Darkness. Sadness. Defeat.
These are the emotions that filled the restaurant as I sat with my sponsor more than a year after I began the sobriety journey. I had just returned from my first sober vacation and I was so proud of myself. I had fun. I laughed. And then we got home and I looked at the pictures.
We were snorkeling in a tropical paradise. The water was like glass. As sat on the boat that returned us to our ship, Lucas innocently snapped a picture. I was smiling. I had on cute polka dot swimsuit. Sure, my translucent skin was glowing like a Lite Bright, but I but most accounts, it was a decent picture. Until I looked closer. As I began to digest what I saw, I realized that I could count my ribs. The shot was from the back, and without the dexterity of a giraffe neck, I had never seen that view of myself. I realized that I looked like a skeleton with skin.
One of common side effects of mental health medications is weight changes. Unfortunately, the combination that seemed to work the best for me also caused weight gain. By the Fall of 2007, I weighed more that I did when I was 9 months pregnant with my second – by 25 pounds. From that place, I began to fixate on the number on the scale. With no drugs or alcohol to control, food became my obsession.
At first, people were excited to see my weight regulate. Within months, the difference was noticeable. I was in a vulnerable head space. All it took was one innocent compliment about my appearance for me to manipulate my food intake for an even BETTER result. By April of 2008, I was 6′ tall and weighed 125 pounds. Some days, my entire caloric intake consisted of coffee and just enough public eating to keep the worry patrol at bay.
It was weeks after the birthday meeting at my home group and I was the proud owner of a heavy metal chip. After 365 days of sobriety, you move from plastic to metal and it is a weighty moment. As I sat across from my sponsor that day, she looked me in the eye and said these words, “You can never take drink again and still kill yourself.”
I had tried to wrap my mind around the foundational principle of the program that alcohol was but a symptom. But the truth of the matter was, a year in, I had no clue. Sure, I was dry. But, I can honesty say that a dry drunk is often times more miserable than one that is still drinking. Alcohol may be gone, but the “ism” is still untreated. With every fiber of my being, I had taken God to the mat for control. Sure, I had given God some big things. But I love to be in charge. And my Good Friday moment came when I confessed that God had the job that I always wanted and I had used my resentment of God’s job description to fuel my “ism” of hijacked control.
I tried to control people, places, things, ideas, institutions, drinks and now food. And when I could not master them successfully, I used my ability to control my intake as a weapon against myself. I was going to die. I was going to kill myself. I learned a very valuable lesson about American culture in this season. No one wants a drunk, passed out mom, but they don’t seem to mind a skinny woman. In my inability to appease the masses with my first drug of choice, I had done the same thing with a more socially acceptable control device, food.
I had to die to the “ism” of self. I had to die to control. I had to die to my will and my way. Because, if I did not, my heart was going to stop beating. So, with the last bit of courage and the tiny shred of dignity that remained, I put all of my cards on the table. All of the cards.
I died in that restaurant. I died in a therapist office. I died on a women’s retreat. I died on the floor of my bathroom…again. And on that proverbial Good Friday, there was a stone over my tomb. I could not see a way out or hope for the future. I was wrapped in my burial clothes and praying for a miracle. The darkness was so, so dark.