What the Coronavirus has Taught Me about my Sobriety

I have been free from drinking alcohol for over 2 years (884 days at this writing, but I don’t count the days, I just checked on my countdown app). When Covid-19 hit, I thought I was prepared. Prepared mentally, as far as grounded in my sobriety. Then Zoom happy hours started happening, and drinking memes, and that feeling of isolation. It reminded me of those snowed-in days of winter, where in the past I had to have a bottle or three of wine in my house to feel OK, to feel comfortable. To feel safe. Ever since making the decision for the second time in my life to not drink, I was questioning it. This scared the hell out of me. I had not been tempted before this time, and it brought other things to the surface. My issue with food.

I started my sobriety journey through food. I went to a 12 step program for overeaters to get help with my binging and mistreatment of food. In this program, you had to report to your sponsor everything you ate. You had to first plan it ahead of time, and let your sponsor know the day before what you planned on eating, and then the next day you would report back as to how you did. The wine was never on my planned eating plan. Wine wasn’t forbidden, however, the program stressed abstinence from food, which meant that you followed your plan (since you can’t NOT eat food, abstinence is defined as not overeating, and sticking to your plan). But somehow, wine always made the list. And since I’m honest to a fault, and a rule-follower in general, I would report back everything I ate, and that included the glasses of wine I drank. After about a week or so of this, my sponsor gently asked me, “What’s up with all the wine?” I was shocked that she would bring this up and offended that she pointed out something that so obviously wasn’t the problem. To be fair, she also noted the unplanned pieces of pizza and chips, too. But the wine is what shocked me. Alcoholism and drug addiction runs in my family, and to imply that I had an issue was, for me, shameful. I couldn’t shake that feeling that maybe I was drinking too much. It would take a few more years and other events to make me actually stop drinking, but this was my toe in the water of sobriety. Now, at 2+ years of not drinking, Covid-19 has given me a gift – to uncover more of the truth that I thought I had buried and disguised with diets, restrictions, exercise and black clothes. To realize that my biggest addiction wasn’t the drinking – although that was large, it was and is the food.

Food is an issue I’ve struggled with since 3rd grade when I switched schools and became an immediate outcast. I went from being a popular, funny girl to being called names like “gross” just like that. With the blink of an eye. My 8-year-old mind didn’t know how to deal with this. I didn’t have words to fight back, I didn’t have the courage, I should say, to fight back. I had words. Words are something I’ve always had, deep within me, ready to come out. But courage, that is harder, and something I still work to unearth. So what I did was self-isolate. Hide in my house. My best friends became a book, TV, and cheeseballs. And cheese. Huge, chunks of cheese. We grew up and didn’t have as much money as some, my dad was the sole worker and we got by where we could. One of those things was through cheese ends – you can pick these up at the deli, they are the discarded scraps of cheese – the ends. These became my refuge. I would hole up, on the couch, with a book or the remote, and my handful of cheese. I don’t look back at this with shame anymore. I look back and see a kid who didn’t have any tools and who didn’t talk to anyone about her issues or feelings. Those stayed bottled up, washed down with cheese of all kinds. In Grade School the Dr’s advice was to go on a diet. I remember eating peaches and cottage cheese all summer. In Junior High I had only a few friends and ate lunch mostly alone. In High School, I decided enough was enough. I started Slim-Fast and that was the only thing I ate, morning, noon and night. I became anorexic, and if I did eat something that wasn’t Slim-Fast or pretzels, I threw it up and hid it in a bowl under my bed. After High School, I met my now-husband and soulmate and felt loved. I stopped restricting and purging and I started eating. But eating too much. And I gained a lot of weight. But I was happy.

