Featured Image Credit: Aloha Wishes Photography
The two years before I could finally choose sobriety were the most painful. I was conscious enough to know what I was doing but still too afraid to make the leap. I was conscious but not yet capable of quitting.
I clung so tightly to something I knew I needed to let go of. I wasn’t yet sure how to uncurl my fingers.
Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.David Foster Wallace
The time between the knowing and the doing is the most painful. Knowing you need and want to stop but not being sure if you ever can was the most frightening part of my recovery and sobriety.
I’ve gotten to 10 months of sobriety sometime in the last few days. Sometime in the last year, I’ve gotten to three years without making myself sick after a meal or even having the thought cross my mind.
I don’t find freedom in the counting of days. I find freedom in forgetting. I had to let go of knowing quite when one chapter ended, and the next began.
Because my journey never started or ended on a particular day. It’s been ongoing my entire life.
Getting to these ten months and these three years took over a decade. I spent a decade searching for meaning in drugs, alcohol, and my body, searching for who I was amid all the noise.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but almost all my decisions around my eating disorder and drugs and alcohol came from a place of believing I was not, and could never be, enough as myself. Enough for others, enough to deserve a place in the world. Funny enough, smart enough, creative enough, beautiful enough, worthy enough.
Enough for what?
Because although sobriety and recovery are not the same, they are intertwined. I hid beneath both, believing that the me underneath could never possibly be safe, could never be okay.
For me, the first step to healing from both was not admitting I had a problem with the thing itself (alcohol, drugs, nourishing my body). I knew I had a problem: people told me, it showed, and therapists, family, and friends all saw it was a problem.
The first step to my healing came when I admitted I had a problem with me.
It wasn’t until I could look at myself and see that, regardless of what I was doing, it all came from a place of fear, that I could start to see a the way through.
You don’t have to love yourself to recover from an eating disorder. You don’t have to love yourself to choose sobriety. I certainly didn’t.
But you must recover, get sober, cease the destructive behavior (whatever it is), so you can make space to love yourself, eventually.
Because when I was constantly trapped in the cycle of hunger and fullness, lack of nourishment, hangovers and blackouts, late-night anxiety, and early-morning regret, I had no room to even begin to understand what self-love might be.
Recovery and sobriety aren’t the ends; they are the beginnings—the beginning of fully living.
The most thrilling and painful realization I’ve come to from sobriety and recovery is that there is so much more work to be done to become the person I want to be beyond just stopping the behavior. I felt so much anger when I got sober and started recovery because I learned it was just another beginning rather than the conclusion.
I was angry because I found out that the absence of self-harm is not the same as self-love.
I had to review my progress step by step and piece by piece. I had to celebrate the tiny things that some might take for granted, like the first Thanksgiving I didn’t make myself sick after. The first concert I went to completely sober. The first time I ate past the point of satiety and didn’t immediately feel shame and regret. The first time I went to a party and didn’t drink a beer the second I got there.
In all these addictions, I was searching for a way to stop being me. To cease existing (in every sense of the word) altogether.
Sobriety and recovery have given me my life back. They haven’t fixed my life by any means, but my choices have given me the space to focus on what needs healing.
Sobriety and recovery have given me the room I needed to understand myself more deeply. They didn’t make me impervious to pain, mistakes, self-doubt, or shame. But by beginning my healing journey with sobriety, I could journal, or go for a walk, or listen to a podcast instead. Sobriety and recovery gave me space to explore.
And that space has made all the difference in the world. I was afraid of that space, fearful that the person I would discover there wouldn’t be good enough. I hid her beneath these destructive choices because I thought she couldn’t be okay without those things.
I was so afraid that she couldn’t possibly “succeed,” so I created ways to protect her from ever even trying.
My addictions were a way to stop myself from being myself… because what if that self “didn’t measure up”?
And now I’m here, alive and breathing, and I’ve realized there was never any measure in the first place. There’s just me, waking up each day clear-eyed and prepared to live my life exactly as myself.
Because I was always enough; We all are; We just need to give ourselves the space we need to finally see it.