The following is the second in a two-part series of an undocumented story being given debut; bringing the inside to the outside, in courage and with grit. ( Part One // Here ) To be an onlooker of this testament is privilege. To be a companion in it, even more so. Whether or not you find your own self laced within these words, we recognize that humanity, after all it's differences, has common blood running through its veins. We each have a story.
There's room for all of it. And it's a beautiful justice to finally say it.
"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." // Maya Angelou
Here is Amanda, telling it:
I had never met anybody that was like me.
My parents found a rehabilitation place for teenagers that had chronic pain conditions and struggled with addiction. It was a very small niche of people in the world that would ever need this kind of recovery, but they have it. So I was like, “Okay, we’ll give it a try.”
I thought if nothing else comes out of this, but I meet some people that I'm like, "Alright."
But the program didn't start until March. The overdose happened in January. So there was this very odd 6 week time-period of like, “What the hell do we do?” Because at this point, there’s no more hiding and we all know I have a problem and can’t be trusted to do anything. So, my parent's answer to that was: I will have adult supervision every single second of my life for the next 6 weeks. Which now makes total sense. At the time I was like, “Hell no.” They drove me to school and they’d pick me up from school and then I’d go sit at their office and watch them do their work until 6 o’clock and then I’d go home and sleep on their bedroom floor and wake up and do it all over again.
I didn’t have access to friends. But the people at church knew what was going on and they said, “Chitwood, come hang out with us after school. Come hang out with us!” And my parents had agreed that would be a safe place for me to go to.
So this weird thing started happening where I was at church all the time. Everyday. Hanging out. At church.
And like I said, I had gone on summer trips with these people and hung out with these people sometimes but I was like, “Why are you guys wanting to hang out with me?” And they were like, “You’re cool!” They would literally come get me from school sometimes. It was weird. They were really excited for me to go to rehab and they said “I’ll be praying for you” and this was the first time I ever listened to what was being said in the church because these people were my friends. They actually cared about me and I didn’t get that. There was no reason for them to do that, so I started listening.
That was kind of how things were left when I went to the program.
Rehab was in Minnesota, at the Mayo Clinic. Rehab was very north, very cold. Very far removed from every aspect of my life in Oklahoma. But I went, and it was really rough.
The first few weeks of getting clean were physically very difficult. Because of the kind of program it was, there was an option to keep taking just the prescribed dosage of medicine so you can see what the pain is actually like because it’s been so long since you’ve felt it for real. They said, "Let’s get there and and then we’ll work forward." They never said things like, “You can never take the pain medication again." And I think that was actually a good idea. While I was there, I got completely clean and the pain was miserable. Living with the pain was not a quality of life worth living in any shape or form. But still, as I removed the haze the drugs had me in for three years, I made the decision that the quality of life with pain, which was awful, was still better than not remembering and not knowing and not being able to feel. This whole process happened at rehab and my eyes, like, woke up. It’s crazy.
You have to see the picture. It’s the first day I entered rehab, and then the day that I left. A few weeks apart.
So you can see ... there’s life.
They would make us go to exercise classes.
I got kicked out of every single yoga class because I would laugh! Like, deep belly laughs that I couldn’t stop and they’d be like, “Amanda, you have to leave” because everyone would be laughing! There were only 12 people in my group; 11 girls and one dude. This poor dude. He didn’t have arms.
The coolest part about it for me was when we all sat around a table and they made us tell what disease we had and I can remember all of us looking around at each other. We realized it was the first time any of us had been around anyone else like us. It was the first time I thought, “Maybe I’m not alone. Maybe I’m not crazy. Maybe whatever this weird program is is going to help because now I have people who understand." When I say, “Man - I’m having a really bad pain day" they know what that means. It’s not like my stomach hurts a little bit. I could look across the room from them and I could tell they were also in pain. I thought if they can do this in their pain, then I can do this in my pain and it’s fine. It was a solidarity thing; together. That was a really monumental moment for me. Those people are really important to me still. Yea - it was a really good time away. I woke up and I met all these people like me. As I’m leaving there, there’s this very weird sense of hope and it had been a very long time since I’ve felt that. And I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
Because we were at the Mayo Clinic, my mom suggested we see one more doctor before we left the program. So we go see this doctor and he's like, “Actually, we’re developing a surgery here that might be able to help you.” Except, at that point in time, I wasn’t a candidate for it. I wasn't sick enough. Which pissed me off because I was like, “You want me to get sicker? Cool.” But just the idea that this was the first time they hadn't said “Pain is going to be your life” but instead said, “The medical field is advancing. There is always change happening. This [surgery] could change your life in the future.” I was like, "Wow. Okay."
