I was at my gym yesterday, which is a circuit-based training studio. It requires the coaches to be able to multi-task and give direction to 2 or 3 groups of people simultaneously, up to 45 in one class. I was running on the treadmill, daydreaming myself away to anywhere but there, and was wondering what it must be like to first start working there as a coach and to be intimidated by the thought of instructing 45 people at once. I then started thinking of jobs I have had in the past (from hostess at a busy restaurant, to cashier at an extra-bougie grocery store, to a psychiatric Navy nurse) in which I started out completely terrified and, before I knew it, was training someone to do that same job and considered experienced.
Then it hit me – living alcohol free feels that exact same way. It is a commonplace lifestyle for me today, but even just 1 year ago I would’ve been like “nope, can’t do it, next idea.” But here I am – doing the thing! Living it everyday. I also realized that with quitting alcohol came many other positive shifts – and that recovery was just the steel-toed boot I needed to kick down the door of many other negative behaviors or thought patterns. It reminds me of a line from “Sedona” by Houndmouth: “you got the cash but your credit’s no good, you flipped the switch and you shot the plot.” I may have fucked up for approximately 30 years and I barely trust myself sometimes, but today’s the day I do the “someday” things.
Here is a list of some of those flips I switched, the plots I shot, in no specific order:
I eat food like a human. Yesterday, on my lunch break, I was craving a Klondike bar. Mint chip, to be specific. So I went across the street and bought a 6 pack (THE ONLY SIZE THEY COME IN K) and happily sat in my car, calmly eating one while the other 5 probably began melting. Mid-bite, I thought of how unrealistic this would’ve seemed to me 10 years ago. How all 6 would be gone, and then maybe a second trip inside for more. I struggled with binge-eating disorder until around age 21 (when the drinking became the manhole cover over that specific defect in my soul). My mind was the epitome of the black-and-white thought pattern: I drank too many calories last night and ruined my diet, or I ate a single carb when I am supposed to be on a low-carb diet, so I will now eat this PBJ sandwich, ice cream sundae, entire bag of tortilla chips & 3 chocolate puddings. I would then reel from the guilt of imbibing not only 1000 extra calories from drinking, but now 3000+ more from eating. I would eat until I felt sick, until I had to get in the shower and run hot water over my body to relax my aching belly. I never had the strength to make myself barf – I tried once and almost died by irritating my throat so much it nearly closed up.
So I feel that I can “control” my eating now, but also that when I do overeat, I don’t obsess and beat myself up over it. Mostly because every deep fried, carby, sugary thing I put in my face is directly approved of and desired by my sober brain. Gone are the days of waking up next to Snickers wrappers, Dorito crumbs and/or strange men in my bed. I no longer have beer-goggles or beer-stomach. I am not afraid to order the yummy sounding coffee drink without knowing every single ingredient and googling its caloric content.. and where I used to seek comfort in the calories listed on a restaurant’s menu, I now gloss over them. And guess what? I weigh less now than I have in almost 3 years. I am at my healthiest, happiest weight today; I have weighed this exact amount before (and 10 lbs less, when I was vegan – another way I hid my disordered eating patterns and mitigated my drinking) and was still never, ever pleased and OK with myself. But I have finally learned that being able to look yourself in the mirror has way more to do with your behavior and self-love than it does with your physical appearance.
Money matters to me. I was terrified to ever check my bank account, credit card statements, credit score, wallet. If you don’t balance a check book, was the money ever even really there/spent? I knew I made plenty but I also knew I had nothing to show for it. Where the fuck has my money been going for 10 years? I was so hung up on it that I shut down. I set all my credit cards to autopay the minimum payment and put my blinders on. It wasn’t until 6 months ago or so that I finally decided to lift the hood (is that even a correct car term?) and check the damage. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. My credit score was great (credit cards love me!) and I was paying everything on time – including a $20 minimum payment to an American Airlines card that I had opened in 2015 to pay for a $1000 ticket that had, to date, now cost me over $2000 thanks to interest. I was aghast and wanted to shut down again, “fuck it, I can’t look,” but I dredged on. I discovered over $10,000 more in student loans that I forgot even existed (easy to do because active duty are allowed to defer them indefinitely while serving), and could not make heads or tails of how I had racked up SO much credit card debt.
Finally, about 6 months ago I came up with a plan to pay off my highest interest debt by the end of 2018, and the remainder of my credit card debit by mid 2019. Then I can finally get serious about these student loans. I can’t believe I did that on my own (legit, calculator-paper-pencil worked it out) and have so far, been maintaining that plan. Some months are scarier than others (just as some sober days get a little gloomier than others), but I now have the foresight and impulse control to know that a little discomfort now pays off tenfold in the long run. I have an end game, and I stick to it.
