where I would stay for the next 16 years of my life. EMS suited me… it felt familiar… I think because the trauma made me feel at home. I was good at my job, and it did finally make me feel like I was somewhat important… but, it wasn’t fulfilling… at least after the new had worn off. After a while it began to feel like I was trapped… EMS is kinda like an abusive relationship, if I’m being completely honest. You see and experience terrible things, and you feel like you need to fix it all… so you can’t leave. You start placing your worth in this identity of a uniform instead of who you are as a person. I don’t know if it’s this way in every service, but in mine we were made to feel very insignificant. I was told all the time that EMTs are a dime a dozen, and I could be replaced in an instant if I were to question anything or rock the boat in anyway. Because of this I never felt like I could speak my mind when things bothered me… whether it was a call, or whether it was the way I was treated. I suppressed my emotions about everything, and I blew off mistreatment from patients, coworkers, or assisting agencies. I was physically attacked by patients, I was called every name in the book by patients, I had inappropriate advances from coworkers, I was called names by coworkers, and the worst of all is I never let myself feel ANYTHING about a call… no matter how terrible it was because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak or dramatic. The problem with this is… numb is numb. You can’t just turn on emotions when you get home. You become an emotional zombie – moving through the world, but dead.
A year or two after beginning my EMS career, I decided to go to college to pursue my degree. I worked 7:00pm-7:00am on the ambulance, and I went to school full-time during the day. I changed my major several times, but I ended up getting my Bachelor’s of Science in Dietetics with a minor in Biomedical Sciences. I found that I loved learning about human physiology, biochemistry, medical pathophysiology, and more… it all fascinated me. I also loved learning about nutrition, as I was still lifting weights on the regular. Now I was able to pair nutrition with fitness… the perfect match!
During my time on the ambulance, in my personal life, I fell in love with and married my Paramedic partner. He had 3 children of his own from a previous marriage, so at the ripe old age of 27 I became a stepmom to 3 (almost) preteen kids. They were good kids, but being a stepmom was hard. I went from being a single girl with all the freedom in the world, to someone with mega responsibilities for someone else’s kids… it was overwhelming, but I loved my husband so much, I didn’t care… I would’ve lived in a cardboard box with that man. Again I had put my identity into this relationship. A year after we got married we conceived a child of our own… my daughter, Briella. As any parent knows, having a child changes you as a human…. it’s suddenly no longer all about you. Having a kid causes you to evaluate your path… where you’ve been… where you’re going… for the first time in my life, I started developing a plan of where I wanted my life to go instead of just surviving through each day. I knew I didn’t want to work on the ambulance forever. I had plans of going onto graduate school, but that plan never panned out…
While I was finishing up my degree, and I was 3 months pregnant, my husband lost his job of 16 years as a Paramedic. He had a back injury on the ambulance, and was prescribed pain pills… which he formed an addiction to. His addiction became so bad that he began stealing narcotics from the hospital where we worked. He was caught and was fired immediately. He entered an outpatient drug treatment program, and overcame that addiction. I was extremely hurt that he hid his addiction from me (even though I had suspected it and questioned him about it), but I supported him and loved him through the entire recovery process. I had people suggest to me that I should leave him, but honestly that thought never occurred to me… I took a vow “for better or worse… in sickness and in health…” This time I understood that vow, so I viewed this as a sickness, and I had no intentions of going back on my word. The next few years of our marriage were rough. He didn’t work or bring home an income during that time, which meant that the burden of our living expenses and his child support fell onto me. I worked non-stop to make ends meet, but we were drowning… I became resentful towards him as I was missing out on the first year of my daughter’s life, and he became resentful towards me because I was never around. There were other things that occurred during this time, that caused our relationship to crumble even more, but the ultimate demise was when my daughter was 3, I discovered he was having an affair, so we separated and later divorced. Every vow had been broken… there was no marriage to save.
So, I became a single mom, and had to learn to navigate life without my partner. To be honest it was easier than being married to him. I was the “bread winner” of the household, so I was better off financially without him… even with little to no child support. I didn’t have his chaos to worry about anymore, so life was more stable. Personally, I was a mess, as the hurt from his affair was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to experience to date. It was one of those pivotal moments that changed me almost on a cellular level… it was traumatic. I didn’t know what was up or what was down… when you say those vows to someone (and understand them), and promise to walk through life together… but the other person goes back on that promise… it throws your whole world into a tailspin. Suddenly I didn’t have my partner, my identity of a wife, or my worth. I had NO self-esteem, as having my spouse cheat on me was a HUGE blow to my ego. The pain I felt can’t really be put into words… so I numbed. I numbed anyway I could… with booze, food, exercise, sex, anything I could while I was figuring out this new life on my own.
