“Recovery is a full time job—a lifestyle change.” “It’s not going to be easy.” “The first step is admitting that you have a problem.”
If only I had a dime for every time I’ve said these phrases to my patients!
But, Mrs. Courtney. “You don’t understand.” “You don’t have the cravings like I do.” “You don’t know the guilt I feel or how stressed I am.”
Every day I go into work, 5:30 am with a smile on my face. I am there to serve. To serve as a listening ear, a guiding voice, to offer a sense of understanding to help my patients learn how to live life without drugs. Without heroin, or Percocet, without Vicodin. A prescribed tablet of hope that so commonly is used for real pain and then for the unlucky ones, leads to a life of disease, sickness, and helplessness.
Over the years I’ve seen ups and downs, successes and relapses. I’ve seen overdoses and deaths. I’ve seen desperate men finally become the father they wanted to be and I’ve seen women learn to love themselves without sacrificing their integrity. I’ve seen children come home to their parents, and trust brought back to families.
Over the years I’ve learned that I am really not that different.
I’ve had a love-hate relationship with food, with my body, for as long as I can remember. I was always the friendly, abnormally tall chubby kid. I could never shop from Aeropostle or Limited Too. Long shirts were crop tops and pants were capris. Embarrassment prevailed.
I don’t remember being made fun of or ridiculed. I wasn’t always cornered on the playground and laughed at. But, I always felt out of place. It didn’t feel right to eat cake and ice cream next to the tiny, petite girl at the birthday party. “They must think I am huge.” “They probably think I am a fat cow.” Negative thoughts consumed my mind, so I ate more.
I remember seeing my senior pictures and thinking, “No one is ever going to want to be with me.” So with that in mind I started exercising.
I started college and the freshmen fifteen came by no surprise. My first day in the gym at the Pete Hanna Center was one to remember. My sprints on the treadmill turned to a brisk walk, to a jog to a slow walk… right out the door when the men’s basketball team flooded the room. Cue negative thoughts. “They probably think I am a moron to be doing this. I don’t need a treadmill I need liposuction. “
My negative, destructive thoughts and I frequented the Pete Hanna Center until I started working a full time job with 16- hour semesters. I didn’t need exercise then because there weren’t enough hours in the day and I had endless espresso at my fingertips. Between work and research papers I shed some pounds, made good grades and had a boyfriend. I had it all.
Until the relationship soured and I went to the go-to friend that I could always fall back on..
And the cycle started again.
I remember taking a water aerobics class towards the end of my time at Samford when I learned more about my body, the importance of exercise and the food I put in it. I was surrounded by non-judgmental people who helped me build my self-esteem back and helped me get on the right track to healthy-ville.
I realized then, that even with hard work, I am not built to be skinny. I’m a 5’10, curly headed girl who’s supposed to have meat on her bones. And for the first time in a long time I was okay with that.
Until the stress of graduation combined with one of the worst nights in my life lead me to the most destructive thoughts I’ve ever had about myself. Then, I moved away from a place I thought I wanted to make a home leaving the good and the bad behind, I found myself depressed and taking every opportunity to eat my feelings. I didn’t want to feel sad, or happy or hungry. I wanted fullness and I got that with food. So I became obsessed and unhealthy and my waistline grew.
Luckily, I have a great family who came as my wake up call. I got a great job with great co-workers who encouraged me to go to the gym. Unfortunately those underlying voids and feelings that I hadn’t dealt with kept re-surfacing. So, I joined a challenge at the gym to see who could lose the most pounds and/or body mass in 2 months to keep my mind off of all the inner demons. So to the other side I flew. Working out two to three times a day, protein shakes and kale became my “best friends.” I was still hungry so I’d go to sleep early to avoid the feeling and wake up even earlier to go to the gym before work. I was so pleased with the results…. I became obsessed and unhealthy but I was beautiful.
My iron dropped. My muscles were strong but I felt weak. Would I ever find a happy medium?
Yes. A wise soul once told me, “Remember, it’s not a diet. It’s about changing your relationship with food. Learning not to rely on it for comfort, company stress or relief. “
A light bulb went off. I’m really not that different than my patients. Bread is my heroin. My comfort, my companion in my time of need. Reese’s Cups keep me company and make me feel good until the high wears off. My brain suffers, my heart suffers, my pant size suffers. My quality of life is in danger and so are the rest of my years if I don’t change. Working out and exercising put on a great front, but doesn’t change much when you sneak an extra serving of pasta and dinner roll when no one is looking.
It’s time that I practice what I preach on a daily basis and accept that I , too am stronger than my excuses. I am a beautiful, educated woman with the support from family, friends and an incredible husband. I have faith in my ability to overcome obstacles, and achieve goals that I set my mind to. I have a daily reminder when I go to work. To help my patients get through denial and identify their triggers. To be a living example for those around me and when times get rough, to encourage them to think back to the beginning, to that first step and remember why they started when they feel like giving up.
I have an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. And this my friends…
is my first step.