I was hopeful. I was clean. I was nervous. I didn’t know what this version of Amanda would look like. Because then you’re home. And it’s the end of senior year. At this point, my plans are to go to Hawaii? I’m like, “Hawaii?? What am I doing?”
I know that there are certain people that I can’t really hang out with back home. But it’s the end of senior year and these are my people and we have prom and we have graduation and what am I supposed to do with these things? This is it! This is the monumental moment that we’re celebrating in our lives and it’s not like this is the moment to go make new friends. So I went with them and I hung out with them. It ended up being okay. But it was really weird. They ended up treating me very oddly. And there was so much stuff that I chose not to be around for. So I went back to isolation.
But the girls from church threw me a party. A welcome home party?! They were like, “We are so proud of you! And we’re really glad you’re back and we missed you!” And I realized I wanted to hang out with these people rather than the people I’ve known my whole life. Other friends were treating me really weird and you church girls aren't. What is this? What is happening here?
I started going to church. All the time. By choice! Not by force.
I went for this community I found. For people who honestly didn’t care to know what happened. I could talk to them about it if I wanted, sure, but they didn’t care. All they cared about was that I was there. And they kept talking about Jesus. They told me about grace and that was a weird word. So there was this language happening, which I had been around before because I'd gone to church. It wasn’t a new place. But listening was new.
I’m still super sick, maybe more sick than I’ve been the last three years because I’m off of medication and I’m feeling all these things. But I'm still not really attaching to people. That was probably the weirdest time of my life. Whirlwind. And I was working at a snow cone stand. I found myself discovering all of these things I had done the past three years and this whole life that played out that I couldn’t remember. It was a lot. It was an overload of emotion.
It's then, when I’m discovering who Jesus is and who God is and who the Church is claiming Him to be, that I began asking “Why?” the most.
I don’t ever really remember having an anger-conversation with God, but I can remember asking, “Why am I more broken than everybody else?” That’s what was kind of holding me back from making the statement that this God I found was the Truth, the God I believe in. I still couldn’t fully say that I believed Him. I wanted to really badly, because I could see the church and I could see the way the church was loving and I wanted to be able to love like they loved and hope like they hoped. But I couldn’t get over myself. I couldn’t get over the identity of addict; of sick. I then attached it to the thought “I must be more broken than everybody else. There's no way that Jesus could choose to love me; choose to stay.”
Some of my friends from rehab were going back to Minnesota for a reunion and I begged my mom to go. We went and while we were out there we were going to see the doctor again. He had a test he wanted to do.
I had a really fun weekend with my rehab friends and was like, “I wish this was my world” because it was easy there. Even being in pain felt easy there.
I went to do the test, which was the weirdest test I ever took in my life. They used a camera and took a picture of my pancreas and then took a piece of it out. And we found out what would be an official answer to why I was sick. It was a really huge deal. They had a scientific answer for me. They found factual information. A gene mutation had been discovered and it matched my test results. They could see it right there in my pancreas. For whatever reason, my pancreas had never grown. They could see it and it was a tiny little guy; a little baby-sized pancreas. So because of that, my ducts had never grown. But my body is thinking my pancreas was fully grown so it’s producing adult versions of these things when it doesn't have space to store it, which is why all this stuff has happened my whole life. And it was like, "Wow, that makes sense." That was a really nice moment. Even though we knew what it was and knowing why changed nothing from a medical standpoint, it was really nice.
They were able to say that my parents' genes creating this was a one in a trillion chance. Which is why my brother didn't have it. It was just a very weird combination of their genes.
We sat down and I flashed back to that moment of OD’ing and wanting to live. And now I want to live even more. I could feel like there’s something out there, like I could do these things. I was figuring out how to have hope and how to look past this moment.
Then the doctor told me I was a candidate for the big surgery.
I was like, “Okay, but what does that look like? What does that mean?”
The surgery would go like this: they take out your pancreas, your gallbladder, your spleen, a part of your small intestine and part of your stomach and they would pretty much rewire your entire digestive system to work, but it removes all of these pieces. He said “I think if we do this and we do it now then you’re going to be fine.”
The surgery was super risky. They’d done it 25 times, 12 people had survived. So there was basically a 50% survival rate. So you’re looking at these questions:
Do you take what’s sure? Do you take the life, the few years, whatever it is you can bank on and you just live them big and live them the best you can, knowing there’s this time bomb? Or, do you take this risk now and potentially not have a world with October?
It was a really weird decision to make for an 18 year old kid.
I had to sit down and weigh those options.
