Step Two: Came to Believe…

If you are just now joining me on this project, read this first:

About six months ago I admitted to you all that it pissed me off that the joy of a big accomplishment like running my first marathon was muted by my poor body image. A shorter time ago, I promised I was going to finally take some action to try and improve this mental and spiritual ailment that has plagued me since I was a young girl. That’s what this is: THE ACTION. Almost ten years ago now (I can’t freakin’ believe that!) I used the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous to get sober. To this day I still use them to stay sober–this shit is a disease and the recovery from it is an ongoing process. It occurred to me a while ago that I might try and use the 12 steps to repair and reconfigure my body image as well. After all, groups all over the world have adopted and adapted these steps for pretty much every issue you can think of: gambling, sex, food addiction, you name it.

In order to establish and maintain a commitment to this process, I have decided to document it here. I invite any and all to join me–especially those struggling with something themselves. Ten years ago, alcohol was literally destroying my life. My health was failing, I had been arrested, I’d lost jobs and friends, I was having mortifying and highly regrettable sexual experiences on a regular basis. Things were bad. While it was great to find groups of people that I could relate to and who offered me support, that in and of itself was not enough. Just not drinking was not enough. I had to intrinsically change the person I was inside. If I didn’t, I knew eventually I would go back to being that person who lied and stole and couldn’t be depended on. I also knew that I couldn’t bear being that person without a drink–the shame of that life was too much to live with. So, if I wanted to not just get sober, but stay sober, I knew I had to rewrite the constitution of my being. Enter: The 12 steps.

While the situation I am facing now with my body image does not outwardly appear to be nearly as dire–the inward ache in my soul is similarly agonizing. I don’t believe that not starving myself is as good as it can get. I don’t accept that “feeling fat” is just a part of being a woman. I’m determined to fight the system that upholds a culture where women are expected to be obsessed with how their bodies look. In order to fight that system though, I need to resign from it and actually live and think differently myself. I am hoping these steps can help me move in the right direction.

Quickly, about me: I’ve struggled with my body image since I understood that not all bodies were the same (about 5 years old). From the age of 12 till about 25 I struggled with both anorexia and bulimia. I spent about three months in a treatment center for eating disorders and self harm when I was 22 years old, but didn’t completely abstain from those behaviors until I got sober at the age of 25. If you’d like to read more in depth about my experience with eating disorders you can do so here–or with sobriety, here

If this is your first introduction to any type of 12-Step recovery work–welcome. I hope in witnessing my journey you’ll find something useful for yourself. In my recovery I have found it more productive to relate to what I can in someone’s story, rather than needlessly compare. Take what is valuable to you–and share it, and leave whatever is not. 

Seeking only progress in this space, not perfection. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Here we go… 

Notes: Along with completing this step work, I myself am reading the corresponding chapter from the 12 & 12 and meditate on what I’ve read for a few days in a row. This might not be necessary for everyone, just sharing what I’ve chosen to do and what works for me.

In case you missed it:

Step 1: We Admitted…

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity

What does the phrase “Power greater than ourselves” mean?

I think the phrase “power greater than ourselves” means any being or system that is more capable than we are. A lot of people who try to participate in 12 step programs get stuck on step two because they are sure that a Power (capital P!) greater than themselves must only be a reference to some religious conception of God. If you are rigid in that interpretation of this step, and you don’t believe that there is a God, then indeed, you’ve arrived at a place with a seemingly valid excuse to call it quits.

The thing is though, there are SO many powers that are greater than us that it’s pretty easy to work this step without attaching yourself to the idea of a God. Which brings me to the next item…

List 10 examples of something greater than you.

