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Experience, Strength, and Hope.



I had my last drink on Monday September 7, 2015. 1,816 days ago, to be exact.

It feels like a lifetime ago, yet I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was the Monday night after Labor Day weekend. I was sitting on my couch, staring at the glass of whiskey in my hand. I hate whiskey but it was all that was left in the apartment because I had drunk all the wine and vodka. I was restless, irritable, and discontented. I had been drinking non-stop since Thursday, yet I could not get drunk. True story. I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say, alcohol – my friend, my liquid courage, my solution – had turned against me. As I approach the 5-year anniversary of my sobriety, I can’t help but reflect on my crazy but amazing journey.

Mind you, I did a not always drink this way. I started out as a moderate “social” drinker. Over time, I eventually became a continuous hard drinker, a weekend warrior of sorts. But at some stage of my drinking career I lost the power to choose whether I would drink or not. I lost the ability to control my drinking, no matter how great the necessity or the wish.

At times I would have periods of sobriety and self-discipline and I would convince myself that I was cured. But once I picked up that first drink, in a short time, I was worse than ever. I was in the grip of a progressive illness. When I look back, I can see that I progressed through three different phases. In phase one, I could have stopped if I wanted to, but I didn’t want to. In phase two, I couldn’t stop but I didn’t want to. In phase three, I wanted to stop but I couldn’t. If I’m being honest, I flip-flopped between phases two and three for longer than I care to admit. I once heard a member of the fellowship say, “I couldn’t stop once I started and I couldn’t stop starting.” My off switch was broken beyond repair.

In hindsight, I realize that even during those periods of abstinence from alcohol, my addictive behaviors and fear-based, self-limiting beliefs would come out sideways and show up in other areas of my life – love relationships, career, money, food, etc. As the saying goes, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”

With a career in the health and fitness industry, I felt like two people. I had a public life and a secret life. In the public eye, I was a strong-willed, insanely disciplined, uber productive, hard-working woman. I ate a clean diet, exercised every day (sometimes twice a day), I was running a successful business, etc. But inside I was a mess. I was in denial for a long time and would often rationalize or minimize my behavior by telling myself it created “balance.” Work hard, play hard, right? But deep down I felt like a fraud. I struggled with feelings of extreme shame, guilt, and remorse which only made me want to drink more. And the vicious cycle continued.

I have a hole in my soul. Come to find out, I am not the only person born with this defect. Throughout my life I have tried to fill the hole with things - food, alcohol, relationships, work, money, material possessions – but nothing would fill it. What took me almost a decade to figure out is that it is a God-shaped hole… which, of course, means that God is the only thing that could fill it. (In 12-Step Communities, you are encouraged to come up with a God of your own understanding. The word God can be replaced with Universe, Source, Spirit, Higher Power, That Which is Greater, or whatever you are more comfortable with. I use these interchangeably).

I read self-help books in an effort to try to save myself. I tried to control everything and everyone around me. But it has been said that "a life run on self-will can hardly be a success." I prayed…but my prayers were usually along the lines of "grant me my wishes" rather than "thy will be done." In my mind, I was unworthy of God’s love. Surely, he would not have or want anything to do with me as I was. I thought I needed to fix myself, become a better person, before I approached him for help. It would not have dawned on me at the time to do things in an effort to be closer to God and to know him. It took me a long time to understand and believe that my Higher Power wanted a relationship with me in my brokenness. I eventually came to realize that this is the meaning of grace. It wasn't until I admitted my powerlessness and made a decision to turn my will and my life over to That Which is Greater, that things, slowly but surely, started to change for me.

My first addiction, long before I discovered alcohol, was food. I have been fat. I have been through stages of extreme dieting and extreme exercising. I have suffered from disordered eating and starved myself down to 95 pounds. I know what it’s like to not want to look in the mirror. I know how it feels to hate being naked. I know how it feels to be so unhappy with your body that you hide it under layers of baggy clothes. I have been where you are.

Growing up I was always active. Years before I knew anything about calories or macros, my main goal was just to have fun. However, in my teenage years, I began to shift my focus to my appearance. It was then that I began to use diet and exercise to control my shape, size, and weight rather than for health and enjoyment. I made my diet and exercise reflections of who I was as a person. When I was not what I would consider perfect I deemed myself a failure. My self-worth was based on my appearance. I compared myself to everyone around me, and I never quite measured up. At least not in my mind (huge self-limiting belief).

I was constantly researching the latest diet and exercise strategies and fads searching desperately for that magic pill. Every time I heard about a new diet, I had to try it. You name it I have done it. I was frustrated that no matter how hard I tried I was never able to achieve lasting results. After every failure (which was often) I always defaulted to the same behavior. And instead of figuring out why I had failed (or rather, what behaviors had failed me), I would move on to the next extreme diet/exercise strategy hoping this time things would be different.

As a teenager, I was sexually and emotionally abused by my first boyfriend. The abuse damaged me in fundamental ways that served as a catalyst to my becoming addicted. I was obsessed with what other people thought of me, who I was friends with, and what I looked like. I never felt like I fit in. I told myself I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough (another self-limiting belief), and this affected every area of my life. The truth is, I had no idea who I was so I would portray myself as whoever I thought you wanted me to be. For most of my life, this was my story and it colored every aspect of my life.

