After hitting her rock bottom in 2002, Sarah Roberts went on a personal journey towards health and fitness, as well as a journey inward to heal herself from the trauma of addiction. In 2015, she launched her blog, SarahTalksFood.com, as a way to share her story and help others struggling to know they are not alone. Sarah is the author of the book The 28 Day Kick The Sugar Challenge, where she helps readers develop a healthier relationship with food and with themselves using tools, recipes, and strategies that lead them towards greater self-trust, self-respect and self-love. Read on learn more about Sarah’s journey and how she dug out the pain and was able to let it go.
We often hear people saying, ”I just want to be happy.” But what does “being happy” really mean? For many of us, we believe happiness means a life void of challenges, obstacles, sticky situations, grief and heartbreak.
So I’d like to take this time to share with you my thoughts on addiction, pain, sobriety, health and what I believe it takes to be truly happy in life. But first, allow me to introduce myself.
Hi. My name is Sarah.
And I’m an alcoholic.
I thought we should get that part of my story out of the way right off the bat. I want you to get to know me in the short time we have here together, and knowing this about me is important. It is important because until I got sober, I hated myself. Getting sober freed me and allowed me, after decades of self-loathing, to look myself in the mirror and love who was looking back.
But what is the common theme to all of the best books you’ve ever read or the most engaging movies you’ve ever seen? The books and movies that contain drama, adventure, comedy, romance and lots and lots of sticky situations? The common theme is that the main character starts out in one spot, goes through something challenging, and then learns the lesson and is forever changed by it at the end.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because this is essentially Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” and it represents the human condition. We are born, we grow, we aspire to things, we experience conflict and we die. We simply can’t avoid pain or challenge or difficulty or death if we are going to experience the fullness of life. And being happy, experiencing true happiness, requires that we also feel the emotions we consider to be negative. We need the balance. The yin and the yang; the ebb and the flow; the up and the down; the light and the dark.
When I was drinking, I was using alcohol to numb my feelings of loneliness, shame, hurt and a deep sense of self-loathing. But when I’d wake up after a night of drinking, all of my loneliness, shame, hurt and self-loathing were still there; compounded by yet another night of shameful, embarrassing or humiliating acts, and so the hole inside of me kept widening. It wasn’t until I hit a rock bottom and realized that by avoiding my pain I was just prolonging it, that I started on my journey towards healing. I am not suggesting that feeling pain and working through it is easy. For me, getting sober was an incredibly challenging time in my life. But in order to get to the other side of pain, we have to dig in, pull it out into the light, look it in the eye and then sit right in its lap for a time before being able to heal from it and then share the lesson with others. And sharing your true self with others means you have to be vulnerable. And being vulnerable is the hardest part of it. But it is your vulnerability that will allow them to say, “me too”.
And the “me too” is the best part of all. The “me too” is where we carve out real connection and develop authentic relationships with people. But in order to get to the “me too”, we can no longer hide who we really are.
We have to tell the truth.
I often say I lied my way to sobriety. I was so ashamed of the label that I hid it from everyone, even some of my closest friends. Instead of admitting to being an alcoholic, I told people that I was “super into health and fitness.” I would tell people I was on a cleanse. I would say I was hitting the gym later so I couldn’t go to the party or have a glass of wine. I changed my entire life when I got sober, and I lost weight immediately when I quit drinking. I used the weight loss as the impetus to get fit, and I began reading voraciously on the subject of health and wellness. Keeping up the guise had a positive benefit…it led me to become healthy and fit! But I was still hiding…I was still mired in shame.
I got sober before Facebook and blogs and communities of sober people. I felt very much alone on my journey and so I took the time to go within. I explored self-development and worked hard to turn my life into something I was proud of. But I still held on to my secret. Over ten years went by where I hid who I really was and this hiding kept me from finding my tribe.
Once again, I knew I had to sit with the pain and shame of my truth and almost 12 years after getting sober, I started my blog and shared my secret “with the world”.
