sober lifestyle

Perception

My 2020 Uni. The green is me “stepping out of my comfort zone” – but I still made sure the pants matched the shoes.

Living in loungewear and rarely having to look in the mirror over the past 7 months has given me a gloriously distorted concept of reality. As someone who’s always relied on clothes, rather than scales, to assess my physical size, the forgiving stretch of Under Armour and Athleta has made it easier to forget myself at mealtime.

Amazing how portion sizes can sneakily creep up, up, up, and your happy middle-aged ass doesn’t notice anything’s amiss until you’re asked into the office and discover you can no longer move in your Size 29 designer denim pants. (Not quite Kramer, but getting close.)

All things considered in the grand 💩-stormy scheme of 2020, this seems like a minor issue. Still, (sigh 😫)…my additional girth needs to be addressed. I spent way too much money on my “real” wardrobe to have to invest in a whole new, larger version.

I got sober because I could no longer afford to put off growing up. Now, at 432 days A.A. (After Alcohol), I literally cannot afford to keep growing.


The realization that weight loss is in order — and the annoying knowledge that less food, not more exercise, is the only answer — was fresh in my mind as I set out on a walk through the neighborhood on Wednesday morning.

In fact, I was feeling particularly girth-y in my years-old, stretched-out, standard black leggings and my husband’s tank top, when I heard a horn honking close behind me.

An SUV pulled up, and the driver rolled down her window. I’d never seen this woman before.

“I just have to ask you,” she said. “Are you a personal trainer? You look great. Could you give me some exercises to do so I can look like you?”

😳

I didn’t laugh in her face. That would be unhealthy in the age of coronavirus…and yeah, also rude. Clearly, she had no idea she was looking at my preferred form of exercise (🚶🏼‍♀️), or that I can’t seem to get up from a chair these days without pulling a muscle, or that my idea of “proper hydration” is three Diet Mountain Dews before 8 AM.

My neighbor’s perception was completely different than the reality I’m experiencing. That doesn’t make her perception any less valid. The questions I’ve been pondering since that awkward (but certainly flattering) moment are, what significance should be assigned to someone else’s version of the truth? And how much of our own reality do we get to define before we teeter into some form of denial?

This is your trainer speaking: Gimme three dozen 20-ounce curls! 💪🏻🤣🥤

Body dysmorphia is very much a serious issue for people who suffer from it — myself included, to a certain degree — and yet, the concept always confounded me. If you have a skewed sense of “reality” when it comes to your own body…well, who or what is the ultimate arbiter of the actual “truth”?

Isn’t it all in your head? Don’t you create the reality for yourself? In theory, then, couldn’t you decide you’re really just fine the way you are, and 🤬 what anyone else thinks?

I say this as someone with a history of disordered eating – including a full-blown battle with anorexia and bulimia in my late teens and early 20s – who was never happy with how she looked, no matter her actual weight, and whose relationship with food has never been as simple as “human needing fuel to live.”

I know it is not easy to define your self-perception, much less separate it from social cues.

Strangely enough, my eating disorder started with an awkward social interaction very much like the one I described above. An old woman at my church saw me for the first time since I’d “gone away” to college (Northwestern was just down the street from Trinity Lutheran) and told me I’d “really slimmed down” and “looked great.”

She didn’t know I’d just come off a four-week liquid diet after breaking my jaw on the softball field, and that’s how I’d lost weight.

My 19-year-old psyche decided — based on the compliment of someone who knew me only by sight — that I must’ve been fat before the injury, and I’d better just keep on, you know, with the not eating.

Within months, I was a frail, miserable shell of myself whose body didn’t have enough fat stores to menstruate…but hey, at least strangers thought I was attractive!!! 🤦🏼‍♀️


Recovery is forcing me to confront this issue head-on — and I don’t really mean the distorted body image or the disordered eating. I mean, the core issue of owning my own truth.

Beating an addiction to booze means learning to feel comfortable in my own skin. It means deciding to base happiness on how I really feel, eschewing outside input. It means choosing to accept, and play, the flawed hand I’m dealt, even if society only rewards a straight flush. It means making changes because I know they’re good for me and the ones I love, and not because I’m trying to make someone else love me.

Who’s really comfortable in their own skin, though? We all let others’ perceptions define our reality, to some extent. Even those who claim to “not care what anyone else thinks” can find themselves feeling wounded by a dirty look, a rude gesture, a snarky social media comment…

Or maybe that’s just me. 🤷🏼‍♀️

It’s also the kind words, though. They’re no more inherently powerful than the unkind ones. We are the ones who give them power. We are the ones who decide what to do with a compliment once we “take” it.

We can eat up the experience like empty calories for a starving soul — a fix for an addict! — with an inevitable crash and cravings for a new rush of validation coming on in 3…2…1…

We can spin off into that never-ending cycle of need.

Or, we can stay balanced. We can smile and say a polite “thank you very much, that’s very sweet, but I am in no position to train anyone to do anything,” because objectively speaking, it would be false advertising to suggest otherwise, and then just keep moving forward.

I’ve been walking the way of the addict for a long, long time. Choosing the path of recovery means pursuing a life in which I respect others’ views, but I alone define what’s true for me. More importantly, as I figure out ways to fill my soul (note: filling the stomach doesn’t help with that), I am able to perceive my truth with clear, unfiltered eyes that can be counted on to really see.

What’s it like to be a reliable narrator in your own story? I’ve been trying on that role of late, and I’ll tell you, it fits even better than a comfy pair of old leggings.

Doing more sober scorekeeping than working out in my home gym these days…but look! I’m almost out of whiteboard! 😱

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