It is the morning of August 1st, 2002. I am 29 years old. As I lie in the fetal position, shaking and sobbing uncontrollably, I wonder how the hell my life will ever, ever go on without alcohol.
I know I have to stop. My life has fallen apart. I know I have no choice. Too much has happened. But thinking about a life without cocktails, or wine, or beer – or without my friend who I drink cocktails and wine and beer with – it is all just too much to bear. I press my head into the pillow and I wail.
What I can’t possibly know in this moment is that I am about to embark on the journey of a lifetime. That I am being broken so wide open that I am being reborn.
Never in a million years can I imagine that being an alcoholic will become the biggest blessing of my life and that recovery will end up being my greatest gift and teacher. Like many people in recovery, this was my rock bottom and I was forced to change almost every aspect of my life. It was a bumpy road, but I had made a decision and I knew I had no choice but to change…or die.
I chose change.
I changed who I spent my time with. I removed myself from social circles where the core activity was drinking. Doing so all but obliterated my social life.
I changed where I lived. I moved out of my apartment and moved in with my then-boyfriend because we both knew it was the best place for me to be in order to get, and stay, sober.
I changed how I looked. I immediately dropped weight when I got sober and my physical appearance changed dramatically. I used the opportunity to try new hair colors and styles, play with different makeup, and to shop for new clothes. I got braces at 31 years old and my looks continued to change.
I changed what I did. I quit my job and enrolled in business school. I immersed myself in the learning and I busted my ass to achieve a high level of success and status at college.
I changed what I told people about myself. I lied and told people I didn’t drink because I was “into health & fitness.”
I changed what I did in my spare time. I went to the gym and I shopped organically and I cooked healthy food and I went for massages and I practiced yoga.
As time went by, I discovered new parts of myself that I had never known. It felt oddly freeing to be living this lie but also being more truthful with myself than I had ever been before.
It was a beautiful juxtaposition; exhilarating and frightening and liberating and stifling all at the same time.
And although the life I was creating stemmed from hiding the truth from people, the lie allowed me to create a whole new identity. It allowed me to create a version of myself I had never known and a personality I had never fully cultivated until then.
When I got sober, I had no intention of attending AA meetings. Although I felt very much alone, the last thing I considered doing was admit that I was an alcoholic to a group of strangers. It was out of the question. I also had preconceived ideas about the kinds of people who went to AA.
Without ever setting foot in a room, I judged what “those” alcoholics were like. And I decided that they were not like me.
In time of course, I learned that my preconceived ideas and judgements were wrong. But in those eary days, I was so filled with shame about not being able to drink, not being “normal”, that my main goal was simply to get through life hiding it from everyone.
My constant concern over what others would think of me impaired my ability to do things that could have enhanced my journey of sobriety and that could have helped me find my tribe.
I got sober in 2001, 3 years before anyone had heard of Facebook, before sobriety websites like InTheRooms.com and HelloSundayMornings.org were dreamed up. I wasn’t familiar with blogs and they weren’t mainstream then, so I didn’t have access to other voices that sounded like mine.
I found smatterings of sober communities online, mostly forums, but nothing seemed to “click” for me. I had started on my path to self-discovery, starting with going back to school and treating my body with love and respect through diet, exercise, mindfulness and self-care.
When I turned on the TV one day and heard Oprah talking about The Secret, I rushed out to buy Rhonda Byrne’s book and DVD. From there, I found Eckhart Tolle, and I deepened my understanding of the ego, the self and the law of attraction.
Instead of seeking my people, I sought to find myself.
And I don’t regret the path I took, but today, there are so many ways to connect with others in sobriety. It is amazing who can be found on social media platforms, websites, blogs and online communities (like this one!), that it is unnecessary to navigate the waters of recovery alone.
We need our people.
Sharing my secret happened slowly…I first shared it with my close friends and my family and then I shared it selectively with the people I felt connected to.
This happened over years.
I quit a marketing job and I began working for my new boyfriend’s family’s business in the health industry. We ran 3 health studios, and I would selectively tell my secret to clients who I developed a relationship with and who shared being ashamed of their weight.
