So many of us seek recovery when we are desperate and have tried our own ways and failed. We have had our share of pain and suffering and are looking for the solution. Yet the biggest riddle is this: When given the solution, many of are unwilling to fully accept it or do what we are told will make us better. Many of us want recovery on our own terms. “I’ll do this, but not that.”
I was one of those people. Initially, I never even wanted to be a sober person. Sobriety to me was the end of the road and signified the end of my life. Unknowingly, I sabotaged my every attempt to be sober. It took me six years of constant relapsing to become completely 100% willing to go to any lengths.
When I first entered AA, the initial problem I had was with God. I didn’t believe nor did I plan to. My mind was a steel trap. Completely closed. This was the first sign of my unwillingness. Straight out of the gate, I wanted it my way. I relapsed.
My next attempt at recovery was doomed because of my dislike of the 12 steps. I was aghast at the notion of being told that I might have some character defects or was less than perfect. How dare AA suggest that, without knowing me! No AA for me and I continued to relapse. I chose a different path of recovery, known as harm reduction. No 12 steps, no need for God. This I would do. I entered a harm reduction treatment centre and relapsed five days after leaving.
My options were running out and my relapses were getting worse. I didn’t yet understand that my alcoholism was progressing. My work was being affected, my family was at their wits’ end, and I was isolating and binge drinking. I decided I would give AA another try and imagined I would be finally healed. I went to some meetings and sat in the back row (relapse row). I never went early and I shot out of there as soon as the Lord’s Prayer was recited. I continued to relapse.
I decided to get a sponsor but was unwilling to calI her because I was full of fear, I had social anxiety, and a phone phobia. In my mind, I was going to AA, I was accepting God, and I had a sponsor and believed this was enough. Now when I relapsed though, my short spurts of binge drinking had progressed to not being able to stop once I took that first drink. The nightmare of a binge would not end until I went to the hospital.
I decided I was not connecting to my sponsor so I got a new one and she made me begin the steps. I started to get better and got a little bit of sobriety time. I didn’t really enjoy AA though. I didn’t connect to the fellowship. I still had some of my old friends and still wanted my old life. I was one foot in and unwilling to jump in with both feet. And although my relapses were farther apart, they had become dangerous, terrifying, and worst of all, life threatening. I was locked up in the psych ward on a Form 1 more than once, in and out of the hospital, suicide attempts, injuries, and loss of my driver’s licence. My body and my mind were no longer working properly. I was a shell of my former self.
I was beaten. I knew this disease was going to kill me so I put myself into Renascent. There began a journey of real recovery and the beginning of a new life. I became willing. I decided I would do anything and everything I was told to do. I did the work. After leaving Renascent I did their Continuing Care program, I did 90 meetings in 90 days, I did the 12 steps, and I got active in the program and in service. I went to retreats, round ups, conferences. I went to closed discussion meetings and Big Book studies. When I was afraid or unwilling, I prayed for help for strength and willingness. I built a foundation of trust in my Higher Power and began to think of myself as a student of AA and recovery. The more I did, the more I began to like it, and even love it. I learned tools to live happily in this world without the need or desire for any substance.
This past February I celebrated two years of sobriety.
I am continuing to learn and grow and I feel grateful every day. I look back at my stumbling blocks and I remember thinking that because I couldn’t understand how or why things worked, that they couldn’t possibly. I remember thinking “How will praying help me find a job and pay my bills?” “How will going to a meeting affect my day today?” I had been unwilling to listen and trust. In the end, I just had to do the things I was told to do.
At a 12-step retreat I attended a little over a year ago, I read something that has stuck with me, because it described the old me. It read, “Most people say to God, ‘Prove to me that you exist and I will believe in you.’ God says in return, ‘Believe in me, and I will prove to you I exist.’” For me, that says it all. Believe first. Do the work. Live a life beyond your greatest dreams.
Last year I went to India for two months to study yoga and meditation. This year I am travelling to Thailand for a month to volunteer for an organization that rescues street dogs. This is a life I never could have imagined. I have had a spiritual awakening and the desire to drink has been lifted from me. I have a love for recovery, for AA, and for 12-step living. I am no longer running the show; thank God for that!
