Meet Recovery Rockstar, Rachel P

My name is Rachel and I'm a food addict in recovery.  I believe I was born pre-disposed to addiction and the disease developed and grew worse over time.  I felt trapped in the starving, binge eating and purging cycles and the guilt, shame and self-loathing that inevitably followed.  I finally hit bottom in the early days of the New Year 2016 when about a week after the ball dropped in Times Square I walked myself to the ER after overdosing on sleeping pills.  I didn’t want to die; I just didn’t want to be awake in the misery of my addiction anymore.  The result was that I was held against my will in the psychiatric ward for ten days.  But that was only the beginning. 

After I was discharged I arrived at an outpatient treatment center broken and desperate for relief.  I was finally diagnosed as a food addict.  Finally!  I’m not just eating disordered; I have a chronic brain illness over which I have no control.  Once I take that first bite or sip the addiction hijacks my brain and I am helpless to stop the compulsion to keep eating.  So I was put on a meal plan abstinent of refined sugar, flour, wheat and every other substance that stimulates cravings and triggers the addiction.  I went through sugar detox and withdrawal but I found it wonderfully freeing because I finally had the road map out of the enslavement to my addiction.  And once I was out of the behaviors I was able to start addressing the thoughts and feelings that led me to using food to cope in the first place.

I opened up to my therapists and after a few months I started feeling like I hit my stride.  I was consistently hopeful and optimistic because I made great progress already and there would only be more good things to come.  I was on a “pink cloud” where everything was rosy and the forecast was always bright.   But what I considered a fabulous upward trajectory, my therapist told me I hit a plateau.  What?  I was working the program.  I was still on the meal plan and attended every therapy group and private counseling session.  So what was wrong?  I still had not fully surrendered.  I still refused to trust the process completely and I still wasn’t working towards letting go of my fears.

But I still thought I was making friends and I wanted to meet and help others by restarting the True Recovery from Food Addiction support group.  My vision was to move the direction of the meetings away from the spiritual Twelve Step approach and model it after the therapy groups where the focus is on recovery-based topics and free flowing discussion.  At first my idea was met with questions and then outright contention that led to a confrontation that left me deeply wounded.  I felt hurt, betrayed and rejected by my peers and one of my mentors.

So I sought friendship elsewhere and invited two fellow group members to a comedy club one night.  To my mind, and my companions’, it was a fun sober activity but to the administrators at the treatment center I exposed us to an environment in which addictive substances were present and therefore put us in danger.  I didn’t agree so I was unapologetic and unrepentant and consequently punished with two weeks suspension.  It was a part of a hard lesson in the nature of healthy boundaries and destructive relationships.  How was I going to live without therapy groups?  That's why I'm in treatment, I can't manage my own life!   I fumed, I whined, I cried, I seethed like a spoiled child denied their favorite play thing.  But, ultimately, I accepted my fate.  And immediately the universe started yielding rewards.  Because it was that evening I went to an AA meeting and met my sponsor, Kate.  She was the speaker and while I identified with a lot of aspects of her story it wasn’t until she said; "You will have to surrender many times during this process” that I felt like she was really speaking to me.  So I resolved to approach her after the meeting and ask her to be my sponsor.  It must have been a God moment.  I’ll never forget.

Previously, I had rejected the notion of spirituality as a key factor in recovery.  But I was wrong.  I could no longer deny its existence or minimize its importance in my life.  I had already done great working in addressing the physical and emotional components and now I needed to make a connection with my Higher Power and work the Twelve Steps.  I also went to my first Food Addicts Anonymous meeting and joined an online food addiction support group.  Then I returned to the center a little humbler and wiser but with my day count still intact.  About a week later I went to my eye doctor for what I thought was a routine appointment and it turned out that I had retinal detachment in my right eye and if I didn't get it fixed immediately I could risk permanent loss of vision.  So within 24 hours I was in a hospital preparing for surgery. I was so upset and afraid the entire day and I finally broke down crying to the woman who was doing my in-take paperwork as well as the nurses who were getting me ready for the procedure.  I told everyone (surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, etc. etc.) and anyone who would listen that I’m a food addict and I absolutely do not want narcotics.  I hear too many stories of people who become dependent on painkillers and I don't need to combat another addiction.  Then they tried to ply me with sugar.  So I refused their drugs and their Jell-O.

I know that it is because I have this solid foundation in sobriety that I was strong enough to be able to manage this unexpected ordeal.  I had to let go yet again and surrender to the healing process and trust other people to help me.  And as I learned to let go I started losing the anxiety and fears that have pursued me so doggedly throughout my life.  Fear of rejection, fear of uncertainty, fear of the unknown, fear of getting lost and fear of failure.  I found my voice; I not only have the ability but the confidence to speak my needs.  I can take care of myself and I feel more comfortable being with myself in my own skin.    

I’ve been so fortunate to receive so much love and support from family and friends.  Along with my sobriety I've also discovered my life's purpose; social work.  I successfully applied and was accepted into a Master's program and began classes this Fall semester.  I'm specializing in substance abuse and addiction counseling because I hope to help others just as I do so now by sharing my story.  And I can say from experience that there IS hope for a happy, healthy, and sober life.

Very best regards,

Rachel Prager