Diane Cunningham is the president and founder of the National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs and the author of the book series “Rock Bottom Is a Beautiful Place.” Diane shares her journey through depression, job loss, alcoholism, infertility, and divorce, and how she found courage and restoration from God to keep going, and to help others who face similar challenges.
Diane Cunningham’s Story: Jesus Calling Podcast Episode 21
Narrator: Diane Cunningham is the president and founder of the National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs, as well a consultant, author, video guru, artist, plane crash survivor, marathon runner and former master’s level therapist. She has been called a “creative machine” and a “pied-piper” of people. As much as she is able to impart her secrets of success to other women, she is very candid that life has thrown her a series of curveballs and that God took her to a rock bottom place from where she had to find courage in Him to keep going.
The Start of Diane’s Journey
Diane Cunningham: Hi, there. I’m Diane Cunningham. I am the founder and president of the National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs, but bigger than that, I am a coach, I’m an artist. I love helping women to really start again.
I’m originally from Yucaipa, California which is a relatively small town, all things considered in California. It’s near Palm Springs, a couple hours from Disneyland and the beach. My family, my parents are both teachers and my two sisters are both school teachers. I have only recently figured out I’m actually a teacher too. I just teach differently. It was a really strong education environment. An environment of learning, an environment of…there’s always something to learn from every experience.
I was the oldest of three girls, and I really dove right into the oldest child role of being very responsible. I was really good at school. I love learning. I still love learning. I’ve been journaling for years and years and just part of really learning how to process my own feelings, learning to love words, to love words, and get those out on a piece of paper. I really think that I thought about being a writer because I remember reading all the Nancy Drew books and having that concept of maybe I could write, maybe I could write…write stories.
An Eating Disorder and Family Dynamics
My family was a stable family but I would say there were some pieces missing for me. One of the ways that came out in tangible ways, for me, was an eating disorder. It felt like the only thing I could control. My parents ended up getting a divorce much later. I’m sure I was already a counselor at heart. I knew that my parents’ marriage was, something was off but I didn’t know what and I didn’t know how to help and I didn’t know what else to do. There was just this heaviness that I felt on, “I don’t know how to fix this.”
I think that every child internalizes things differently. You can grow up in the same family and everybody turns out to live different. I’m very much of a feeling person and emotional. That’s how I’m wired. And so I ended up either binging, binge eating over that to comfort myself, and then that would flip to the other side. And then, I would starve myself because I felt like I needed to be smaller. Be smaller. Take up less space.
In the middle of all that, of course, you want to be loved. There was a feeling, that you’re supposed to know that you’re loved. There wasn’t much touching in my family. There wasn’t much “I love you”’s. That just wasn’t a part of our dynamic. I desperately, now looking back, know that I was starving for that. I was starving for some hugs and “I love you”’s and “you’re pretty” and I didn’t have that. I started to numb my feelings through the food.
I actually, on my 18th birthday, with my family’s permission…you have to be 18 to go to the location I went…but I admitted myself for a 30-day in-patient eating disorder program, because I just felt crazy.
I still have to pay attention. I’m still really very aware of food and my thinking about food and that it’s distorted sometimes. I’ve weighed 203 pounds and I’ve weighed 122 pounds. I know that my healthy weight is in the middle and that it’s okay, and learning to love my body and learning to love the body God gave me. It’s different than yours and the girl next door and everybody has a different one. Obviously, God knows what he’s doing. So, it’s been a process.
Legal Trouble and Thoughts of Suicide
I went and got my master’s in counseling. I was working. I worked at a hospital in the employee assistance program. Then, I also had a private practice.
One of my clients made the decision to kill himself. So, that was a tragedy in and of itself but then, it led, for me, into a journey where I was eventually sued. It was a 4-year journey for me from beginning of his death and then the funeral, then, being served with a lawsuit and then, walking through that legal battle four years from start to finish. By the end of that, I had been named negligent and basically malpractice was the red mark on my certification as a counselor. It rocked me. It broke me. I fought. I did the legal things. I did the deposition. I was in the deposition room from 9 in the morning till 5 at night and being questioned. It broke me deep down to my core.