Rick A. was an incredibly committed supporter of Renascent’s recovery community. In the years since he was a client, he had become a sort of Santa Claus, showing up with gifts for those in treatment over the holiday season. Rick passed away on March 28, 2019. Just before his last holiday season with all of us, he shared his story:
I attended the Punanai Centre for men nearly 20 years ago. My first attempt at treatment was to get my wife and my employer off my back. I came into treatment knowing everything and not willing to change. My attitude got in the way and had me thinking “they have nothing to offer me.”
Nearly three months after leaving, I was irritable, discontent, and hated myself, when someone suggested I give it another try. At that moment, the gift of desperation made me willing enough to admit defeat and I re-entered treatment. This time, I was there for me. When I first walked into the centre, the biggest guy walked up to me and shook my hand. He greeted me with compassion and rather than try to take him out, I felt a sense of hope that maybe there was something to this. Instead of blaming everyone and having pity for myself, I started to listen. I connected with the counsellors and peers and I started to feel like I was no longer alone. I identified with others and started to think about them and their pain instead of my own, for the first time.
I was told to get involved, and keep an open mind. The call came: the Alumni program was exactly where I needed to be and I started to think of ways that I could help others feel less alone, to feel like they mattered. I started to purchase socks for the guys in treatment and would come down on Christmas Day to connect with guys who didn’t have family or friends around, and it changed everything. Over the next several years, the holiday gift-giving tradition continued and expanded to include the other men’s centre in Brooklin. Over the years, I’ve had men approach me at AA meetings and say “Hey, you’re that guy that showed up on Christmas Day at Renascent with gifts and food for everyone.” I had no idea of the impact, and it only mattered that I was able to be there for that ‘one’ person without family or hope on Christmas Day.
I have received more gifts than I have given and I hope this tradition continues for years to come. I have been sober since May 14, 2001 and continue to be grateful for the people who have shown me how to live a better life through service.
Officially I don’t belong to a 12-step group; I do have a sponsor who has become like a sister, and a team of incredible women who inspire, mentor, entertain, challenge, and have continued to love me on my best and worst days over the last 8 years, 10 months. Some may say that because I don’t have a home group, I am not a member of AA. I remind them the only requirement of membership is a desire to stop drinking.
For the past 8+ years, I have lived my best life. I am the same woman who could not stop drinking for anything or anyone; I was hopeless and destined to die until I finally “surrendered” in January 2010.
I am growing up in AA and was actively involved in service for a number of years. I still say I owe everything to AA, my higher power, and the people who showed me the way. This includes people outside of 12 step and the people who stick around the rooms, make coffee, and open the doors. I have experienced my parent’s funeral and my child’s wedding, and I didn’t drink — this is truly a miracle. I have found a recovery program that worked for me, and I have persevered. I still consider myself in early recovery, and I don’t hide my recovery from the public. Whenever I can put a face to recovery, I do it with pride as a person with lived experience of a substance use disorder and long-term recovery.
What I’ve learned along the way is there are many roads to recovery, and recovery looks different for everyone. What I measure as success may not be what you consider success. One of the very first teachings in AA was “to keep an open mind” and when I was in early sobriety, I was very opinionated about the quality of other people’s programs even though the next thing I was taught was “live and let live.” It took time, patience, pain, and practice to stop looking at the quality of other people’s lives and focus on my own.
What prompted me to write this is that I want to — as a member of Alcoholics Anonymous — provide an alternate perspective when it comes to harm reduction, abstinence, cannabis, methadone, suboxone, and other mood-altering substances. What people choose to do is none of my business; I want my friends and members of the fellowship to live their best lives. I don’t care if you smoke pot, I don’t care if you drink, I don’t care if you come to meetings drunk. I care that you’re happy, I care that you’re whole, I care that you’re not suffering, and I care that you’re alive.
Letting go has been a process, and for me that means freedom.
I turned 70 three months ago. Now generally speaking, a woman would never divulge that she would be entering that decade. However, this is the first time in fifty years that I am free, sane, and liberated from the world of dieting, calorie counting, purging, bingeing extreme exercising and all else associated with society’s vision of how weight loss should come about. All of this changed a year ago, November 23, 2016 a year where I dropped the shackles of dieting and began to truly live.
I started my first serious diet in my mid twenties. For almost all of my entire life growing up I was the chubbiest in the class, the fattest among my group of friends and the one that was either pitied or taunted. It was in this realm that I sought comfort, predominately in bread, pasta, donuts and chocolate bars. Isolation and secret eating became my way of life.
