sober lifestyle

Regression

I started weighing myself again.

This is dangerous territory, where someone like me typically dares not tread. I mean, for one, who wants to look at their gnarly, mutant, never-been-pedicured toes? And secondly, when you’ve struggled most of your life with body image issues, to the point of eating disorders and exercise addictions, knowing that number can…(understatement alert!) royally mess with your head.

And yet I marched into the bathroom last weekend and stepped up onto the dreaded measuring device — and into a substantial collection of dust — as if pulled by some irresistible, mystical force.

You know shit is 🤬-ed up when a former anorexic/bulimic starts seeking solace in the scale.

It sounds weird to call it a survival instinct, this sudden impulse to find out my weight, this bending of my brain toward my physical being. And yet, the more I reflect, it makes perfect sense.

Everything in my life right now is uncertain, unstable, and seemingly out of my control. The stressful combination of full-time work (with a new boss, to boot), full-time grad school (after a 20-year break from the classroom, no less) and early sobriety (26 months is basically infancy, in the grand scheme of recovery) has me feeling like a cornered animal, scratching and clawing to stay alive.

It takes so much mental and physical energy just to navigate the demands of the schedule and the unwieldy social dynamics — if I was good at that, I wouldn’t be an alcoholic — that I have little capacity for actually retaining information or doing anything well. I’m someone with a pathological need to do things well, in order for my life to seem worthwhile. So, times like this send my poor, frazzled Type-A brain into hyperdrive panic mode, searching desperately for something, anything to feel good about.

I can’t drink. That mole, so to speak, is whacked. Naturally, up pops the body stuff!

Hello! Remember me, your first drug and trusty old friend? I make you feel confident and in control…and unlike booze, you can USE ME EVERY DAY AND GET AWAY WITH IT! I’m the answer to all this angst you’re feeling! Just focus on losing weight, and 🤬 everything else! You will be OK!

(I imagine the thing talking is that black “symbiote” from the Spider-Man comics, which gives me a good excuse to include a picture of Tom Hardy…😍)

It’s actually a perfect way to picture what I call The Sickness, that black beating heart behind all the unhealthy compulsions I’ve used over the years to self-medicate. It has fueled the food restriction, bingeing and purging, the excessive drinking, the overexercising and attention-seeking and even — this is more recent — the self-harm ideation. That nefarious blob has oozed all over my life at various points in the past two-plus decades, and while abstinence from alcohol and a solid recovery program made it shrivel a bit, it will never, ever die. It’s part of me forever — and, if fed, will always have the potential to grow.

I called this post “Regression” because I can feel myself slipping backward in the midst of all this stress. With that comes the pro-gression of the aforementioned venomous goo. The Sickness sees an opening.

All the emphasis I’ve placed/work I’ve done on alcohol has (for now) taken that issue out of the equation, but with my resistances weakened, my old weight obsession has found space to squeeze back in.

We’ve also been studying Freud in my Psych Theories class, so the concept of reverting to primitive behavior patterns as an unconscious defense mechanism is fresh in my mind. I actually raised my hand and brought it up in a group discussion 🙋🏼‍♀️: Regression is a real thing in addiction. Without your drug, you feel naked as the day you were born, and sometimes, even after two years, you find yourself wanting to curl up in a fetal position with a blankie and suck your thumb (or in my case, a whole bunch of caramel-flavored Tootsie Pops.)

Yes, my cohort knows I’m a recovering addict. Based on their reactions to my in-class confessions, and the volume of alcohol-related comments in the group text, I’m the only one.

That’s a long tangent in the making right there — the challenges of really re-entering society after spending an entire year of your recovery in a comfy little COVID quarantine bubble — but for today’s purposes, suffice to say it’s just another little stressor stoking The Sickness back to life.

And I guess that’s where this post is headed: with me headed back into the recovery community. To my people. I haven’t talked to my sponsor or been to a meeting in about a month — amusingly enough, members of my cohort had to attend 12-step meetings for an assignment, which means they’ve had a more recent connection to AA than I have — and it’s no coincidence that I’m starting to feel spiritually unmoored. It’s no coincidence I’m feeling more isolated and alone in a world full of drinkers, or that I’m feeling pulled back into old obsessions in a world I desperately want to slow down and control.

The Sickness thrives under exactly these type of conditions.

It’s true that I’ve been busy; I honestly haven’t had a schedule like this since I was a freshman softball walk-on majoring in journalism at Northwestern in the (gulp) mid-1990s. Every free moment I’ve had since I started grad school (full-time=three 3-hour classes per week) I’ve either chosen to do homework, work out or take a nap.

I told myself these were all important uses of time — which isn’t wrong. Self-care has been vital to my sobriety over the past 26+ months. Self-care has its limits, though, when you’re basically still an infant and you’re under duress, and let’s face it, your track record of handling shit on your own has been somewhat spotty.

Prevailing wisdom in recovery is that you stop maturing when you start abusing drugs, and you don’t just instantly grow adult coping skills in a couple years off the sauce. Regression is a real thing, but the thing is, you have the tools to combat it. You have access to help. You just have to reach out — cry out, to belabor the baby analogy — and ask for support.

It’s hard for a Type-A control freak to do that. It’s hard to admit you’re still struggling with the same old shit, and maybe you’ve taken a step back in your journey, instead of just plowing forward in a straight line like you think you’re “supposed to.”

Let’s cut the “you” crap: It’s hard for me to admit I need others, much less lean on them.

The importance of community — and getting the 🤬 out of my own head — was the first lesson I learned in recovery. It’s what led me to study counseling in the first place. What good is this expensive, energy-draining grad school education going to be if I forget that foundational truth?

There’s no point in freeing my brain from the fog of alcohol, or shedding excess pounds from my body, if I allow the weight of real life to crush me. Especially when the “medicine” for what ails me is right at my fingertips.

2 thoughts on “Regression”

  1. Thanks Jen. I like the “Sickness” analogy. It never rests, it never goes away. I wish I had your energy and writing skills sometimes. From the outside it looks like you’re all forward motion but my experience has taught me that our journeys are rarely linear.

    Thanks for posting and sharing your journey with us.

    I’m a big Tom Hardy fan too!

    Peace.

    Like

  2. Hi Jen- so glad that you were able to fit in a blog. Your schedule sounds overwhelming but realizing that there are some things that are out of your control and remembering the Serenity Prayer hopefully will help. You’ve come so far in your shared journey. Continue doing it just one day at a time (or even if you need to do an hour at a time) and before you know it, you’ll be a great therapist helping others. You got this!!!

    Like

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