I could relate with people dealing with food, weight and body issues. I would tell them that I understood the pull of addiction, and that I felt food addiction was perhaps more challenging than alcohol addiction. Because we all have to eat. No one has to drink. This was not to minimize my own struggle, but to connect with others who were struggling as well.
I began to feel the veil lifting; the shame lessening.
The words “I am an alcoholic” more easily passed across my lips. The flushing of my cheeks, the sweating of my palms and the racing of my heart subsided with each admission.
I relished my new role where I was able to inspire people to change. I feverishly wrote out recipes and meal plans and shared the strategies I had used in my own life as a way to love and support these amazing people who arrived broken, seeking, ashamed.
I loved the meaning I was creating in my life and the sense of connection I experienced from my work. Being able to love and support people was life-changing and I beamed with pride as they reached each new milestone.
When I was drinking, I never craved sugar. I easily passed up dessert and felt sorry for those who couldn’t seem to control themselves around junk food. When I was at my deepest level of denial, it never occurred to me that I was no different from those struggling with food addiction or those grappling with weight issues or a reliance on sugar. I just couldn’t see the truth.
The truth that we were both filling a hole. Mine with alcohol; theirs with food.
When I got sober, I craved sugar almost immediately. All of a sudden I was buying pints of ice cream and bags of chips and I couldn’t seem to stop at just one serving…of anything. I realized I needed to figure out some strategies if I was going to maintain my guise of being a “health and fitness fanatic.”
I read voraciously on the subject of health and I developed strategies to help me stave off sugar cravings. I began eating breakfast within 30 minutes of waking; I ate at regular intervals and I made sure I always had some protein at each meal and snack; I worked out 5 days a week; I drank only water (and one black coffee each morning); and I had a “cheat meal” once a week where I ate whatever I wanted and I skipped the gym if I felt like it.
I carved muscle and reduced body fat and I had people stopping to ask me if I was a personal trainer.
My system was working.
And although I was doing all of this work to hide my label, the benefit was that I was becoming a healthier version of myself in the process.
When I was a drinker, I didn’t do a good job of cultivating friendships because most of my social life was spent drinking. If you were around, then I talked to you over wine.
If you didn’t drink, I probably didn’t talk to you. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth.
And when I drank, my conversations were shallow. They were often eroded by misunderstandings and they frequently revolved around inappropriate topics. Instead of developing healthy relationships with people, I developed a dysfunctional relationship with alcohol.
I’ve always been uncomfortable in my own skin. I never felt like I fit in. Drinking provided a way for me to remove inhibitions, become more outgoing and reckless. Drinking made me more “fun”.
When I quit drinking and went towards health and fitness, I was able to connect with people on that level. I enjoyed being able to have a conversation about food or nutrition or exercise, and it became my new passion.
But, deep down, I wanted to be able to talk to my people; people who had recovered from alcohol and who were living happy, sober, successful lives.
When I finally started my blog in 2015, when I finally found the courage to tell the truth, I was scared to death to do it, but I had to decide to care more about sharing my truth than about what others would think of me for sharing it.
And coming from the girl who has always been consumed with what others think of me, this was big.
And I continue to share myself so that I can keep getting closer to who I really am.
I continue to do it so that I can finally find my tribe.
Today, I feel so blessed to have merged my lives together; starting with my blog where I shared my truth, from that first post, and now writing a book called The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where I guide people through a journey to more self-trust, self-respect and self-love, all while kicking our “sugar monsters” to the curb.
It has been an amazing journey and although hiding my truth and lying my way to sobriety may not have been the best approach to take, it has gotten me here.
Being able to connect, truly connect, with people who have been where I’ve been is part of my life’s mission. I have many visions and dreams for how this looks, but for now it simply means reaching out and seeking my people.
It is a wonderful time to be in recovery. If you already are, then we are each others’ people. We are part of the tribe. And I am grateful beyond words for you.
After hitting her rock bottom in 2002, Sarah Roberts went on a personal and inward journey towards health and fitness to heal herself from the trauma of alcohol addiction. In 2015, she launched her blog, SarahTalksFood.com, as a way to share her story and help others who struggle to know that they are not alone. Sarah is the author of the book The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where she helps readers develop a healthier relationship with food and with themselves using tools, recipes, and strategies that lead them towards greater self-trust, self-respect and self-love.