No Matter What

I’ve been in recovery for a little over four years now and on two occasions, I found myself in a situation where I thought “today’s the day I lose my abstinence”. I remember both played out the same way and the last time occurred when I was still working at the bakery. I thought I’d planned well enough that day but was unexpectedly faced with a double shift. Not anticipating that, I was without a back up meal or an abstinence kit. (*News flash Andrea* …That is precisely the point of an abstinence kit!!! To protect one’s abstinence in cases just like this!). As evening approached, I remember thinking, “I should stop for a break, I should call my sponsor, I should come up with a plan”. I remember not doing that. The later it got, the more overwhelmed I became and soon the focus was, “just get the work done, you can figure your food out later”.

I hadn’t even realized the danger I was in until I headed home. Into the night I went, only to discover that nothing was open other than gas stations and one grocery store that was closing soon. It would take a miracle to get there in time. In a frantic and panicked state of mind, I called my sponsor. I was granted a miracle, I made it to the store just in time while my sponsor talked me through every minute of every decision, until the moment I was eating in my car.

My recovery was at risk that day but I can assure you, it wasn’t all about the missing abstinence kit.

This was about control and self will. It was about ignoring feelings in my body that were screaming at me to pause. It was about ignoring my boundaries around meal times and choosing to prioritize work over my abstinence. This was about getting caught up in my day, so much so that I listened to the voice that said “I’ll figure this out later”. That voice is detrimental to my recovery. All of these factors can be summarized in one sentence.

I did not put my recovery first.

That was a couple of years ago and I remember what a terrifying experience it was. I vowed to myself and others,“ I’ll never put myself in that position again”.

Two weeks ago, I travelled to Florida. I remember thinking, “it’s just a short flight… I don’t need to plan beyond packing my breakfast… I’ll figure something out when I get there”. When Amanda came to pick me up, the first thing she did (after a long awaited hug) was ask me what I needed to do in terms of my meals and my recovery. I found myself saying, “I don’t have a plan, I’ll figure something out later”. With wide eyes and chin dropped, Amanda asked, “Is this what you would suggest to a client”?

(*Cue Andrea stunned like a deer in the headlights*)

“No, of course not”! I gasped at the absurdity. Suddenly my gasp turned to a low, awkward giggle as I stepped into the realization that I had failed to put my recovery first, just like that day at the bakery.

After about a week in Florida, I noticed that I was incredibly busy and I felt the days getting away from me. I noticed that despite my serenity, I was approaching parts of my program from the “I’ll figure it out later” perspective. I asked myself the same question that Amanda had asked one week earlier.

Would I suggest this to a client?


I asked myself what I’d say if I watched this unfolding in someone else’s recovery.

“ I see warning signs, you need to get back to basics, immediately”.

In an effort to prove myself wrong, I leafed through my nightly check ins from the past few weeks, assessing how consistently I’d been fulfilling the basics. In two key areas, I was shocked to see gaps larger than I’d like to admit.

“That can’t be right, I’d have noticed this sooner”, I thought.

And then I remembered that lately, I felt fearful when sending my check-ins. Fearful of receiving feedback I didn’t want to hear. Somehow, no one said a word, which left me feeling relieved, lucky, excited. It was that same feeling I got as a kid, when the teacher would announce “no homework“ as the last bell rang on a Friday afternoon.

I got quiet and meditated. In my mind’s eye, I saw two people. Andrea the food addict was facing Andrea the food addiction counsellor. I heard the two conversing in my mind. Counsellor Andrea asked “ how is the excitement of “getting away” with things any less dangerous than a food thought?”

Radio silence.

Counsellor Andrea spoke softly, “Check in to your body. What’s happening for you right now?”

Food addict Andrea felt peaceful and calm in spite of the quickly unraveling truth…

  • Short cuts aren’t condoned based on lack of feedback, nor are they something to celebrate
  • Risk of relapse occurs when I assume I can “figure that out later”
  • Risk of relapse occurs when I let life crowd out recovery
  • Risk of relapse is present no matter what my profession is
  • Risk of relapse is present even though I feel peaceful and serene
  • Risk of relapse is present even though I eat weighed and measured meals
  • Risk of relapse is present when I do not balance giving support with receiving support
  • My recovery is my responsibility
  • I am a food addict and my disease is insidious
  • Risk of relapse is always present

Coming back into my body, I immediately wanted to immerse myself in the gifts of fully working my program. I picked up the phone, called my sponsor and shared my thinking.