Each of us has a story – an internal narrative about our life. We use this story as a way to see the world and explain it to ourselves. The story I got locked into involved fear, shame, guilt, self-loathing, victimization, blame, and anger. The more I would retell this story to myself, and the more I saw the world through the filter of my story, the more stuck I became. For many years I was locked into some form of addiction and repetitive, dangerous patterns of behavior.

I spent the next several years on a roller coaster ride of starvation diets, binge eating/drinking, diet pills, over-exercising, self-destructive, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and lots of therapy. My workout routine was sporadic at best and consisted of mostly cardio. I had no interest in being strong or even healthy for that matter. All that mattered to me was being skinny. It was a nightmare that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. You couldn’t pay me any amount of money to go back to that period in my life.

These addictive behaviors and self-limiting beliefs didn’t just apply to my relationship with food or alcohol. In my twenties and thirties, when I looked in the mirror, I hated the person staring back at me. I hated my insides as much as my outside. When someone told me they loved me, I either didn’t believe them or I would try to convince them that they shouldn’t. If they stuck around, my subconscious would quickly find a way to sabotage the relationship. Beliefs are self-fulfilling after all.

Whenever another person would tell me I was beautiful, I (sometimes) believed that they saw me that way. But I could not see it myself. What's interesting is that even in those rare moments when I felt beautiful, the good feelings were fleeting and were quickly replaced by shame. I berated myself for taking pride in my appearance, even for a second. Who was I to shine?

I am a perfectionist, a go-getter. In many areas of my life, these traits have served me well. As an entrepreneur, I have created and grown multiple small businesses from nothing. I have trained for and completed three marathons. Fifteen years ago, with discipline and hard work, I achieved a level of fitness that enabled me to win the title of NABBA Ms. Figure USA (2004). As a Health and Fitness Coach, my mission is to use my knowledge, experience and passion to enable happier, healthier and fuller lives and to inspire and empower people to take charge of their physical, mental, and cognitive well-being to become the best possible version of themselves.

But with perfectionism comes fear. Fear of never being good enough; of not achieving a goal. I can become so preoccupied with a thing that I fail to stop and smell the roses. I can become so obsessed with my plans that I miss opportunities for growth that have been placed before me. I can be so focused on "doing" that I forget to just "be."

I do everything to the extreme. I struggle with all-or-nothing, black-and-white thinking. If it tastes good or makes me feel good, I cannot get enough of it. I don't just take up running... I run marathons. At times I can be extremely disciplined with my nutrition. At other times, I cannot have one cookie without the flood gates opening. Next thing you know I'm eating like I just got out of prison. If I find a piece of clothing that I like, I need to have it in every color. When I come up with a new idea or venture, it can quickly become an obsession that occupies my thoughts at every waking moment.

I am a recovering alcoholic, workaholic, and overachiever. I am a list maker. Always have been. There was a time not that long ago when my life revolved around my to-do list. I had a fear-based belief that if I wasn't super productive, nothing would happen for me. I believed that to get what I wanted I had to constantly push hard, overwork, fight, struggle, hustle. Guilt-free naps did not exist in my world. Anytime I achieved a big goal I would feel amazing… for about a minute. But the high was short-lived and quickly replaced by the fear of failing to reach my next goal.

No matter what I accomplished or how inspired I felt, there was always more to do. My to-do list often included things like reading, journaling, prayer, and meditation - things that were meant to bring me joy and peace. They didn't. When I prayed, meditated, or read the Bible, I expected to feel a certain way. When that feeling didn’t come, I thought I was doing something wrong. Or I wasn’t good enough. I was focused on "getting" rather than receiving. I tried to control and "make things happen" instead of allowing myself to attract abundance naturally.

In my thirties I suffered daily from depression and anxiety. I was constantly searching for something outside myself to feel complete rather than trusting in my completeness now. I had all the things - a loving husband, a successful business, a beautiful home, two cats, a car, a refrigerator full of food, and a walk-in closet full of clothes. Despite all of that I was in a very dark place and I woke up each morning full of fear and dread.

It wasn't until I shifted my focus to slowing down, being still, and allowing myself to receive that things started to change for me. To be honest, this is something I still struggle with. But when I can focus on enjoying the journey and being fuly present in the moment... when I connect with my True Self and let my Higher Power flow through me, things get really, really good. I am a channel. I am guided to create what the Universe intended rather than what I think I need. And I end up achieving so much more than I thought possible.

Today I relish the Saturdays when I wake up with "nothing to do." I still read, journal, pray and meditate, but it is less about checking off boxes and more about getting into alignment with my Higher Self. I know that when I'm tuned in to the loving presence of my Higher Power, I can do whatever I want (even if that means doing “nothing”) and I will be guided.