A year after my divorce I decided to try something I never had the courage to do before… I finally decided to take on the challenge of entering a Figure competition like I had once dreamed. I wanted to prove to myself I had what it took to get up on that stage. I wanted to prove to others that I was capable… as I remembered an instance where I had told my now ex-husband that I had always dreamed of competing, and he responded with “You can’t do that… those girls are professionals” as he laughed at the thought. Now that I was on my own, I didn’t have anyone to talk me out of achieving such a feat. So, I hired my coach, I told my mom (who acted like I just told her I was going to be a stripper for hire lol), I told a few friends (who were much more supportive) 😉 and I got to work! I didn’t tell anyone else until a few weeks before my competition… then I let the cat out of the bag. I was nervous I would be judged for doing such a thing, but to my surprise I suddenly had overwhelming support. It was great! For the first time in my life I felt like I was inspiring people… it was awesome. I did my competition. I gave it everything I had. I was soooooooooo nervous! I was shaking in my itty bitty bikini and 5″ heels… but, I did it! And… I came in second to last place. lol… I was disappointed, but I was proud of myself. I proved I had the determination to complete a 16 week prep. I proved I had the courage to step up on that stage and let strangers literally judge me. It sparked a competitive drive in me that I didn’t know I had… it was the beginning of the transformation of my mindset from an insecure, trying to hide from the world girl, to the confident (most of the time) 😉 and ready to be seen person I am today.
After my competition I felt lost… it’s pretty common. It’s referred to as the “post-competition blues”. I was back to normal life, without the structure of a workout plan or meal plan from my coach. I didn’t have the distraction of my prep to take my focus off of my still broken heart from my divorce… so, I numbed. I started down my spiral of booze and other methods to numb again. When I was deep into my downfall, my competition coach suddenly reached out to me one day and asked if I wanted to do another competition… he said he would sponsor me for a month if I took him up on his offer. I immediately said “Yes!” as I knew it would get me out of my slump. (I secretly call him my big, burly guardian angel… as he is a very big, muscular guy lol) Again, I prepped and gave it everything I had… and again I came in second to last place. lol… I vowed I would come back the next year better than ever and win my next show…. and that’s exactly what I did. I won two shows back-to-back as matter of fact! I didn’t receive my pro card, but I was thrilled! During all of my preps I felt focused and healthy… I felt like I could take on the world.
After my victories my confidence grew… I decided I was “over” my divorce, and ready to take a true stab at the dating world. So, I signed up for match.com. I had a short relationship that failed, and threw me back into a tailspin… you know… the whole identity crisis thing. So, I needed a distraction, this time I wanted to take on a new challenge to take my mind off of my new heartbreak (which was really just an opening of the wound from my divorce), so I signed up for my first Tough Mudder… and I had a blast! I loved it! It was intense. It was hard. It was just what I needed to boost my confidence again to enter the dating world… so, again, I signed up for match.com….
This time I met a friendly Doctor who lived about 2 hours away in another state. He was charming. He wined and dined me. He said all the right things, and before I knew it, we were engaged as he was very insistent on being in a committed relationship with me, and starting our life together. A couple of months later I quit my 16 year career on the ambulance. I sold all of my belongings, including my car, and moved myself and my daughter across state lines to start our new life. I was scared of leaving the life I had built, because it was comfortable and secure, but I was trying my best to trust again and move forward in life… which would’ve been great… if it had all been real. Almost immediately after we moved things began to fall apart. He was drinking a lot (I was drinking with him too), but he was drinking A LOT. He was extremely annoyed with my daughter, and started getting angry at her and at me for everything… we started fighting. Things got very chaotic… very verbally abusive… very bad. I wanted to post-pone the wedding and go to counseling, but he decided he didn’t even want to bother. He said he didn’t like kids (he had his own in another state), and he didn’t want them to be a part of his everyday life… he wanted us out…
WTF was I going to do?! I tried to get my job back on the ambulance, but my position was filled. My parents’ house had flooded from a broken water line, and was under renovation, so we couldn’t go there… plus my daughter was in school, so I couldn’t just couch surf until I figured things out. I had to know where we were going to settle, so I could make arrangements for her… to keep some normalcy in life. So, we remained living with him in the guest rooms until I figured it out.