For me, I knew before I left the doctors office that the surgery is what I wanted to do because I knew I wouldn’t handle the ticking-clock situation well. I wouldn’t. At all.
My parents didn't want me to have the surgery. They were like, “No, no.” Which makes sense as a parent. Bank on the sure. But I remember telling my mom on the way home that I was going to have the surgery but she couldn't get there. She was like, “No you’re not …” By the time we got home, though, she was like “You’re 18 years old. This is your life. Whatever decision you make, we will support it."
I decided to have the surgery. It was a pretty quick decision.
All my friends went off to college that week. There was a four week period where I was waiting to go to Minnesota, but this time it’s like “I don’t know if I’m coming back from Minnesota.”
It was in that 4 week period that I really fell in love with Jesus. I don't know what shifted. I wish that I could say “This was the verse that clicked, or the song that helped” but I think it was just watching how the church surrounded me. And it didn’t matter anymore. This is going to sound so weird, but I didn’t even care anymore if it was actually true. I didn’t care. I just wanted to be a part of it. I just wanted to feel that love and I wanted to know …. I wanted it to be true enough that I could not be scared of what was coming. Or know that if I did die, I wasn’t going to be alone. Because I felt like I had spent the last 18 years alone.
And I didn’t want to die alone.
And so I was just like, “Okay. Okay.”
I spent a lot of time talking to Jesus in those four weeks. A lot of time telling Him what I remembered, how I felt, talking about how I was scared. I remember telling Jesus “I don't want to feel alone. I don't want to be alone going into this.”
I go to Minnesota for the surgery, and my brother and I shared a hotel room the night before and he stayed up all night with me and did puzzles because I couldn’t sleep. I was so nervous. The boy who doesn’t talk, stayed up all night talking to me.
I go to the hospital and go to get checked in, but I’m an 18 year old going into this surgery so I didn’t think about some of the things I should have thought of. I'm checking in and their like, “You have to have a living will.” And I'm like “Oh, I don’t have that.” They say, “You HAVE to have one.” So it’s literally 4:30 in the morning, in a hospital waiting room, and I’m writing a will, and I have a notary public there, and am doing all of this paper work. It’s so funny and ironic because I had spent this whole month preparing for this moment, and it was in that one moment of writing my will that I finally realized, “Shit.”
I don't have anything to put on that will, let me tell you. I was like “What is the point of this?” But I had to have it, and I had to sign who makes the decisions when I can’t.
I remember after all of that, they went to take me to pre-op and they said, “Normally we only do this when you’re younger than 18, but do you want anyone to come back to pre-op with you?” I was like, “No. I don’t.” And it's so stupid, but it was very defiant. Like, “No. Nobody gets all the way in. Nobody gets to see that.” So I went back to pre-op and I freaked the shit out.
They rolled me into a room and there were probably 50 other people in the pre-op, and I didn’t really realize what pre-op was, but we were all laying on beds with IV’s, getting weird parts of our bodies shaven and we were just … laying there together. It was so weird. I freaked out. They had to give me a bunch of medication to get me to calm down. They asked, “Do you still want to do this?” I said, “Yea. I can’t back out now.”
I remember they finally take me to the actual surgery room, at which point I am completely naked and I wish that I had cared more that I was completely naked, but I didn’t. I was still freaking out. I didn’t care that there were 25 people in the room and I was just laying on a metal table, completely naked.
Surgery happened. It was 16 hours long. Me on the table. It went really well, textbook well. But when they took me back out to ICU, there was a complication. That first night in ICU, I got a blood clot in my liver. I ended up having to go back in. That was the closest I got to actually dying, was the blood clot. Not the surgery. A blood clot. I wish I could remember the next couple of weeks of my life after that, but I don’t. I remember weird parts. I remember them pulling a tube out of my body, which was weird. I have nightmares about that, because I could feel it snaking out of the side of my body. It was the most disturbing feeling.
The next couple of months were just rough. A lot of medication and treatments and a lot of alone in Minnesota. Isolation. It was a really really hard time. I was sicker than I had ever been and I was fighting for this life that was supposed to get better and I just felt alone. So I clung really tightly to Jesus in those few weeks.
He became my best friend. He became my comforter and my protector and I would audibly have conversations with him and I was like, “Who else am I going to look to?” That was a really important time of my life, spiritually. Because I got to know Him. And I let Him see me. I let Him in.
Jesus became the constant. He became the steady. He became who I relied on, who I counted on. Because coming out of it, I'm back to being an 18 year old who has to figure out my life now.
I got better, and I’m not in pain now.
Who the heck am I if I’m not an addict? And I’m not in pain? Who the heck am I? What’s going to occupy my brain?
