Conversation with Sasha Tozzi
Sasha describes herself as follows:
“I am 30 years old but I think my soul is a lot older. It has taken me these last 3 decades to figure out how to love myself. I have a bit of a checkered past full of addiction, mental health struggles, and bad decisions BUT know without any uncertainty that it has molded me into the compassionate person, sister, daughter, friend, and coach that I am today. I wouldn’t take back a second of it. I believe in hope, healing, and daily miracles–beyond what is considered reasonable to most. I love the ocean and the oxford comma. My passion is to teach others what I’ve learned so far & show them that they have the power to break free from their addictions & other self-sabotaging patterns. I help people RECOVER themselves. Life is way too wonderful to spend it hating yourself.”
Kitchen Table Conversation
Hi Sasha, thanks so much for talking to Liv’s Recovery Kitchen! I am inspired by your story; your message, and how you holistically help others achieve balance in their recovery.
Liv: You have have been sober since 2011, and you describe that journey as ‘divinely arranged and zig-zagged’; what do you mean by that?
Sasha: First off, thank you LIV! You are beyond inspiring and I’m very very happy to be chatting with your sweet self. What I mean by divinely arranged is that I really see, in retrospect, that I was being led all along the way. Like the little nudges I got and the seeds that were planted by others were signs of me being taken care of by the Universe. By zig-zagged, I mean that recovery is everything but a linear process. There is so very much that needed uncovering & it has happened in a circular way for me. Two steps forward, one step back, detours, obstacles, tough games of whack-a-mole. I think that is the way it is for all. I fooled myself into thinking it was going to be this straightforward event when it’s really proven to be a lifelong ebbing and flowing. There is a quote that perfectly captures this from Anais Nin, “We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.”
Sasha: The drugs and nicotine diverted attention away from my very negative relationship with food and with my body. Once those other substances were out of the picture, what remained very clearly was my rather obsessive nature specifically in regards to food intake and my body image. Now the space was open for me to really look at that. I had a lot of unpacking to do and even more denial to shed. I remember it being a very big deal to step on the scale for the first time in what seemed like years.What I learned was: My worth is not dependent on my weight or the shape of my body. I had to unlearn the things I had been telling myself all these years and retrain my brain to think more realistically and less rigidly. Also, I became a self-proclaimed imperfectionist.
Relationship with Food
Liv: I totally identify with your description of your relationship with food as ‘an emotional comfort and stress relief, to fill a void, to chase a euphoric high, to numb out…always thinking more was better’ and that you were seeking to self-treat, but it only ever resulted in perpetuating a cyclical pattern. Can you elaborate on that cycle and the feelings associated with it?
Sasha: Bingeing on food served as a compulsive way for me to release stress in my life. But the release was temporary and usually always overshadowed by the ensuing guilt/shame/disgust I felt for what I had just done. The guilt, shame, and disgust that the binge evoked would actually cause me to binge again, creating this vicious uncontrollable cycle.
Liv: What did you identify as the root causes of the need to self-destruct in this way?
Sasha: I was full of fear and self-loathing and would characterize myself as a frightened young girl. Afraid of everything and everyone around me. Hated myself & my body so abusing it in this way felt okay to me, even good. Stuffing myself felt like what I deserved. I was so self-conscious and insecure in my skin, and often wished I was invisible.
Liv: It has been my experience that most women in recovery, and some men, have a history of disordered eating. What do you think? Has this been your experience?
Sasha: Yes, I would tend to agree and it’s been part of my experience as well. It’s uncommon to see someone have a destructive relationship with drugs/alcohol and not also with food/body. Even though they are separate addictions, they come from the same patterns of thought & behavior. There are exceptions, but it’s relatively unusual that I find someone in recovery who doesn’t also have a history of disordered eating. It would be like poisoning a water well and expecting some of the water to come out clean.
Liv: Often in early recovery we seek to comfort ourselves in ways that, whilst less harmful than drugs, still perpetuate the addictive behaviours; what has been your experience with this?
Sasha: This is where whack-a-mole takes place. Addictions can shift shape and pop-up in places they never were once we quit our primary addictions. Little side addictions can arise. My grand sponsor calls herself an “-ic”, to mean that she can overdo anything. That is how I feel, too. It doesn’t matter what it is, I can become instantly attached. I have a personality that tends toward extremes. When I like something, I absolutely love it, and am inclined to want more of it. For me, recovery has been about moving towards the middle path and finding moderation where I can, and then 100% abstinence where I need to. I have boundaries around technology use and generally don’t let myself get hooked on any old Netflix series that has multiple seasons.
