AAt 42, I believed my food and alcohol addictions defined me. In my mirror, I would always be as I saw myself then: fat and drunk. I was over the hill and passed the point of any significant change. Who, at my age, really does it again? I had clearly missed the opportunity to be one of those healthy, mindful people I laughed at on Instagram. I was who I was: destined to stay in those cycles of addiction and be miserable and unhappy and stuck. Then disaster struck.

The pandemic started out as a drunken month of worsening depression, but I have since quit drinking, started running and lost 7th place (44 kg). I am in the best mental shape of my life. It turns out that alcohol – and a million social and work commitments – masked how unhappy I had become with myself and my life. I hid from spending time alone or thinking about who I had become: someone who regularly drank two bottles of wine a day, was medically obese, and had not exercised for four years.

From the outside, the life I had built as a writer and event manager in London seemed glamorous and cosmopolitan. But it was only breasts and teeth. Inside, I was in mourning and trying to drink and eat numb. My mother had passed away in 2018 after a six-year illness with cancer, and I had spent three years looking for the bottom and experiencing very little joy. The numbness almost killed me.

The confinement, however, imposed the loneliness I had fled. Of course, I tried to avoid it by using 10 liter (yes, plural) cartons of rosé. Then I got sick with shingles. I was afraid it was Covid and that I was going to die in this state.

So I took advantage of the closure of the pubs to end my long-standing relationship with alcohol. This has led to huge changes. Five months later, I took on the Couch to 5K program. Then on October 15, 2020, I took the plunge and joined a Calorie Controlled Weight Loss and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy application. My initial goal was to lose enough to put myself in a normal BMI for the first time in my adult life. I had been doing the extra-large size since I was 18. I didn’t know anything else, so I wasn’t trying to regain a perfect figure from my youth. But I ended up losing enough to put myself in the middle of the healthy weight range.

None of this was easy; in fact, it was a daily battle. I had to make decisions every day. To go out. To avoid Deliveroo. Sit with my grief, rather than wallow in it. Sit down with myself. Take 20,000 steps. To make soup. To dance. Cry. Feel. To go to therapy.

In the year of my transformation, I ended my eight year relationship with a man I loved and still love, but from whom I had moved away. I went on a solo honeymoon to the Maldives and came back to London with a new perspective.

Then, less than a month after returning to London, Sarah Everard disappeared. I, along with the rest of the country, looked at her and hoped she would be found. As a single woman, living alone during Covid restrictions, I was furious when I heard police telling women that the only way to stay safe when they were alone was to stay home.

Wasn’t I supposed to shop for groceries in case the delivery guy was unsafe? Should I avoid taxis? I had tweeted that I was devastated for Sarah’s family and that as urban women we deserved the right to walk home. The tweet exploded. So I tweeted that I was going to have a vigil and was put in touch with a group of women who were doing the same. Reclaim these streets was born.

“The women I have worked with are amazing” … Jamie Klingler speaks after the vigil for Sarah Everard at Clapham Common, southwest London, in March. Photograph: 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 assemble, even though a policeman on duty was suspected – and later convicted – of murdering her. We raised a legal fund and sued the Metropolitan Police for our right to protest. We went to the high court the day before the vigil and were told that we were allowed to protest within the limits set by the police, but the police refused to set parameters. They threatened us as organizers with £ 10,000 each in fines and prosecution under the Serious Crimes Act.

We decided that instead of wasting our money on such penalties, we to collect funds to serve the people who needed it. Lots of people attended the vigil anyway – and the police manhandled the assistants and arrested four of them.

The days that followed were some of the most intense, moving and rewarding of my life. The women I worked with were, and are, amazing. On March 19th, we donated the £ 526,000 we raised to Rosa, a fundraising group for women and girls, and created the Stand With Us Fund.

I wouldn’t have had the emotional capacity or stamina to do the job if I had been drinking again. I wouldn’t have had the free space or the courage to put myself forward if I hadn’t been in the best mental and physical place of 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 and confident and had a clear mind. I have done over 70 radio and television interviews during this week. It was exhausting, but, with my amazing cohorts in Reclaim, we changed the conversations about women’s safety in the UK and around the world.

The work continues. In January we will be back in the high court trying to assert our fundamental right to protest, regardless of the lockdown restrictions, in law. We have become a campaign group for women’s safety and are offer consent workshops with the social enterprise Shout Out UK. We are working on legislative and educational reforms for the safety of women.

In June, I returned home to Philadelphia for the first time in three years. But I came back a changed woman; I had discovered who I was. I don’t think everyone needs to burn their life to start over. But making small changes and solving addiction issues can trigger happiness you never thought possible.

It’s not just about avoiding snacks or a second glass of wine. What has really changed my relationship with food and my body is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). A pile of everyday decisions, starting with a sports bra on an everyday doorknob, made my old lifestyle unrecognizable. But the most revolutionary change is that I now want to spend time in my own company (well, with my dog, McNulty).

After a complete technical check on my body recently, I learned that I had added a decade to my life expectancy. My metabolic age was 49 in October 2020. It is now 39 years old. I am Benjamin Buttoning my life. I still miss my mom on a daily basis – the grief is still there – but it is counterbalanced by so much more. I still have work to do, but the results of the work I have done make it much easier for me to get up than I thought possible.

The Mind Mental Health Charity can be contacted on 0300 123 3393 or by visiting esprit.org.uk