“I return things.” In reading Catherine Gray’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, I realized I, too, now “return things.” I return things like I am being paid to return things. I set up Amazon returns before the product has even reached my doorstep. And this doesn’t just apply to returning goods I’ve purchased: I also return things before I pay for them. I will get to the checkout lane and ditch 75% of my cart because my impulsivity high just isn’t enough to get me through anymore. I return things to the universe; if it doesn’t suit me anymore, I sell it or give it away. I had my first yard sale just before we moved this past month, and it was glorious. I spent 6 hours in the sweltering sun, offering music and free coffee to my neighbors while they audibly rejected my beloved personal belongings. I made $75, and couldn’t stop smiling.
I think this flip is because I now possess all the traits required to be a chronic, self-entitled returner of goods: I have the hours in the day, the motivation and energy, the high standards, over inflated self-confidence and sense of self-worth, incredible sense of justice, the insight into what I really want/need and don’t want/need. In my drinking days, I would *really mean* to return something but just… lose track of the 30-day window because I was too tired after work, would oversleep on weekends, figure I “deserved” whatever mistake I had made in purchasing something, or just be straight up apathetic.
My most recent accomplishments include: returning a bra to Target while still warm (I was shopping and it was digging into me); returning over $800 worth of china off my wedding registry from SIX YEARS AGO for store credit; getting a $50 refund from Hubble contacts after writing a strongly worded e-mail on why their contacts were subpar for my above-par eyes (even though it was >30 days and I had opened the box, 2 direct violations of their return policy). And of course, my yard sale.
I stopped wearing makeup. Every so often I’ll catch a photo of myself or my own reflection and be like, “Damn girl- oh wait, I’m not wearing makeup.” And then a tiny voice in my head goes “WAIT YOU’RE NOT WEARING FUCKING MAKEUP?!” I am simultaneously in awe and so proud of myself but also trying to shake the social conditioning. Somewhere around the She Recovers Mexico 2 retreat, where it was too hot and I was too tan and dewy and surrounded by amazing sisters to care. After that trip, any makeup I wore felt heavy and gross and fake. One morning I was running low on time and just said “fuck it,” and now I am celebrating about 2 months makeup-free. My skin is fucking bomb and I do not *ever* (seriously) look in the mirror and see the ruddiness, the flaws, and patchy skin color, the acne that I would notice during my makeup days. If I left the house without makeup a few months ago I felt naked, vulnerable; if I got dressed up and didn’t wear makeup (this would never happen actually), I would feel ridiculous and under dressed. The funniest part about going makeup-free was how concerned I was about how I was making others feel – can you believe that?! I felt like I might ruin someone’s time because I wasn’t wearing mascara and didn’t take the time to gussy myself up for them. My head is spinning.
I talk about recovery and other uncomfortable things. This is so important. This normalizes recovery for me, and it normalizes recovery for you and everyone in my small sphere of the world. I go to AA and talk openly about that. I talk about my anxiety, depression, my fears and challenges. I talk freely about recovery to nearly anyone who will listen. I used to be vegan, so I just changed my mindset from “tell everyone why you don’t support the use and consumption of animal products” to “tell everyone what alcohol really is and what it really does.” Recently someone asked me why I don’t drink, and instead of sugar coating or contorting my response for their comfort I said “hmm I don’t know, because I destroyed my life for about 10 years?” and kept right on doing whatever I was doing. They were like “hmph, OK” and then the subject was changed. But it was my truth and it was non-chalant and it felt fucking good. When I can speak freely in a “NBD” way about recovery, I hope that people see it can be that way for them too. I am happy, I am glowing, I am magnetic, I am sarcastic and I say fuck alot. Come get some or don’t, but the last thing I’m going to do is cram myself into some dark corner to make someone else comfortable.
Writing this I am realizing that what these each have in common is my eagerness to push myself and play around with newfound strength. Like I just realized “hey, I am kind of strong and cool and let’s see where else this might take us.” From this I have discovered my willingness to try something new/scary/uncomfortable and my dedication to just being my truest self. I am no longer afraid what other people think (most of the time) and I let my heart guide me to what’s right (even less of the time, but I try).
What do you do now that you no longer drink? Large or small, what types of weird ass, alien scenarios are you finding yourself in which would’ve made your previous self run screaming for the hills?