How OA and Zentangle helped me untangle my life


April 16, 2021

How OA and Zentangle helped me untangle my life

I was fortunate to find a sponsor that was not merely extremely kind, patient, and loving – but someone willing to challenge my old beliefs about art and my own creativity!

When I was a child, my parents had discouraged my keen interest in art by advising me it was “a complete waste of time.” Finding that my parents disparaged my artistic pursuits, I put away my meager art supplies, and turned to other things – being the best in school and at work – in the hopes that it would garner me the love I so desperately sought. Sadly, it did not. Instead I developed a bad case of “never enough” that forced me to work my fingers to the bone, but to always feel (no matter how much I did), as if I was a worthless failure.

After years of struggling hopelessly with food and weight, as a last resort, I turned to OA. Being a hard worker and a dedicated student, it didn’t take me long to seek out a sponsor and to start working the steps. In the course of working the steps, my sponsor invited me to do things like “draw a picture of my disease” (which came out looking very much like a creature from the movie, “Gremlins,” with bloodshot eyes and sharp teeth in an extremely large mouth – see below).

Drawing my disease of compulsive eating

As a gift to celebrate my belly-button birthday, my first sponsor gave me a box of crayons and a coloring book. Having heard my 4th Step inventory and observed the pains I went to in order to draw my disease, she knew that I had a love of art, but a deep fear of “not enough-ness” as well.

Though it took a while for me to pick up that coloring book and those crayons, once I did so, I absolutely LOVED it! I found myself coloring in the evenings – the times during which I had typically gone for my sugary/doughy binge foods – and I discovered that the coloring was a great distraction, and a whole lot of fun!

I came to know a friend in the fellowship that did a thing called Zentangle – an art form that was a kind of meditative doodling that has patterns, or tangles, put together to form a “Zen-tangle.” I loved some of her beautiful Zentangles, so I decided to give it a try.

Below is my very first attempt at this art form – while not exactly beautiful, I did find it extremely relaxing and a whole lot of fun, and I got to use my glitter gel pens in the process (yet another gift from an insightful OA friend).

My 1st zentangle in OA recovery

Upon deciding that this was something that I really wanted to try, I bought a book and started to try my hand at various interesting patterns and unusual designs.

Hearts, flowers, and trees became my earliest attempts – and I found that it was truly fun, and that, in the process of getting creative and no longer questioning whether or not this was a “time waster,” I came to feel a new sense of freedom from the food that had, until then, seemed elusive. Abstinence stopped being about “white knuckling” it, and became about trusting in my Higher Power and exploring my newfound creative outlet!

hearts and flowers zentangle in OA recovery   Hearts and tree zentangle in OA recovery

The more that I allowed myself to simply enjoy the process of “creating art,” the more I felt free from the food, and the greater the serenity within myself. It was as if that little girl that had once been me, was finally allowed out to play and enjoy herself – without any criticism! I started to see that my Higher Power was doing for me what I could not do for myself!

As my confidence grew and my fear fell away, I came to do more complex designs. I actually chose to try my hand at drawing a Jackson Chameleon – a reptile that was once a beloved pet of mine. And I created a big heart that I enjoyed so much that I decided to dedicate it to my inner child – the little girl that never felt enough – and I let her know that I loved her dearly in the process!

Jackson chameleon zentangle in OA recovery   Loving myself zentangle in OA recovery

Although all my early Zentangles had been without color, I decided to give adding some color to my designs a try! I first began with just one color – a piece with just black and red ink. Then I followed that with what I called my “Zentangle Goddess” that was full of color and far greater playfulness.

Adding red zentangle in recovery  Zentangle goddess in OA recovery

Over time, my Zentangle art has evolved and taken on new dimensions, becoming more and more expressive, and more and more about the things I love. Given that I think of OA as a village of loving people, I had to create a Zentangle that depicted that loving village. One of my most recent creations is a fantastical Sun full of tiny patterns and colors that represent for me all the art that is now bursting forth, free to express itself – and loving every moment of the creative process as I find it brings me closer to my Higher Power. Although it feels somewhat scary to reveal my completely amateur art skills to the online world, it also feels freeing to share what I was so afraid to reveal – the little girl inside who loves to come out and play so she no longer has to stuff her feelings with food.

Zentangle village in OA recovery   Zentangle sun in OA recovery

Today, the food no longer calls me, as it once did. I have come to experience what we refer to in the program as “food neutrality.” I know what is “my food” to eat, and I know what is “not my food” – and those foods do not call me by name, as they once did.

Although I will never be cured, I am experiencing that daily reprieve that is spoken about in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous – our textbooks for recovery. And I know that I can continue to enjoy that daily reprieve so long as I make sure to keep myself in fit spiritual condition. This I do by attending meetings regularly, reading OA literature, working the steps, praying and meditating, journaling, making outreach calls, talking to my sponsor, and working with others. Love and service has become my motto!

There is no doubt in my mind that my Higher Power is with me today, urging me to remain creative and open to following this program of recovery that has freed me from living a life of endless pain and “not enough-ness” inside a body that was suffering from an excess of weight – nearly 100 pounds – that have since been released.

When I came to OA, I saw it as the very last house on the block – there was nowhere else for me to turn as I had truly run out of options. Since then, I have come to call the program “home,” and all the people in it “my tribe.”

Thank you, Higher Power – and thank you, Overeaters Anonymous!

By Francine in Willow Glen

Do you have art that is living within you that needs to come out into the light of day to celebrate your recovery in OA?

Please send your recovery art to  We look forward to hearing from you and to sharing your story of experience, strength and hope with others on this amazing journey of OA recovery from compulsive eating through the Twelve Steps.