I had no money to my name because we had spent it all on furnishings for “our house” which immediately became “his house” after the break up. I had no career. I had no car. I had nothing. I completely fell apart. I was facing homelessness with no job and none of my familiar surroundings. I didn’t know anyone in this state. It was the scariest time of my life. At least with my divorce I made the money, so I knew we would be okay financially… but, now… I had none of that. I was still on our “joint” checking account, but he controlled that money.
I hated myself for getting me and my daughter in this situation. I beat myself up so much mentally… plus, I was still receiving his mental abuse… It was the lowest time of my life. The depression and anxiety consumed me… I was non-functioning.
Then one Sunday I decided to go to a new church down the road from us. I entered the building. It was very modern… nothing like the Lutheran church I grew up in, or like the Methodist church I had joined a few years earlier in my home town. I had always despised these modern churches. I felt like they were more of a production than a church, but for whatever reason I felt drawn to try it that day. I checked my daughter into the kids area, and I sat in the back row of the sanctuary. When the music started playing it was a contemporary Christian song I had never heard. So, I stood there quietly. There was a lady and her husband in front of me. She was singing and dancing along to the music… something I was definitely not comfortable with. Suddenly she stopped, turned around, walked back and put her arm around me… she said “Can I pray with you?” I looked at her puzzled and replied “Uh… no.” (I thought to myself WTF? What a weirdo. lol) Then she said “Okay, can I pray for you then?” I said “Um… sure…” (anything to get her to leave me alone) Suddenly she started praying the most perfect prayer… she said “God, please show her that if she gives this burden over to you, that you will carry this for her. That she doesn’t have to do this on her own. That you will lift her up, and get her through this” As she prayed this most perfect prayer for my situation I started to cry, and suddenly I felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off of my shoulders. It was the first moment of peace I had experienced in weeks. As soon as she was done praying she walked back to her seat and continued to dance and sing as if nothing had happened… I later asked her what her name was, and thanked her. I don’t know what possessed her to do that… I don’t know if my despair was so palpable that she could feel it a row away from me… whatever it was, God used her to get to me. Because of that prayer I was able to actually listen to the message that day. It was a sermon series called “Reset”. The pastor said that if you made a bad decision that got you into a bad situation… this was your chance to reset. If someone else made a bad decision that got you into a bad situation… this was your chance to reset…. all you had to do was give your heart and your life over to God, and He will take care of the rest… He was talking directly to me… and so I did. Right then and there. I devoted my life to Christ. I picked up my daughter from the kids area, and she said “Mom, I think we need to join this church.” I said “I think you’re right” Suddenly, I knew I wasn’t supposed to go back to my old life on the ambulance… I was supposed to start a new life right here…
I studied and crammed to take the tests for my personal training certifications in a couple of weeks (a program that should take 6-12 months). I took my test and passed with flying colors. I immediately started the job search. I was contracted to work as a self-employed personal trainer in a very large gym in town. As soon as I passed the background check I was good to go… unfortunately that was going to take up to 6 weeks… 6 more weeks without an income.
Meanwhile we were still living with my ex-fiance because I still didn’t have an income and nowhere else to go… things were escalating at the house because my ex was ready to move on… after all it had been a few weeks since our broken engagement. *insert rolling eyes* He was becoming more erratic in behavior, drinking a TON, and becoming more and more abusive towards me. One night it blew up. He came home obliterated, slamming doors, breaking things… he shut me in his walk-in closet and screamed at me so close he was spitting on me… he almost punched me… I don’t think it was on purpose, but he was just so drunk he didn’t have control of anything. Once he let me leave his closet I locked my daughter and myself in her bedroom. As she slept I frantically got online doing anything I could to get us out of there beginning with registering my LLC for my personal training company. The next morning as I got my daughter ready for school, I heard him leave… I was shaking in fear, but doing my best to keep it together in front of my daughter. I kept her silent as he walked out… I’ll never forget the way his shoes sounded walking across the hardwood floor… it still makes me shudder. After she was safely on the bus I drove to the ATM and withdrew $400 because that’s all it would let me take at one time, and I drove to the church. I waited in the parking lot for hours for someone to arrive… I was going to try and get us into a women’s shelter, or something, just to get us out of that house.
