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I Wasn’t Ready but I Was Willing

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Even when I was in the absolute worst stage of unabashed drinking and irregular, unhealthy eating habits, very little if anything could have pushed me to seek recovery any sooner than I did.

Those who love me worked tirelessly in the effort to convince me I needed help.  Each gesture or suggestion was met with resistance, denial and deflection.  Those caring and compassionate individuals had all but prepared themselves to receive the dreaded phone call I’d finally succumbed to the disease of addiction.

The more people tried to persuade me of my destruction, the more my distance from them widened.  I wasn’t ready to stop.  I liked being able to decide for myself when, where and how much I engaged in what I believed was pure merriment.  I’d perfected my silent rationalization to slip into the haze of too much alcohol with little food. When I was in the state of nothingness, life’s emotional ups and downs didn’t matter anymore. I cherished my ability firmly and sternly control what I put my mental energy into and what was erased. As long as I kept my booze supply up and my weight down, all was well in the world.  And oh boy, did I love the “high” I felt when the deception, manipulation and lies all fell into place.

Until they didn’t.

When I finally found myself sitting across the desk of an intake counselor at a substance abuse treatment center I still was clinging to the belief I could one day drink again and eat as I saw fit.  I vividly remember the woman asking me how much alcohol I drank each day and my response of “oh, not that much” was quickly deflected when she held up my liver count report. I just wasn’t ready to stop believing I could run the show and direct the participants.

I actually made a silent deal with myself that when I went home from treatment I could go back to those unhealthy behaviors if I wanted to.  As vividly as though I had just sat in that chair, I remember how I justified this plan because I could then say to anyone within earshot I tried the treatment thing but all efforts to help me didn’t work.

Yet as no surprise to anyone who has been through a treatment program, when I got home I never took myself up on the deal I’d made weeks before. I may have wanted to drink but I didn’t.  I may have wanted to skip a meal but I didn’t. I may have wanted to be deceptive and manipulative but I couldn’t even try.

The reason?  Simple.  Even though I thoroughly believed I wasn’t ready to stop drinking and depriving myself of proper nutrition, when I took that first step into treatment I was actually telling the rest of the world I was willing.

This is one of the most profound elements of my healthy recovery. If I waited until I was ready I might not be here typing this. What was needed for me to change was a willingness to try.  From that small yet powerful place I’m alive today.

So often I hear others say they can’t get sober or overcome their eating disorder because they aren’t ready.  I tell them I felt the same way at the beginning; that I didn’t want to stop drinking or controlling my food but I was willing to try making a change.

This is precisely what recovery means to me. There needed to be a change. Even though I wasn’t ready, I was willing to do something different than seeking the dark corner of denial.  The first of which was my willingness to listen to suggestions offered by those with long-term recovery.  From them I considered why big changes all at once would not serve me well.  Unattainable expectations were almost a sure-fire guarantee I’d be right back to where I was.  Therefore, I focused on seeking foundational change by doing things differently in a very small, purposeful manner.

In time the rest of my life fell into place simply because of one tiny spec of willingness I never even knew I had.


Alison Smela, is in long-term recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder following a 30-year struggle with both. She’s an active member of a 12-Step Recovery fellowship and serves on the Board of Directors for MentorCONNECT, the first global non-profit online eating disorder mentoring community. Alison is also a writer and author of the forthcoming book, “Slow Down. Breathe. Recover” while she maintains her blog, “Alison’s Insights” focused on the life lessons she’s learned through the course of her recovery process.

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