This story leaves me in complete awe of God’s sovereignty and faithfulness time and time again. So often we think that we have it all together, that we are in control. And then suddenly, without warning or anticipation, something happens that changes everything. But when it does, He is with us. Guiding us every step of the way.
The hardest struggle I have ever faced began in December 2010 at the age of 23. Up to this point in my life, I had experienced external sadness and sorrow with the loss of loved ones, and through my husband’s life-changing motorcycle accident during our first year of college. These experiences taught me many lessons, helped shape my character and helped plant seeds of faith. However, I had not experienced any real internal struggles. I felt that I could accomplish whatever I set my mind to. I had not experienced failure, and felt that if I worked hard enough, I could achieve success in any aspect of life. I thought that I made the plans for my life and then watched them unfold. I felt secure and in control of my thoughts, feelings, actions and destiny. Little did I know, these convictions were all about to change as my world was turned upside down.
I was halfway through my second year of law school and was really excelling. I had several prosperous job opportunities lined up for me when I graduated, and I saw the path of my life laid out before me. However, inside I had a tugging, nagging feeling that I could not define. Now in hindsight, I realize the nagging feeling was the Holy Spirit trying to lead me down a different path. At the time, I ignored the prompting. I was stubborn and planned out my life using my head and not my heart. I suppressed feelings and bulldozed ahead to accomplish the goals I had set for myself.
During final exams before Christmas break, I took some Benadryl to help me sleep after a late night of studying and lots of caffeine. Unknown to me at the time, I had an extreme adverse reaction to the Benadryl. I was without sleep for an entire night, and felt extreme anxiety and restlessness. The next night I took more Benadryl, and this pattern continued. By the third night of no sleep, I was having rolling panic attacks (which I had never experienced before in my life). I felt like my body had been taken over, and I was in an extreme state of panic and agitation. A family friend gave me a benzodiazepine, (Klonopin — same family as Xanax, Valium, Ativan) and I instantly fell into a deep sleep.
Knowing I had to finish my exams, I went to the doctor to get a prescription for the benzodiazepine to take for the rest of the week of my exams. I still did not equate the Benadryl to my sleepless nights and was not sure what happened to me. The eight nights taking Klonopin was enough for my body to become dependant. Two weeks after stopping this medication, my body went into withdrawal. It is hard to describe what withdrawal is like, because it does not seem humanly possible to experience the level of physical and mental pain I went through. It is like I entered hell on earth, and I plummeted very quickly into a dark pit. I had to be put back on Klonopin to begin a very slow taper that lasted for 10 months. During this time, I experienced many nights of no sleep, was unable to eat for two months (lived on Ensure), had extreme anxiety and panic, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to breathe properly, and deep depression. There were many moments when I felt like I could not endure the pain any longer; many times I wanted to give up because I could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even after I was completely off the medication, it still took more than a year for my brain to fully recover. So, in total, I spent more than two years in this dark pit of suffering.
However, God had me in his grip through every moment of this trial. It truly is awesome to reflect on how He was there from the very start of this walk through the valley of darkness, how he provided me with exactly what I needed to get through each day, and how he was able to change what was meant for my harm into pure goodness.
His sovereignty began on the very first night of no sleep when I took the Benadryl. I received a message in the middle of the night from my uncle who is a missionary in Guatemala. He had never sent me a message through Facebook before, and this message read, “Ann — remember, God does not give us a Spirit of fear, but a Spirit of power, a Spirit of love and a sound mind. — 2 Timothy 1:7” I did not understand the meaning behind this message at the time, but I now view it as purely miraculous. God knew the trial that laid before me, and in His mercy and love, He made sure this message was sent to me from the very start.
In a time of confusion, and under the care of a doctor who was, to say the least, ignorant of the extreme harm these medications cause, God opened the door for me to see a new doctor. This doctor had compassion for my situation — he was knowledgeable about withdrawal and the damage caused by benzodiazepines (benzos), and he helped manage the entire process of slowly getting me off the medication. In my first appointment with him, he pulled out a Bible and read a scripture verse to me. Never in my life has a doctor been bold enough to bring out a Bible during an appointment. He said he felt that God’s hand was in this situation, and he needed to share this with me.
God surrounded me with an amazing support system during this time. My cousins, aunts and dear friends spent many days and countless hours by my side. They poured love and encouragement into me, and spurred me on to not lose hope or give up. God used my husband, family and friends to keep me walking through this trial.
This trial brought stillness to my life. The life I had all planned out suddenly came to a complete stop. Everything I thought I knew, I no longer did. My world was turned upside down so quickly, I was lost and scrambling to find ground beneath me. During this forced quiet time, I was so hungry for Christ. I read scripture and many Christian books. My favorite verses were, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 and “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6. I also found so much encouragement from reading, “Calm My Anxious Heart” by Linda Dillow, “Battlefield of the Mind” by Joyce Meyer, and “Believing God” by Beth Moore. I listened to Christian audio tapes, started attending a bible study, and talked with family and friends for hours about my faith and my purpose. I prayed ceaselessly, and prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. I prayed for healing, I prayed for strength, and eventually reached the place where I prayed for God’s will to be done in my life in His perfect timing. My faith and relationship with God grew exponentially during this trial. Not to mention, the faith of my dearest loved ones, including my husband. He came to faith through witnessing God’s work in my life during this time of suffering. As hard as this trial was, the goodness that came out of it could not have happened any other way. Now that I stand at the end of this struggle, I am in reverent awe of God’s sovereignty in every aspect of my life and the lives of others.
I am now healed and am a much stronger version of myself. My perspective on life has become God-centered, and my life is now God-controlled, instead of self-controlled (I still have my moments, of course). I know that life is full of trials, and there will be many more trials to come. “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 However, now I can rest assured that no matter what valley of darkness may come, God will be by my side through it all.