  1. Mother Nature. Every time there is a big storm I am reminded how much greater and more powerful nature is than all of us.
  2. The ocean. On our honeymoon we went snorkeling (others in the group went scuba diving), and we took a boat about 45 minutes off from the coast in Puerto Rico. It was the furthest out into the middle of the ocean I had ever been. It was the first time I recognized how vast and powerful the sea was and how powerless and small I felt in it.
  3. The sky/the universe. I need only look at the sun and my constant need for it to understand just a bit of it’s power.
  4. The world. Although I often act like the center of the universe, I know that the world is MUCH greater than what is going on in my life, my city, and even my country.
  5. Food. Has the power to both maintain and take life.
  6. Water. Same as #5
  7. My husband and I together as a couple. The life we have been able to live together is much bigger than what I was capable of on my own. Our love is powerful.
  8. My coworkers and I together. I work with a lot of individuals who are very strong by themselves and hold specific talents–but they would not be able to create the content or complete our goals without every other member of the team.
  9. My blogosphere. If I wrote all the content I do and kept it to myself, it wouldn’t have the same impact on me. It wouldn’t have any impact on the world. All of you guys make my writing and my world bigger, stronger, and more dynamic than it could ever be on it’s own.
  10. *An AA meeting. Two drunks are more powerful than one.
  11. God. I happen to believe in God–whom I also call the ‘Universe’ and ‘Love’. When I first got sober I wasn’t sure what I believed in. But as I stayed sober and worked the steps, things started happening in my life that made me very clear about what I believed in. I think this happens differently for each person and in their own time and is not something that has to be forced.

* I use this example not only because it has been true in my own life–(sharing my story with another alcoholic has made it easier for me to stay sober than trying to do it on my own)-but because many people in recovery take this second step with this idea of the group in mind. In AA, when people have difficulty signing on to some conception of God we say, “No problem–only two rules for a higher power: 1. It’s not you. 2. It’s something greater than yourself.” A helpful acronym we use is Group ODrunks (GOD). After all, it’s been proven over and over that all of us together are more powerful than any one of us alone.

If helpful, you could look at this step as saying: “Came to believe that I could not be restored to sanity on my own.”

As used in this step, what does the term “sanity” mean to you?

It’s interesting because with my alcoholism, I only recognized all my insanity in retrospect. Even now, every once in a while I pull up a memory and I’m shocked to realize what I thought was normal. For example I used to be a bartender and would often have the day shift at the restaurant I worked at in my early twenties. To get through the morning without yacking and to calm my hands, I would often spike my iced coffee with a couple shots of vanilla vodka. At the time, to me, I really didn’t think it was that different than someone drinking a vanilla latte. In fact in my head, I often looked down at a coworker with their plastic Starbucks cup with whipped cream on it and thought, “At least I’m not drinking all that sugar.”Yeah. Insanity.

I had to be sober and removed from that behavior for a while before I recognized how crazy it was. In regards to my body image though, as long as I’m being honest with myself, I’m able to see the insanity even as I am in it. There’s a lot that I want to gain from working these steps–but the number one goal is certainly to be restored to sanity. I know my brain is not right after years of being conditioned by a society that allows only a narrow definition of beauty.

To me, sanity would mean…

  • Detaching the stigma from certain foods (i.e. not feeling like I’ve suddenly gained weight because I’ve eaten grains or sugar.)
  • Not having my mood change based on how I think I look.
  • Checking mirrors to see if there’s something in my teeth–not to see if my butt looks too big.
  • Viewing my body as it is itself– not in comparison to the toned, slender, white figure that’s dominated my head since I was five.
  • Not judging other women for how they present their bodies to the world.
  • Not being fearful or ashamed of having my body out in the world.
  • Regularly buying the correct size of clothing because I see myself realistically (now often buy one or two sizes too big, never convinced my actual size will fit.)
  • Spending less time thinking about the size of my body. PERIOD. NUMERO UNO. I want all that time and energy to go into projects and activities and endeavors that will actually serve me and the world.

 

Why does the step say that a Power greater than ourselves “could” restore us to sanity rather than “would” restore us to sanity?

