How I Achieved Body Confidence in Recovery
When I got sober, I was 150 pounds overweight. To say that I hated my body was an understatement. Of course I couldn’t do anything about it right away; the first few months of sobriety I was focused on doing everything I could to hold on to the rollercoaster of early recovery. Just not drinking was a full-time occupation.
Weight loss could, well…wait.
A Disordered Relationship With Food
As the months progressed into sustained sobriety, I realized that something was up. I couldn’t stop binge-eating. Those habits revealed a completely disordered relationship with food. I would get home from a meeting and stuff my face with cake, pastries, bread, cheese, and candy. I couldn’t get enough. I felt like this binges were controlling my life. I felt utterly helpless. But I was clueless how to tackle my weight and was unaware of how distorted my relationship with my body was. I hated how I looked, I had zero self-worth, little self-confidence. I thought smaller equated to both beauty and health.
As a person who has had a substance use disorder, lack of self-worth was one of my core issues; I felt like I never belonged and always believed that I wasn’t good enough. My purpose in life was to seek worthiness and to feel that I mattered. I’d do anything to achieve that. I latched on to the concept that a body of my dreams was the avenue to worthiness. And if I had that body, then I would be healthy and confident.
That body I saw as slender, toned, hair-free, and flawless. It was that woman I thought would attract the partner of my dreams; that woman who would be happy and fulfilled. She would breeze through life, without a care in the world. She wouldn’t struggle with food.
That woman was put aside as my substance use disorder took hold over my life. But when I was sober for a year or so, I awoke to my body image and food issues. I felt that tackling my weight was surely the next stage of recovery. I’d polished my insides, now it was time to transform my outsides, right?!
Another Turning Point…
Fortunately, I reached another turning point – I think they call this one of those more will be revealed moments – and realized that I was trying to tackle my body image not only with a distorted perception of a healthy body, but also with a long history eating disorders: cycles of starvation, binging, purging, which continued long into recovery.
It finally clicked that, overall, I had been trying to achieve this unattainable body for years. I realized that this “Disney” standard of how we’re conditioned to regard beauty is entirely false; rarely do women of those airbrushed standards exist – without excessive dieting and exercise, that is.
The advertising industry has conditioned us to believe in that beauty ideal and anything less means we are not worthy – we’re less than that ultimate standard. And it is from this position of unworthiness that we have an innate hunger to constantly change the way we look. This diet is the one! we’ll say with palpable excitement as we run home from the store armed with the latest glossy women’s magazine claiming to contain the secret to drop ten pounds in three days.
The reality is that we will rarely achieve this false standard and, even if we do, we won’t sustain it because we cannot survive on the restrictive diet required to achieve that body. What’s interesting here is that a starving body is not healthy. To the contrary: it is unhealthy. A body deficient in nutrients isn’t strong; it is weak and prone to sickness.
Once I had this realization, I saw the futility in trying to achieve something that didn’t exist. Then my world changed. I started to see me: I saw that my height was beautiful, that my eyes were so blue that they sparkled in the light, I saw that my wavy hair reflected the quirkiness in my personality, and I finally saw how womanly my curves made me look. I was able to see and appreciate the beauty and unique qualities in other women around me.
It was from this place, that I was able to focus on what was really important to me: to be healthy and strong. I lost weight by getting healthy and eating more nutritious food, sure. And I wanted to lose some. The difference though, was that my motivation wasn’t to be that woman; it was to be healthy and strong. My philosophy changed and became a more realistic and more sustainable notion of health over size.
Health is Beautiful
That outlook and balanced approach toward my health only bolstered my recovery: I gained more energy, I slept better, my mood became more stable, I gained strength, my anxiety and depression improved, and I had more energy for life. I believe it was that energy and that stability that has fueled my continued sobriety. Life feels more manageable and less overwhelming. I’m able to cope with life stressors more easily, and I’m less swayed my negative life experiences.
But most of all, changing my perceptions led to the realization that it is, in fact, health that is beautiful. Empowering myself to focus on health finally led me to achieve what I’d wanted all along: body confidence and self-worth.
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