Now I can look back and see God’s hand, of course, in all of it.
I’ve had moments in my journey…and I want to be very honest about this…where I’ve considered suicide. I think it’s important that we talk out loud about that. There were a few times when I was really young, when I was in the eating disorder phase that I considered that, but there were some moments of that being a question in my mind during this lawsuit aftermath, I would call it. Really thinking that maybe my husband will be better off if I wasn’t here, and then, that thought scaring me.
Obviously, the whole event shaped and changed my career. It led me out of counseling and pretty quickly after into more of the coaching. Now I can look back and see God’s hand, of course, in all of it. It led me eventually to become a life purpose coach.
After the lawsuit and the move to Texas and then eventually, our move to Wichita Falls which is where I lived when I created the National Association of Christian Women Entrepreneurs. I launched NACWE the year 2010, May 11th. Of course, in the middle of this, I’m married. Robert and I, we tried to have children and that just didn’t happen for us. That was just a deep grief that seemed to really add to my internal dialogue that said, “What is wrong with you? You’re not enough. Every woman can bust out a child. What’s wrong with you?”
Looking back on it now, I drank every night. I drank every night. I thought everybody did. My husband and I would get done with the day and have a glass of wine or sit out on the back patio and talk. And so, it wasn’t inappropriate or I’d meet some girlfriends and we’d have margaritas. I don’t think I was drinking alcoholically at that time.
Alcoholism and Hitting Rock Bottom: The Double Life
I do remember feeling like I’m leading and teaching and sharing all this passion and inspiration and joy with the whole wide world over here with NACWE and I don’t have any passion in my marriage. I don’t have any. I got all of my love and my affirmation from serving these women and being in business. That led into that double life feeling, too, like I’m a fake. I don’t want to be a fake. I don’t want to live a life that’s two different people.
The divorce happened in 2011. I believe that was one of the turning points for the drinking, then I was living by myself, leading NACWE all day, which is basically virtual, so phone calls, webinars and e-mails and then, at night, I remember feeling … I wouldn’t have called it anxious. I don’t know what I would have called it but by the afternoon, I was ready for a drink.
The double life was exhausting. It was overwhelming. You begin to not know … This is who I am during the day and then, at night … It was like at night, I got to be this fun girl, just fun. She paints and she laughs and she can live in freedom. I think I felt more and more stifled during the day that I was supposed to be this good, godly churchy girl. I don’t know. Maybe I made those rules up for myself. I’m sure I did but it came to a head when I hit my last few weeks and months of drinking, when I finally walked into the doors of AA and said, “I think I might be an alcoholic.”
I think I was afraid about money. I was afraid about, am I going to make it? Is this all going to work? What’s going to happen? What do I need to do? Just all of those fears would rise up when I got done with my so-called work day. I didn’t know what to do with them. I just didn’t know where to put them. And, they still rise up. I mean let’s be honest; but I have a place and a way and a toolkit now that’s different. I don’t have to drink over them. I go to my meetings. I meet with my sponsor. I meet with other women in recovery. I ask for the help that I need and I know that all I have to take care of is one day at a time, but I had to get to the rock bottom experiences to cross over into that and that all happened in June of 2013 when I took my last drink.
Finding Your Way Back From The Bottom
The miracle is as soon as I am done with dealing with my whatever, my thing, addiction, divorce, plane crash, infertility, God really often very quickly sends me some woman that it’s my turn to help. It’s happened over and over and over. I can say “me too.” I can say, “Here’s some of the ways that I made it through.” What I’ve learned is that my job is to share my experience, strength and hope. Whether that is related to an eating disorder or a divorce or anything, fill in the blank, moving across the country, it’s about, “Well, here’s a few suggestions. Here are some of the ways I have helped myself. I exercise. I journal. I seek counseling. I do this.”
Through every season, blessing, tragedy, experience, God is woven in. God is there.