WORK. That’s all this is about to me. This applies not only to this step but to really anything that I want in life–I’ve got to work for it. I believe that the power and the opportunity is always there, but it’s up to me to take the action to make things happen. I got sober in Michigan. I’ve now lived in New York for almost 9 years. I tell people here all the time that there’s something I hear in meetings in NYC that I hate, and that I never heard in Michigan. “Don’t drink and go to meetings.” People say that all the time. I understand why they say it. They are trying to keep it simple for the newcomers. I can attest to early sobriety being a very cloudy and confusing time. It’s true that you’re probably best served by keeping it straightforward– don’t drink a day at a time, and go to meetings to listen and learn from other people who have had your problem and gotten better. The problem with this is if all you ever do is go to meetings, not much is actually changing on the inside. You might feel better temporarily, especially while you are at meetings. But you can’t live at meetings–you’ve got to live out in the real world. This means you’ve got to do some work and start cleaning up your insides so you can live on the outside. You’ve got to change the habitat of your head and your heart so they are places you can comfortably reside–places you can feel safe in and count on. When we begin taking estimable actions and start living in a way that keeps our conscience clear, we can finally be comfortable in our own skin and become far less likely to be driven to a drink or a drug or whatever destructive behavior we have come to rely on to fill the hole inside us. For me, the steps were the actions I took that led me to live in a way that made me feel worthy of respect and dignity. I don’t believe I am owed anything. Still, everything I need has been provided for me. If I do the work, I receive the benefits.

You have been running the show thus far and have been unsuccessful at fixing your problem. Are you willing to believe that something else can fix your problem?

Yes. I didn’t used to believe that the issues with my body image were spiritual in nature. I think this is largely due to the fact that for a long time, I tricked myself into thinking that the way I felt about my body was changing. I suppose in some ways it was. After all, I haven’t starved myself or purged in years. Also, as an athlete, I’ve had great instances of appreciation for my body–for what it can do and all it has carried me through. Still, if I am being honest–my most pronounced moments of body positivity in real life and on social media have come when I’ve perceived my body to be at a state closer to society’s ideal. For reasons I’ll discuss in another piece, I recently started posting to my Instagram account again. If you look back on the time when I was most active a couple years ago, you’ll see that I talked a lot about loving my body and being confident in my skin. For the past year, I’ve been longing for that time–for that body. I’ve kept trying to capture exactly how many miles I was running a week, what I was doing for strength training, what I was eating. I looked good. And I felt good.

Nowadays I’m about 10 lbs heavier than I was then. It was the beginning of falling into another cycle of trying to get back to that smaller body (my “best’ body as I like to call it), that woke me up and became the catalyst to this steps project. If I can’t feel the same way about my body–if I can’t love it and believe it’s beautiful and worthy, with just 10 extra pounds–well then whatever self-esteem and body positivity I thought I had was crap. All those IG posts didn’t mean shit. They were hollow. The moment I realized this was the moment I understood that my body image was a spiritual problem–an inside job.

I’ve got a hole inside of me. I used to fill it with booze. It wasn’t until I stopped doing that that I realized the depth of the emptiness. It felt impossible to sit with. Naturally I’d reach for other things to fill it–food, shopping, men–easing the pain temporarily felt better than taking on the truth. But eventually, those things stopped working. The steps made me understand that I had to start filling that hole with something that couldn’t be taken away from me. I could lose a boyfriend, or money, or stuff–people and circumstances could rip those things away from me. If they were what I was to rely upon for my strength, if they were the foundation of my being, then I’d surely crumble. What outward things and beings could not strip me of is my character and my integrity. They couldn’t dampen my relationship with a power greater than myself. Only I have the power to diminish or strengthen my connection with the Universe. Only I can control the love I put out into the world. Only I can make myself vulnerable and open to receiving that great love.

So what is ten pounds? For the past year, I’ve allowed it to be enough to make me crumble. I had built a foundation that was being held up by false supports. By “confidence” gained through toned legs. By “esteem” built on a flat stomach. I looked in the mirror and saw something closer to what society has told me is ideal. I allowed that image to fill me up–to make me feel good and “right”, temporarily. Now, ironically, with ten more pounds on my frame, I am deflated. Physically I’ve got more to hang on to, but inside, I’ve got nothing. So now I see, as long as I keep trying to fill this hole with a “closer to perfect” outside, I’ll never truly possess the love and respect for my body that I am truly seeking.

I believe that a Power greater than myself, can restore me to sanity. With help, I can get better.

Reflection

I’ll keep this very brief as this post is already quite sufficient in length.

