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My Journey Into Recovery, Part III: A Life Worth Living

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An Addict’s Story on What Changed for Them

In parts one and two of my story, I shared my journey towards rock bottom and my passage into recovery. Living in recovery has been a voyage of discovery. Joe McQ describes it as a process of discarding, uncovering, and letting go. He couldn’t be more right. My experience has been that I’ve been faced with one issue after another. And they keep coming.

I discovered a plethora of addictions.

First, it was alcohol that needed discarding. I did so with the help of AA. After a thorough uncovering in step 5, my sponsor took me to an NA meeting, revealing to me that I was in fact an addict.

Next I experienced great pain with smoking. I was using cigarettes in the same way as I had used drugs—smoking one while thinking of the next one. Going through 20-30 cigarettes a day, I smoked constantly. I was sick with it. When I’d had enough pain, I got help and I discarded smoking.

Last was food. My nemesis. Food was my first drug of choice. I recall using food to change how I felt when I was less than ten years old. My whole life followed a cycle of starvation, binging, purging, and desperately low self-esteem. I had always attached my self-worth to a number on the scale. I was never thin enough. This meant I was unattractive. I told myself that I would never have a relationship until I was slim.

At three years clean, I was faced with a 150 pounds of excess weight. I was using food in the same hurtful way I’d used drugs, nicotine and alcohol. The addictive pattern remained the same. I fantasized about escaping with food, planned what I would buy, and went through the ritual of purchasing it and rushing home to binge and isolate. This was swiftly followed by acute self-loathing and promises of never doing it again. Yet it happened again, and again.

There was help available to me.

Having reached a place of awareness and pain, I did what I know best: I reached out and asked for help. I found a health coach and I began to learn about my disordered relationship with food. This was costly. But I invested in coaching for a year, and then I became a health coach myself. Because I am passionate about health and wellness in recovery being accessible to all, I will share with you what I learned over the coming weeks and months.

Having reached a place of awareness, and pain, I did what I know best: I reached out and asked for help.

In short, this is what changed:

  1. Awareness. I uncovered a complete awareness of my physical situation. I weighed myself, spoke honestly about my eating, lifestyle and exercise habits, and I faced those facts.

  2. Education. I learned about what good nutrition and a healthy relationship with food looks like.

  3. Mindfulness. With awareness and knowledge, I could eat more mindfully. This helped me decipher when I was eating for hunger, and when I was eating for emotional hunger. I was then able to soothe myself with other mindful activities, such as yoga, meditation, walking or talking.

  4. Exercise. My health coach encouraged me to start walking 10,000 steps immediately. I was challenged to take up a 5k race challenge. I felt inspired to buy a bike and use it as a mode of transport. Then I discovered that I was physically built for strength, and found a love for lifting weights. Before I knew it, I had incorporated activity into my everyday life.

  5. Fun. What I uncovered was a distinct lack of fun in my life. My life consisted of work and recovery. There were no fun activities. I had yet to discover my interests. So I ventured out into the world and discovered a love of blogging, writing, creative expression with food, photography, art, and hikes in the countryside.

In working through these areas, I let go of my unhealthy relationship with food. By developing a sense of self through my interests and taking charge of my health, I rebuilt my self-confidence and esteem. Food became less important. The scales tipped from seeking escapism with food toward choosing a life worth living. It isn’t perfect, but it is a journey that I take every day. I am still aiming to discard another 50 pounds, uncover new passions, and let go of old habits.

The scales tipped from seeking escapism with food, toward choosing a life worth living. It isn’t perfect, but it is a journey that I take every day.

Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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