B Rae Perryman has achieved just over four years of sobriety. She is a writer. B Rae works for the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, DC, and she works with and consults for other advocacy groups and communities. B. Rae also works with people struggling with addiction or in early recovery and their loved ones. She likes to work, and would love to work with you! Not only has she overcome addiction, but she has recently lost 98 pounds of the 125 she gained in early recovery.
Photo credit: Kate Meyer for I Am Not Anonymous, 2016.
Kitchen Table Conversation
Liv: Let’s kick off with a food-related question: What have you had for breakfast today?
B: I don’t usually make time to eat breakfast during the week. I usually start the day with water, then coffee or a Diet Coke. Lately, I’ve been having a small-ish late lunch, and then a large dinner most days. Not the best strategy, I know — but that’s when I make time for food!
Liv: Moving to your story, what led to you to choosing to get help with addiction? What was your moment of clarity?
B: Oof, my story is a tough one. I was living in New York, and had gone home to Texas for a family wedding. I’d been self-medicating with drugs of all sorts for 16 years, had overdosed several times, had been arrested twice, and suffered many other consequences, as well.
But, I have always had a very big and full life, so I didn’t think I was using drugs problematically. Looking back, I’d had a seizure while coming off of a marijuana-assisted “Goliath” psilocybin trip (more than 10 grams) in the week leading up to the wedding. There were…many signs.
I didn’t arrange for drug usage while home, and being around family in Texas has historically been stressful. I went into withdrawal psychosis after a day or so without drugs. I held it together at the wedding, but was hallucinating terribly. I’d had enough experience to know I wasn’t connected to reality, but couldn’t get back on my own. I continued to get worse, and at some point my sister said she’d facilitate me getting clinical help. She made it very clear I had one chance. I took that one chance — and here I am.
The moment of clarity, I think, though, came the day before I went to rehab. In my first meeting with a therapist, I was asked, “How much help are you willing to accept?”
No judgment, no stigma, and no rescinding of choice. Then, and only then, I became open to a new way of life.
Liv: What is the basis of your recovery? Is it a specific modality, or is a more holistic approach?
B: I am in long-term secular recovery. My recovery currently roots itself in advocacy and activism, as well as deliberate emotional hygiene. I meditate. I see a Buddhist therapist. Mostly, though, I just keep recovery and mental health in the front and center of my life. I have to keep moving forward.
The first few years — and this is the message I want to convey to anyone struggling with problematic substance use — you just have to stay clean. You’ve got to get your neurology where it’s not working against you every moment of the day. And, in the beginning, the ups and downs are huge.
I did outpatient rehab, intensive therapy, saw a psychiatrist. These were all helpful. I had a 3 week stay in a psych ward that almost killed me because I was allergic to the meds. I gained 60 pounds in 3 weeks, and almost had a heart attack. Not so helpful. I lived in an Oxford House, I went to 12-step meetings. I attended SMART Recovery. I ate a LOT of ice cream. These were all a mixed bag.
There are Internet forums, books, church, communities, meetings — there are as many ways to be in recovery as there are people in recovery, and I’m not here to tell you what will work. When I work with people struggling, I encourage them to be open to everything, and to see what works.
Generally, though, I am a HUGE proponent of secular, science-based treatment. This is why I advocate for an overhaul of our drug policies in the United States. Evidence-based practices, in both the data and my anecdotal experience, have the highest rate of success.
Drug Policy Advocacy
Liv: Moving on to your position as an advocate in drug policy, tell me how you got into that work? How does it enhance your recovery?
B: Simply put, it is my recovery. I’m a gigantic nerd, and have worked in policy in other areas, so this seemed a natural move. At the beginning, I took whatever position I could get — and I just stay hungry and open to new projects, positions, and/or consultancies.
I am given nothing but energy and life by working towards sane drug policy and an end to the horridly failed, racist, classist drug war. There’s nothing I would rather do.
