Overcoming Alcoholism and Unhealthy Eating through the “Spiritual Toolkit” of the Twelve Steps

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I am a miracle. I am a recovering alcoholic and anorexic. It is my hope that by sharing my experience of addiction and recovery, I can bring awareness to others that there is a solution, and that through it they may experience a “spiritual awakening.” A spiritual awakening opens our eyes to a new way of life that brings joy and fulfillment. It allows us to stop being self-reliant and become God-reliant instead. 

On my own power, I am defenseless against a drink. On my own power, I am restless, irritable, and discontent. But when I surrender to God and tap into His infinite power, I experience freedom from not only addiction and unhealthy attachments but from anxiety, depression, anger, envy, pride, and so much more. 

How can we do this? Keep reading. 

I grew up in a small town of 800 people in North Dakota. I was the fourth of five daughters in my family. In my narrow mind, my sisters had set the bar high by being great athletes, valedictorians, and homecoming queens. They were all beautiful, smart, and accomplished, and I was desperate to prove that I was just as good as them. I was desperate to be validated and worthy—to be loved.

While I considered myself a happy child, as I got older I became more irritable, restless, and discontent if things didn’t go my way. I was never satisfied. Things were never enough. I have always been somewhat of an overachiever and a perfectionist. I began going through life trying to achieve more and prove I was good enough, and I was annoyed at everyone and everything that didn’t succumb to my will. 

I experienced happiness during this time but it was associated with accomplishments, status, awards, trophies, good grades, popularity, being the center of attention, feeling loved, and so on. I always had a hole to fill inside of me and nothing filled it up. I realize now that this hole is part of being human. I am grateful for this God-sized hole and that today I know how to fill it. However, in the past, nothing could make me feel fulfilled. As an adult, I would reach for the wine to try to numb my emotions (both good and bad), to escape, to relax, and to make life more exciting. I would restrict food to help me feel that I was in control and to convince myself that I didn’t need anyone or anything. I wasn’t happy, joyous, or free. By no means was I fulfilled. 

When I was a teenager, I starved myself to prove that I could be the best at something. I was a competitive runner with a college scholarship and I ran excessively. Sometimes I would even run during the middle of the night at the height of my eating disorder. I would even run in place in the basement of my house. Insanity! I put so much pressure on myself that life was stressful and not enjoyable at all. There was an intervention at some point and I did get help for the eating disorder but the solution was just a band-aid. I was still sick and so I moved on to alcohol. 

The first time I drank, I blacked out. I was an extremist at everything I did, and this proved no different with drinking. At times, I drank in a controlled manner like other people but inevitably I would again drink excessively and experience another blackout. This went on for years. Because I was functioning in life at a high level, I didn’t see that my drinking was making my life unmanageable. I could go six months or even a year at a time without having one of these blackouts, so I thought everything was fine. But then I began drinking secretly.

I never wanted only one drink. I wanted six. I tried everything to try and control my drinking. I would not keep alcohol in the house, for example, but when I became desperate for a drink I would drink vanilla extract or cooking sherry to try to experience relief from my emotions. Insanity! My drinking also began to cause my relationships with family and friends to become unmanageable. I put myself in unsafe situations, sometimes not remembering how I got home or coming to and wondering what I did the night before. It’s only by the grace of God that I am alive today. I made bad decisions, including driving drunk and putting others at risk. Insanity!

About three years ago, I received the “gift of desperation.” I hit my bottom and became willing to try another way. I was spiritually bankrupt and knew that I couldn’t do this on my own power anymore. I had to surrender to God’s power, yes, but how? I reached for this “spiritual toolkit” of a 12-step program that, alongside the Church’s sacraments, became powerful. That is when I experienced a spiritual awakening.

Like anything worthwhile, working the steps takes work. I learned that I needed to be willing.  After taking action and experiencing the freedom that comes from this “design for living,” I fervently committed to it. With this spiritual toolkit in hand, I can now survive my emotions without turning to alcohol or unhealthy attachments. I have learned how to keep life simple and how to handle situations that used to overwhelm me. In fact, these past three years have been the most challenging in my life, which have included a death in the family, being diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and my daughter going through spinal fusion surgery and a traumatic brain injury. I was able to endure all of this without a single urge for a drink.

When I surrender my will, my restlessness, irritability, and discontentment are miraculously replaced with God’s strength, comfort, and peace. I have replaced old thinking habits with new healthier ones that serve me, my family, and others much better. Upon awakening in the morning, I set out to be the best version of myself. Upon retiring at night, I take a quick inventory of my day. I live consciously and am present. I live a meaningful life, even when it is challenging. In short, I no longer have the desire to drink or engage in unhealthy eating habits—a true miracle!

12-step programs offer us a way of living that enables us to handle life on life’s terms. I invite you to experience this freedom in your own life by reaching for the spiritual toolkit known as the Twelve Steps and by attending a recovery meeting. And when you do, as we say in recovery, “Don’t leave before the miracle happens!”

By the grace of God, Jana has had continuous sobriety since July 2020. While she had streaks of sobriety in other 12-step programs, it wasn’t until she joined Catholic in Recovery that her desire to drink and control food was fully removed. On most days, you can find her at daily Mass as well as volunteering and caring for the needs of her husband and three children. She loves being in nature, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends.