I Am The After Photo No One Wants (aka can we not with the weight-loss sobriety pics?)
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
I am a sober woman. A clean and sober woman. A fucking-proud-to-be-clean-and-sober woman. And I LOVE other clean and sober women!
They are in general awesome, badass, admirable, my role models, and most of the time I hate hanging out with them. Why? Because they can't go thirty minutes without vocally hating their bodies.
It's friggin annoying. It's also terrible and heartbreaking and symptomatic of some really massive societal problems, but on a normal day it kind of just shows up in my life as an inconvenience. Like a paper cut on your finger that makes doing dishes needlessly infuriating. It's a big reason I don't go to a lot of sober events, and why I NEED "normie" friends outside of 12-step. It's why about once a week I want to leave all the sober female Facebook groups I'm in. I stay for the community and commonality around recovery that I need to stay sober and alive...but I nurse regular heartaches and triggers.
And I feel straight pissed when I see the before and after sobriety pics that are——explicitly or implicitly——about weight loss. The ones where the dudes are shirtless to show off their abs makes me want to leave 12-step altogether.
Even if the photos aren't captioned with "look at all the weight I've lost now that I'm not drinking all those empty calories!" the comments are overwhelmingly still different variations of "you look good!" Yay you for achieving an appearance that we can feel less uncomfortable with because of our own insecurities and inherited prejudice! Even if you look more dead inside than you did before and you still aren’t feeling your feelings because you're thinking about calories more hours of the day than you ever spent drinking! Grr.
There is a woman in one of my groups on Facebook who posted her before and after pics last year on her recovery anniversary. I was blown away at how sickly skinny she looked now, and my soul hurt, and it was actually maybe when this blog post/rant started to gestate. I was so amazed by it one year ago that I immediately recognized her when, this year she posted the exact same before and after pictures; that’s not a "present" picture, that's a "pretty" picture. Like that weight loss and striving for pretty is the only way to prove her sobriety, success, and worth.
And it's not her fault! We've all been programmed to seek love and validation and worth through our appearance, and that certain appearances are more valuable than others.
As a recovering anorexic who now looks like I straight up ate my former self, I have to shed that body-image bullshit everyday.
I am the anorexic's worst nightmare. I used to be able to count my ribs, now I can count my chins. Parts of me jiggle that I didn't even know I had. My small eyes and lips look freakishly tiny now. Finding clothes cool and cute and sexy and don't feel like torture on my opposite-of-an-hourglass torso SUCKS. Tying my shoes feels like a damn gymnastic event. People treat me differently, smile at me less. My brother and I don't even look related anymore.
I've heard so many anorexics, dipping their toes into recovery, ask with terror, "but what if I gain a bunch of weight??" Generally, people tend to answer with a calm and reasoned, "you know weight stabilization is really important you will probably gain some healthy weight, but it is actually unlikely that you will become super fat" or some other more palatable/professional way of saying super fat. Nowadays I have to hold myself back from yelling, "yeah bitch you might get fat! Would you rather be dead?" But I don't say that, and I've never heard anyone else say it, which is probably good, that would have scared the SHIT out of me back when I was dipping my toes in.
But now being fat is like the best thing ever. Not just because I'm no longer actively killing myself via starvation, cause that is pretty fuckin awesome, but to actually and fully exit the box of "acceptable" body weight/shape/size has been a huge gift to me all on its own. Yes, it's hard to face down and detach from the messages coming at you from everywhere all the time that you are wrong and gross and unhealthy. But it's also freeing. I don't have to care about maintaining skinny and pretty and acceptable, because those are already lost causes! That thing we're all so afraid of, it happened to me! And I'm GLAD. Because I'm happier AND healthier now. But most of all, there are some AMAZING humans in the world of unacceptable bodies who are putting INCREDIBLE work and energy into the world, and I am lucky to just be in their presence.
Anyway, I'm pretty used to the fact that, still, the majority of people and places around me aren't really on board with all that, and are pretty obsessed with losing weight and looking a certain way and eating perfectly——and don't they have the science to back it up, even when you don't ask for an explanation! Mostly I can just avoid them, but when I can't escape it within the recovery community, it really hurts.
The recovery world is my home and my family, and it's the only place I feel like I can be completely myself. It's my safe happy place! Until the body-shaming, weight-loss-praising, food-morality-obsessing comments hit my ears or pictures fill my screen, and then I feel like total shit, and like I don't belong because obviously I'm doing sobriety wrong. Sometimes it only lasts a fraction of a second, when I'm feeling my strongest, but on a bad day? Or in early recovery? Or mid throes? That stuff isn't just hard, it's dangerous.
The recovery community can't ignore that there are eating disordered folks in its midst. I beg you, please be mindful of us!
Ok now I'll qualify. I am not saying weight loss is inherently bad, I'm not saying people can’t care about how they look or be proud that now, sans drugs and alcohol, they take care of themselves and look "better," whether that's objective or simply their own opinion.
I'm DEFINITELY not saying don't speak your truth or celebrate your success because it might hurt somebody's feelings. That is a different statement than the one I will leave you with now:
Everyone is a role model. Everyone is a teacher and everything you say and do has an impact on the people around you.
You have power. Use it wisely.
And for the love of god I don't give a shit about your abs, I care that you're ALIVE and not poisoning yourself anymore and hopefully behaving like a more loving and contributing human.