Things are getting better. I don’t really get why, or how. I didn’t totally get it when I got sober either. But something is changing inside me. Perhaps that’s the key. Whatever is changing is taking place on the inside. I’m feeling steady, like I’m beginning to have something to hold on to. This transformation is also changing what I see on the outside. I’ve noticed the dialogue that I have with myself is shifting. When I look in the mirror, instead of thinking, “you look gross” or on a good day, “almost there,” I’ve instead been thinking, “Alright BRAIN! Get to changin’! What society taught you was FALSE! That softness on your stomach, that curve on your thighs–that’s NOT gross. You’re an athlete! You ran a 7:57 mile today! You are POWERFUL! You are FIT! You are STRONG! You are a person who FIGHTS! You are a person who LOVES! I see YOU, and YOU are BEAUTIFUL!”

Yeah, idk. But that’s what’s happening. I don’t like using all those caps–but those words are the loudest. They are the loudest.

I’m gonna keep putting in the work.

x

cat h. bradley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

header: averie woodard

32 thoughts on “Step Two: Came to Believe…

  1. Pingback: Am I Failing? – cat h. bradley

  2. Pingback: Hello Again – cat h. bradley

  3. Pingback: 9 Things – cat h. bradley

  4. Great concepts Cat! Turned to the 12 steps when trying to quit smoking. Quitting drugs long ago seemed easier than quitting smoking. The 12 steps really help. I now have two stickers on my mirror that I look at in the morning and say:”Today, I am a non- addict (non-smoker). Can’t put one up saying I am a non-eater! Working on the 12 steps now to understand how to fill that inner hole with the Spirit rather than food. My belief has become that, when I have connected all of me to the Spirit, I will be allowed to go home! Gives me solace! Thanks for your words of wisdom. Pat

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Pat! I know what you mean about how quitting drugs seemed easier than smoking–smoking to me might have been the hardest! I still fantasize about smoking often and it’s been years since i quit!
      I think you have the right idea, something bigger and more internal has to fill that hole, not something outside yourself. So great that you are working the steps–I hope it’s a great experience for you! x

      Like

  5. Awesome post! I love your list of things that are greater than us, really thought provoking. It’s so cool when you can recognise improvements and see the effect your hard work is having, and I love the use of CAPs to emphasise this. Sometimes you have to shout it out to the world! x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Heather! Yes, it’s funny when you mentioned recognizing improvements my head immediately went to running–made me realize just how much work we are always doing to improve ourselves, inside and out!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve just finished going through this step with my sponsee. It was great for me as well. I believe you can apply it to any area of your life that’s gone tits up. In fact anyone can use this program!! I agree that meetings alone won’t keep you sober, it’s important to work the 12 steps(well, it is a 12 step program…) I feel this helps me understand how the steps work in everyday life i.e relationships in work, at home etc when listening to people share at a meeting.Getting your head around the “ Higher Power” thing can be the toughest bit for some and it was for me. I thought it had to be a God I recognised from growing up. At first I just accepted I wasn’t going to sort this out on my own so the fellowship became my HP. That can change on a weekly basis Kisses S xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I imagine going through the steps with someone helps you so much as well! I only started to do it once but the woman never made it past Step 1!
      You are so right that anyone can use this program–it’s really just a positive way to live– a way that doesn’t have you looking in the rearview mirror all the time, a way that allows you to walk through life with your head held high. I love it.

      You’re also so right that it’s the combo–meetings are so important as well! Honestly, sometimes it annoys the shit out of me. I go through phases where it pisses me off that i have to go to meetings. But instead of staying away from them, I just talk about it in the meeting. I remember like a year ago I was in one of those phases and I exclaimed at a meeting “What is it that I get here that I can’t get anywhere else? I want to bottle it up so I can have it and not have to come here!” LOL.
      After some time I have decided that that thing that I get at meetings is that they make me RIGHT SIZED. Out there in the world, without healthy interaction with other alcoholics, I’m either THE SHIT, or I’m a PIECE OF SHIT. I’m the best in the world, or I’m scum who doesn’t deserve to live. When I get around other alcoholics and listen to their stories and start to relate–all of the sudden I am just one of many, trying to do the best I can, a day at a time. And that actually feels pretty damn good!

