This piece really should be called "Meditation Only Goes So Far." Because that's the lesson that I'm learning right now in a very big way. And the reason that I'm starting to work personally with Mary Vance, NC, and to incorporate her work into the blog and all my offerings. She's local, she's a friend, and she knows more than anyone I've met about nutrition, women's health, and nutrition and addiction pathologies. She's also fucking brilliant and there will be lots more to come from our work together I'm SO excited about what this means for you.
My path to sobriety has been one that was built on my understanding of how addiction works, my incorporation of meditation and yoga practices, as well as many other things like therapy, trauma work, energy work, coaching, body work, relationship work, and on and on. Nutrition has been an after thought - addressed acutely when I developed sugar addiction that came on after quitting alcohol (there weren't enough gummy bears or pastries in the WORLD) in July 2013. I overcame it by balancing my brain chemistry with Amino Acid Therapy (under a doctor's supervision) which stopped the cravings. Other than that it's been largely ignored.
And here's why.
First, I have a history of eating disorders and diets are the last place I can go. I avoid them like the plague because every "diet" I've ever been on has turned into tragedy. Second, I have always figured myself "nutritious enough" - I don't drink soda too much, I eat whole foods, I read labels, I drink a ton of water, I eat mostly vegetarian, I eat KALE, I drink green juice, I shop at farmers markets and Whole Foods, I read Goop... Third, by just not drinking, smoking, or drugging, I figured myself to be about 5,000x healthier than most. Fourth, I have held a firm belief that recovery and thriving in life was built more on spirituality, purpose, creativity, healthy relationships, and yoga, and that nutrition was just a bonus if I got there.
…the past year or so, I've been struggling and deeply so with exhaustion and a whole host of other health issues that seemed to come up as soon as I quit my job last March. Acne (specifically back acne). MONSTER periods with MONSTER cramps that debilitate me or require 700 Advil. Exhaustion. Body odor (the kind that WON'T GO THE FUCK AWAY NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU BATH). Severe mood swings. Bloating. Extreme food cravings (for MEAT and fries). Weight gain. There are days I feel like I could sleep forever. There are days I sleep forever. I'm happy...it's just I feel like I'm walking through the mud.
All of this seemed to happen at once. One minute I was working a 15 hour day and sleeping my normal 5 hours (yep) and popping out of bed with the boundless energy I'd found when I quit drinking. And then one day, I slept through my 5am alarm. By 7 hours. And went back to bed. From there, it was a domino effect of the rest.
When all this began last March, I assumed it was a part of my recovery from working myself to death and continued recovery from toxins leaving my system. I drank coffee to make it through days, and I made it through days.
From there to today was a slow progression. So slow that I couldn't really see it happening or the level it was happening. I told myself that I needed to just do more yoga and meditate more and that my body would right itself. Except I couldn't find the energy to do the fucking yoga, or if I was, I was drinking coffee on my way there and grabbing more after.
In December I figured it was the coffee blowing out my adrenals and keeping me stuck in addictive habits (I was using coffee to self-regulate very similar to how I had with alcohol and pot). So I quit it the way I had quit everything else (and announced it on this site), only this time because I was so depleted, I went even more nuclear. I added in more vegetables and green juice and water and B12. I yoga'd at it with Right Nostril Breathing and woodchopper and headstands. I did more meditation than I probably ever have. And bought one of those fancy lights that mimic the sun.
For a while removing coffee seemed to work on my energy and body chemistry and sleep. December and January and even February weren't bad in that regard.
And then it got worse.
The BO returned with a vengeance. The back acne spread to my whole back and wound round the front to my chest and made a guest appearance above my right eyebrow. Some days I was so tired I couldn’t shower. Even more frustrating, I started to turn to food to self-regulate without the coffee there, and gained weight.
On vacation with my family a few weeks ago, miserable and tired and desperate to be with my niece and enjoy it, I broke down and had a cup of coffee. Okay, no. I had a fucking 16 ounce cup of dark roast with a shot. And then another. And we all know how this story goes (as I sit here with a cup of coffee writing.)
And still, my thoughts on all of this? Was that I was being lazy and sleeping too much and not meditating enough or drinking enough kale juice and I was shamefully weak willed with my coffee addiction. So I went deeper. I ran more. I SoulCycled more. I juice cleansed for three days. I popped more B12. In other words, I did the opposite of what I would recommend any of you do. I didn't stop for a second to think that something else might be at play. I instead beat the shit out of myself to "be better", and berated myself when it kept failing. Like shame works only on me but no one else to quit something.
I called Mary a week ago to ask if she'd help me with my Hip Sobriety School. We were discussing what she's an expert at - the diet and nutrition issues specific to those who abuse alcohol and suffer from alcohol addiction and how important a role nutrition plays in successful recovery. Specifically, that:
- We often have pre-existing issues when we start drinking, like imbalanced brain chemistry, blood-sugar issues, hormone issues - and that turning to alcohol is often in part an attempt to regulate these imbalances.