The pastors and staff finally showed up. I was a sobbing mess. I told them my story. Not once did they judge me or scold me for living with a man I wasn’t married to… they said they would help me. He was calling me nonstop because he had seen that I withdrew $400. They told me to go home and see if he would give me a deposit and the first month’s rent in an apartment as a way to get me out of the house… I did what they said, and he agreed. Finally, we had a way out.
A week later we moved into our apartment. He got pissed about something the day we moved and put a hold on my debit card. He later removed it, but I was completely at his mercy to give me money for groceries or anything. It was Thanksgiving time, and I remember I wanted to cook my daughter a Thanksgiving meal (in my attempt to make up for the shit she was going through because of me, I suppose), but I didn’t have enough money. So, instead I bought a couple packages of deli meat and cheese… heated them up, and rolled them together into finger foods. We ate them on the floor of our bare living room because we had no furniture. I felt so low. So worthless.
He agreed to pay me back the money I put in our account from all of my belongings I had sold, but he was going to do it in increments over the next few months as I started my personal training business… so, I was still at his mercy… I still had to sustain his verbal and emotional abuse… even though I was out from under his roof, I still wasn’t free. He let me borrow his extra vehicle, but I always had a fear he would call the police and report it stolen or something… it was my word against his. I knew I needed to break free from him as soon as I possibly could.
My background check finally came through, and I was cleared to work… I had one client.
The first month of training I think I made $200. The second month I got another client and made $500 total. I steadily kept getting more clients, but no where near enough to support us. That spring I got a car… he had agreed to pay me back part of the money I got for selling my car when I moved. I was one more step to being free, but I was far from where I needed to be financially to be “ok”. One day he called me and yelled at me reminding me what a loser I was… if you would’ve heard him, you would’ve thought he had rescued me off the streets when he met me. Never mind the fact that I was fully self-sufficient in a secure career when he met me… during that phone call he went on and on and on belittling me… I decided right then and there that I was done. I would never ask for one penny from that man again. I would find a way to make ends meet… and so I did. A mere 5 months after starting my business I was on my own. My mom warned me that I shouldn’t burn that bridge… that I should play nice with him because I would still need his help, but I said no.
I was finally free.
The next couple of years I continued to grow my business. I hustled. I did anything I could to survive… and slowly but surely we did. I continued to grow my clientele. I continued to improve my skills as a trainer and nutritionist. I began to build a steady life for me and my daughter. Life was good, and I started to be able to look to the future. I began to discover what I was capable of… what this world had to offer… and what it meant to truly live a life built on faith – faith in myself that I was smart enough, strong enough, and capable of doing more than I thought possible… and faith in God to take care of me and my daughter along the way. It has been a roller coaster at times… as it is much easier working for someone else and receiving a paycheck, but for me, it wasn’t as rewarding. Being an entrepreneur is the equivalent of being a parent…. it really has changed me as a person. I can no longer live in the mindset of fear. I have to have a mindset of abundance. I have to trust myself to make the right decisions. I have to believe in myself… that I am capable of hard things, that I will be successful no matter the circumstances. I have had to become a leader instead of following the herd. I have had to travel alone at times, and I’ve had to learn to lean on others for support too. I have had to learn live outside my comfort zone…. and I have had to have more introspection of who I really am, and who I really want to be more than ever before. I’ve had to level up, and become who I am today… I am so grateful for it all… even the path it took to get me here.
Now that I was settled into my new life of self-employment in our new city I started making friends… they were a blast… and they looooooved to party! And I loved to party with them. I was doing well in my professional life, but I was a shit show in my personal life. I was drinking a lot. Mostly in social situations, but I did find myself drinking more alone too… I felt like a fraud as a personal trainer because I promoted a healthy lifestyle to others, but the lifestyle I was living was far from healthy. To be honest I don’t know at what point alcohol became such a big part of my life. When I was married we rarely drank… maybe 2-3 times per year. Now, when we did drink – we DRANK… but, it never seemed to be a problem. I didn’t like how alcohol made me feel when I drank it on a regular basis – unmotivated, kinda depressed, and I didn’t like what it did to my body… it was REALLY hard to keep the weight off. What I realize now is my dysfunctional relationship with my husband was my addiction back then… when that was gone, I traded it for a nice bottle of Cabernet.
