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After more than a decade of heavy drinking, two years ago, I finally put down the bottle. In addition to a year of sobriety, I gained an extra 20 pounds under my belt. In the grand scheme of things, a wider ass seemed a small trade-off for booting a life-threatening addiction, but I didn't heed this logic as I got vertical to hoist up my jeans. Sobriety is tough; feeling out-of-shape was a whole other level of vulnerability.
At my new post-drinking size I was still in a healthy weight range (at least, according to the dubious BMI standards), but I was three dress sizes off my weight, that number that I feel most attractive and comfortable at (and that I can maintain healthily).
It was a relatively easy and (sometimes) pleasurable process of piling the weight on. In lieu of the bar, my new Saturday night routine of trawling through Netflix was congruent to the new all-night grocer that had just opened up on the street. It wasn't uncommon for me to make multiple trips to the store in one evening, satisfying every craving, balancing sweet and savory — a jar of Nutella and a bag of Doritos, please.
Although avocados and coconut water hold a place in my heart, there will always be room for my white trash food taste: stringy cheese, macaroni, Dr Pepper. Given the fact I hadn't eaten properly in years, it was, for a brief second, fun.
The Saturday-night-Netflix-food-a-thon grew old pretty quickly as my face grew rounder and my breath shorter. I cried to my new sober friends who consoled me with justifications, "You're fine — you can eat anything you want, just as long as you don't drink."
I noticed a food-oriented culture among my sober friends who had come from lifestyles — high pressure jobs, partying, drug dealing — where food was an afterthought. Now, in sobriety, we used food to relive boredom, push down uncomfortable feelings, or as an instant fix.
I turned to my therapist about my weight gain but she, like my friends, suggested that everything was normal and that if my weight continued to climb, I'd have to accept it. My fitness and overall health began to decline. Fueled by Pop Tarts and Papa Johns, it's no small wonder that I had trouble peeling myself off the couch. My cellulite, running down my legs, was symbolic of too many nights attending my one-man pity party. My tee-shirts clung to me. My jeans bore holes in the crotch from my thighs rubbing.
I bought thousands of dollars worth of new clothes, but nothing could hide how uncomfortable I'd become in my own skin. I admired 'curvy girls' Instagram feeds, and how these extraordinarily fashionable women could wear their bodies with ease. I quit reading tabloid magazines. I told myself, "Well, as long as I don't drink..."
I wanted this allusive self-acceptance so badly — even knowing that gaining it is a life-long process — and I just couldn't get there. My mood was constantly low because I was nutritionally zapped and seldom moving around. This is not the reality for everyone who gains weight, but it was mine and it sucked.
I admire women who feel good at any size they arrive at, but frankly: I don't. I know that arriving at my 'ideal' weight isn't a sure-fire route to self-esteem, but it was important to me. I wanted to feel healthy, sexy, and live in my favorite pair of jeans.
If that meant losing weight, hell, wasn't it my body? I'm not against body positivity, I'm pro-nourishment. I'm for women making their own decisions about what is good for their bodies, without judgment. And if that means losing weight, then that's okay. Within the message of body positivity, my girlfriends dismissed my weight woes. It was like reverse fat shaming.
One day I spotted an old friend in a health food store (the irony). Head down, I quickly walked the other way. Even after going to hell and back over the past year, I couldn't help but feel like a frumpy failure. It was then I realized that my weight gain was seriously affecting my quality of life. I couldn't go through life puffing up stairs and dodging friends; I wanted a healthy body that I was proud of. I deserve better. That day at the health food store prompted me to do the unthinkable. I downloaded a calorie counter and joined a gym; two things I'd always considered downright lame.
Over the course of six months, I exercised for an hour a day, saw a personal trainer twice a week and plugged everything I ate into my iPhone. It was tedious, cheesy and completely effective. I shed fifteen pounds and gained some neat muscles. Now I know I'll go up and down five pounds and that doesn't concern me. Since losing the weight I've stopped calorie counting but kept the gym. Netflix and pizza are a once-a-month kind of deal. But the best part was looking at myself in the mirror with complete recognition, like seeing a renewed version of myself, not someone carrying a new set of battle scars.
Some of my sober friends have joined me for walks and we are supporting each other to keep our health in check. I've stopped asking for advice from others about what to do with my body. I'm (slowly) learning the difference between nourishment and indulgence, compassion and self-destruction. Now, if something doesn't feel right, I trust myself. Ergo the cliche: I go with my gut.