      So glad you are a part of my journey S. xx

      Like

  7. I love that you have chosen to be so open and HONEST. I can hear your true voice and heart as I read this. And you are 100% correct that when the change starts happening on the INSIDE, that’s the beginning of something great. It’s not easy – not by a long shot but that’s where true change begins.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aww thank you girl, so much! Posting these things publicly has not been the easiest–but i made a deal with myself that if i was going to do it– I had to do it all the way, no bullshit. No, sugar coating or changing answers or sentences to be more likable or to look less (enter 10 adjectives that I’ve been afraid of being while writing on any given day!). Thank you for recognizing my attempt at being truly forthright–the more it’s accepted, the easier it comes!

      I love how you worded your last sentence–where the “true” change begins. That’s what I didn’t have before when I was super fit and slender and all “body positive”. It wasn’t TRUE. It was all on the outside. It’s really no surprise that I lost it–wasn’t something solid and real that I could hold onto from the inside! thank you ❤

      Like

    1. Thank you so much Donna! You are so right! Honestly before doing this work I had done quite a bit of self talk–but not so much of telling myself things like this so directly. I really think there is something to it–something to looking yourself in the mirror and declaring that your true voice of what you know is going to be louder than that darker, lying voice inside. It’s quite empowering! Thank you for your encouragement! Always! x

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You are brave and strong and beautiful. This isn’t just me being nice, I can read this about you in your post. This is true. There is evidence for it in your words. I can so relate to this struggle with body image. It is my journey as well. Same 10 pounds. I even went off my antidepressants to see if I could just drop the 10. I did. (with my daily exercise routine and calorie restriction) but then the darkness and anxiety came back. Now Im back on the meds and the scale is slowly creeping back up a quarter of a pound here and there. Im 5’3 at 121 with a BMI of 18. I hate it. This is what we have to fight and thank you for being open and honest about your journey Cat. Thanks for posting it here for us to read and follow. Thanks for being transparent. Really…Thank you. You have made a difference for me today and I send you positive energy for a day of strength and self love. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, thank you so much lady, I really appreciate this. I can hear how much you relate to me in just this little bit of your story you are sharing with me here. Such pain–your story hurts me! Think of what else out there in the world we could be doing with that energy we give to pounds of flesh! It’s crazy right? We deserve better!
      You saying I made a difference for you today is the best thing that I could have ever read and hoped for. Thank you for taking the time to say so–to let me know that this matters. Being vulnerable can feel awful and scary. But if someone tells me that it’s helped them–it gives me the guts to do it over and over again. Thank you for sharing your story with me, for giving me a bit of your strength! x

      Liked by 1 person

  9. You are a wonderful writer – it all flows beautifully, you have great use of imagery, and your words are both personal and universal. Intrigued by the idea of using the 12-step model in body image context. My working life has been in addictions, and I am now working with eating disorders (in UK NHS). Unsurprisingly, there are large areas of overlap. With regard to the links between inside and outside – it made me think about “core strength” in the literal sense which is essential for running, and as a more metaphorical concept (esteem/soul/sprituality). Keep it going!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So I know a better person than me would not dwell on compliments and really be focused on whether their work is helping other people…but thank you thank you ;). Your comments about my writing have been with me this whole day–and it’s been magnificent! really–thank you!

      I am definitely familiar with the areas of overlap you speak of within addictions. I spent quite some time in a treatment center for eating disorders and was also dual diagnosed there as an alcoholic and made to go to meetings (it didn’t stick–but eventually would later!). i often wonder why they don’t try this type of approach with eating disorders. For some reason people seem to think the only eating disorder the steps led themselves too is that of the overeating variety. I don’t believe that’s true. We are all trying to fill that same hole–whether we do it by filling ourselves our emptying ourselves, I really think the feelings are the same. Plus, so many women who struggle with addiction also struggle with eating issues. What hurts me is that so many women hang on to their behaviors as their last little part of their sick selves they can keep. For me when I got sober, I just realized that I couldn’t really call myself that if I didn’t also stop those behaviors.
      I’ve just written down your “core strength” idea on my notepad. I’m OBSESSED with it–it stuck to me as something ever since i read it this morning. Like i can feel the concept in my gut somehow! Something to explore for us both perhaps?
      Thank you Derek! Such a pleasure to meet you–I hope we will interact again and often! x

