These days I see many women seeking help for binge eating only to discover they have serious drinking issues. This week’s column is from a client who discovered the only way to fix her binge eating was to tackle her binge drinking.
Here’s her story:
Awake. Aware. This is how I feel today. It is Day 19 of my “60 Day Challenge,” a challenge I created to break free of my self-destructive behavior. I’ve had an unhealthy love of alcohol and food that’s shaped my life for years.
If you met me, you’d see an average 34-year-old woman with a few extra pounds. In my work life, you’d see a successful go-getter. Family and friends see a woman with a huge heart. But look below the surface and you’ll find someone without self-love or confidence.
People use the term “rock bottom” when discussing addictions: my rock bottom wasn’t becoming homeless or a DUI. My rock bottom was a family wedding. My mind was reeling before I left, anxiety through the roof. When was the last time I’d seen Aunt Ginni? I’ve gained 20 pounds! What about my brother? At least eight pounds... And everyone takes pictures at weddings. How many times will I have to “Remove Tags” on Facebook?
How did I deal with this anxiety? Drinking and eating. By the second glass of wine, the anxiety was a distant, muffled sound. I spent my entire wedding vacation over-drinking and over-eating. Back home, the tears wouldn’t stop because I’d spent a week around family I hadn’t seen for years, but every moment was spent feeling self-conscious about being fat, then self-medicating with food and wine. No relaxation or appreciation of the precious moments that were in front of me.
That was my rock bottom.
I’ve got a beach trip in August, the first time we’ve had a family vacation since 1999. I knew in my sobbing that I didn’t want to waste another opportunity to enjoy my family. I wanted to go to Florida and not worry about trekking to the beach in my bathing suit. More importantly, I want to feel truly present and confident that I’m making healthy decisions– bathing suit or not!
I’ve known about my issues with food, but the elephant in the room was the alcohol, my segue into food. Any control over my food is lost after glass number two of wine. The capoff to a drunken night was Taco Bell. I’d wake-up hungover, drag myself to work and have the perfect hangover lunch: cheeseburger? Nachos? Pizza? I’d feel just good enough after work to do it all over again.
My "60 Day Challenge" included a commitment to exercise, eat smaller portions of healthier foods and no alcohol. The last part scared me the most. I didn't trust that I could stick with it. I feared for my social life. Many of my friends love to drink! How would they respond to my decision? Would I be any fun?!
It turns out my fears were unfounded. Here’s what’s happened:
The response was unanimous: overwhelming support. Mom hugged me and cried and told me that she’d stop drinking for 60 days, too. We made countdown calendars with inspirational/funny sayings and send a picture text to each other every morning. My friends say how proud they are, and many have opted not to order alcohol when we go out.
I really DO have fun when I'm sober! I still laugh and make other people laugh. Plus, I have clear memories of the good times.
Relief! I never realized I’d been basing my decisions around alcohol. If someone wanted to plan a non-drinking evening, my first thought was "Bor-ing"! Since I always expected to be hungover, I’d avoid morning plans. Now meeting at 7:30 a.m. for a bike ride sounds great, whereas before I wouldn’t have considered it.
I’m more aware and in touch with my emotions. I’d spent so many years numbing with wine, now I’m forced to "feel" raw emotions. This actually feels healing. While I was always conscious of my bad decisions, I was hovering above myself in a haze. All I knew was that negative voice, encouraging instant gratification with no regard for the big picture. Now I hear my Voice of Reason.
It’s not easy. I’ll never be "fixed." There was a part of me that thought that if I got skinny and sober I’d miraculously be happy, wake up every morning loving myself, find a wonderful man and live happily ever after. I see how silly it was to think all my struggles would disappear. Being thinner and sober won’t solve all my troubles, but I’ll be better at dealing with them. I am a work in progress.
When I have the urge to binge, I ask myself: 1) How will I feel while I’m eating an entire pizza? (Great!) 2) How will I feel an hour afterwards? (Like Shit!) 3) How will I feel tomorrow morning? (Disappointed, beating myself up, spiraling into self-destruction). This line of questioning is not fail-proof, but it’s very helpful (and applies to drinking, too!)
So today is Day 30! When I think back to the self-doubt and fear I experienced on Day 1, I feel so proud!! I just returned from visiting my brother, my biggest challenge yet. We share the same love for beer and wine. When I arrived, my mind shifted to the old way of thinking. It was tough to ignore my craving for a drink. But I tuned it out, and thankfully my brother didn't drink either. Phew! We saw the hilarious musical, Avenue Q. In it are characters called the "Bad Idea Bears." They constantly egg on this poor guy, urging him to make bad decisions. He was depressed so they talked him into buying beer. Then they convinced him to buy a case instead of a six-pack to save money! I laughed, re-naming my little voice my “Bad Idea Bear” (BIB).
My BIB tries to convince me to come back to the fat, drunk side because that’s the cool, fun place to be! I’m learning to ignore BIB and build up an arsenal of arguments to confront it My ultimate goal is to let self-love speak louder than BIB and to implement the concept of moderation. This is the only acceptable relationship with food and alcohol moving forward. If I can live that way, I won't have to go on extreme diets or never drink again.
This past month has brought me an unbelievable sense of awareness. I find myself relating my life to music. The song that best describes me now is Katy Perry’s “Wide Awake.” When I need empowerment, I play that song and sing at the top of my lungs. It is exactly how I feel in this moment.
Aware. Awake. Wide Awake.