· By Kelly Hogaboom
food security & malnutrition
Last night I loaded up my dinner plate - a raw broccoli and cauliflower salad with tempeh bacon, parboiled-then-roasted potatoes, and Tofurkey beer brats. And my favorite drink which is this cheap lime seltzer and a bit of 100% grapefruit juice.
And I thought to myself - as I've thought so many times over the last twelve years or so - I am so glad I have food.
When I got sober I was malnourished - the most I'd ever been. I didn't know it at the time, but I figured it out pretty quick. And now that in my lifetime I've moved from a place of not getting enough to eat nor knowing when I'd get it next, to a place where I have food when I want or need it - I've never lost touch with that deep gratitude.
I got sober the way millions of others have: through a recovery community and a series of simple but very effective steps. This was an entirely no-cost process but it did involve a lot of time on my part. I had to put those hours in. But in fact it wasn't just my time I put in - it was the time of many other alcoholics in recovery who put time into me. In fact I was probably about two weeks sober when I realized I had all these people rooting for me, supporting me, lifting me up, welcoming me and listening to me share, pouring me coffee and letting me sit at their tables. I remember feeling shaky about this because we are so transactional in our country, we are always supposed to "prove" we deserve good things, and so to realize I was being gifted this amazing opportunity with no way to really repay what I was given - well, it was hard to accept at first.
But I wanted to live.
So I was about two weeks sober - maybe less! - when I went to my sponsor's house to begin our work together. I kind of had two sponsors - they were a couple and they'd both been sober for about nine years and thirty-four years, respectively. I can't quite remember how I got myself to their place because back then our cars were pretty iffy, I probably didn't have a working car so maybe I biked, or bussed, or borrowed a car.
Anyway I walked in and they'd tidied up the house and they had some sheets of paper and a book or two and the table was set for company. And I was touched by that. I mean they'd helped hundreds or several hundred others before me and on that day they treated me like I was the MOST important person in that room. In fact every time we met and for years after, they treated me like that. Like I was special. Like I deserved to survive.
And on that summer afternoon in June 2011 I sat down and the first thing they did, before we talked about anything at all or started our hard work, the first thing they did was bring out a platter of food. I think - honestly I think it was a plate of Subway sandwiches, but they'd carefully unwrapped and cut them up into two-inch slices and arranged these little sandwich bites all pretty. And there was fruit and fresh vegetables and some dip, and a cup of coffee, and crisp water. And I washed my hands and started eating while they talked. I tried to listen but soon the hunger took over.
Reader, I have been hungry before - nursing one baby while being pregnant with another was probably the height of my caloric needs - but this was a different kind of hunger. I felt dizzy. I was shaking. I started eating and I realized I was absolutely ravenous, I'd had this hunger for years but my body had been numb. My own bloodstream had betrayed me; alcohol is an anesthetic and a depressant (and a Group One carcinogen, as it turns out) and now my body was aching and raw as fuck.
Now I was naked, the intoxicants and screeched out of my bloodstream and I could feel every little thing!
My body crawled its way back into the land of the living.
It's funny because back then I didn't think I was drinking all that much but damn I found out you don't have to drink much for it to affect you a a great deal. Alcohol ages the brain something terrible.
In fact you know there was a while there in those early days of recovery I started to worry my drinking had damaged my brain and I started really feeling spooked about that. I told one of my best friends this, a woman I'd known since we were kids, and she said, "Well that's good. You used to be pretty intimidating."
We both laughed - I mean I laughed really hard, to tears.
That's another thing I got back, when I got sober. I got my humor. I mean life really kicks you a couple good swift kicks now and then. I'd hurt my own brain by dousing it, over and over. Great job!
So yeah I ate that meal and I got a lot less shaky and - raw as I was emotionally, the three of us got to work right away. See that's how I learned a lot about self-help, or self-correction: you don't wait until things are perfect or you feel tip-top shape or you've got that Hallmark movie moment to start getting yourself out of the shit. Get yourself out of the shit the minute you realize you're there!
Today I've got a fridge full of food and there is not a day goes by that I don't remember how sick I was, how much pain I was numb to and how much my relationships were suffering. There are millions of Americans in this boat. And our culture is so cruel, so hostile. We treat these kinds of things like moral failings. We treat addicts with pity or scorn.
Maybe my past drinking, my poor self care back then, maybe those were moral failings. I don't know. I know it doesn't matter what other people think, it matters what I think of myself.
When I think about my drinking today - twelve years of sobriety later - whatever else I was I know I was sick. I was so very sick! I am fortunate to have made it out of that mess. Yes out of that BIG mess into the regular-sized mess that is Life On Life's Terms.
So this week when I have a plate of food and when we have lots more food in the fridge and we've got gas in the tank - I never forget what it was like back then. And this is a time of year where food is a big part of my family's life. We cook a lot more, we buy a few special things, we order some treats from local makers. It's truly a time of celebration in our family. We have a lot to celebrate!
And every time I can sit down to a dinner that feels good and tastes good, and every time I feel full, and every time I wake up in the morning with all the energy I have -
I'm just so, so fucking grateful.