After a few months of partying it up with my friends, I met new acquaintances… after a few turn of events, the opportunity to be sponsored to compete was presented to me again… I know this sounds crazy to say, but I felt as though God was wanting me to compete in this Fitness competition, and since I was living my life by faith now… I did. I trained harder than I ever had before… and I won! This time I won my Pro Status as well! I felt so accomplished. I couldn’t believe it. I had achieved something that no one thought I could do – myself included.
After my competition I immediately went back to my partying ways with my friends, but soon after I got sick. I started having what appeared to be autoimmune conditions developing. My body was attacking itself. I was in chronic pain, extreme brain fog, extreme fatigue, and my weight kept climbing no matter what I did. (you can read about it in more detail here) For the first time in my life I had lost my physical strength and abilities… something that I had always been able to rely on, even in the worst of times. I wasn’t able to workout for stress relief, or distraction from my emotions. Instead I had to start focusing on being healthy, instead of being strong, toned, or whatever…
I continued to get worse and worse, so I decided to seek the care of an Functional Medicine Doctor that I knew personally, and trusted. Working with a alternative/natural doctor was completely different than the traditional healthcare system I had worked in for 18 years. Here they listened to my symptoms, and instead of just giving me a pill to mask them or telling me it was in my head, they tried to find the underlying cause. They had me look at my diet and lifestyle choices, and eliminate the things that were making me sick. During this time I researched anything I could about diet and its effect on the body… because despite the fact that I had an advanced degree in nutrition, we simply weren’t taught any of that stuff in school. We were taught mostly about Calories in vs Calories out… anything beyond that was thought to be quackery. Through my research I learned that food can be used therapeutically to prevent, and even reverse in some cases, chronic diseases… especially disease autoimmune in nature. It opened my eyes to a whole new way of looking at nutrition. Throughout this whole ordeal, even on my worst days, I knew that God was letting me go through this so I could help others. I knew there was a purpose for my suffering, and I knew that I was going to get better, and ultimately be healthier than I had ever been before… and that’s exactly what happened. I spent the next couple of years re-gaining my health strictly through diet and lifestyle changes, as well as supplementation.
Another life-changing decision occurred during this time… about 2 months after my last competition, when my health really began to decline, I stopped drinking alcohol. Completely. I had a bad reaction to it, which scared me, so I decided to not drink for a while… after a couple of months without drinking I noticed I felt better, and I handled life better. I was happier. Although I was never a daily drinker, it was affecting me. It was affecting my ability to be a good mother. It was affecting how I picked relationships. It was affecting my health. During this time of not drinking it was really the first time in my life where I sat in my sobriety. I couldn’t exercise like crazy because of my health problems. I didn’t have a dysfunctional relationship to focus on. I didn’t have all the other things I used to distract myself from truly looking internally at why I do the things I do. I had gone to counseling on and off for years since my divorce, but during this time of sobriety I really delved into my issues. I really had a lot of introspection. I worked through a lot of the trauma in my life. Because of this my mental health is the best it’s ever been, and life is the best it’s ever been, which in turn improved my physical health as well.
For the first time in my life I was truly healthy… in every way.
That’s my story. As you’ve read, I spent the majority of my life trapped in a prison of unhealthy coping mechanisms of disordered eating, alcohol abuse, abusive relationships, low self-esteem, poor body image, and a never-ending need to prove how “strong” I am, how smart I am, how capable I am… perfection seeking at its finest. Most definitely a result from my upbringing, but what I know to be true is I am not my past… I am not who I was 5 years ago, or who I was 5 minutes ago for that matter. Since I am not my past… I don’t call myself an eating disorder survivor… I call myself healthy – because that’s what I am. I don’t call myself an alcoholic… I call myself sober – because that’s what I am. I don’t call myself an abuse victim… I call myself a warrior – because that’s what I am. I am not my poor choices of my past… I am a Child of God, and I am enough… just as I am. My words and my thoughts have power, so I choose to keep them positive. I choose everyday to live in the present, and be the person I want to be – me.
I know that God is using me and my experiences to help others with similar struggles… because honestly, the best teacher in life that I’ve found is experience. I’ve learned to ask for help when needed whether it be from counselors or friends. I’ve learned to look to mentors who have accomplished what I want to accomplish for guidance. I have learned to invest in myself, and my health in every way possible.
Because of the work I have done to get where I am today I am able to show up in this life just as I am, and share this story. I’m no longer controlled by shame, people pleasing, or self-sabotaging behaviors. By removing each chain that has held me back, I am able to be free… to be me.
