I have a counselor who is a tiny woman with the most unnerving gaze I’ve ever encountered. I don’t mean she’s aggressive, I mean she can outstare a cat. I’m not sure if she actually has eyelids. Maybe it’s a common technique in therapy, to simply hold eye contact at certain points in the conversation, but if the intended result is to prompt me to involuntarily fill the air with words as I scootch around in discomfort, boy, it works like a damn charm.

It’s not particularly enjoyable, but she definitely helps me to go deeper into the murk, flashlight in hand.

One of my biggest stumbling blocks in recovery is that when I am sober, I turn to food. It’s happened time and time again. Food becomes yet another mood-altering substance for me to abuse. I binge on sugary, salty, nutritionally bankrupt foods. I eat to feel better or to cope with stress or to reward myself, but mostly to feel mindlessly lost in the act of eating. I try to get back on track, I download apps, I restrict and obsess, and then I lose all control. Over and over.

As a result of the bingeing, I gain weight. The bigger I get, the more self-loathing I feel. I feel bad about the way I look, so I turn to food, which makes me feel worse about myself, and on it goes. The cycle becomes more and more consuming. Soon it’s like I’ve pried myself out of one trap, only to have stepped directly into yet another set of steel jaws.

I gained at least 25 pounds after inpatient. None of my clothes fit, I was depressed and struggling, and eventually I started romanticizing the drug I’d just worked so hard to break free from. I can even pinpoint the strongest trigger: I started getting photos and social media posts from my Timehop app that were captured a year prior, when I’d first started using and was still in the euphoric state. I seemed so happy, I weighed so much less. I remember thinking that it seemed worth anything to feel like that again. Anything.

I knew how to make all my food problems disappear. I could end the cycle and have the body I wanted. The pesky reality of how my use had escalated until the whole house of cards came crashing down around me … well, I just wouldn’t use as much, this time. It would be different!

And it was, but not in the way I’d hoped. I got the weight loss and the relief from food obsessions, but I never got those good feelings back. I just got an express ride back into full-blown addiction, back to the dependency and the lies and the guilt and the inability to think about anything but how much I had and when I’d get more and how I’d hide it.

So I tell my counselor about all of this, saying that I want to work on coping skills I can turn to instead of food. I tell her I’ve gained six pounds in the last couple weeks, I’m scared it won’t stop, and it feels like I’m doomed to either hate myself for being out of control and using, or hate myself for being out of control and fat.

She asks me what it means for me to gain weight. We go back and forth on this for a bit, I’m thinking I’m not sure what she’s getting at, doesn’t everyone hate gaining weight? and then she does the Silent Eye Thing and I suddenly find myself blurting,

It would mean I would have a larger presence in the world, and I don’t deserve to take up space.

Let’s start by working on that, she says gently.


29 Responses to “All the ways of chasing oblivion”

  1. Ginger on November 14th, 2016 3:18 pm

    Whoa, that just takes my breath away.
    Beautifully written in words that take up a lot of space and celebrate your presence in this world.

  2. Ashley on November 14th, 2016 3:20 pm

    Oh, Linda. Hugs. Now I’m crying!

    You so deserve it.

    I know the words you write are painful, but thank you so much for sharing–so we can be here to support you, and so that you can shine a light in the dark for others.

  3. Shannon on November 14th, 2016 3:28 pm

    Feeling your pain…and sending hugs!!

  4. Jen on November 14th, 2016 3:40 pm

    I had a counselor who did that as well. It’s unnerving and brilliant and it worked every single time. Sometimes I didn’t even know the answer until it came flooding out. I’m hoping you find at least some answers you need.

  5. Mandy on November 14th, 2016 3:40 pm

    Powerful and moving as always. And real. <3

  6. Lisa on November 14th, 2016 4:16 pm

    Wow. I just had a whoosh of understanding into my own crap. Thank you.

  7. Kristen on November 14th, 2016 4:29 pm

    DAMN. Guurrl, you might just be speaking my language. I’ve never thought about it like that.

    Holy shit.

  8. Martha on November 14th, 2016 5:15 pm


  9. Kelly on November 14th, 2016 5:45 pm

    Ouch. Sending you hugs. Keep at it!

  10. Katie on November 14th, 2016 6:24 pm

    “It’s not fun or comfortable, but she definitely helps me to go deeper into the murk, flashlight in hand.” This is the part I have found helpful about therapy: I’m not wading around in the murk by myself, the flashlight lighting the way is oh so helpful.

  11. Jeannie on November 14th, 2016 8:45 pm

    Sounds like you found a good therapist … hope you find the answers because god knows I struggle with periods of self loathing and total loss of self confidence and … well. It sucks. Wishing you the best!

  12. Maureen on November 14th, 2016 9:08 pm

    I’ve had this thought so many times, why as women are we trying to make ourselves smaller, taking less space in this world. We are trying to diminish ourselves, heck we starve ourselves, and for what? To be smaller, to be less. I am all for being healthy, but in my life I have been a poster child for fat but fit. I did the sprint triathlons, and did quite well. I’ve been the “fat chick” in the bathing suit, on the hiking trail and in the weight room.

    Once I let go of the concept of what my body should look like, but what it could do-it was a freedom I will never forget.

