What Are You Waiting For? Author Kristen Moeller Dispenses Recovery Advice
She managed to get and stay sober after suffering eating disorders, hard partying and after losing her home in a fire that killed three. Now she wants to share her story.
Kristen Moeller is a successful radio personality, TEDx speaker and author. She’s also been free of her eating disorder, alcohol and drug addiction for nearly 25 years, but it was hardly an easy road to get there. The divorce of her parents and subsequent move to an affluent, image-conscious community sparked a crippling eating disorder that was combined with a hard-partying lifestyle that began in her teen years. But after two rehab stints, Moeller found the beauty in her imperfections and even went back to school to help others do the same.
She’s now telling her story in her new book What Are You Waiting For? Learn How to Rise to the Occasion Of Your Life. In her exclusive interview with The Fix, Moeller talks about how she stayed sober after a recent fire that destroyed her home, dating in recovery and how one becomes fully “recovered” from an addiction.
When did your drug use first begin?
I started experimenting pretty young, but began using more heavily when I was a junior in high school. My parents divorced and my mom moved to Florida, so I went back and forth between there and Massachusetts a couple of times. I had a lot of insecurity and low self-esteem. I felt that I had trouble fitting in and the people I gravitated towards also had access to drugs, so I was in my fancy private school doing cocaine at lunch and we had our own dealer. I had a fake ID, so we were drinking at lunch breaks as well.
Did your eating disorder first begin in high school or did that start later in life?
As a junior in high school, I made the irrational decision that I needed to lose weight. Going from my public school in rural Massachusetts to a private school in Fort Lauderdale was a huge shift because everything was suddenly very image and money conscious. I felt I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, or smart enough - and then decided I wasn’t thin enough. I went on a starvation diet which basically consisted of just fruit and vegetables, and was also running cross country.
Then one day, I got the flu and started throwing up. When I got on the scale five days later and saw that I had lost weight, something clicked inside. And that’s how I ultimately switched from starvation to binge eating.
Did you know that you had a problem or did you see the behavior as normal?
I knew it was a problem when I realized that I couldn’t stop doing the behavior. My drug abuse was more social and about partying, but the eating disorder was something I was ashamed of and kept hidden. I managed to keep my eating disorder a secret even while partying my way through college. I had reached out for help and was seeing a therapist, I was stuck in a cycle of continually trying to stop my bulimia, then returning to starvation by eating as little as possible and over-exercising.
Then one day in 1987, I smoked a bunch of pot and had a seizure. My roommate called my parents and they did an intervention, basically telling me I could go to rehab immediately or finish out the school year and then go. But either way, I was going to rehab.
What was the experience of being in rehab like for you that first time?
The first rehab I went to in ’87 was a wonderful facility and program, but was solely for eating disorders and didn’t address the drug and alcohol addiction part. I learned basic things like how to get in touch with my emotions and be assertive, but I returned to college without a solid treatment plan in place. Things were initially better because my mother got into recovery herself and started going to 12-Step programs, and a close friend also identified as an alcoholic and was trying to stop drinking. I would go to meetings with them and feel a sense of peace there, but it would disappear once I left.
Could you already tell at that point that something wasn’t fully right?
Yes. I knew I was in trouble but didn’t know how to stop my destructive behaviors. Pretty soon after returning to college, I stopped going to meetings after getting into a very unhealthy relationship with my “dream guy” as I was still seeking things outside of myself to try and feel better. And it took me five years to get through college because I would get stoned before tests and was struggling with anxiety in general. I had no idea about what I would do for a job after graduating and became overwhelmed and bottomed out. My mom, dad and therapist did another intervention and I went to a 12- Step based rehab in 1989.
I wasn’t actively suicidal at that time, but I didn’t want to live and felt worthless and trapped in the way that many addicts feel. It’s what led me to choosing recovery. The way I approached difficult situations wasn’t overnight by any means, but I was blessed with the gift of being willing to say yes and having hope that something else was possible. And, I kept saying yes and putting one foot in front of the other. My recovery began in September of 1989 and I went back to school the following year to get a Masters degree in Psychology and work in the field of mental health.
In doing that, I found my own recovery and something that I cared about. It showed me that there’s beauty in imperfection. If we take the proper action and step into our recovery, the gifts will come.
When you were working with people who had eating disorders, was it triggering or upsetting to see people making the same choices that you once had?
It wasn’t triggering as far as my own tendencies, but it was devastatingly sad to see people return to their own addiction. At age 23, I was given a new lease on life. I had a chance and gave it my all, and ultimately saw that there was a real way out. I was fortunate to go as far down as I did with my eating disorder because I had the gift of desperation propelling me forward. I now have what would be considered a normal female body image. It’s not something I think about anymore. But when I worked with people who had eating disorders, I would see the light come on in their eyes and then they would do something to sabotage their progress. Sometimes the light would never come on.
I now do service work in my 12 Step programs instead of working as a professional in the field. I now work with another group of neurotic people called authors [Laughs].
You’ve talked about being fully recovered from your eating disorder, but others see their addiction as a daily process for years or sometimes decades. How does one get to the point of being recovered?
I think it’s case-by-case. This is my 25th year coming up, but I think that if you’re still struggling and white knuckling after more than 20 years, you’re not doing recovery in some shape or form. The reason 12-Step programs are so helpful is because at this point, my involvement in them isn’t about not drinking or not using anymore. It’s figuring out how I can be of service to others and live my life with freedom.
A perfect example is the fire that happened two years ago. We still have a claim against the state of Colorado and even though I surround myself with recovery people, feelings of fear and being overwhelmed definitely came up. I went through all this paperwork related to the claim this morning and it put me in a depressed, anxious space. But even in talking with you today about recovery, it got me out of myself and allowed me to think about the solutions to the problem.
Your husband is in recovery as well. How was that a contributing factor to your own progress?
My husband and I met in the rooms of recovery, which I’m so thankful for. Being with someone who wasn’t in recovery would have been dangerous for me, so I admire those who stay in their recovery while in relationships with people that aren’t. If someone had liquor or a bottle of pills in the house, it would be on my mind a lot more. Because it’s not around me and I would have to go out of my way to get something, it’s considerably easier. If only one person is in recovery in a relationship, I would work out some kind of agreement that either the house is completely clean or there are limits for it.
What advice would you give to people who are looking to continue forward in beating their addictions?
The biggest thing is who you surround yourself with. I gravitate towards people who are doing some form of transformational work and self care, regardless of whether or not they are in recovery. Find people who are living healthy lifestyles. Adopt practices to get you out of yourself. Find people with whom you can share your darkest worries and fears - whether it’s a therapist or a 12-Step sponsor, because the brains of people in recovery do not process like other people’s – we are wired differently. As my sponsor says, “we have an exaggerated form of the human condition.” For me, writing after the fire helped me tremendously. Other people were able to move on after it happened, but I had the weight of the world on my shoulders and that’s an addict-type personality. But after blogging over 100,000 words after the fire, I can say my writing absolutely helped me get through it.
Also, having a spiritual connection where you can tap into something bigger than yourself in order to get meaning is also important. Even something as simple as practicing gratitude is helpful. My sponsor recently recommended I keep a gratitude journal. Every day, I write down little things that happened during the day that made me stop and appreciate my life. Even if I see something like a smile from a stranger and have that moment of connection with another human, I put it into a journal. Just looking for the beauty of the world can shift your perspective.
McCarton Ackerman last interviewed acrobat/author Joe Putignano.