Up until this point in my life every thought was like, “How am I going to get pills?” or “Wow, I’m in pain.” Now, all of a sudden, there’s this world that I’m living in that doesn’t even feel real. It’s not about drugs, it’s not about pain, it just is … normal. And I don't know what to do with that. It’s quiet. My brain is quiet. There’s not chaos happening. We aren’t talking about life-expectancy anymore. It’s just starting to become this routine of, “See you in 6 months - Call us if you don’t feel good!”
This is everything I had ever wanted. This world I never thought would be possible has happened.
Jesus became this really easy answer. This thing that filled those spaces. Which was good, but it almost became … the easiest way for me to now not deal with it.
Instead of stopping and pausing in those months following the surgery to deal and to really process what had happened the last 5 years, Jesus became my obsession. I didn't stop to ask what the last year had even been. What was this whirlwind situation? I just dove into learning about the Bible and got super involved in church. I was there all the time and planning youth events. Instead of stopping to actually focus on my personal relationship with Jesus, my struggles, all these things that had happened, I was just like: Jesus facts.
Obviously, that is 100 times better than doing drugs. [Laughs!] If you’re going to have a problem, that’s the one to have. But still.
After a semester at a state university, I thought I should go to Bible College. Sure! Bible College! Let’s do that. So I went to Bible College. Which was a really good thing, one of the best decisions I could have made at that point of time. Mostly because the environment I was around at university would have quickly derailed me. The environment that Bible College provided is the reason that I get to be here today, wrestling through this. So I don't regret it.
Four years into college, right around the time that I came out here, to New Hampshire, for the summer, I started to realize this isolation thing that I had done. At this point, my whole world isn’t about being sick anymore but my identity is still so trapped in “I’m supposed to be alone. I’m broken. I’m broken in ways that Jesus can’t fix.”
That’s what I’m wrestling with now. How in the world do you, I mean .... that was my childhood. Everything in me. All of what happened, my sickness and addiction, is ingrained in my brain. How do I? ... I’m learning how to let Jesus into those places. Because He can’t fix them, but He can heal them. Stopping and pausing and telling your story and letting people see you. That’s what needs to happen in my life right now. I have to stop. Just stop. And that’s what I’m doing.
And this is what's been my favorite part of the journey so far. Here I am, 7 years clean. Seven years after surgery. I’m finally getting to be Amanda Chitwood. Before, I didn’t get to develop hobbies or spend time doing things or even thinking “Man, what would I like to do? What’s relaxing for me?” Those weren’t questions in my life for so long because they couldn’t be at the time. But even bigger than that, deeper than that, I'm asking, “What makes me laugh? What do I actually look for in a person I want to be friends with? Or date? What makes me wake up in the morning?” Like, “Yes!”
I’m starting to see it. I’m starting to feel it. I’m starting to get to spend time in things I’ve always wanted to do and spend time exploring. It’s weird. It feels weird to me that I wake up in the morning and am not in pain, and I’m fine. Like, pain is not my identity. That’s not who I am. That’s not who I have to be. There is all this stuff I can do now. It’s really exciting! And terrifying as crap but now I can ask, “What do I want to do with my life? What am I passionate about?”
I'm learning and it’s been fun. Hard. Scary. But, fun. And I’m not having to pretend.
I’ve been in New Hampshire for a year and I feel like the person who arrived here in January was still a person in a box. The world saw exactly who I wanted the world to see. Everything was still very calculated. I knew what words to say, I knew what to do to make people feel like I’m this particular person. Even like: I have this cool story, but the story would always stop once I got better. If I ever told it, I’d always stop it there. There wasn’t a story after that. And now the best part of the story is after that. The best part is happening right now.
Jesus came in and He was this savior that I fell in love with and He was exactly what I needed in those moments. Jesus is actually transforming me now.
It's like this: I keep telling Him, “But I’m still alone. I feel so alone. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m still all alone.” And I hear Him say, “Maybe you feel alone because you're not really being you. You're not standing in the light. You’re not letting people really see you or love you. Because you’re only letting them see the little bit you want them to. It’s all so calculated.”
That's what I’m figuring out right now. “You want to feel loved? You want to not be alone? Then be. You can stop trying. You’re not broken. You're okay. I love you. Just be.”
So I'm trying that out. It’s been weird. Hard. I have to not talk a lot when I want to talk. Or talk when I don’t want to. Go to places that are uncomfortable a lot. The drug side of my addiction has been harder to deal with the past six months or so than maybe ever. I’ve had to call my friend and tell her, “I think I might take things. I don’t know why, but I think I might.” And in a very weird way, I think that’s a good sign. Because if it was easy, if I was still living the safe life, there wouldn’t be much to fear because everything would be within my control; every conversation and thought exactly how I planned it. But stopping, unpacking, being? I have no control. I don’t have control over my emotions. I don't have control over what weird thing Jesus is going to put on my heart to do that day. But I do have control over my decisions and going back to pills just isn't an option.