  13. Grace on November 14th, 2016 9:22 pm

    Oh my word. I feel like you just held the flashlight in my murk.

  14. Kim on November 15th, 2016 5:03 am

    Again, you described my path so eloquently. Sugar replaced the other substance for me and I gained almost 50 pounds in about 18 months. Held on to the weight until this past year when I managed to lose 45 of it. Years ago you inspired me to try 30 Day Shred and get off my ass and I learned something important: no matter where I am weight-wise or mentally, exercise is a huge source of happy good feelings.

  15. Jessica on November 15th, 2016 5:14 am

    You should start running again. Regular running (every day) changes how you feel about yourself and the world. For the better. Speaking from my own experience.

  16. Barbara on November 15th, 2016 5:28 am

    Google “women taking up space”. Amazing. Why oh why do we do this to ourselves?

    Let’s own it!

  17. MH on November 15th, 2016 7:03 am

    Yes – all of this. Exactly.

  18. Aubrey on November 15th, 2016 7:18 am

    I don’t have much of my own experience to offer, but I can tell you I love that you are taking up space on my blog list again. I also know you are not a praying woman, but there are many of us out here praying for you and hoping that the flashlight helps you find a bigger and bigger light.

  19. Donna Brubach on November 15th, 2016 7:42 am

    Honey you deserve mountains and oceans and galaxies.

    You just need to find out why that is, the rest of us already know.

  20. Jennifer on November 15th, 2016 8:41 am

    Keep looking in the shadows Linda! This is hard, hard work. The hardest you may ever do. So worth it, too. You’re very brave, and these insights will build your power.

  21. Christina on November 15th, 2016 8:49 am

    I don’t know if you will read this. I thought about sending a private message to you but I may as well just say it here. I hear you. I am terrified to take up space in this world, to shine too brightly because it will mean people will look at me and see me for what I really am, what I believe myself to be, which is a flawed, fraud, a not so nice human being, all of the negative images and thoughts I have ingrained in myself since I was a kid. And yet the fight I have been going through the past few years to embrace that light, to take up the space in this world that I SHOULD get to have, for no other reason than it is okay to have that space, that I deserve that space regardless of what or who or how I have been in the past. You kindly replied to an email that I sent about getting sober almost a year ago. I have managed to stay sober almost a full year. Okay okay coffee, I drink A LOT of coffee, but you know what I mean. You message was just do it, you can do it, in essence and you are part of the reason I have been able to do this – it was that if you fail it will be okay but keep doing it because it is important, it means something to me and those around me. The hardest part about being sober is dealing with all of the feelings. New and old, crushing and hurtful, strange and raw… I think of my emotional state as a house of cards that I have to constantly tend to or else… you know the ‘or else’ part. I have this feeling that it will always be this way but I work hard every day and it makes a difference. Laughter is the thing that has made the biggest impact. I laugh riotously at most everything even myself because dammit if I am going to let this shit win. I know it all comes from within and you can get lots of ‘positive strokes’ (omg such a therapy/AA thing to say!) here but at the end of the day, you are going to have to start to believe them for yourself. Ugh again with the AA stuff but it is true – no one else can change you but you and my hope for you is that you can believe all of the nice things people say, that you can start to see yourself the way other see you: that you are a beautiful human being who deserves the space you want in this life. Hugs to you.

  22. Katherine on November 15th, 2016 6:12 pm

    Wooo, boy! That’s a golden nugget right there. Sit with that one for a good long time. Intrinsic worthiness. Many of us grow up through a lifetime of chipping away at it. It’s an amazing thing to discover that lie we’ve been told and learned so well. It’s a damn gift to make that discovery. Good on you for surfacing that, and on your counselor for helping you.

    One thing that really worked for me: when you’re actively working on this stuff, thinking about it, intentionally pair that head work with some body work. Get the thinking into your cells. They have memory too. I spent a period of about three months reading The Untethered Soul over and over while on the elliptical trainer so I could learn those lessons in my body. Now I work with someone who constantly asks me how whatever we’re talking about feels in my body. At first I couldn’t really get what she meant–that’s how disconnected I have been. But it’s getting easier now to work that neuro pathway like a muscle and it really helps me!

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  24. Tom on November 16th, 2016 11:43 am

    WOW! You have such a talent for writing! So many of us are drawn here because of your talent. There are so many that you have made laugh, cry, ponder, reminisce and pray with your words. May you know that you are amazing!

  25. joaaanna on November 17th, 2016 7:27 am

    Sending you lots of love. I commented on a previous post about my husband’s alcoholism and recovery. He’s been sober one year and a few months. SMART Recovery is the program that worked for him. He basically ran out of AA. SMART is science based and secular. He got a lot out of the online community. I’m sure you know about this program, but I thought I’d throw it out there anyway. Like a commenter above, my husband’s current addiction is coffee. Kidney stones is probably in his future. But, I actually like the sober version of him and just by him more coffee.

    I’m proud of you. I love your writing. I think you’re great.

  26. Sara on November 18th, 2016 7:14 am

    Thank you for writing this.

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  29. JJ on March 6th, 2017 6:13 pm

    Wow, what a fantastic counselor, and a beautiful revelation. <3

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