I’ve been alcohol free for just over a year now.
This is a huge feat. To give up a substance in a society who’s obsessed with it is no easy task. There was much discomfort from the shifting of friend/relationship dynamics, and sitting in all of the feelings I was using alcohol to avoid. I mean, as someone who drank heavily for nearly 15 years, there was a long time I did not believe I even could do this. You must give up more than the substance after all, there is the drinking identity you must surrender as well. In moments I do rejoice in my achievement, but there’s one thing that’s been weighing on me, literally: my weight.
There are a handful of people I know, mostly women, who’ve also given up alcohol over the years. One of my first friends to lead the way did so roughly 7 years ago. She picked up weight lifting and veganism in place of alcohol, and completely redefined her body and health. She looks amazing to this day. One friend of mine quit coincidentally at the same time as me, we even share the same anniversary for giving up booze. She’s down 30 pounds. Another friend back home is down 20 pounds within the year she quit. And there’s more I could list, but we get the point. Everyone is “skinny” except for me!
All of these women are glowing from not only the substance they gave up, but their brand new reduced weight. And I sit here, truly happy for them, but also curious why my weight remains roughly the same. I can hardly be proud of my major accomplishment because it doesn’t look (or weigh) what I expected it to.
Hello, welcome to Being a Woman 101 (projecting my experience as a woman here).
Let me fill you in on my back story. I started using drugs and alcohol at a young age. They were magical agents that relieved my over-thinking mind, which was constantly worried about — you guessed it, my weight, among other things I’m sure.
From the age of 7 my body was commented on by both family members and peers. 7. I was 7 years old the first time I was told I was fat. I averaged an extra 10 pounds above my peers at any given time, and was told I was fat. Well, maybe the words weren’t often exactly, “You are fat.” But consistent comments about how one day I’d be thin like my cousin were enough to assure me my body wasn’t the ideal kind — that I must not be thin, and that thin is what you want to be. Comments to pull my shirt down or my pants up. Comments at the doctors office asking why I was above the weight of other kids. Comments that never relayed to me — you’re a human in a body and it’s okay.
I also grew up around women who didn’t care much for their bodies. They poked and prodded and dissected every curve, pound, and dimple. My whole juvenile experience of having a body was one of shit, I’m in the wrong one! How do I get out? I wouldn’t even reach the double digits in age before I learned how to starve myself and shove my fingers down my throat, which continued into adulthood. I don’t believe I am unique in this experience, nor do I blame anyone (not anymore) for letting me believe this was acceptable behavior for women with bodies to have. We are all influenced by the society from which we are born into; and weight, or the lack thereof rather, is praised in ours — and this goes for men/trans/non-gender conforming folx as well, not just cis women.
In addition to our society, we also have our families/mentors/care-takers who entrust a whole other set of beliefs upon us, often untrue, that we carry around our entire lives whether we realize it or not. We are so conditioned to be who we are, it’s hard to tell who we really are. This not knowing who I was sent me on a path of addiction and depression, eventually guiding me back to myself — thank goodness. But at the time, I was starving both literally and figuratively for someone to tell me I was okay, and that I was allowed to be here as I am.
Basically, it’s always been about weight for me.
It makes sense I’d make my giving up alcohol about my weight. Everything is about my weight. I harbor a long-held complex about my weight, about a number on a scale, which even with intuitive eating practices, care, and awareness is hard as fuck to release. It consumes me, and at times has eaten me alive. I once weighed 90 pounds soaking wet (very low for my body type), and that wasn’t thin enough either. The number on that scale weighs more on my mind than it ever has in reality; it is most certainly a head game of sorts.
And yet, I’ve come a long way. And that’s something I must remember. It’s so easy to tell yourself, “I’m still not where I want to be” without considering how far you’ve come. I don’t throw my food up anymore, which is honestly amazing. I do still overeat more than I “should”, but also who gets to define that?— Me, that’s who.
I make these things matter when they don’t have to. When they don’t inherently matter. Now that I’ve quit drinking and smoking (okay, I still smoke a cig here and there) I’m truly the healthiest I’ve ever been — mentally and physically. I wake up at 6:30 am and workout, or at least move or stretch my body, 6 mornings out of the week. I meditate weekly (working on a daily practice, but don’t always achieve it). I go for runs when I want to, and I hike any chance I get (I live in NY so it’s not all too often). I make sure I have greens at every meal, and I don’t count calories or measure my food or tell myself I can’t have something — and I’ve maintained my weight. Honestly, I’m living my best fucking life.
So my weight didn’t budge since quitting drinking… Turns out the roundness of my belly wasn’t from beer, it’s my biology. It’s my physiology, which can change — everything about us is mutable. But I don’t have to change it, not unless I want to put in the work to do that. And that’s what it will require — work. My body loves being where it is; this is by evolutionary design, not laziness or lack of willpower. The pressure I place on my weight is my own, although it was once given to me, I don’t have to hold it any longer. Perhaps that is the next thing I must work to release, and now that I’m free of booze, I truly can. Maybe life happens in series of phases, and not all at once. And maybe patience and grace towards oneself is key.
I wrote this because I wanted to share how instead of celebrating my freedom from alcohol, I decided to imprison myself with the idea that it needs to look and feel any other way than it does. Here is my reality. I haven’t lost weight, but I also don’t have to lose weight. I didn’t quit drinking just to lose weight, and if that’s your plan, you may or may not be disappointed with what reality hands you. Ultimately, I quit drinking because I was sad, and drinking made me more sad, and one day I couldn’t bear it anymore. I couldn’t keep ignoring my mental health, watching my inner landscape deteriorate into a person consumed with shame, anxiety, and fear.
My journey is different, it’s my very own. Other peoples’ bodies allowed them to lose weight, mine hasn’t so much. At least not yet. And maybe not ever. But can’t I just be happy for myself without making it about my weight?