In my twenties I wanted desperately to fix all of that and so I entered the false promises of the weight loss industry. Diet pills, fasting, Herbal Magic, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers (I have more shares in that than Oprah) and a myriad other plans that promised a quick fix. When all these failed and only more weight piled on I turned to the ultimate quick fix of all times, Weight Loss Surgery. For almost a year I rode a high of quick loss only to come to a screeching crash. You see, I gradually began to transfer my food addiction into alcohol. On came back the pounds and again began assuaging my pain with baguettes, bagels, bonbons, and booze. I was suddenly a fat, malnourished, diabetic, alcoholic with high cholesterol and blood pressure. It was at this point that I thought I was hopeless, helpless and at my age not worth saving. I was an ashamed failure, a mentally and physically sick woman.
By the Grace of God as I call it, I found a comment online about a woman who was entering Renascent for food addiction. I inquired about this and found out that this program was literally in my back yard. I made the phone call.
A year later, I no longer take eight metformin to control type 2 diabetes, my cholesterol and blood pressure is normal. The greatest reward though is that I no longer obsess about food or alcohol. My mad cravings are gone and I religiously follow the food plan given to me during my stay at Renascent. Diet is not a part of my vocabulary any longer. No carbs, no sugars, no alcohol is truly doable under any circumstance. Case in point, to celebrate my seventieth birthday I went for a week to the Grand Canyon to whitewater raft and hike. With advance notice and preparation I was able to stay on plan. Eating out is a breeze as is any social event. What a gift I’ve been given: Health, peace, and well being.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the visionary pioneer of food addiction, Dr. Vera Tarman and all the counsellors and staff at Renascent. I was also the fortunate and last client to be the beneficiary of a generous donation to the Food Addiction Program. I am truly, humbly grateful. Oh and as an extra bonus, I lost forty pounds and am in the normal BMI range. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
My problem with food started as far back as I can remember.
I learned to hide it when I got disapproving comments from family and others. I always wanted to be alone to eat and I would hide and hoard it. As I got older it only got worse. I used food for everything. When something bad happened, I would use it for comfort. When something good happened I’d use it to celebrate or as a reward. I would use it to alleviate boredom.
I got sicker and sicker. I began to binge every day in secret. It made me so ashamed of myself. I would have to be sure to have my binge foods already in the house for each night because I knew I was going to need them. Every day I would buy or bake lots of terribly unhealthy sugary/salty foods and every night I would gorge myself until I felt so sick that I could hardly move.
I couldn’t stop no matter how hard I tried. I would even become angry that I couldn’t keep eating. Each night I would promise myself that tomorrow would be different, but each morning I’d wake up with the obsession still there just as strong as the day before and I’d have to do it all over again.
I lost and gained hundreds of pounds dieting and then giving in to the cravings and quitting. I was in chronic pain. I had to go up my stairs on my hands and knees many times. I didn’t want to go out. I had nothing to wear. My job became almost impossible. It was no way to live. I was desperate.
I decided to have Gastric Bypass Surgery but when I lost some weight ahead of time they said I didn’t need the surgery. That upset me and sent me back to the food. I quickly regained everything I’d just lost plus.
I went to a support group where I heard about a Pilot Program in Toronto for Food Addicts at Renascent. I called them the very next day. It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I was accepted into the program and I went into the house on October 12th 2016 for 3 weeks.
It was an adjustment at first but I soon found myself really benefitting from their program of healthy, prepared meals, classes, meetings and counselling sessions. I learned for the first time in my life that I’m not a bad person but that I have a disease. I learned that I’m not like other people. I learned that when I eat my trigger foods, my mind and body undergo actual physical changes that are a chemically induced abnormality or illness. I learned that it is a progressive disease and that it only becomes worse without treatment. I learned that unless I abstain from these trigger foods I cannot recover.
I was helped by counsellors to make changes that have literally saved my life. I have been able to remain abstinent since leaving treatment by using all the tools that were given to me. I work this program every single day and it has become a way of life for me. I have a plan of eating that I follow each day. I have a sponsor who helps me and I have a support system of people in my life that have gone through the same experiences, and who are also in recovery. I now have freedom from the mental obsession and physical cravings that used to plague me relentlessly.
I’ve lost at least 100 lbs. and I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I’m active and I can do things I only dreamed of doing before. I believe in this program. It has worked for me. The key for me was willingness. I am so grateful that I have been helped to understand that recovery from eating compulsively is possible.