I am at an advantage.
In general, those aren’t difficult words for me to process. I know that I’m advantaged in so many areas in my life. I have an incredible husband, supportive family, and sensational friends. I have a steady job that gives me opportunities to do things I love. I get to live a life of impact and mentor young adults. I have a safe place to live, can pay my bills, etc. There is much for which to be thankful.
Yet, I have felt disadvantaged when it came to my body, feeling like it has deeply betrayed me. In my teenage and college years, that manifested itself through chronic pain disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, along with an eating disorder. For the last 7 years, it has manifested itself in a new diagnosis that has brought with it the deepest shame I have ever experienced. The berating sting of the word “defective” is one I’ve been battling for years. I have felt if I couldn’t “fix” or “heal” myself and figure out how to be “normal,” then I would be at a disadvantage for the rest of my life. I needed to vanquish this enemy, obliterate this obstacle…… except the enemy was me, the obstacle my own body.
My therapist and I talk frequently about my critical-self versus my integrated-self. She told me in my last session that for some reason this victim voice, this “woe is me” theme, kept popping up about this issue. Needless to say, I was incredibly frazzled and angry. In the past, I’ve struggled with victim mentality in others, which is probably why I was so mad that she was calling it out in me. (Thankfully she’s an incredible counselor and can deal with my critical-self when I get all riled up.) So she told me that I needed to write about how I was advantaged instead of disadvantaged.
The more I’ve processed this over the last few weeks, the more I saw myself falling back into that faulty all-or-nothing, black-and-white, either/or thinking that gets me into trouble so often. I’m slowly learning that there are no formulas, no timelines, no guarantees, no rigid molds for what “freedom” and “success” mean. I’m realizing that maybe the obstacle isn’t my body itself, but the way I think about myself.
Thankfully, I don’t have to erase my grief, anger, or pain. I can hold both the devastation of the diagnosis and hope for healing. I can know that I can have an uncommon diagnosis and still not be the only one struggling. Whether I know someone with my diagnosis or not doesn’t diminish the power of my story or the tenacity I’ve been fostering because I haven’t given up. Being raw in my grief isn’t a bad thing, even though I’ve spent a lot of time labeling those types of things as “unacceptable meltdowns.” So this past week, after another vulnerable and disappointing doctor’s visit, I did something I haven’t done before. I made room for my grief by canceling the rest of my afternoon at work, instead of forcing myself to be “fine.” That’s growth for me, because normally my critical voice wins out in those battles.
I explained this healing process recently to a friend as not just remodeling this “problem” room in my house with some new furniture or putting up new shelves, but as bulldozing half the house and ripping up the foundation. I’m pulling out large chunks of cement and crumbling bricks, as I try to make sense of a project that ended up even bigger than I could have anticipated when I started. I feel scattered and unsettled, WAY out of my comfort zone, and I want it fixed NOW……..and I need the foundation torn up more than I need a quick fix. I need a new foundation to become the woman I want to be.
So in the midst of this exhausting, important, demanding process, how am I at an advantage? Well, I’m at an advantage because I have tenacity and grit. I have a hope that runs deeper than myself and I believe in the redemption of stories.
I have a God who holds my identity and offers unconditional love, no matter who (including myself) tries to snatch it back.
My husband is kind, patient, gracious, and understanding; he wants more than anything for me to be kind to myself in the midst of this healing process. I have the privilege of being able to go to counseling, to see a doctor, both of whom are incredibly supportive and committed to helping me. I have friends & family who are walking with me, so I’m not alone. I need this space, this place, and these obstacles. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
Nicole Clifton is a Phoenix-native, voracious reader, an Enneagram 8, a passionate advocate against injustice,
and committed to being a life-long learner. Her educational background is in psychology and she is in her 8th year as a Resident Director at Grand Canyon University. As a Resident Director, she has loved mentoring and getting to engage with college students about a variety of topics such as embracing diversity, LGBTQ awareness, healthy relationships & boundaries, sex trafficking, body image, forgiveness, and the power of vulnerability & owning our stories. Nicole and her husband just celebrated 7 years of marriage this past summer and are figuring out how to chase their dreams together.