Doing so has changed everything.
They say connection is the antidote for addiction, and I can see that in my own experience, connecting with others has helped me believe that no one is immune to pain and struggle. We all go through challenges—we are supposed to go through them—and the sooner we all realize that happiness doesn’t mean walking around 24/7 with smiles on our faces, the sooner we will be able to live authentically and find our people.
I believe that the goal is not just longevity. I believe the goal is to truly appreciate the time we have here on earth. I believe we do that by getting as close as possible to who we really are; no masks, no pretenses, no lies. I believe we become the best possible version of ourselves by using our experiences, our challenges, our hurts, our successes and by sharing our lessons…with others. This is how we live happy, long lives, no matter how old we are when we die.
It took everything inside me to dig in and pull out the things I had stuffed down for so long. I hated the process while I was in it and now I know that this will be a recurring theme for the rest of my life and so I am getting better at it. It takes practice to be able to reach in and say, “Ok, fear, shame, hurt, frustration, anxiety, self-loathing, depression…let’s talk. Let’s feel you for a while and not try to fix you. Let’s just grieve and churn and ache and be with this pain for a while.” And slowly, softly, the lesson comes. But we’ve got to get nice and quiet to hear it.
So I encourage you to go within. If you are struggling in an area of your life and you continue to mask it with whatever you use to make it feel better in the short term, then I hope you’ll consider the real meaning of happiness. It’s not the quick fix that we all want. It takes time and effort and it takes commitment and a decision…but it’s worth it. It’s everything.
Real happiness comes when we are at peace with who we really are; where we can look ourselves in the mirror and truly love the person looking back. And we can only truly love ourselves if we can truly trust ourselves. Telling the truth about my life, to myself and then to others, has changed everything for me. It has allowed me to trust myself, respect myself…and love myself.
I want the same for you.
5 Steps for Going Within, Digging Out the Pain, Learning From it & Then Letting it Go:
Acknowledge It. We can tend to go through life saying we are “fine” even when we feel like our whole world is falling apart. Instead of denying your feelings, take time to contemplate what is causing your pain. In what area(s) of your life are you feeling hurt, frustrated, anxious, shameful, embarrassed, upset or angry?
Soothe Emotions Differently. If your pattern is to eat or drink or use social media or have sex or shop or gossip or use drugs or exercise to numb your pain, make a conscious decision NOT to use your “drug” of choice. Your new coping mechanism will be to acknowledge when you WANT to use your old one…but instead, you will choose something that allows you to feel whatever emotions you are trying to avoid.
Release The Pressure. So many of us hold onto our emotions for fear of seeming weak. If you have a hard time crying, try listening to a song that makes you emotional or watch a sad movie and really try to pull up those hurt feelings you need to fully feel. Try writing your feelings in a journal and don’t hold back. Let it all pour out onto the page. And cry. If you are concerned with alarming your family, perhaps go for a drive somewhere so you can scream and cry and no one will hear you. Or head towards train tracks or an airport where you can yell as loud as possible to try to match their sound. Don’t underestimate the power of releasing pressure. Doing so will help you move to the next stage on your journey.
Take Your Time. We tend to rush ourselves to “get over” things in order to appear strong and in control. But all we do is push down our true feelings and compound the problem when the next crisis arises (which, inevitably happens). Decide that you will not put a time limit on when you will “get over” your pain. Repeat the previous steps as often as possible and necessary. Decide that your pain is as important as your happiness and you will sit with the discomfort as long as you need to.
Go Within. If you don’t already have a meditation practice, simply sit quietly and take deep breaths. Envision the pain you’re in as something tangible. Give it shape and size. Name it. Feel it as a part of you and, only when you are ready, only when you have received the lesson, release it. Hold on to the lesson, but let the pain go.
I hope this message has served you. If it resonated, I would love to hear about it in the comments below. I’d also love to stay connected to you, so let’s meet up on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @SarahTalksFood.