My whole life, Jesus just kinda came with me where I wanted to go. But now? I can’t really see past here. I don’t know where He’s taking me. And it's okay.
It’s still really lonely, but it’s a different kind of alone. Maybe it's because I’m recognizing it and I’m not pretending anymore. I’m calling it what it is. It’s a little bit less scary. And also, I'm realizing that this isn't forever; this is a moment for me to become more like Jesus and for Jesus to fill the spaces in me that only Jesus can fill. I have to feel all of this right now. I have to work through and experience and walk through all of this story and I know that. The alone is still really hard, because there are nights that are overwhelming and achey and I just cry. But then the morning comes and it’s like, “You’re being made new. You're moving towards something good, something better, towards an authentic life. This is part of that. This is getting you there.”
So it’s okay. It’s hard, but it's okay.
I'm recognizing that I need people and I need Jesus. I’m recognizing that I belong. That I'm here for a reason and there is a purpose. I still feel alone a lot, but I’m learning that I'm not. He has given me hope. I'm working through all of this, and likely always will be, but I’m getting these amazing glimpses into an authentic life and He’s like “This is where I’m leading you.” There is enough hope that’s woven into the loneliness that it’s okay.
Jesus surprised me.
His methods and the reach ... the length of his reach to get to me. It surprised me. Because it doesn’t make sense. Jesus’ love does not make sense. There was no reason for the guys at the church to make sure I was getting picked up from school and being taken care of. There was no reason for the girls at church to throw me a “Welcome Back From Rehab” party. There was no reason for my closest friend to decide we needed to be friends. And that’s all Jesus telling me “I love you, I love you, I love you.” As cheesy as that sounds, I mean it. That was the most unexpected thing. The rest of it? The illnesses, the addiction, relationships, the ups and downs of that? I probably could have expected that. All of that would make sense. But Jesus didn’t make sense. The parts of the story where He boldly made Himself known … those were the times that didn’t make sense. That’s where the paradigm shifts. That’s where things change. He doesn’t leave. He doesn’t change. He’s just there. Looking back on this story, He was there the entire time. I couldn’t see it then. But I see it now. He chased pretty hard for a while. That’s my favorite. There’s a trust there that I needed. It’s what makes stopping and unpacking safe. Whatever comes out of these boxes, He’ll still be there. I’m not doing it alone.
An extra note from Amanda:
To the person currently walking out a journey of fear and isolation and unknown:
Pause. Take a deep breath. And tell somebody where you are. If I would have just told somebody where I was, what I was feeling, what I was experiencing ... whether or not they really understood it wouldn’t have mattered. What would matter is that you’re not standing in it alone. Tell someone.
To the parent or mentor of someone walking out a journey of fear and isolation and unknown:
Be a dragon. Don’t be afraid to make them angry. Don’t be afraid to mess up the hopeless world they built for themselves. Don’t play into it. Don’t help them build that. I wish so badly that somebody would have called me out on it. And I would have been pissed off in the moment and I probably would have hated them in the moment for it, but don’t wait 'till its too late. Don’t wait until its convenient. Be who that person needs you to be. Love isn’t easy. It’s not. It’s really hard. You have to do really not-fun things sometimes because you love people. Don't be afraid of that.
My mom and I have had a lot of conversations since then. Could-haves, should-haves, sincere apologies. I can’t imagine being in her shoes in that situation. I would take my shoes over hers in this story. I’m not a mom, but I know that I can’t imagine how hard it would be to watch your kid go through that. In the moment, I couldn’t pull myself out. I was too far past that. I couldn’t even see how bad it was, how far into this hole that I was. I couldn’t do it. I needed somebody to be my eyes, to tell me where I was, because I was nowhere near where I thought I was. They may never say thank you for it, but it’s still the right thing to do.
Don’t leave. They may tell you to leave. They might say a lot of nasty things. But leaving someone alone is not the answer. They need you in ways they don’t understand; in ways they can't vocalize.
You can find Amanda on Instagram @chitwood13. Want to tell Amanda how you were affected by her story? Send her a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. She'd love to hear from you.
Do you have something that needs to be told? A part of your being that's telling you it's time? I'm listening. There's room for you. There's room for all of it.
Please send me a note if you'd like a space to share your story. It would be an honor to give you a channel to tell it.
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