Grief Triggered Compulsive Eating? OA is the Answer!


May 1, 2024

Grief Triggered Compulsive Eating? OA is the Answer!

I know we don’t talk about it a lot at meeting level, but “grief” is a thing that has served as a trigger for a large amount of my compulsivity around food. In fact, I suspect it was a primary underlying cause for my food addiction and disordered eating.

Like some of us in the rooms of OA, I had a particularly challenging childhood and young adulthood, filled with some things no child, let alone an adult, should ever need to endure. These painful and trauma-triggering events were things I had kept entirely to myself. In fact, I had never spoken about these things until my (then) husband’s company offered up free counseling through an employee assistance program (EAP). This EAP afforded me first-time access to a skillful counselor who wisely referred me to OA for additional help and support.

I wasn’t sure what OA might have to offer, but I took the chance and went to my first meeting. What I found within OA was hugely surprising! I found there were people just like me – people who struggled to control their obsessions with food and other compulsive, food-related behaviors (like restricting, bulimia, compulsive exercise, and other similarly unhealthy compulsions), and folks, who suffered with head hunger or emotional eating, just as I did. They, like me, ate compulsively (and many of the same sugary, high-fat foods) because of sadness, anxiety, despair, emotional losses, the deaths of beloved pets or people, and fear of greater losses, and an endless sea of never-ending grief!

Until that point, I had kept all the events, losses, and adverse experiences of my personal life locked deep within me. My greatest fear was that if I even attempted to speak about those heinous or devastating moments of my life that I would burst into uncontrollable shaking and a sea of tears that would simply never end!

In OA I learned that we are all only as sick as our secrets. Boy, I must be SUPER sick given all the secrets I had buried down deep within me! It felt overwhelming when my sponsor asked me to start working on my searching and fearless moral inventory – the Fourth Step. My sponsor pointed out the 4th Step worksheets and asked me to sit down and write out my responses.

Yee gads! How could she ever expect me to write about the sexual abuse and my loss of innocence, the awful moments of violence I had witnessed and endured, the sudden deaths of people I loved, the killing of my beloved dog, the tremendous upheavals and emotional overwhelm of many years past, and the multitude of unvoiced losses and painful moments that had made up my life until then? It simply felt too much and far too volatile to go it alone!

Consequently, I sought outside help from that very same counselor who had referred me to OA. This is said to be a “we” program of recovery, and my sponsor said some of us needed to work harder than others at growing our “we” – the people who we could count upon to have our backs and to support us as we faced our worst fears and deep sorrows.

My “we” came to include my very loving and supportive sponsor, my therapist, my Higher Power (the “God” of my understanding) and a few of my closest fellows who had shared similar experiences to my own when they were young. I found a kinship in OA that I never knew was possible. And although I had once eaten compulsively because of anything, everything, and nothing, I soon came to know a life of abstinence and food neutrality within OA. This meant that I was able to remain abstinent from my trigger foods regardless of anything, everything, and nothing!

I did, however, need to learn to grieve and begin to release and express all those long-buried emotions I had previously eaten over so as to stuff down the bad feelings or to numb-out my pain. Wow, what a concept! That feelings wanted out, not in!

With the aid of my sponsor and my therapist, I learned how to unlock feelings that had long been buried. The loss of my innocence to a sick family member. The loss of my best friend to suicide. The death of my beloved grandmother who helped to raise me. The passing of my beloved German Shepherd at the hands of a cruel neighbor. The awful miscarriage of a longed-for child. The end of my first marriage (that had been filled with so many lies and deceptions). All these painful losses, difficult moments, challenging life lessons, and so much more, had to be pulled out of the shadows so all those awful, buried feelings (that I stuffed down or numbed out with food) could be properly expressed, addressed, and then healed.

It was through a combination of grief counseling, trauma counseling, and in-depth step work that I came to find profoundly deep healing and a peace of mind that I had never before dreamed possible. During my darkest bouts of grief, I was fortunate to have my sponsor, my therapist, my Higher Power, and some very dear friends I made in the OA fellowship who helped me process all that I had uncovered. When I felt that awful sense of a loss of control, people reminded me I had some things I could choose for myself. I could choose to go to a meeting, choose to have a cup of tea, choose to write a gratitude list, I could allow myself time to cry or to feel anger, or to simply take a walk and notice that I am still among the living – and it was worth it.

Things like a miscarriage, the betrayal of my first husband, and the suicide of my best childhood friend – these are things no one should ever be asked to endure. And yet, many of us have suffered similar losses, and some of us have experienced far worse. This isn’t something up for judgment or comparison. Rather, we need to treat ourselves, and one another, with utmost compassion and empathy, kindness and courage. As OA often reminds us, it is in isolation that our disease controls us and sets us on a path of “apart from” rather than affording us the opportunity to be “a part of.” Remember, together we get better!

Although it may not happen right away, we can, and we do, get up out of bed every morning, and come to know days that are more sunshine than sorrow. We must make the time to grieve and acknowledge our losses, so we can find the strength and courage to make it through another day.

When I think about the sexual abuse and the violence perpetrated upon my younger self, I grieve for her! But I also have come to find that today, I can celebrate her courage and her willingness to walk through another day to find the strength and the means to heal and move forward in life.

My Higher Power is unconditional love, so I have learned that I haven’t had my best day yet – there is more good to come! And that “good” can also happen – even in the midst of some of the bad! I’m blessed to have been able to find joy once again, and to be able to now believe that love still abides!

Grief and experiences of great loss are part of the human condition. And although pain may be inevitable, suffering is optional! Rumi, a 13th Century poet and mystic wrote, “Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?” Thanks to OA, I’m blessed to be able to see that open door and to walk my way through it and out into life once again!

Today, I am choosing freedom from the bondage of self, freedom from my compulsive eating, and freedom from my sorrows of the past. Now after having worked the Twelve Steps with a loving and supportive sponsor, I am choosing to live my life happy, joyous, and free, one day at a time. Thank you, OA!

– An Especially Grateful Member of OA