I want to tell them that they make a difference, that they are worthy and worth it and that even on our most dark days, tomorrow will probably look different to you. The sun will rise and it’s not our job to understand or fix everything.
The beautiful thing is that I feel like I’ve never had a time in my life that I didn’t know God. Through every season, blessing, tragedy, experience, God is woven in. God is there. And so, I know that I am not thrown out to the wind. I know that this is not happenstance. I know that God already knew that this was going to happen and I’m the only one that’s shocked and surprised. It has been a huge piece of my … It’s my mantle. It’s my foundation. It’s my “hold onto” constantly. It’s my blanket. And that God never leaves.
Finding Comfort In Jesus Calling
Narrator: Diane knows what it feels like to hit rock-bottom and to look up to find a God who heals, saves and loves. She finds comfort and inspiration in the words of Jesus Calling.
Diane: I got my first copy from my dear friend, Kelly Thorne Gore, who created iBloom. And, she gave it to me and I had never heard of Jesus Calling. We had something that was called a life plan, and she brought this gift for me. And, it was Jesus Calling. Looking at my poor little book right here right now I think she gave it to me and I was trying to … I think it was 2005.
I read it every day. So, I guess that’s, what, 11 years with the same little book? It became our official devotional for our association.
Jesus Calling is just a part of my every morning. It just feels raw. It feels real. It feels like we’re not putting on airs. We’re not living a double life in here. That’s probably what was so just so authentic to me about it long before I realized I was living a double life. It just says, “Come to me when you’re hurting.” It feels easy to take in and it also feels easy to breathe out.
Continued Healing With Jesus Always
Narrator: Diane also talks about the new book from Sarah Young, Jesus Always, and how this book has helped her find joy, even in tough situations.
Diane: I was so excited to get the new Jesus Always. It came as a little surprise in my mailbox. And, I thought, “What? Who has sent me this? What a little miracle in my mail.” It feels like another layer. It feels like another layer to the beautiful mosaic that has already been created. This feels like the next tool that Sarah brought to us, so I’m very grateful.
Narrator: Diane will continue to share her story and be a cheerleader to all who cross her path. She believes that being a woman of vulnerability will help others tell their stories of “rock bottom” and find the healing she found.
Diane: I think God is always going to be giving us these great little nuggets of showing us who we are. Who we are is so big and we sometimes close it in. What I want to help women do is open it up. Open up this great gift of you and be willing to look back into who you used to be. Did you used to love to sing? Let’s maybe bring that back out. Did you used to run in junior high? Maybe you forgot that you actually like it. Really just helping women start again, start again and start again. Those are the things that excite me, creating things, helping women start again and taking women on brave adventures so that we can all see that we can do things that we don’t think we can do.
Narrator: Our featured passage for today’s show comes from the August 20th entry of the Jesus Calling audiobook.
I am a God who heals. I heal broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts, broken lives, and broken relationships. My very Presence has immense healing powers. You cannot live close to Me without experiencing some degree of healing. However, it is also true that you have not because you ask not. You receive the healing that flows naturally from My Presence, whether you seek it or not. But there is more—much more—available to those who ask.
The first step in receiving healing is to live ever so close to Me. The benefits of this practice are too numerous to list. As you grow more and more intimate with Me, I reveal My will to you more directly. When the time is right, I prompt you to ask for healing of some brokenness in you or in another person. The healing may be instantaneous, or it may be a process. That is up to Me. Your part is to trust Me fully and to thank Me for the restoration that has begun.
I rarely heal all the brokenness in a person’s life. Even My servant Paul was told, “My grace is sufficient for you,” when he sought healing for the thorn in his flesh. Nonetheless, much healing is available to those whose lives are intimately interwoven with Mine. Ask, and you will receive.
Narrator: Hear more great stories about the impact Jesus Calling is having all over the world. Be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling Podcast on iTunes. We value your reviews and comments so we can reach even more people with the message of Jesus Calling. And if you have your own story to share, we’d love to hear from you. Visit JesusCalling.com to share your story today.