This post was originally published on October 28, 2014.
They say not to make any major life changes in your first year of recovery, so I waited until my second year.
After 15 years in NYC, I was ready for change. I had a fantastic life, thanks to program. My marriage was better than ever, my career was blossoming into something I never imagined. My life was getting bigger and bigger, and I was ready for more.
My husband and I wanted kids, but we were tired of the grind, and didn’t want to try building a family life in New York City. We agreed LA was the next move, and the day after submitting his resume to a headhunter, my husband had an interview with a major California advertising agency. Their no-holds-barred courtship was solid, wooing us west—all expenses paid. It was a Golden Ticket opportunity, and in the spring of 2012, we drove across the Brooklyn Bridge and through the Holland Tunnel for the last time, chasing the sun.
After a 10-day cross-country road trip, we landed in LA and set about building our new lives. We rented a bungalow in a great neighborhood. We rescued an adorable mutt. We bought a convertible. We got pregnant. Everything was going according to plan.
There’s the plan, and then there’s what happens; I got pregnant with twins. Then we lost one of the babies in my second trimester. Then we lost my father-in-law a month before his first grandchild was born.
The solid foundation of my two years of hard work in program was a life raft, keeping me afloat during the lowest lows I have ever known. I knew moving to a new city and having a baby would change my life, but I could not have prepared for how being pregnant and being a mom would dramatically change my program.
When I came into the rooms with an eating disorder in 2010, I had the gift of desperation, and I was—thankfully—completely out of ideas. I didn’t know how to eat lunch, let alone how to get through the day without bingeing. I got a sponsor right away, and did everything she told me to do. After a year, I was Ms. Program USA. I went to at least three meetings a week and had service positions at multiple meetings. I had sponsees. I had a Higher Power.
It was only because of my program that I got pregnant. My recovery from my eating disorder gave me the physical, mental and emotional room to put someone else’s life before mine, but it also gave me the ability to take action. Find a doctor. Make appointments. Show up at said appointments. Do what the doctors said.
When we got pregnant with twins after just one round of fertility treatments, like everything else in my life I called it a gift of the program. I trusted that my HP was only giving me what I could handle.
One of the most important tools of recovery when you have an eating disorder is a food plan. I like to say, “My food is black and white so that my life can be in color,” so for two years I ate three meals a day, two optional snacks and no gluten, no cheese and no sugar.
In my first trimester of pregnancy, my food plan went out the door. My debilitating morning sickness had me eating a handful of gluten free pretzels on the way to work, pineapple at my desk, and if I was lucky, my biggest meal of the day was two veggie sushi rolls. Smelling food made me nauseous. Hearing people talk about food made me nauseous. I had to accept that my new food plan was “eat what you can, when you can.” I maintained my bottom line abstinence; no bingeing (which for the first time in my life was easy!) and no sugar, no gluten.
Meetings were suddenly a luxury. What used to be the center of my day became an obstacle between my long commute home and much needed sleep.
For the first time in my life, I was able to listen to my body, and my body said “sleep” during all of my waking hours. I took naps in my car at work. I would fall asleep at my desk. I could not physically attend a meeting after work, then head home for a 10 pm dinner like I’d been able to before. I leaned on phone meetings and podcasts.
Connecting with fellows became difficult. I was having a hard time finding other pregnant women or moms with small kids. I knew they were out there, but because I wasn’t at as many meetings, I couldn’t find them. I began to feel isolated.
At 21 weeks pregnant, I was well into my second trimester and starting to feel good. We had shared our exciting news with friends, family, and the Internet. We had registered for two of everything, and my baby shower was around the corner.
When we went to our appointment to find out the sexes of our babies, we instead learned that Baby B had a heart defect and major chromosomal problems, and to try to carry both babies to term would put our healthy Baby A at risk. A week later, our baby boy’s heartbeat fluttered to a stop.
I tried every form of prayer I could think of. I went to my knees and recited every prayer that had been given to me. I chanted. I meditated. I visualized. I wrote. No matter what I tried to do to connect with my Higher Power, to feel the care of the loving presence I had known in my first two years of recovery, I felt completely abandoned.
I came into the rooms on my knees, after a lifetime of using food to bury my feelings. The gift of recovery means the gift of feeling everything, and the tsunami of feelings that washed over me was right-sized, appropriate and horrible.
I began attending open AA meetings. I knew this pain was a result of my life getting bigger—it was big enough now that my problems were bigger than food. I was having a spiritual crisis, and I needed to hear from people who at one time had also lost everything of value in life, but still had hope.
I let my sponsees go; at the suggestion of my sponsor, I encouraged them to lean on their fellows for now, because I hadn’t the resources to give anything to anyone.
Then one day, my HP spoke to me from the notes written in the margin of my Big Book; my first sponsor had me write, “Whatever my conception of a Higher Power is, it is too small.” Then my second sponsor added to this, saying, “You don’t have to define your Higher Power. Whatever it used to be doesn’t matter. Just let your Higher Power define itself for you. That’s HP’s job.” So I stopped talking, and I listened.
I focused on what I had: a healthy baby girl due in a few short months; a loving family and friends who enveloped me with love and generosity. And I had my abstinence, and that was a miracle.
But HP didn’t stop there. Apparently my husband and I had more to learn about the fragility of life and our powerlessness.
After months of recovering from having a cancerous kidney removed, my father-in-law’s health took a turn for the worse. In June 2013, just one month shy of meeting his first grandchild, he passed away. I was too pregnant to travel to his funeral, so my husband and I were separated at the most difficult time in his life.
In July I gave birth to a perfect and hairy daughter who looks exactly like her father. We had a rough journey, she and I, but as a gift from the universe, we had an easy delivery, just barely making it to the hospital in time.
Holding her, I felt the promise of an even bigger life, and the biggest love I have known.
Having a baby has taught me many things, not the least of which is hunger. I am ravenously hungry after I’ve finished a meal; breastfeeding is no joke.
My food still doesn’t seem “normal” to me. My meals feel like binges because I have to eat fast and furiously when I can, and that messes with my head. Getting to meetings is impossible. My daughter doesn’t sleep—even now, a year later! So I’m usually hungry, angry, lonely and tired.
I call my sponsor every couple of weeks, if I’m lucky. I attend one meeting a week, if I’m lucky. It takes me over a week to return a phone call, if I do. I text with fellows with one thumb while I’m nursing, and I have an online mom’s meeting that is a life saver. My program looks absolutely nothing like what it used to.
But it’s still recovery.
As for how I define my Higher Power, I don’t. I’m still listening.