“I’m so fat now.”
“I hate when people look at my photos in recovery and tell me I look healthy. That’s just a nice way to say I’ve gained a ton of weight.”
“I was unwell, but I was size 2. It was amazing.”
After spending a good amount of time in rehab, you end up having a lot of different conversations with people. One, that stands out for me is the talk about weight gain during treatment. It seems like everyone is concerned about it, some are obsessed, and a few openly talk about missing the way they could keep weight off during active addiction.
These conversations weren’t limited to girls. I’ve talked to more than a few guys who were disgusted with their size now that they were clean and sober.
I remember going to the emergency room to get my medical clearance to enter treatment. Since the rehabilitation center I chose did not have a medically supervised detox center connected to it, detox had to be done either at home, in the hospital, or at a detox center. Since I chose the most frightening method (detox at home) I was asked to provide proof of medical clearance before making the trip to Port St. Lucie where I would be admitted to treatment. As I stood on the scale in the emergency room I saw my weight. 117. For just a second I was happy, and the thought occurred to me, “Wow. Good. I lost about seven pounds during this binge.” Crazy. I know. But I’m just being honest. This was part of my sick thought processes.
Of course, I figured I’d keep this unhealthy thought to myself…until I went to treatment and found carbon copies of all of my strangest thoughts sitting all around me. I soon found that these people were no different than me, and probably, for that matter, most of America could share in my way of thinking. After all, I do remember perfectly “normal” people talking about having the flu and how terrible it was, —except the perk of weight loss kind of made it worthwhile.
We are sick people surrounded by other sick people.
I’ve only been out of treatment for a little over a month, but I remember clearly what a relief it was to no longer hide the thoughts in my head. Letting them out allowed me to process them. There is empowerment and strength in confession. It also brings great comfort when another human being looks at you right in the eyes after you’ve confessed your most terrible thought and says, “Oh, yea. Me too.”
The Many Faces of Recovery
So, now that it’s out there on the table and we all realize there’s a little sick part of us that wants to reminisce about the good old days when we were thin and completely strung out, let’s talk about it. Here’s what I’ve discovered.
First off, to those of you who don’t relate to any of this because maybe you gained weight during your addiction, you may still find this next part interesting.
Okay, here it is.
I have found that recovery is about trust. It’s also about finding peace and inner contentment. Unfortunately, everything we know seems to either war against our contentment or it wants to provide an instant and temporary fix for the place of trust we want to arrive at. It’s like a path with a million vending machines along the journey, all of them screaming, “Pick me! Pick me!” Often, we choose them. First, it was drugs. We wanted that feeling of peace so we chose that lie. Okay, not so good. Then we replace that need for relief with food, sugar, caffeine, cigarettes, shopping, a new relationship, an argument, cutting, binge eating followed by purging, excessive body building, running….God, doesn’t anything satisfy us? Won’t anything fill this bottomless pit of just wanting to be content and happy? And then maybe, after all that, we realize that it actually might have been the drugs that offered hope. At least we wouldn’t have to feel anything, right? We wouldn’t have to wonder, or think, or long for anything.
Can you relate? I know I can. I remember when I picked up smoking during rehab because I didn’t want to gain any more weight. In reality, I just needed something else to hold onto so I wouldn’t have to face my own inner restlessness. If I was going to drop the food I had to pick up something else. It makes sense, right?
The Longing for Love
I’m no expert on addiction recovery, but I do know this…Longing for love and self worth are the very basis of the human experience. We are here to love and to experience love. The problem lies in all of the twisted thinking we end up with as a result of circumstances or events that pile up inside us. For me, the very first time I turned to ‘something else’ was the direct result of feeling unloved and unaccepted at home. As soon as I started to realize and make sense out of the level of dysfunction and abuse I had piled up within me, I began my journey of reaching for relief. Sexual abuse at home left me vulnerable to reach for anything that promised the slightest relief.
It wasn’t until I experienced the loving therapy at rehab, the lifestyle of honesty and living in community, and working through the 12 steps that the mess in my head began to untangle. It all started to make sense and I could identify the vending machines for what they were.
Plain and simple.
I think the lie of the ideal weight or body image is the worst of all. It promises fulfillment, much like financial success, and offers us a temporary full time self-centered addiction, but when we arrive we are no better than our peers. Our brains are still screwed up and our longing for love remains, except now we just imagine that we are more fortunate than others because at least we look good. Great.
So, I’ve said all of that to say this. I’m taking the one-minute-at-a-time path these days. When I feel empty or ‘longing for something’ I try to remember to ask God, “What’s still in me that I am feeling this level of discontentment, or anxiety, or hopelessness?” As soon as I feel a certain way I immediately see the counterfeit present itself. It might be a vending machine that says, “Here’s your solution. Go on a diet.” or it might be one that says, “You should find someone to date. You’re probably lonely.” In reality, I know these are lies. All of them. Sure, we might need diets or relationships. I love eating healthy, meditating, yoga… but be careful. Check your motives. You know in your heart whether your thinking is twisted or not. Trust your instincts. Don’t fall for another addiction.
Today I try to realize my longings are just distractions presenting themselves. The only true source of joy we really ever have is found in our relationship with God, our relationships with others, and having a life purpose. These bring contentment. All the other things are illusions filled with broken promises.
Why did I start this article talking about weight loss when it turned into so many other things? Because I feel like it’s one of our biggest lies. We want so desperately to base our self worth on our appearance because it’s really all society has taught us. Do you look good? Are you successful? Do you drive a nice car and live in a nice house? Perfect. You pass the humanity test.
If you’re relating to my words to any degree, I’m glad. Maybe you’re supposed to have a “Yea, me too.” moment. Now take a deep breath and tell yourself you’re beautiful, you’re enough, and you’re God’s greatest work of art…right now. Right in the middle of your messy thinking. Right in the middle of still wondering if you measure up…You do.
God promises to complete the work He has started in you. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly…we are becoming. And we’re all in this together. xo