I don’t want you to think I haven’t had good times in my life as well… because I most certainly have, but for me (as for most people) it was only in times of distress where I course-corrected and made the changes necessary to get to the life I have today – a healthy, happy, thriving, purpose-driven life. I have hit rock bottom… multiple times, but every time I have picked myself back up, and what emerged was a new and improved version of myself. It took losing everything to gain everything… because it forced me to acquire the tools for success. The mindset of success. The confidence needed for success. These terrible things didn’t happen TO me… they happened FOR me. I have built a life, and a business, more successful than I could have ever dreamed, and I know it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t had these struggles.
True health and real transformation happened when I finally identified all of these unhealthy behaviors, and the reasons behind them… instead of ignoring them or pretending like they weren’t affecting me…
Here’s the truth… My eating disorder didn’t magically go away. My desire to have a drink is still there. My instinct to binge, then punish myself with exercise is still present… I have accepted that these will probably always be my default coping mechanisms, as they were ingrained in me at a very young, influential age. But what I realize now is it doesn’t make me a bad person to have these instincts, or to have had these struggles. I simply didn’t know a better way… but through lessons learned, and personal growth, I have realized that I have complete control over these unhealthy behaviors… I am not a slave to unhealthy habits anymore because I have learned new, healthy habits. Through each struggle I gained the tools necessary to overcome it. I have learned to be intentional with my actions instead of reactive to every situation. I am able to stay in the present… I have learned to live a life out of survival mode, and to truly start living… thriving. Today I don’t constantly worry about “what if”. I don’t try to control others. I know that all I have control of is my attitude and behavior in this moment, so all I have to do is make the healthy choice right now. I also know that I am human, and there will be moments where I don’t make the healthy choice… and that’s okay. I simply need to recognize it, and remember my power – I am the only person in control of my health, my happiness, and my life… no one else.
I own this power now because I know my worth. My worth is not in a man, a uniform, how I look, or my achievements. My worth is in Christ, and my worth is in me – because He created me in His image… perfectly imperfect me. Today I believe I am worth the effort it takes to be healthy, happy, and thriving. By continually investing in myself, and my health, I reaffirm my value. I increase my power, and I am able to conquer those demons…. and they don’t control me any longer. I am able to enjoy my life to the fullest because I allow myself to feel joy instead of numb. I am able to follow my dreams because I’m no longer trapped in my prison of shame. I’m able to accomplish my goals because I know I have fought the hard fight. I know that I am smart, brave, and strong. My struggles don’t define me – they strengthen me, and for that I am grateful.
If you’ve made it this far in your reading I’d say you’re either 1) laughing hysterically at me that I would reveal this chaotic, wild ride that has made up my life, and you’re feeling much better about your own life 😉 lol… or 2) something about my story has resonated with you. If it’s the latter, I am with you… you are not alone in your struggles. Even though we all look different on the outside, we act differently, we process things differently… at the core we’re really all the same. We all desire health, happiness, love, and connection. No, our struggles are not identical, but very often the root cause of our struggles are… perfectionism, feeling never enough, shame, people pleasing, poor boundaries, etc… they present differently in each of our lives because we all learned different coping mechanisms along the way. For some of us it’s food, others it’s alcohol, some it’s overachieving or being a workaholic… some of us (myself included) 😉 it’s all of the above. However it presents in our life is just a symptom to something deeper. The awesome thing is… at any time we can learn new, healthy coping mechanisms and behaviors, and we can change our future. It may not be our fault why we developed those unhealthy behaviors, but it is our responsibility to change them to live the healthy happy life that we deserve. To be the parent/spouse/friend/loves one others deserve. We are the ones with the power to change our lives for the better… we just need to seize that power. It’s time to level up!
I love to help people get healthy. I love to share my knowledge of diet and exercise which are the biggest building blocks to our physical health… and yes, our physical health is the foundation of a healthy life, because if our biology isn’t functioning properly we will never reach our full potential… but what I’ve found to be VERY important through my own experience and working with others is… if we don’t feel worthy of the work that it takes to be healthy, it doesn’t do any good to talk about diet and exercise. Once I found my worth, the rest of it just fell into place. My healthy habits became second nature to me. My hope is the same for you… I hope you realize you are worthy of health, happiness, love, success, connection… anything your heart desires. At any moment you have the choice to change your life. Choose now. Take action… and thrive!