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Body Image Issues in Sobriety


I entered rehab in the summer of 2006. I was 20 years old and 20 pounds underweight. To me, I looked fabulous. I adored the way my hip bones jut out of the tops of my shorts and how my protruding spine scaled up my back like a xylophone. I didn’t have an eating disorder – I had alcoholism, and these were some of the physical symptoms. I was a daily cocaine user and a daily drinker. I had no money or desire to buy food so that summer I survived on the only items in my kitchen: Saltines and frozen spinach. Sometimes I’d get lucky and my friend Jon would take me out for a burger at Foster’s Freeze.

By the end of that summer I had become so used to my malnourished form that I viewed my appearance as healthy and sexy. It didn’t matter that those around me cringed at my weight because when I looked in the mirror I saw an ideal body. While at rehab, I was re-introduced to regular meals, hearty ones at that, as well as exercise from our trips to the gym. At first, I worked out because I was angry, but later on it became vital to my wellbeing.

After my first month of treatment I remember looking in the mirror shocked and disgusted at the image I saw before me. The bones were no longer visible and there appeared to be a layer of padding on my stomach and thighs, which to me, meant I looked like a whale. In reality, I was back to a healthier weight of 115. I had never obsessed on the size of my body until I got sober so viewing myself in this way was confusing and scary. Why was I suddenly having body issues? And is the staff really putting mind control poison in the food?

My sense of reality was completely warped. My whole life I had been working with a set of ideals that suddenly didn’t seem to fit into my sober lifestyle. These ideals, including the way I felt about my physical appearance, had to be let go of. Throughout my sobriety I have encountered many sober women who struggle with eating disorders and body issues that weren’t there before. It’s said that alcoholism manifests in many ways throughout sobriety, and my body was my new obsession. No, I didn’t launch out on a course of vigorous exercise and extreme dieting. I continued to eat normally for the most part. Instead I wrestled internally with feelings of physical inadequacy. Cocaine not only made me shed pounds quickly, but while high, I felt untouchable and glamorous. In early sobriety I felt dumpy and hopeless.

If I was physically healthy, why did I feel this way about myself and what was I going to do about it? I had to start doing things differently. The gifts of recovery aren’t received overnight upon admitting defeat. There is work to be done. For a person like me, I had no self-esteem and no grasp on the concept of self-love. I have had my share of sober low spots where self-esteem is concerned. I have acted out in sobriety many times but the one thing that has remained constant over the years is an earnest sense of willingness.

Sobriety does not guarantee that we feel good about ourselves all the time. However, by going through the 12-Step process I was able to shape a saner perspective on myself, on others and on life in general.

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Filed under: Addiction, Conditions and Disorders, Recovery · Tags: 12 step program, 12-steps, Addiction, alcoholism, body dysmorphia, body image, Cocaine Addiction, cocaine recovery, early sobriety, eating disorder, poor body image

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