Additionally, prior to being in recovery, I held a lot of these beliefs, as well. One thing I don’t think people always get is that active recovery is the flip side of active use — meaning, it’s still smack dab in the middle of drug culture. And there’s nowhere I would rather be.
I remember laughing to myself in the back of a cop car on my way to jail the first time I got arrested for possession of pot. Like, “Really? My values about what I put in my body are different than my state’s. I smoked a couple of bowls and have some plant matter in my purse, and now you’re putting me in a cage and having me pay a debt to society? OK, guy.”
I could only laugh, though, because I didn’t have to fear a long jail sentence, or being beaten or killed. And I could only receive the amount of clinical, science-based help I got in recovery because of a similar privilege.
That’s not fair, on either side of the coin. And it’s the reason I’m alive, healthy, and educated — and so many others aren’t. It’s on people like me to work to dismantle this. It’s on all of us, really.
It feels great to be able to integrate who I’ve been and what I’ve stood for my whole life in a way that enhances my recovery and will hopefully dramatically bolster treatment options and equitable access for all.
And it’s a weird space for me to be in, to be honest. I think more recovery folks will come along in the coming years, but I can’t be sure. It’s very easy to be ideologically opposed to all drug usage when someone you love has died from addiction, or when you yourself will die if you use drugs. I would die, or lose my mind, were I to use drugs again. I have no personal interest in non-problematic use. None.
But I will always advocate for harm reduction, safe use, expansive treatment options for everyone, and a drastic reduction in the role of criminalization in drug policy. People who use drugs — safely or problematically — should not be unfairly stigmatized by their fellow humans. It doesn’t do anyone any good.
Liv: You wrote an article for Huffington Post, Rollback Of Medicaid Expansion Could Mean The End Of Life-Saving Treatment For Far Too Many—and passionately said ‘These are my people, and my people are dying at alarming rates from problematic substance use and overdose.’ I couldn’t agree more. As a person in recovery, tell me can we can do individually and collectively to influence change and getting people the help that they need?
B: Use your voice. Be annoying if you have to.
Call your representatives — this is huge. Calls, letters, and showing up to town halls. Calling them out on social media. And staying knowledgeable about what’s going on in your neighborhood, city, state, and country. These are good jumping off points.
Some of the most powerful energy I’ve ever been privy to is when those touched by addiction get fed up with something. If your town doesn’t have a clinic for medically assisted treatment or safe injection facilities, see what you can do to combat that. Harm reduction saves real lives, and you can have a hand in that.
Learn what some of the national groups do and advocate for. Read articles, blogs, and respond however you can. Read Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. Get some facts, make some noise. Enlist some friends to make some, too. Faces and Voices of Recovery does a great job of this, and helped pass the CARA act last year.
Individually — and I know some people don’t agree, but — be out and proud about being in recovery. Talk about it, learn about it, and teach others about it. Be open to hearing what others need, and helping them find it. I just ask, “How can I help?” And listen to the answer.
And, of course, vote. Vote in elections, and vote with your dollars. What you choose to support can change things for generations to come. Everything you do is important.
Liv: Moving on to your physical recovery, you tell me that you gained 125 in early recovery—that is something I can certainly relate to. What factors led to your weight gain? Did you find that you used food in the same way as drugs?
B: Some of it was a bad stay in a psych ward, and substandard medical care. It set me back 60 lbs and did not move my recovery forward. A sometimes unfortunate reality of life — including recovery and mental health care — is that it’s largely trial and error. But, I survived, and that’s better than the alternative.
Lots of it, though, was eating whatever I wanted to in early recovery. I quit everything cold turkey, and wasn’t about to quit Ben & Jerry’s! Also, I was so tired. Life is exhausting. Healing your brain is exhausting. And I had to work during all of this, so I just ate whatever I wanted and rested whenever I wanted.