As an introvert, I didn’t think the self-isolation and stay-at-home order would affect me as much as it has. But grocery shopping has induced much anxiety in me. My husband, who is a stay at home dad, is the shopper, chef, laundry dude. He does all that stuff. But he has asthma, so I have become the shopper. And I suck at it. Truly suck at it. It looks like I’m hoarding when truly I’m just so clueless and am terrible at following my list. It takes me all day to gear up to go shopping, and once I do, I collapse on the couch and stare at the walls. Shopping gives me PTSD. And that’s no joke. My need for escape is strong, and while turning to wine is not an option for me, turning to food is, and it’s always here. And it is a necessity. We need to nourish ourselves, but what I don’t need to do is bury myself and eat to the point of feeling I will burst. Numbing myself out through food, such an old, familiar friend. Going to bed full, waking up hungover after years of sobriety gave me a gift of waking up clear-eyed. Now I’m back full circle, but there is a different monster to slay, a monster that is showing me it’s been here this whole time, in hiding, and is now emerging and I need to not truly slay the monster, but tame it. Because this monster is showing me that something is missing, that the God-sized hole inside of me can’t be filled up with carbs and fats. It can’t be filled through 7-day jumpstart plans, 30-day challenges or workout equipment. It can’t be fixed through workouts that I don’t enjoy, but do just to make myself smaller. All of which I have purchased in the past week like a madwoman, grasping at straws on the way down. I am learning that I deserve to be nourished truly, getting needed vitamins and water. To make time for myself, to honor me.

I don’t have any of the answers. But I’m slowly discovering what helps me during this time. Prayer, meditation and creating art. Journaling, and naming my feelings and bringing them to the page. I need help, and I’m looking for help that doesn’t look like needing to report my food to anyone because for me that is too much of a diet mentality. I want to be healthy. But for me, that is fragile ground. At any point it can cross the line into being unhealthy – diets do not serve me. This I know. After I had my two daughters, I wanted to be a healthy mom. I lost 100 pounds the healthy way – by eating healthy foods, by tracking my foods, by counting calories. I did it the right way, slowly and giving myself grace. I kept that weight off for 3 years and I felt great. I ran 5Ks, and half marathons. I even ran the Chicago marathon. I felt invincible and unstoppable. And still, I did not feel WHOLE. I did not feel like I was enough. I still felt too fat because technically I was 20 pounds from my “goal” weight. And then life really tripped me up when the marathon and all the training that went with it took away my ability to even do something so simple as walk without pain. I had heel spurs in both feet which resulted in plantar fasciitis. My hip hurts to this day when I sleep. While running was freeing for me, and I felt near to God (I remember a blissful 18 mile run alone where God was flowing through me and was near me the entire time) I also hurt myself by restricting food and by criticizing the reflection in the mirror, and for complaining that even through all of my hard work and training, those last 20 pounds didn’t come off. And then God, who I believe has a sense of humor, took it all away. The injuries led to painful steroid shots between the toes and rehabilitation on both feet. And it took away my love of running and replaced it with fear. Because you don’t realize until you can’t walk how necessary it is. I’m not trying to be dramatic. I know many who have had worse injuries. And I am not blaming anyone. But my point is, that this all happened at the same time I turned 40. I went away for a girls’ trip, drank my ass off, and I swear to you, I came back 20 pounds heavier. And then 20 more appeared within months. Within a year, I had gained back 50 of the pounds I had tried so hard to shed. I once upon a time took those before and after photos (the ones I avoid looking at now, including others’), and I had said I was never going back to that girl I was. Yet. Here I am. Here I am, and I’ve been here for years and I need to do the work and realize that I had never embraced myself, had never truly accepted myself and loved myself. I am realizing so many things, and they are coming at me hard, and once I’ve seen them, I can’t unsee them. I have sobriety from alcohol under my belt, surely I can become fully free from addiction, can’t I? I start a new job next week and haven’t met anyone due to Covid-19; my interviews were all via phone or video. I’m terrified that my new boss, who I only had a phone conversation with, will be disappointed in my appearance. I learned I got this job a month ago – my first thought was, I have 4 weeks to lose weight. And since then, I’ve been in a deep depression and my activity has slowed to that of a sloth. I think the two are related – that mentality of “I don’t accept you as you are”, and the depression.

I am taking Amanda Grace’s Higher Ground class, and on Fridays there is a live journaling session. This past week in the journaling session, which I wasn’t going to attend because I had been feeling so out of my body and depressed, so many feelings came up for me around my body image. I want to share a few of my responses to the questions:

I am the one who is looking forward, pensive and uncertain, resisting change, but feeling it in my spirit that I could fly.

I am the one who is taking one step at a time, putting one foot in front of the other.

The strength I offer you is knowing what it is like to be too full and feeling it.

I am named Discomfort.

And you will remember my wisdom when you try to numb yourself out.

I am appearing to you today because you can no longer live in your body, truly inhabit it, the way that you have been. You will destroy yourself.

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Like I said, I don’t have the answers. But this is a damn good start.

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