by Olivia Pennelle
More and more we are hearing the benefits of eating well: it reduces our risk of heart disease, can lower cholesterol, keep our immunity high and ward off infections, and lower our weight. It is practically common sense: eat well, feel good. Sometimes that isn’t enough of an incentive for those in recovery, though; we’ve given up drugs and alcohol, surely food is the only pleasure left–what harm is it doing? Yeah, we’ve gained a few pounds, but we’re not suffering the extensive consequences that plagued us with using! What is the harm?
Have you ever had that feeling that you felt better when you were using? I have.
What if I told you that eating well could enhance your recovery? Perhaps you’d be more interested to hear that? Or maybe you’d like a little more energy? What if I said that certain foods can deal with that anxiety you’re suffering with?
Let’s face it, recovery can be tiring. I recall feeling utterly exhausted for the first 18 months. Not only was my body recovering from the physical damage that I caused, but the process of recovery in itself takes a lot of mental and physical energy to maintain: treatment, rehab, step work, therapy, group work, getting to meetings every day, engaging with others and being conscious, were required of me. I found that very physically and mentally demanding.
In contrast, my world before recovery was very small. I was barely functioning. Consumed by obtaining my next fix. Engaging with others, having meaningful interaction was unnecessary and undesirable. My life was one dimensional and that suited me just fine. Until it didn’t.
Recovery, in many ways, required re-learning how to live, function, communicate, express me, and fit into the world that felt alien to me. The process of recovery began with a period of mental and spiritual rehabilitation.
That process, in many ways is a cerebral process—deal with the disordered thinking and rebuild a life. Simple. Except, it’s not. It’s complex and requires great strength and determination. Wherever you identify that power to come from, there is no doubt that a power, or force, is required.
The emphasis of that process is, in my opinion, too heavily weighted upon a mental a spiritual change. Yes, we need to fundamentally change how we think, behave and act. But, we often underestimate the physical aspect of recovery–beyond dealing the obvious damage of using: contracted diseases, such as hepatitis, HIV, ulcers, for example. To underestimate fueling our body effectively can affect our thinking, reduce energy levels and we can function sub-optimally. We suffer from more illnesses and can feel low in mood.
I consumed a diet high in caffeine, refined carbohydrates, and sugar–which lacked any real nutritional value. It looked like strong coffee and bread/pastries for breakfast; sandwiches and chips for lunch; cake and coffee in the afternoon; and an evening of takeaways and more snacks. All consumed whilst sitting on the sofa, in front of the TV, or at my desk-based job. I’d been to a meeting, I’d shown up to work, I’d spoken to my sponsor and checked in with my friends – so what’s the issue? The issues were that I was eating in that way left me feeling lethargic, constantly fighting colds and viruses, suffering from crippling anxiety and depression, always hungry and engaging in bingeing behaviors. I felt terrible. I looked terrible: I was 150 pounds’ overweight and overly conscious of my heavy body. I was hooked on a sugar and caffeine merry-go-round. It had many similarities to using.
Because of how I felt and looked, I didn’t want to meet up with friends, hit a meeting, or engage in any social events. That wasn’t exactly a life in recovery: one that is present and light and fulfilling. I felt somehow physically debilitated.
Things had to change, and so they did.
I created an awareness of my issues and asked for help. I made small incremental and manageable changes. As a result, I lost 50 pounds, exercise every day, and choose healthy nutritious food over quick-fixes. My depression and anxiety are under control and I actively want to participate in life.
Life isn’t perfect, but it is a life that I feel comfortable and happy within. I feel good, even great, most of the time. I put that down to rehabilitating the physical aspect of my recovery, my relationship with food and with my body. From that, grew self-confidence and self-esteem far greater than I had achieved in dealing with the more cerebral aspects of my recovery. It gave me what was missing.
Over the coming weeks and months, I plan to share my story of overcoming physical illness in recovery and leveraging good food and exercise to not only lose 50 pounds but create a level of energy and vibrancy that I was constantly seeking artificially in drugs and alcohol. I’ll share tips on how to implement small, simple habits and changes into your diet and routine that you too can feel great. I’ll tell you how I found a fun way to enjoy exercise, something I had never thought possible. I want to create awareness that in looking after our whole selves, we can harness far greater benefits and wellness in recovery.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you.PLEASE CALL 855-816-8826. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.
Writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery bloggers and published on websites such as The Fix, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri, Intervene, Workit Sapling, Addiction Unscripted and Transformation is Real.