When I got sober at the ripe old age of 24, I did what many of us do – I thought: it’s time to get healthy.
I knew enough to start eating three square meals a day, sleep regularly, and move a little. But, being the new, sober me, I wanted more. And heck, I had time and bucket loads of anxiety to use up.
So, I took up jogging, from one telephone pole to the next at first, building up slowly until I could jog two miles…then three…then five. I continued to run for quite a few years (like 20), though truthfully, I mostly hated it!
Still, the benefits of running outweighed the cost: it kept weight off, I could eat ice cream whenever, and it was a social connection to other women, plus the ego boost was nice.
I was “healthy.” I ran. Enough said.
Sobriety Means I’m Healthy – Right?
From the outside it looked to be true. However, the migraines, chronic allergies, digestive issues, intense PMS symptoms, endometriosis, and energy crashes I had since childhood continued.
I told myself they were just funky body things. I figured it was part of being human. Weird body shit, right? Suck it up, keep moving. So I went on without questioning.
There was a period when I did the vegetarian thing – which, for me, was basically a diet of pasta and pizza (sans the pepperoni). I continued eating plenty of sugar – because, HELLO! It tastes awesome and I needed the energy hit around 3pm. And coffee – I loved me my coffee, lots of coffee.
As I maintained my sobriety, my life became more full. Friends, grad school, job, relationship, marriage…and time to have babies. Yes, at 6 years sober it was time to have babies (she said looking at her wrist watch).
Only, I couldn’t get pregnant. WHAT? Was this punishment? Was this God’s Will for me? I was only 30, still plenty of time! It’s not fair! (*more on this later)
My anxiety increased, my husband and I started arguing more, the cracks in the marriage widened. I stayed sober, but the marriage did not survive – and not just because I couldn’t get pregnant, because he said things like: “Well, I got another woman pregnant, so I know it’s not me.” Yeah, really, he said that. Time to run.
A Hard Diagnosis
And I kept running. But the allergies started hitting me year-round – I should’ve bought stock in Claritin. Over time, the migraines came more frequently, I developed digestion problems – (the mail just wasn’t movin’, if you catch my drift). Energy crashes, mood swings, until eventually the doctor said: Time to check your thyroid.
At age 40, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. At age 41 I was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus. Two autoimmune diseases in two years. My body was attacking itself, the the doctor told me.
Wait, but I was SOBER, I RAN… I’m healthy – right? Turns out not so much.
I catapulted into researching autoimmune disease. I wanted to understand and I was unwilling to spend my life with the issues these two conditions cause. I was not interested in lifelong pill taking. I wanted a cure. The doctors had no answers beyond take this pill (thyroid) use this cream (lichen sclerosus).
But WHY was this happening? For that, my doctors had no answers. “Your body is attacking itself” was not a good enough answer. I felt trapped taking the thyroid meds and using steroid cream for the lichen sclerosus, but I had no choice. I hardly noticed that as the years went on we were constantly increasing the dosage of my thyroid meds.
A New Perspective on Health
One day, probably on one of my quests for yet one more diet program, I found my way to Dr. Mark Hyman and his book: Ultraprevention. What he said made a lot of sense to me. Food is information, he says. What had I been telling my body over the years?
I was telling my body to deal with all the claritin, aspirin, migraine pills, sugar, gluten, cheese, snack foods (cheese doodles a particular favorite), all the chemicals in the diet soda I drank on top of the regular pollution we have to filter through on a daily basis.
Basically, Dr. Mark Hyman’s advice was to go two weeks without gluten, dairy, and refined sugar and see how you feel. I could do that. Hell, I gave up alcohol. I could do two weeks of not eating gluten, dairy and refined sugar. And I did. And I felt AMAZING!
My chronic allergies stopped, my migraines abated substantially, my energy improved and I enjoyed sustained, sleep – oh the sleep! I didn’t even know what I was missing with sleep until I went through this.
So I stuck with it. Still, I had to take my thyroid meds and use the creams for the other issue. But I felt so much better. It was a no-brainer. I knew I was healing.
Then, within three months of not eating gluten, my hair started falling out – like one big, disgusting bald spot on the nape of my neck falling out! Panic-ville!
What happened? The doctor took a blood test, and it turned out that I was now overprescribed for my thyroid meds. Giving up the gluten had had a direct effect on my thyroid. My thyroid was making more of its own stuff and the meds were too much for it! I didn’t need the meds anymore. *Lightbulb Moment*
Food Really Does Impact My Health
I’ve continued on this journey to heal and am now a Holistic Health Coach certified by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I want to share what I’ve learned with the recovering community. We deserve to feel great in sobriety. We deserve to not be plagued by chronic illnesses.
Health Coaching is a perfect compliment to the Social Work degree I already have. I retired from my school social work gig in June, 2015 and now devote my time to Health Coaching. I love this second career and totally love working with women in recovery.
I have not cured my Hashimotos or the Lichen Sclerosus – yet. They were the result of lifelong poor nutritional habits, viruses that burrowed deep in my organs, and eating gluten, which my body is sensitive to (not celiac). Because these health issues are deep-rooted, they take a lot longer to dig out of my system, but I am doing it!
Getting sober was both a miracle and a gift. I believe being healthy is our God-given right. My body did not attack itself, like the doctors think. My body was trying to protect me from all the crap I was putting in it for so long and from the deep-rooted, latent viruses.
Knowing that and what to do about it is such a blessing. It gives me hope and hope is good for the immune system, way better than thinking it’s just “old age.”
Being a healthy, sober woman is an expression of gratitude for this awesome gift of sobriety I’ve been given. As a healthy person, I have more energy, I’m happier, I’m more able to reach out to others, and I’m a better sponsor, better friend, better wife. Better.
I didn’t get sober to feel like crap, and you didn’t either.
How Can You Start Living Healthier?
Want to get started on a few things to help you on your journey? Try these:
- Drink a 16 oz glass of lemon water first thing in the morning (after you brush your teeth)
- Eat more fruit. Don’t be afraid of fruit. Alcoholics need more glucose than the average person (explains why we are so drawn to alcohol). Eat a lot of fruit.
- Get out in nature everyday. Nature is unbelievably healing and helps us to have hope. It’s good for the adrenal glands by calming us down. Take a walk outside and breathe it in. Let Mother Nature do her thing.
I did not stick with vegetarianism.
I never did get pregnant, turns out Hashimoto’s can affect the ability to get pregnant.
I did remarry…this time I’ve got the love of my life and best friend.
I continue to learn how much food impacts sobriety. Food is information – What are you telling you body?