Conversation with Carleen Mathews
Carleen Mathews is inspiring to say the least. Formerly a college softball player, her demons have been alcohol and drug addiction, and an eating disorder. Now a 2x CrossFit competitor, she has overcome addiction and is one of the fittest women on the planet. I am super excited to be talking with her.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: Let’s kick off with what you have had for breakfast today?
I have pretty much the same thing everyday for breakfast, I absolutely love it and I’m obsessed with my breakfast! So much so that sometimes I have it in the morning and then again for dinner! My exact breakfast: 115 grams egg beaters (2.5 servings) 65 grams dry oatmeal 70 oz frozen blueberries in my oats .4 oz honey in my oats
Liv: Moving to your story. In your interview with Mission6 (below), you explained that you have a history of drug and alcohol addiction and an eating disorder (ED). Initially you dealt with you ED, but that led you use alcohol and drugs excessively. You got sober in October 2010. That is super impressive, congratulations. Can you tell me the parallels that you would draw between your addiction to drugs and alcohol and your eating disorder?
My eating disorder was engrained in me from a young age. I saw my mother have disordered eating growing up. I also saw addiction from a young age, my father was an alcoholic. From early on my mother and father warned me that alcohol would be an issue for me. Of course I didn’t listen. But the eating disorder was stemmed from me not knowing who I was and wanting to get attention for how I looked. The drinking got worse when I didn’t have the eating disorder, to define myself with. I didn’t know who i was I was so unhappy and as I drank i made poor decisions and made myself more unhappy. I finally hit a rock bottom where I had had enough, I didn’t want to be the person I was when i was drinking. I met with a counselor weekly and dove myself head on into figuring out who I am and loving myself!
CrossFit & How it Impacts Addiction Recovery
Liv: You’ve been practising CrossFit for 7 years. In fact, what started as what you thought was a ‘bootcamp’ you fell in love with. This passion quickly led to your competing in regionals in 2012. Each year you continued to compete and improve, leading to competing in the CrossFit Games in 2015. You described your CrossFit evolution as slow and gradual. If you had to summarise that evolution, how would you describe them in five gradual steps?
- Learning the basics of CrossFit
- Attacking weaknesses
- Learning how to compete by putting myself into lots of little local competitions
- Building strength
- Gaining confidence by training with others who are better than me
Liv: You said that CrossFit had a significant impact on your recovery journey, how so?
When I walked in the doors of CrossFit X factor for the first time, I finally found something that I didn’t have to try to be someone I’m not. I was accepted 100% for me and no one cared who I was in the past or what I’ve done. It’s allowed me to be me, I don’t feel like I need to be someone I’m not. The CrossFit community has been there for me through highs and lows, when I wanted to pick up a drink, I didn’t need to!
Liv: You said that you’re on a mission, tell me about it?
– I’m on a mission to get back to the games
– I’m on a mission to improve my performance and placement at the games
– I’m on a mission to share my story and inspire people through my story.
Liv: You posted a massively inspirational picture on IG on your recovery birthday (featured in The Barbell Spin) and said about recovery: “I can’t say it’s been easy but, it’s worth it!!!!” What hasn’t been easy? Can you tell me about your struggles in recovery and how you deal with them?
When I first got sober I didn’t have any friends and I sat at home alone for about 4 months. I lost all of my “friends” cause I didn’t party anymore! I just stayed in cause I didn’t know anything else to do. Then I lost my dad unexpectedly. The CrossFit community rallied behind me and got me through that! I’ve also worked really hard to set up boundaries with my family, as I found that was fairly triggering for me. Today I don’t have the urge to drink, but I always try to stay aware of things that could drive me to drink. Always knowing that I am just one drink away from throwing my life away.
Liv: If you had the opportunity to talk to you, when you were in the heat of addiction, what advice would you offer?
Gosh that’s hard, because in the heat of my addiction I wouldn’t listen to anyone. My dad would talk to me and express concern my sister, etc. I wasn’t ready I listen to anyone until I was ready to make the decision myself. It took me probably 6 months before I was able to say I don’t want to drink again. I started as just staying i’m not going to drink right now… 30 days, etc.
Relationship with Food
Liv: What has been your relationship with food in recovery?
Eating disorder recovery and alcohol recovery are 2 very different battles. Alcohol you can just stop, you can have willpower to not pick up one drink. But food, you always have to eat, you have to build that healthy relationship with food. It’s been an ebb and flow kinda relationship. Sometimes are better than others. But for me being honest and open about it has helped the most. For me the secret holds all of the power!
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
– seek outside help (therapy, meetings, etc)
– find an outlet (fitness, art, music, etc)
– celebrate small successes
– create a support system
– set boundaries with others who use or drink.
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