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Utterly destroyed, I walked into the rooms of AA on the 26th of March 2012. I Identified as an alcoholic, and I haven’t had a drink since. But I didn’t stop there; over the past five years, my recovery has led me to a series of realizations about the substances I continued to use, to replace the gap that alcohol and drugs filled. I discovered that I didn’t suffer with alcoholism, I suffered with addiction—from prescription pills to food, I used anything to change the way that I felt. Recovery has been a process of shedding those substances and behaviors which no longer serve me. And each and every one of those achievements should be celebrated.
When I walked into the rooms, I was deeply damaged by my last binge—mentally, physically and emotionally. That weekend, I devoured 14 bottles of wine and a load of codeine tablets. I had fallen to my knees many times before, but this time was different—the very core of my being screamed so loudly that I had a moment of clarity: get help or die. I chose help. I am not entirely sure why I made that choice, but I am eternally grateful that I did.
Despite years and years of trying to control my drinking, I was never able to get a grip on it—it had a grip on me. I drank against my will more days, weeks, months, and years than I wish to recall. No person, job or thing was enough to stop the desire for more. Yet, something happened that weekend and as soon as I walked into the rooms of AA, I have never had a desire to drink again. That is nothing short of a miracle.
That is not to say that recovery has been easy; it has been jaw-dropping, eye opening, and painful! It has also been the most freeing experience in my life.
During the first few months of my recovery, I began to awaken. I woke up to how addiction had ravaged my life, who I had hurt, and how I had destroyed myself in the process. I also began to realize who I was and I dared to dream about a future. I finally felt part of the human race and I attained some semblance of a normal life—a life that I actually wanted to be part of.
Part of that awakening began with working through The 12 Steps in which I realized my long history of drug misuse. My then sponsor told me that I was an addict, and that I needed to attend NA. We worked through the NA Am I An Addict? questionnaire and I was shocked. I very reluctantly attended my first NA meeting on August 5, 2012—I hesitantly accepted that as my clean date.
But, I told a lie to fit in: I said I was still addicted to codeine during my sobriety, which wasn’t true. I’d occasionally taken painkillers for a headache, but I was not abusing them and only ever took them as prescribed. I consciously vowed to stop abusing drugs and alcohol in the way I had when I entered AA. Yet, I was just so desperate to fit in, in a place where I felt so out of place—I hadn’t used heroin, meth or crack, I told myself. I felt that this story would help me to feel accepted.
The reality is that no one cared. They actually accepted me as Liv, a person in recovery. The only person who can say if I suffer with addiction is me. Addiction isn’t about what substance you took, it is about having a disease and how it has affected your life. You either have the disease or you don’t.
Recovery continued to reveal how addiction manifested in other areas of my life. I found that the innate desire of an addict to escape oneself never really goes away—certainly not in my experience. Sure, the voice quietens as we re-learn behaviors and practice the opposite actions. We effectively re-wire our brains. But we can only do that with the newfound awareness we gain in continued recovery.
That awareness helped me to see that I was still harming myself with smoking and food. I now know that is because of addiction transfer—the process of your brain seeking feel good chemicals to cope with their depletion as your brain and body recover from years of abuse. I couldn’t understand why I was smoking nearly 30 cigarettes a day, lighting one up and already thinking about the next one. I was unable to stop binging on high carbohydrate foods loaded with sugar and fat—and was gaining weight rapidly.
It seemed to be contradictory to care enough about myself to continue in recovery, but harm myself with smoking and food.
18 months into recovery, on September 30, 2013, I decided to make my next change and stopped smoking. I started smoking at just 10 years old—they came before drugs and alcohol as a fix. Quitting smoking was harder than stopping drinking and drugging. But I did it, and I haven’t smoked since. I continue to celebrate this victory every year, because I never want to be a smoker again, or for addiction to have its grip on me.
In December 2014, at 150 pounds overweight, I tackled my relationship with food. The hardest substance to quit, because you can’t. This was the very first substance I used to change how I felt—at less than 10 years old. I had to completely revolutionize how I ate and how I used food. I began to have a relationship with my physical wellbeing. Two years later, I have lost nearly 60 pounds and no longer binge. It is a journey I continue on today, slowly, but surely.
The desire to use any of these interchangeable substances never entirely goes away—we suffer with a disease that wants to change how we feel and avoid difficult events, realities and emotions. The difference today is that I care enough about myself to stop harming myself. I want to live a life that serves me well; in terms of what I put in my body, how I nourish myself, and with whom I spend my time. I want life to be fulfilling and I want to be present in it.
Why shouldn’t we celebrate every single achievement along the way?
Writer and wellness advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. She passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site—Liv’s Recovery Kitchen—is a resource for those on their journey toward health and wellness in recovery. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery bloggers and fellow writers. She is published on websites such as: Recovery.Org, The Fix, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri, Intervene, Workit Health, Sapling, Transformation is Real and Addiction Unscripted.