It turned out that Amanda’s simple question was an act of service. Ultimately, it led me to see that “not putting my recovery first” can show up in countless sneaky ways, from thoughts to actions, from willful to unintentional. This not only led me back to the basics but to my deep truth that recovery must come first, no matter what.

– Andrea

See A New You

In December, at the last SHiFT team meeting of the year, Gina presented the idea of “Just January” as the theme. We all loved it but what Amanda said struck a chord deep within me.

“January 1st is always hyped up as ‘New Year, new me’… ,” she said (referring to the diet and fitness industry). Then (and here’s the important part) she said, “ … that just isn’t what SHiFT is about. That isn’t addiction recovery.”


As far back as I can remember, my New Year’s resolutions were always the same. Year after year, I bought into the lie that January 1st was all about finding my resolve and channeling it into the diet and fitness industry. “New Year, new me” meant attaining a new version of my physical self from which I would measure my worth.


I resolved to religiously follow whatever food and exercise program might get me to the magic number on the scale. I resolved to accept whatever physical and / or emotional pain it might cost to finally arrive at the version of myself who deserved all that life had to offer.

On the surface, my reasons for making my resolutions were countless. It’s true that societal standards and social pressures played a part but then there were “real” reasons too.

Reasons like wanting to wear that black dress with the tags still on it…( did I really just buy another dress that only fit for 36 seconds of my my life in a fitting room!?).


Then there were the practical reasons. Certainly I’d attract better partners and have better relationships. In my career, I’d be more successful and more highly respected. And still, more reasons. I told myself when I “get there”, then I will be able to do all of the things I want to do.

But at the most basic, honest level, there was only one reason for the years of resolutions and desire for a “new me”. That reason was shame. Of course, I didn’t know this until I entered recovery…


When I was six years old, I remember my mother took me to a new doctor. I wasn’t exactly sure why, nor was I paying attention to the conversation they were having. The three of us sat in a room and while I was aware of their voices in the background, I was in my own world, entertaining myself in my 6 year old imagination. Suddenly, I heard the doctor’s voice, loud and angry. I heard him say something about wasting his time… “( blah, blah, blah)… she’s just a fat kid!”


This was the first time I’d ever heard the word “fat” used to label a person. Without fully comprehending what this meant for me, my life was forever changed in that moment. Somehow, intuitively, I believed it meant defective.

I’d just been fed my first message of shame.


When I turned to my mother, I saw her eyes lowered. I didn’t understand it but I watched her beautiful face crumple in pain with silent tears. She took my hand, whisked me out of the office and I never saw that doctor again.


Through no fault of anyone, a seed of belief was planted in me that day.

So long as I was fat, there was something wrong with me. It didn’t take much for this belief to grow.


In grade 4, in front of the class on pizza day, my teacher said, “ You shouldn’t be allowed pizza, you should be eating salad.”

Message of shame.


In grade 5, my neighbour said, “ You shouldn’t wear shorts because no one should have to see your legs.”

Message of shame.


While at a normal body weight in high school, the guy I liked said he’d take me out if “I ran around the block a few times”.

Message of shame.


As an adult, my then long term partner told me if I put my face on my athletic friend’s body, “I’d never have to work a day in my life.”

Message of shame.


The point I am making here is that from a young age, I was bombarded with messages of shame. I was powerless not to believe them. My pervasive shame around food and weight cultivated the belief that I was inadequate and unworthy. This belief was based entirely on what other people said ( or what I perceived they thought) about my body and food choices.

This belief dictated over 40 years of my life and it is precisely what kept my self worth tied to a number on the scale.


The irony was that even when I reached the magic number on the scale, my perception of myself didn’t change. Before long, I was resolving to reach the next level “new me”. Life didn’t change. The only thing that changed was the number on the scale. By narrowing the scope of my worth to the size of my body, not much else mattered. I could be educated, kind and honest. I could work hard and have financial security. I could be a generous and loving person and yet nothing spoke as loudly about my value as my weight.


My logical mind can’t win a fight with addiction but with patience, love and support, it can win a fight against shame. Exploring the idea that my beliefs had been rooted in messages of shame allowed me to let them go. In time, I built new beliefs that I could trust.


This year, I challenge you to expose your messages of shame for the lies that they are. This year I challenge you not to “become a new you” but rather to “see a new you”. See the you who is (and always has been!) worthy of love. See the you who is deserving of all that life has to offer, starting now, just as you are.


This is what SHiFT is about. This is addiction recovery.