And, yes — I have a binge eating problem. It’s much better now, but I’m still a volume eater. I was a volume drug user, so this isn’t surprising.
And, this is quite personal, but, as a survivor of childhood trauma, I use weight as emotional padding. Sometimes I need it, sometimes I don’t. My weight has fluctuated my whole life, and as a result I have the luxury of being “body positive” at any size. I only worry about it one way or the other when it becomes painful, physically or emotionally.
Losing Weight in Addiction Recovery
Liv: You have successfully lost 98, congratulations! That is no mean feat. How did you tackle your weight loss? Did you have a specific strategy?
B: My body just hurt, all the time. And I was low energy, all the time. I was 50 lbs. heavier than I’d ever been — and that’s saying a lot. I just got tired of it one day. I ate strict vegan for awhile, and am now mostly vegan.
I used the free app LoseIt! and logged all my food for about six months. When I want to binge, which is often, I get family size fruit or veggie trays and just eat those. Sometimes I take a day (24 hours) off from eating if I’ve really been hitting it hard.
My only strategy, though, is “don’t eat too much and move around a lot.” Also, I’m patient. There are weeks, sometimes months, when I eat too much or don’t exercise. I am gentle with myself. Recovery comes first.
Also, when you’re in recovery, you skip (or aren’t invited to) a lot of things. It can be similar to forego activities that center around overindulging in food. There are as many of those as there are drug and alcohol related events. It’s all a process, and it’s progress, not perfection. I just want to feel good and have energy.
Liv: How has your relationship with food changed?
B: I’m a strict vegetarian now, and try to eat mostly vegan. I prefer to be vegan — I just feel better. I’d had periods of these choices prior, but I’m not really interested in regularly eating animal products anymore, and don’t think that will change. Except for honey and caviar, of course. Those are my two favorite foods.
Liv: How has your relationship with your body evolved in recovery?
B: The relationship was OK for the first few months — I did a yoga teacher training and felt very connected to my body and muscles, but then pretty much obliterated after gaining 60 pounds in 3 weeks. Luckily, I chose not to date for several years in early recovery, so I didn’t have to worry about the sexual element of it at all.
I think humans are silly about their bodies, to be honest. You know we are an advanced species of primate, right? We torture ourselves trying to be something we’re not. I mostly like the way I look naked or clothed no matter my size, but I love my body so much when it feels good.
When I can fluidly move, bend, and stretch with ease, I feel much more connected to myself — and everything else — than when I can’t. I want my body to be strong, and to work with and for me. That’s all beauty is. The rest is just spectacle.
Liv: What significance does exercise hold in your life and in your health and wellness strategy?
It ebbs and flows. Sometimes I walk or jog the earth, sometimes I do a bunch of yoga. Sometimes I rest and lay around for several days while I’m writing, or meditating, or reading, or talking to friends.
Movement and exercise is great for my mental health, though, so I don’t take that for granted. I love being able to run around with and carry my nephew. I hike around in the country a lot when I get out of the city some weekends.
Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish?
Honey and caviar are my two favorite foods.
Favorite food to order at restaurants is veggie fajitas, hands down. You can take the girl out of Texas, but — well, you know.
Top Five Recovery Tools
Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?
- Putting recovery first is my best tool. Recovery first, oxygen second. It’s that important to me. I’d be dead otherwise.
- Gotta have it in spades. Cultivate it if it doesn’t come naturally. You’re fighting for your life.
- Creating intentional communities. Regardless of their own choices around drugs and alcohol, my people fiercely protect and respect my sobriety. There’s much more to it than that, but setting up your life for integrity and with humility goes quite far. Be intentional about your people and expect the same of them.
- Meditation in solitude. Reality doesn’t go away when you’re sober. Ever. Contemplative time is necessary for me.
- Last but not least for me is a five-way tie: Laughter, Music, Nature, Reading, and Art. I wouldn’t make it five minutes without them.
Thank you for taking part in Kitchen Table Conversations