January 5, 2022
More and more, with each passing year, I count the many blessings that have come from working the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous. Today, deep in my heart, I can really FEEL the experience of “my cup runneth over.” This feeling doesn’t come from an overflow of food (as once was the case), but from the happiness I have found in this gift of abstinence and in the joy of living free from the bondage of self.
This happiness, joy, and freedom came directly from having worked the Twelve Steps and then experiencing a spiritual awakening as “the result” of working those steps with all the earnestness at my command. By earnestly working them, one step at a time, they truly worked on me, allowing me to live as a whole and complete person – not someone “forever hungry” yet always feeling “empty” or “not enough!”
I am reminded by my sponsor, and by those with long-term recovery, that this is a one-day-at-a-time program. I only get a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition – so I am focusing on my relationship with my Higher Power, and on being of love and service to my fellows. This keeps me moving in the right direction – forward – rather than backwards, into my old behaviors.
The alternative to living on life’s terms, and being where my feet are (living in this moment), is to live as I once did, obsessed about my binge foods, which I now view as a fate worse than death! I was, indeed, eating myself to death! Yet, thanks to OA, I am living with an experience of food neutrality – I know what is “my food,” and “what is not my food,” and the crazy cravings for the food that were killing me have been removed.
Thanks to OA, I’m no longer living to eat, but rather eating to live – which looks like three whole and healthy meals a day (free of sugar and junk) and nothing in-between – trusting that my Higher Power has plans for my life that do not include obesity, poor mental and physical health, or limited mobility.
At the advice of wise sponsors and my fellows within OA, I am focused on a growing commitment to recovery from compulsive eating. This new year is no different than the last 4. It is a year I honor and respect my recovery and that I keep to my list of “green-light foods” (the foods I can eat healthily), entirely avoiding those on my “red-light list” (the foods that trigger my physical allergy and the mental obsession that lead me into insane eating). And, I’ve learned to choose carefully, if at all, from among my yellow-light foods (i.e. those foods that may require that I proceed with caution). These are the “extras” I can choose from, but only when I feel spiritually fit to do so!
I was a very low bottom compulsive eater. Though not always fat, I struggled a great deal with my weight. It went up and down like a yo-yo! In high school I had a tough period during which I nearly starved myself by restricting my calorie intake to no more than 500 calories. Sadly, out of a fear of becoming fat, I begin to practice bulimic behavior (bingeing and purging, and abusing laxatives and diuretics) until, in 1991, I was referred by a therapist to OA. What a relief it was to find a solution to my problem. And to also find people who truly understood me with a sincere desire to help, because in doing so, it also helped them to recover! Together, we really do get better!
Regrettably, by early 2017, my eating disorder had ignited, yet again, and gotten entirely out of control. Without OA, I swiftly became morbidly obesity. I struggled mightily with binge eating disorder (BED), forever trying to hide my poor eating behaviors (or to only engage in them away from home, or late at night, when no one else was awake). By that point, I was living in constant fear of being “caught,” yet desperately hoping I would be, so that I might be stopped. My large and lumbering body clearly bore the evidence (and health consequences) of my active disease. When you are 100 pounds overweight (and continually dressing in black to hide your size), no one needs to guess at what your problems might be – food is CLEARLY an issue!
Years of therapy, mental health meds, workshops, classes, diet clubs, gym memberships, and dreams of having the next diet be the one that would magically make me thin…all of his insanity returned to me after I left OA, even though I KNEW, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I was a compulsive eater!
Having initially found OA in 1991 (and then having lived abstinently for nearly 7 years), I had known real recovery, but I had stubbornly (and foolishly) come to turn my back on OA. I thought I could do it on my own. I was in other Twelve Step programs, thinking that they would be enough to carry me along. WRONG! My core addiction is food, so how could another Twelve Step program that did NOT deal with food ever fit the bill? So I wound up seeking yet another diet and exercise program. And all to no avail!
Food is NOT the problem! Food (and more food) was my solution. It just had stopped working (long ago). Food could never begin to “fix” my feelings, or arrest my crazy thoughts. My thinking was the real problem. But to address that, I first had to admit that I had a problem. I had to admit to Step Zero – that I was NOT well!
Upon admitting that there was a problem, I could then begin to source a solution. And I found that solution in “complete surrender” to the first step: my own utter powerlessness and health-defying unmanageability around food!
Once I could admit to my own powerlessness, and to the total unmanageability of my life (at least where food was concerned), I could then begin to see that I needed a power greater than myself to restore me to sanity. Upon seeking that Power, and turning my will and my life over to that which I sought for my own Higher Power (unlimited love, abundant availability, and infinite possibilities for my health, happiness and healing), I came to find the strength and courage I needed. I came to admit to my innermost self my complete weakness. This was my surrender moment.
From weakness, I found strength. And it grew my program of recovery, built upon working the Twelve Steps, and leaning into a Power greater than myself (along with a wise sponsor and a loving fellowship) for help!
It’s an entirely new year, and I have lots of changes that are taking place in my now full and active life. Is change scary? YOU BET IT IS! Sometimes, it is the last thing I want to do! And yet, I know that I need to continue to grow and change if I wish to continue to receive the gifts that come from that growth and change.
Abstinence is a gift – an AMAZING gift! It is one that I cannot begin to explain and yet one that I cannot imagine living without now that I know the freedom that comes from abstinence. I gave up sugar, chocolate, grains, potatoes, carbonation, and all processed foods. What did I gain in return? A freedom and a happiness beyond measure. Those foods were KILLING me! And yet, until OA (where I came to find a Higher Power of my own definition), I could not seem to put my trigger foods down.
Once I sought (and surrendered to) a God of my own understanding for help – it was at that very moment that I found myself capable of walking away from the food. I had discovered the gift of desperation: my first G.O.D. Of my own power, I cannot do much. But empowered by a God of my own understanding, and with the loving support of a sponsor and an amazing fellowship, there is so much more that I can (and have) done!
There is a world, an entire life, beyond the food! There are people, places, and things I never imagined I would come to know or experience. And yet, here they are – all part of my life in recovery. And so, I look forward to stepping into this New Year, and into whatever new experiences and situations that my Higher Power has in store for me.
Am I afraid? Yes. Sometimes, it feels scary. But it is also entirely WONDERFUL at the same time!
Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t despise what I see. Instead, I smile, and I reflect upon the gracefully aging woman before me, wondering how she managed to peek out from beneath all that excess weight, misery, and self-loathing. She was granted the courage and strength to move beyond her fears, her failings, and her fat. What a miracle that has been!
What I am finding now is that I am getting to know, to like, and even to love this person that I am becoming. I’m far from perfect, but perfection is NOT the goal. Loving acceptance and gentle appreciation is my new aim. And, for the most part, things are going quite well along those lines. I can see that I am so much more than my body. And, I can see that even in my 60s, I have so much more life to live (and more to give) than I ever thought possible.
Overeaters Anonymous is not just a program of recovery from compulsive eating. It is a life worth living! Thank you, OA! Thank you for helping me find the life I had only ever dreamed of, and the ability to love and accept myself, exactly as I am!
– Francine, Grateful member of OA, San Jose, CA