You’re Not Alone

When I sat down to write today, I noticed the common holiday themes circling in my mind. Words and phrases such as “gifts”, “miracles” and “it’s never too late” collided in my brain but nothing flowed from my heart. I could not seem to tap into anything worth translating through my pen onto the paper.

I closed my eyes, got quiet in my mind and placed my hand on my heart.

“You’re not alone” was the message that I heard. I say “heard” but in truth, it was more like a feeling that those words were reverberating through me.  I meditated on this for a moment. While it’s true that physically I was alone, I wasn’t feeling any sense of alone in my soul. This tempted me to question why I had “heard what I felt”.  I thought perhaps I should wait, perhaps there’s something else I’m meant to write about today.  The feeling grew stronger, the message got louder and with that, the words started to flow….


In my posts so far, I’ve been sharing about the holiday challenges I’ve faced, since entering recovery four years ago. Last December, I was very sick with Covid but more than that, I was facing a far greater challenge.  I was drifting into deep spiritual sickness as I steeped in the thought, “I’m all alone”.  This thought created feelings of great despair and fear.

Day after day, unable to lift my head or get out of bed for hours at a time, I’d never felt so afraid.  I had no idea how I would get through this, let alone do so while maintaining my abstinence.


I’ve never been one to ask for help, I’d decided long ago that I wasn’t ever going to rely on anyone or anything outside of myself.

You might think that having Covid would have changed that but in fact what strengthened my resolve even more was that I refused to impose on anyone during the holidays.


Both of my parents had been dealing with health concerns of their own and at this point, my father was still lying in a hospital bed, going on nine weeks now.  My brother was doing all he could to help manage things at my parents’ house, while also managing his own life. I simply could not bring myself to impose added stress upon my family.


Despite all of this, my family and friends assured me “If you need anything, just ask”. With my unwillingness to ask for help, I had not yet discovered the gift in being alone.  And then, my higher power intervened, sending the help that I needed whether I asked for it or not.

Help came in many forms, from deliveries of abstinent home cooked meals to groceries, from joyful videos of my friends’ babies to the support of my sponsor and fellows.  Help came in the form of my recovery program itself, particularly in my ability to see that a power greater than myself appears in many different and unexpected ways. It turned out that the gift in being alone was learning that I’d never really been alone at all.


I opened my mind to the idea that needing help is not weak nor does it make me an imposition. When I surrendered to that, I was able to see my fierce independence with a new perspective.  What I once considered to be my greatest strength was driving my spiritual isolation and keeping my false “I’m all alone” belief alive.


By surrendering this belief, I opened a whole new door in my recovery.  With love and caring, I encourage everyone to close the door on self reliance. It is only by doing so that my recovery is possible and that I carry a message which in my heart, I know to be true.

While our challenges may differ, the message is the same.

“You are not alone”.


With love,


Holiday Magic

I’ve always been one to romanticize “holiday magic”, yet I’d never truly felt it before recovery. Yesterday was one of the best days of my life. It’s hard to describe the overwhelming sense of love and appreciation I felt as I moved through (what appeared to be) an ordinary day. But in part, I put it down to the magic of the season. This feeling first struck me, in the quiet of an empty mall. I saw a beautiful young family, they were taking photos of their toddler who was looking up in wonder, at a glorious display of lights. There was magic in that moment and like a wave, I felt it wash over me. It was only when this family walked away, that I even noticed I was standing in the middle of a gourmet food emporium.

In an effort not to take my food neutrality for granted, I consciously remember that it wasn’t always this way and I recall the measures I took to stay in recovery.


I happen to celebrate Christmas and with each year in recovery, it has brought new and different challenges. Some of which I can now laugh at and some of which have given me a deeper sense of humility. My personal experience of recovery has shown me that no matter how much abstinent time I have, every time there is a “first”, it requires me to explore new levels of planning, surrender and support.


Let’s go back to November 2018. I was approaching my first Christmas in recovery. Still working as a pastry chef in a high end bakery, my first 11 months of abstinence had gone very well. Despite this, deep down I was truly wondering if I could maintain my recovery throughout the month of December.




What was it that was so different about December? Why was December looming over me, casting doubt in my mind and filling me with fear?

My disease was telling me that recovery in December was insurmountable. I mean, thus far, I had maintained my abstinence while navigating such things as travelling, health crises, weddings and everything in between, yet somehow, my addict brain would have me believe that “December is different”.


