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For years I tried to drink and eat anesthetized myself. The numbness almost killed me

At 42, I believed that my food and alcohol addiction defined me. In my mirror I would always be as I saw myself then: fat and drunk. I was over the hill and past the point of any meaningful change. Who is really starting over at my age? I had clearly missed the opportunity to be one of those healthy, observant people I mocked on Instagram. I was who I was: destined to stay in those cycles of dependence and be unhappy, disaffected and stuck. Then disaster struck.

The pandemic started as a drunken month of worsening depression, but since then I have stopped drinking, started running and lost 7th (44 kg) weight. I am in the best mental shape of my life. As it turned out, booze — and a million social and work appointments — obscured how unhappy I had become with myself and my life. I hid from spending time alone or thinking about who I’d become: someone who regularly drank two bottles of wine a day, was medically obese, and hadn’t exercised in four years.

From the outside, the life I’d built as a writer and events manager in London looked glamorous and cosmopolitan. But it was all tits and teeth. Inside I was grieving and trying to numb and eat myself. My mother had passed away in 2018 after a six-year illness with cancer, and I had hit rock bottom for three years and experienced very little joy. The numbness almost killed me.

Lockdown, however, imposed the loneliness from which I had fled. Of course I tried to avoid it by using 10 liter boxes (yes, plural) of rosé. Then I got sick with shingles. I was terrified that it was Covid and that I would die in this state.

So I took the opportunity of the pubs shutting down to end my lifelong relationship with booze. This led to huge changes. Five months later, I tackled the Couch to 5K program. On October 15, 2020, I took the plunge and joined a cognitive behavioral therapy and calorie-controlled weight loss app. My original goal was to lose enough to get to a normal BMI for the first time in my adult life. I’ve had size extra-large since I was 18. I didn’t know anything else, so I didn’t try to regain a perfect figure from my childhood. But in the end I lost enough to place me in the middle of the healthy weight class.

It wasn’t all easy; in fact it was a daily struggle. I had to make decisions every day. To go outside. To avoid Deliveroo. To sit with my grief, instead of wallowing in it. To sit by myself. To do 20,000 steps. To make soup. Dancing. To cry. To feel. To get therapy.

Over the course of the year of my transformation, I ended my eight-year relationship with a man I loved, and still love, but had grown apart from. I went on my honeymoon to the Maldives alone and came back to London with a new outlook.

Then, within a month of returning to London, Sarah Everard went missing. I watched, along with the rest of the country, hoping she would be found. As a single woman, living alone during Covid restrictions, I was furious when I learned that the police were telling women that the only way to stay safe when they were alone was to stay in their own house.

Wasn’t I supposed to get groceries in case the delivery person was dangerous? Should I avoid taxis? I’d tweeted that we were devastated for Sarah’s family and that, as city women, we deserved the right to walk home. The tweet exploded. So I tweeted that I would be hosting a vigil and I was put in touch with a group of women who were doing the same. Retake these streets was born.

‘The women I’ve worked with are incredible’… Jamie Klingler speaks in March after Sarah Everard’s vigil at Clapham Common, in south-west London. Photo: Aaron Chown/PA

Many readers will know what happened next. We had planned a vigil in Sarah’s honor, but the police forbade us to gather, even though a police officer on duty was suspected – and later convicted – of murdering her. We raised a legal fund and sued the Metropolitan Police for our human right to protest. We went to the Supreme Court the day before the vigil and were told we could protest within the parameters set by the police, but the police refused to set those parameters. They threatened us, as organizers, with £10,000 each in fines and prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.

We have decided that instead of wasting our money on such fines, collect money to serve the people who needed it. Many people attended the vigil anyway – and the police mistreated those in attendance and arrested four.

The days that followed were some of the most intense, emotional and rewarding of my life. The women I worked with were and are incredible. On March 19, we donated the £526,000 we raised to Rosa, a women’s and girls’ funding group, and Stand With Us Fund.

I wouldn’t have had the emotional capacity or stamina to do the job if I was still drinking. I wouldn’t have had the space or the courage to push myself forward if I hadn’t been in the best mental and physical place in my life. Raising my hand to be counted and standing up for the safety of all of us was only possible because I felt strong, confident and clear-headed. I did over 70 radio and television interviews that week. It was exhausting, but together with my amazing cohorts in Reclaim, we changed the conversations about women’s safety in the UK and the world.

The work continues. In January we are back in the Supreme Court to try our human right to protest, regardless of lockdown restrictions, advocated in law. We have become a women’s safety campaign group and are offering consent workshops with the social enterprise Shout Out UK. We are working on legislation and education reforms for women’s safety.

In June, I went home to Philadelphia for the first time in three years. But I went back a changed woman; I had discovered who I was. I don’t believe that everyone has to burn their lives to the ground to start over. But by making small changes and addressing dependency issues, you can unleash happiness you thought was no longer possible.

It’s not just about avoiding snacks or a second glass of wine. What really changed my relationship with food and my body was cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). A daily pile of decisions, starting with a sports bra on a doorknob every day, has left my old lifestyle unrecognizable. But the most revolutionary change is that I now want to spend time in my own business (well, with my dog, McNulty).

After a full MOT on my body recently, I learned I had added a decade to my life expectancy. My metabolic age was 49 in October 2020. It is now 39. I am Benjamin Buttoning my life. I still miss my mother every day – the sadness is still there – but it is compensated by so much more. I still have work to do, but the results of the work I’ve done make getting up so much easier than I ever thought possible.

You can contact Mind mental health charity on 0300 123 3393 or by visiting mind.org.uk