- We exacerbate these pre-existing issues with our drinking.
- When we stop drinking, we have the imbalances we started off with, PLUS the imbalances that we developed from choosing wine over food, plus depletion of minerals and a whole host of other things specifically from the toxic nature of alcohol.
- In order to fully recovery from addictive patterns (and not just shift them from one thing to the next), we often have to address these imbalances and bring ourselves back to a state of health through various nutrition-based mechanisms - it's not just eating better, it's literally repairing and repairing in a targeted, individualized way (in addition to the intellectual, psychological, existential, environmental, societal, and other physical practices we must do).
- If we DON'T address this piece - recovery can be much more difficult, can plateau, we are more susceptible to addiction transference or drinking again. If we DO address this piece, it makes all of our other efforts that much more effective and the process much less painful.
On the phone, I heard myself saying how important this piece was, and that no amount of meditation would ever work if we don't fix these things.
I got off the phone with her and mulling over the conversation, sipping my shame coffee, had my breakthrough: I'd never fixed my body on this level. And I was running around with neurophysiology issues (brain chemical depletion), blood sugar issues, hormone issues (hello adrenal fatigue and crazy period and mood swings), and most definitely some mineral depletion. Green juice, meditation, SoulCycle weren't going to fix the things that needed to be fixed. And until I fixed the things that needed to be fixed, I'd just keep running to other addictive substances and behaviors in an attempt to balance the imbalances (like compulsively texting my fuckbuddy when I felt empty, drinking too much caffeine when I felt tired, or eating a plate of french fries and mayo when I was overstimulated and needed to escape).
I called Mary back and threw down for her services.
There's a beautiful way of looking at our path of recovery that this illustrates: that it is evolutionary and leveled. Those things that worked for me in the beginning - all those beautiful magical things that I found that helped me give up alcohol and drugs and cigarettes served me well and continue to serve me well. But they are not necessarily the things that will help me at this next level I am at. They are part of it - for sure. They are foundation. But evolution of self requires evolution of recovery.
It also demonstrates another big theme - that there is no one magic bullet. It's not just about spiritual awakening, or optimal health, or changing our environments, or finding purpose, or finding tribe, or releasing trauma, or growing up, or surrendering, or removing the substance, or finding an exercise regimen, or balancing our bodies, or creating a life we don't need to escape from. It's ALL these things.
It also must be noted that I failed at quitting something. I publicly quit coffee and posted about it. Readers have written in to tell me about their own coffee quit inspired by mine, friends have quit because of my "example" (sooo sorry Ryan and Scott and Sierra). It could be humiliating that I failed. And for a while - believe me - it was. I considered not sharing it here. But in the end, the attempt to quit and the subsequent falling on my face doing it is what led me to find a different way and a better approach and to try again. It's no more a failure than it is a lesson that has led me to the next rung on my own personal ladder and a lesson that now will serve you and my clients on a level I didn't have before and in a much more profound way - because I have to fucking go through it.
I'll leave you with this. You can make it through recovery from alcohol dependency on cigarettes and coffee and donuts. MANY people do. I did. If it works, it works. But to have sustained growth, to support the spiritual and cognitive and ethical and environmental and relational practices that are part of any healthy recovery, you've got to take care of your body in a MUCH different way. Green juice is great, kale is great. But it's not enough and you will - like I have - just move the addiction somewhere else until you fix ALL the things that caused you to reach for it in the first place. From the childhood trauma to the anxiety to the hormone imbalances and on.
I'll be blogging about what I'm doing with Mary in my own recovery from monster-period-body-odor-can't-wake-up-always-exhausted-coffee-addicted-bacne-Holly. I'm starting with removing dairy (SO SAD) and gluten (SADDER!) and following a prescribed diet (nothing crazy), checking my hormone levels through a saliva test and supplementing based on the results to level out my hormone levels, eating more protein (buh-bye "kinda vegetarianism") and increasing my sleep to 8 hours a night (okay I'm going to TRY to do this). Things like neurotransmitters and blood sugar will be addressed through diet changes and mineral/vitamin depletion will too - most likely through diet and supplementation. For now…because coffee IS serving a purpose and I am addicted to it and I'll just run to something else without it here…I'm leaving it in place but at a smaller dose (and with almond milk).
If you are interested in how nutrition and addiction are related, or want to work on your own nutrition, there are a few ways you can do this.
- You can visit Mary's site and read her blog posts. Here are some great ones on the things I've discussed in this article.
- You can join Hip Sobriety School. Mary will be teaching a section, and we'll together be offering a guide for using nutrition to aid in recovery. Registration opens Monday April 27th at 8pm PT.
- You can stay tuned to this blog. Mary will be guest posting and I'm also going to try and get her on a vlog or call or something…If you have specific questions for her contribution submit them here. We also have 1,000 ideas of where to go with this. She's in many ways the missing link to my work and we are both passionate about the same things.
- You can sign up to work with Mary as a client (like me!).