December was the busiest month of the year, I’d be working long hours on the night shift. With this knowledge, I decided that December was no reason to stray from the key pieces of my program. First, I would arm myself with a plan and next I would commit to following it, one day at a time. I prioritized meal planning. I continued to commit my food (daily) to a sponsor and an accountability partner. I listened to recovery resources during my commute. I added another layer of structure by setting alarms on my phone to ensure that I was eating my meals on time.

I was off to a good start!


Until an unexpected and surprising challenge presented itself….

The daily arrival of Starbucks promotional emails.

(That’s ok, go ahead and do a double take! Thankfully, this is one that I can chuckle at now!).

At the time, it was shocking to me, the range of emotions I felt when I saw “Starbucks” in my inbox. I felt fear mixed with excitement. I felt longing mixed with grief. These emails might as well have been love letters from a long lost ex.

While all of this sounds dramatic I’m sure, perhaps even absurd, it is the very nature of addiction. I had been receiving these emails all year and yet suddenly, day after day, I was

deeply triggered by them and I didn’t know why. In a moment of clarity, I recognized that I was powerless. Powerless over my reaction to those emails and the images inside.


I was in that space of wanting freedom from the torment but not wanting to let go of that which tormented me. Up until this moment, I had always measured and judged my own acts of recovery. Certainly for an act of recovery to have impact, it had to be grand, no?

With one quick click, “unsubscribe”, I learned that no act of recovery is too small.


As I continued through the weeks, I simply didn’t let anything get in the way of putting my recovery first. I heard that there would be a 24 hour “open meeting” running in my community from noon December 24th into the 25th. I kept this in mind, considering I might attend “if I needed it”.


When December 24th arrived, I had worked my last night shift. Exhausted (but peaceful), I was eager for alone time before gathering with family the next day. Sitting in a cozy chair, I settled into the silence and looked out the window to see my most favourite sight. Huge fluffy snowflakes tumbled and swirled, all was beautiful and calm. Suddenly, I cried tears of gratitude, not only for this moment but for my abstinence itself. I felt relief at the thought that I didn’t “need” that 24 hour meeting after all.


Then I experienced one of those magic moments. At a soul level, I felt that I owed my recovery, my very life in fact, to those who had gone before me, who shared their hope and offered support.

I will never forget that first Christmas Eve in recovery. Carrying a spirit of joy and a message of hope, I walked through the door of that 24 hour support meeting. I sat with strangers until the wee hours and shared in the magic, not of the season but of recovery.



It’s The Holiday Season…


Last night, I looked out the window and saw this year‘s first snowflakes falling. They gently floated down against a backdrop of brightly coloured, twinkling lights.

The peace and beauty of this moment was not lost on me, despite my sudden childlike excitement.

Let me assure you, the holidays haven’t always excited me. In fact, it would be accurate to say that while I anticipated the holidays, I experienced extreme highs and lows in emotions. The holidays can be wonderful in many ways but they can also be stressful. For me, this time of year had the potential to elicit powerful feelings, from joyful excitement one minute to painful loneliness the next. This used to catch me off guard. Looking back, it makes perfect sense. My life was driven by the stresses of overwork, overcommitment, people pleasing and above all, the mental prison of active food addiction.

As Amanda would say, ”thoughts lead to feelings, which lead to urges, which lead to actions”. My thoughts included judgement, for “still being single” and having to face another season’s social gatherings on my own. My racing thoughts centred around how I would shop, bake, decorate, wrap and get everything else done while working 16 hours a day. My punishing thoughts revolved around the fact that I’d “wasted another year” and not lost the weight I’d resolved to. Even with that, my brain still managed to simultaneously obsess over bingeing, restricting, food and cravings.

My thoughts created a storm of feelings such as overwhelm, loneliness, shame and insecurity (just to name a few!). My addict brain offered up the promise of comfort, urging me to isolate and indulge in holiday decadence. This inevitably led to action. I acted every time. I didn’t know that it was possible to interrupt that urge and choose a different action. All I knew was “it makes me feel so good”.

“It makes me feel SO GOOD”.

Until, on December 25th, 2017, I found myself sitting alone in a Starbucks. Isolated from my family and friends, incapable of feeling joy, I was grasping to recapture that “ SO GOOD”. I thought I could find it in the sweet, creamy, holiday beverage that I was quietly sobbing into. I wondered, asking myself out loud, “How did I end up here, like this?”

8 days later, on January 2, 2018, I entered residential treatment for my food addiction.

Today I don’t have to wonder how I ended up where I was. Today I know that this is where my untreated food addiction had taken me. It made my life small, it kept me hidden away from loved ones and ultimately extinguished my already dim spiritual light. Fast forward to today and I am grateful to say that I am still abstinent.