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Great stuff! I’ve also been finding recently how useful some of the approaches and concepts to staying sober can be used in other parts of my life…love it. You ran a marathon too! I’ve started running I’m hoping by next year I can do a marathon. I have a 1/2 slated for this summer. You’re awesome and a huge inspiration!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much Daniel! I’m so excited about all these things we have in common–sobriety and running, two of my faves. (Alright, idk if sobriety is my “fave”, but I don’t get any of the other shit if i don’t have that so it’s pretty damn important!) That is SO exciting that you are thinking about doing a marathon. I ran my first one just last November and it was just completely life changing–like I’d totally put it right up there with getting sober. Not sure it is like that for everyone–but I imagine it can be. It’s just so incredible to not really believe you can do something (I had wanted to run one for YEARS), and then to put in the work day in and day out and then finally get across that finish line. it’s just fucking incredible. I hope you do it! Will definitely follow along if you do :).
      So glad to have you here–please come back and chat whenever you like! x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well with people like you in my corner a marathon is definitely on the horizon. My biggest obstacle are my stupid shins…we have not been getting along. I have really had a blast running and next to maybe the sober crowd…runners are by far the most positive, encouraging people I’ve met recently. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Dustin Lovell

    I enjoyed your dissection of the phrase and the explanation of what it means to you, specifically about a higher power. It’s interesting to read a personal interpretation of the steps that is so thoughtful. Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dustin! The first time I did these steps I thought the questions were a bit silly–until I actually started to try and answer them! Now going over them again is so incredibly helpful. I really think anyone could use them–they are just a really clear roadmap for a exceptionally solid way of walking through life.
      I have a few people who say they are following along and working the steps themselves as well which is awesome. My hope is at some point, someone else might take their journey public as well cause i feel like I would learn so much from someone else’s interpretation!
      thanks for following along Dustin! x

      Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s a tough battle and worth fighting, but I think it’s important to not beat yourself up for having this issue. In other words, accept that you have body issues and love yourself today anyway. And keep working the steps. But when you find yourself being critical or feeling bad about your body, you can say, Hush, I’m not listening to that voice anymore. It does not apply. It is a liar. Separate the voice from your new reality. It’s OLD tapes that sometimes replay for various reasons. You are not a failure or weak or not spiritual enough when that happens. Our brains can have a mind of their own sometimes. 😛 And great job on your run!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words and support PK! What’s funny is I actually don’t feel like I am beating myself up at all for having this issue. In fact this is the first time in my whole life that i am actually having compassion for myself about it. For me part of the point is that this is bullshit. My angst. My dissatisfaction with my body is a conspiracy–it’s a marketing ploy that’s been laid out upon women for years and years. There are billion and trillion dollar a year industries being held up solely on the contingency of me and other women remaining at least just a little bit unhappy with how we look. I think really understanding this now has made me angry, and ready to do something about it–to help more women see that. But I think before I can do that, I’ve got to really heal. I can’t just say I love myself and I love my body–I’ve got to actually believe that and know that and feel that. And for me that just doesn’t happen through osmosis, especially after years and years of telling myself I’m not thin/good/fit enough. It’s gonna take a bit of work–and for me, that’s what these steps are. The work I am doing to get to a REAL place of self love.
      Definitely also appreciate your advice on hushing that voice–I am definitely working on that, and it’s helping. It’s cool because there’s another voice that is getting much stronger. it’s an exciting feeling.
      Thanks again PK! x

      Liked by 3 people

      1. That’s awesome! You are winning. I agree it’s put on us from childhood. The sad thing is I know quite a few men with the same problem. They starve themselves and worry about the scale. And run to burn calories. Even my 14 yr old son is worried he’s too fat. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s