Liv: I love your statement that over time you ‘learned to honor myself and my range of emotions’; how do you do that?
Sasha: I have accepted and embraced that I’m a highly sensitive, empathic person who feels. A lot. I don’t apologize for crying anymore, ever. I don’t apologize for feeling any of my emotions. If I behave poorly to someone else, I apologize for that. But I don’t feel bad about being who I am–someone who feels so much, all the time. It’s just how I was made. Surrendering that I couldn’t change this part of myself (and no longer want to) has been a huge breakthrough for me.
Liv: You beautifully write that your new daringly imperfect lens is one of grace, humor, and forgiveness and that it has been a wild journey back to self-love. How have you learned to appreciate your imperfections, love and forgive yourself?
Sasha: Well. I just simply love your questions, Liv. How have I learned to appreciate my imperfections and to love and forgive myself? By just staying on the path. Staying on the path especially when I wanted to veer off. A hell of a lot of self-inquiry and studying and therapy and support groups. Asking a hell of a lot of questions that don’t necessarily have answers. Reading and learning from others who have gone before me. Awakening spiritually to the fact that this is my life and is this how I want to live it?
Time, patience, and practice have been vital in adjusting my lens to see a more humble picture of myself, not just everything that was wrong with me.
Liv: You write of vital activities necessary to nourish your recovery; can you describe for the reader what those are?
Sasha: Sure. It sounds so simple. And it is. But they have to be done in order to get the benefit. My yoga practice is extremely necessary, even medicinal. I see yoga as a standing appointment with my body. It reconnects me to myself. Meditations, or sitting quietly, I see as my “adult time-outs.” Guided meditations and 12-step meetings are my “positive brainwashings.”
Also, listening to guidance from others (my sponsor, my care team) AND tuning out the nonsense (media, magazines, reality tv.) Eating intuitively and to FEEL good inside, despite what the latest diet fads or guru claims are. Accepting compliments without arguing, and asking for what I need without apologizing.
Liv: You have trained and qualified as a health coach, with the philosophy of ‘cura personalis’ which translates as “care for the entire person.” What does that mean to you?
Sasha: I mean that all parts of ourselves affect our whole self. Cura Personalis means that I see each part of a person as it relates to the larger context of themselves and their lives. I approach all issues from the perspective of mind, body, and spirit. This is what it means to be holistic. If someone is struggling with an addiction to alcohol (a physical manifestation), I take into account what’s going on with them mentally and spiritually as well. In addition to that, I look at the other aspects of their lives–career, finances, family, relationships, etc.
Liv: You say the basis of your holistic approach is the belief that we are all connected; what do you mean by that?
Sasha: We are connected to each other. We’re inhabiting this place on Earth at the same time, therefore, we are fellows. I feel an inherent fellowship with the other people on this planet. I’ve believed for some time now, and continue to believe, that we are all more alike than we are different.
Liv: You recently blogged that being in addiction recovery could be the best thing that ever happened to you; specifically that you learn to be your authentic self and have a positive ripple effect – what do you mean by that?
Sasha: Recovery is like a Homecoming. A coming home to my true self, a remembering of who I was before I became addicted and dis-eased. The longer I stay on the path, the more truthy truths I uncover. It’s an adventure.
And taking responsibility for my life by getting well has an effect on everyone around me, because we are all connected. I’ve said it before–that being your authentic & healthiest self is an act of service to the world.
Sasha: The 12 steps have provided structure and simplicity as a solid basis for my recovery. Using the 12 steps in yoga adds a cognitive element to a practice that is based in body and breath. Yoga blends beautifully with the 12 steps as there are many existing parallels. Step 6 actually feels a lot like Child’s Pose, a.k.a. Surrender.Liv: As a writer, how would you say that writing has assisted the process of recovery, for you?Sasha: Writing lets me know how I feel. It brings clarity to work things out on paper. Especially because when I keep it in my head, it can get all jumbled and distorted. When I get it down on paper, or on word doc, or on email, I can see the different pieces and then I can organize them. Writing is this therapeutic process of organizing my streams of consciousness.
Liv: One question I love to ask all of the recovering warriors out there; what are your top five recovery tools?
Sasha: It’s so simplistic but nutrition, exercise, stillness, regular sleep, and spiritual bookends. By spiritual bookends, I mean that I like to begin and end my day with connecting to my purpose, which I do with daily readers, prayer, or quiet time. I also gratuitously utilize laughter and a “dgaf” attitude when necessary.