When I am consumed with feelings of anger, resentment, worry, jealousy, envy, guilt, shame - anything other than love - then I am in fear. When I'm in fear then I know I'm in the past or the future. I am not present. Because right now, in this moment, I am being taken care of and all is well. In this moment, I have everything I need to meet the work that is ahead of me. Meditation, prayer, journaling, spending time in nature, "unplugging" for a little while each day... all these things help me to stay present and grounded in the now.

Someone once said, “Until the pain we are in is greater than the pain we fear, we won’t change.” Growth is painful. But it is nowhere near as painful as “living” a life of mediocrity or one that is not a true expression of you. Growth takes time and it is not always linear. When life gets "lifey" things can get messy. I take one step forward and two steps back more often than I care to admit. The one thing I continue to strive for is balance. The only way I know to do that is to take it one day at a time and to be fully present in the moment. This makes life much more manageable and does wonders for my peace and serenity.

I pray every day. Multiple times a day. God doesn't always answer my prayers by giving me what I want. But he always gives me what I need. Every. Single. Time. When I ask for a cake, he gives me the ingredients AND the recipe! I'm no baker. But I know from experience that the cake won't make itself. I pray for strength and I am presented with opportunities that (when taken) make me stronger. I pray for patience and tolerance and I am presented with people and situations that require patience and tolerance. I pray for guidance and he speaks to me through others. Oftentimes I hear... But I do not listen. Sometimes he must repeat himself over and over (and over) again before I am willing to surrender my will. I want what I want when I want it. I can be so self-centered. It's one of my many character defects.

I am (and always will be) a work in progress. I am aware of my brokenness, the simple fact that I do not have it all together. I would hear people in 12-step meetings say, “I am a grateful, recovering alcoholic.” And I would think, “What the fuck?” It took me a long time to comprehend how anyone could possibly be grateful to be inflicted with this hopeless condition of mind and body. But today I understand, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I am humbly aware that my condition is what caused me to throw myself at my Higher Power.

Today the question I ask myself is who am I not to shine? After many years of “working” the program, I know a new freedom and a new happiness. I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. I can see how my experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity has disappeared. My whole attitude and outlook on life have changed. I intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle me. I have finally realized that God is doing for me what I could not do for myself.

Today, I will not let a minor setback stop me from trying again because I am a determined person who does not give up easily. I have a “fighting spirit." My effort and attitude determine my abilities and not the other way around. I trust that failures are just opportunities for growth, self-development and learning something new.

Today, when I am afraid of something, I feel the fear and do it anyway. I challenge myself and know that fears and roadblocks are just part of the process. Experiencing fear and roadblocks ensures me that I have set a goal that is big enough to stretch me and grow me.

We've all heard the saying, "If you keep on doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always got." I know that if I want something different, I must DO something different. I believe that to achieve a big goal I must become a bigger person. I develop new skills, new attitudes, and new capabilities. I stretch myself, and in so doing I will be stretched forever.

These things continue to be true for me if I stay in a fit spiritual condition. It has been said that we are never standing still. We are either moving in the direction of love or the direction of fear. For me, the maintenance of my spiritual condition requires conscious daily effort.

I feel that elimination of my drinking was but a beginning. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I didn’t just have a drinking problem; I had a thinking problem! I had to become aware of and then rid myself of negative, limiting, false, subconscious beliefs that had been holding me back and take a giant leap outside my comfort zone. I had to learn to love myself enough to let go of guilt, resentment, and criticism, and to embrace compassion, joy, and gratitude. I had to apply the principles I had learned not just to abstaining from alcohol, but to my real-life problems. It is not enough to just experience the steps of recovery; I must work them. And it must be a daily, concentrated, repetitive process.

As part of my recovery, my story changes over time. It began with confusion and fear and pain, but as I’ve worked the program and have had a spiritual awakening, my story has become less self-centered, less about victimization, and more about hope, empathy, and service. In the process, my brain is steadily healing as well. My story today is that of the hero who has overcome adversity and has become transformed as a result.

It has taken me a long time to get to this place. And I can assure you, it has not been a linear process. My journey has been full of twists and turns and the road has been rocky at times (I know I'm not alone in this). After doing A LOT of "inner work" I am finally at a place where I am at peace with myself and my body. I can say "I love myself" without cringing.

Sure, I still struggle. When I look at a photo of myself, my eyes still go straight to what I perceive as flaws. I am not perfect, but I no longer strive to be. I can look at another woman and think she is beautiful without feeling "less than." There is plenty to go around! I think we are all beautiful! Our beauty lies in our uniqueness. Our cellulite, scars, stretch marks, wrinkles, and brown spots are not things to be ashamed of. They show that we have lived! I am as God created me (as are you), and I see it as my duty to share my experience, strength, and hope and to love and take care of myself and my body.

My hope for you, when you look in the mirror, is that you can find the things that make you beautiful and celebrate them. There is a future version of you that already exists and has met your desires. The seeds of who you are becoming are already planted inside you. You are powerful and capable, and I will hold that belief for you, especially when you cannot yet hold it for yourself. Shine, baby! Shine!


Please feel free to reach out to me if anything I shared resonated with you.


Please do not hesitate to share this post with a friend or loved one who could benefit from my experience, strength, and hope.


xo

Tracey

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