Today we hear from Gabe who shares his journey of addiction recovery and how his relationship with food and his body has changed in recovery. He talks beautifully about his holistic transformation and how recovery has been a process of evolution. Enjoy!
Recovery is a process of evolution; it is a journey of healing and growth. My personal recovery has been an adventure of the senses. I feel as though I’ve been given a second chance at life and I want to try it all. For so long I dulled everything down, I dulled down taste with cigarettes, I dulled down feelings with drugs and alcohol. I was tethered to a substance, but I’ve broken free. I like to enjoy the scenery, hear new music, and try strange and exotic foods. I like to breathe in the scents of the seasons. Every day I delight in all of my senses. Eating the right food, getting physically active, and stimulating the mind are all very important to me. Changing old habits and trying new things are vital to my new lifestyle. The differences are amazing from just surviving in early recovery to thriving in long-term recovery. The freedom from active addiction has given me a whole new life, so now I take the opportunity to nourish myself mentally, physically, and spiritually.
Gabe in active addiction
When I first got clean, I went through a really interesting process of change. After leaving detox to residential treatment, most of the sickness subsided. The cramps, aches, and cold chills went away. My first reaction to feeling better was to start looking better. I could actually shower and wear something other than sweatpants. I actually put some gel in my hair and brushed my teeth. The desire to whiten my teeth, more-so than the health benefits, led me to quit smoking. After leaving treatment and starting to work again, I started buying lots of clothes and shoes, moisturizers and teeth whiteners, and changing hairstyles. I was doing everything to try and reverse the impact of over a decade of active addiction. I got a piercing, then a tattoo, and I started to go tanning. I went to the dentist who I hadn’t gone to in ten years. I went to the doctor and was given a clean bill of health. All of a sudden I felt as though I had a new lease on life. I started to think, “I quit smoking, I quit drugs and alcohol, am I really going to die of skin cancer?” There I was, after a decade of chronic addiction and many more years of using and abusing everything else, and I survived – I’m a survivor! At that point in my recovery I was working a really thorough 12-Step program and a lot of the negativity that had been affecting me mentally had been addressed and most of the darker stuff from my past had subsided. A large part of the evolution in my recovery was clearing out the wreckage of my past, removing toxic people, and making amends. Doing all of those things allowed me to quieten my mind enough to break free from self-obsession. I was ready to treat my mind and body like someone who was handed a second chance at life.
I’ve always had a really bad relationship with my body and food. Before my addiction took hold I had body image issues. I was never confident in the way I looked. It didn’t matter how I looked because the insecurities in my mind would always find something to focus on. Very early in life I would eat low fat, yet high sugar foods, go on starvation diets and fasts. Malnourishment was the norm. Eventually I would take drugs to suppress my appetite. Naturally, I would be less self-aware after drinking or taking drugs. In active addiction I generally didn’t have money to buy food. In Detroit the Salvation Army Bed and Bread Truck drives through the neighborhood and hands out small sack lunches once a day which consists of: one or two bologna sandwiches, a piece of fruit and a granola bar. That would be my meal for the day if I didn’t miss the truck. I would supplement that with the occasional snack cake or cheap soda. I recently saw some pictures of myself taken in active addiction. I was very emaciated with dark circles under my sunken eyes. I had a strange empty expression on my face. I remember feeling the way I looked, but I don’t remember looking like that. When I was using, I saw the me that I wanted to see, I never saw myself as the monster I became. I could see my ribs through my shirts. I could see my hip bones. With severe body image issues, I felt I was that skinny, I am doing something right. I had never seen myself in active addiction quite like seeing that picture, I couldn’t believe that was me. My first attempt at treatment, I weighed a mere 110 pounds and I thought I never looked better. In perfect health and sound mind I am around 140 pounds. I look and feel incredible.
Whole wheat pancakes with local honey
The reason I did drugs in the first place was to feel good, so I had to figure out the most natural and effective way to feel good on the inside and look good on the outside. I started looking at the glycemic index in foods and started aiming for lower numbers to have slow burning fuel to run my mind and body. Sugar carbs are very much like a drug for me. Fresh out of rehab, I was eating a lot of cookies, candy, and junk food. If I bought the family size bag of Twizzler’s or Reese’s Pieces, I would eat them all. I drastically cut out most refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I started to substitute natural sweeteners like honey and agave while baking or cooking. If I start to crave sugar carbs, if I deny the craving, or eat a healthy snack, the craving for something sugary will go away. I started to snack on fruits and nuts instead of candy or junk food. I greatly reduced my carb intake avoiding breads in most situations. I make bigger hamburgers without a bun and I don’t eat toast for breakfast or a roll with dinner. When I first became concerned with my health I started taking vitamins, probably over-taking vitamins. But now, I focus more on eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, meats, and fish. I strive for a colorful plate and rounded meal. I still take the occasional vitamin or supplement, but I mostly focus on a balanced diet to nourish my mind and body. When I feel good from within, I feel good about the way I look as well.
To further nourish my mind, body, and spirit, I started to read more, write, make music, and I became very active with yoga. With a little clarity of mind I can break free from Facebook and social media for a day or two. I’ve been learning to live in peace “unplugged”. Now that I have quieted the mind I don’t always need outside stimuli to distract me from my own mind. A local gym had just opened up and offered an Intro to Yoga class that worked with my schedule. I bought a yoga mat and some new sweatpants and showed up at the class bright and early. My social anxiety was telling me not to go in, but I told myself, “I’m doing this for me, this is for me, you have to go in.” I parked, I grabbed the yoga mat, and I walked in. I have been enjoying yoga ever since. Part of my recovery has been facing my fears head on, when my fear says, “No, you can’t,” I say, “Watch me!” The second day of class the instructor said how the practice of yoga is about becoming in tune mentally, spiritually, and physically, and it has been the perfect complement to my recovery. Yoga gives me an hour of the day where I can focus on the present moment. I can go deeper into the pose focusing on the movement and the position and push myself while clearing my mind. I strengthen muscles I was unaware I had and after class I feel in tune spiritually. Yoga has a threefold effect on me, giving me peace, strength, and serenity.
At 32 years old, my sixth and last time in treatment, I had a very striking moment. I looked around and I saw myself in all the other patients, guys my age missing all their teeth, a woman who was out of her mind, a 50 year old man with nothing and no one, and I saw myself in all of them, it was my timeline if I continued using. It was a huge revelation for me to think that I might actually live for a long time, using or not. And I asked myself, “Am I going to die like this?” I was not afraid to die, but I was afraid to continue to live the way I had been. I immediately started making small changes in diet, personal hygiene, my attitude, and physical health. Those small changes evolved into big changes and sometimes I’ve come so far, it’s hard to imagine where I was. The recovery process for me started with a very superficial fix and evolved into finding the true authentic me.