Looking back on my first year in recovery, the very idea of abstinence through the holidays made me feel sad, scared and overwhelmed. I remember thinking there was nothing left to celebrate. What would fulfill me without the ability to eat my family’s traditional favourites? What joy could be had without freedom and spontaneity around food?

Then the thought occurred to me that perhaps I’d never really known freedom. Perhaps my obsession with food euphoria had prevented me from meeting with joy in anything else. That thought gave me a feeling of hope. My hope grew to curiosity and urged me to be willing to put my recovery first. Day after day, I saw myself taking action, practicing the foundational pieces of my program, no matter what. I’ll admit, it wasn’t as easy as I may have just made it sound but it was that simple.

With each year of recovery, the holidays have brought new and different challenges, yet somehow, the challenges feel “less challenging”…. (for more on that, you’ll have to stay tuned for my next few posts!).

What I’ve learned is that I can’t trust my food addiction but I can trust my recovery. My recovery doesn’t discriminate based on the calendar or the events taking place around me. My recovery is there for me, every day of the year, it is the key to my freedom. My recovery allows me to experience every range of emotion, eventually leading me back to profound peace and finding joy, even in the snowflakes and twinkling lights of the holiday season.


Andrea Ascione

Professional Food/Accountability Coach

Independence, Dependence & Interdependence


At this time of year, I usually find myself thinking about independence and what it means to me. My recent reflection brought three different aspects of the word to my mind and how each has played – and continues to play – a role in my life.


The three words are Dependence, Independence, and Interdependence. What does each word mean? How do they relate to me, especially with regard to being a food addict? defines the words as:


  • Dependence is defined as “the state of relying on or needing someone or something for aid, support, or the like; an object of reliance or trust.”


  • Independence is defined as “freedom from the control, influence, support, aid, or the like, of others.”


  • Interdependence is defined as “the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other.”


Each of these concepts has played a role in my life as a food addict.   


First, when actively eating addictive foods, I was dependent or relying on particular “somethings” for aid and support. Specific foods, especially sugar and volume, became my Number One Go To! When depressed and in need of support, I turned to food. When sad or lonely, the food was there. When happy and in celebration mode, I turned to food. When afraid, I relied on and trusted that food would make it better. I would go to any lengths to get what I needed to feel better. It satisfied me in ways no one or nothing else ever did. I was dependent upon certain foods and volume to feel any sense of normal. My brain is wired such that certain addictive foods and excess volume worked! It was all I needed.   


During my dieting years, I became quite independent and free from the control, influence, support, and aid of others. I didn’t need anything or anyone beyond my own self. My willpower would triumph over any perceived problem with food. I had periods of great success where my sense of independence, self confidence, and self control grew and grew. The possibility that I was powerless over certain foods was presented a few times but was easily replaced with another bout of self will and self reliance. I don’t need anyone’s help. I have within myself what it takes to win this time. Just put your nose to the ground and stop eating. You can do this, Mary!  You’ve got this! Unfortunately, periods of “controlled eating” grew shorter and shorter.


I remember the pain and despair while dependent on sugar and volume. I remember the pain and despair during years of independence and the freedom of doing it my way.   

If dependence doesn’t work and independence only goes so far, might there be another option? 


What I discovered through years of trying and failing is the vital necessity of interdependence; the quality or condition of being mutually reliant on each other. 


First, I had to be convinced that dependence didn’t work and attempts at being independent resulted in isolation, fear, hopelessness, and relapse. Through professional support for food addiction and being an active member of a Twelve Step program for food, I have been shown how to become interdependent. Others show me how to live with reliance on a Higher Power. I learn how to weigh and measure food to deal with volume addiction. People show me how to pack food for travel. Sponsors model recovery and putting abstinence and recovery first in their lives. I adopted SHiFT’s process of surrender that removes “self” from food decisions. I found someone who “holds” my food plan so that no changes to the plan are made without their (and my sponsor’s) approval. I have weekly sessions with professionals to deal with emotional trauma from the past and situations that arise as I walk through life. 


There is no perfection on this journey. Even though the food is down today, life is still life, and emotional balance sometimes eludes me. I vacillate between being dependent on others for emotional security to being independent and taking care of business all by myself to waking up to the need for an interdependent relationship with others and with God. 


I am grateful to be in a network of support where we are mutually reliant on each other. Others are there for me. I am there for others. There is nothing like it. 


Thanks for listening.