December 24, 2021
Saturday (9/11/21) was the 20th Anniversary of four coordinated terrorist attacks by the militant Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States of America on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I spent much of that particular weekend reading about that day’s infamous events and watching a very detailed (and amazingly thorough) documentary that used actual film footage from 9/11, and which featured vignettes by individuals impacted that reflected both their deep heartache and their amazing heroism.
Consequently, I found myself crying a great deal and feeling a wide range of emotions. Not wanting to turn to food, instead, I decided to write in my journal, attend OA meetings, pray a great deal, meditate several times, and speak with trusted members of my fellowship who I knew would understand. These actions kept me out of the foods that used to call me by name, and that will steal away my precious abstinence, if I’m not paying attention and doing what is needed to seek my Higher Power. By turning to the tools of recovery (instead of food), I discovered a phenomenal amount of compassion, kindness, love, and understanding which is what I truly needed. Thank you, Higher Power – and thank you, OA!
Feeling My Feelings Instead of Turning to Food
This was a very profound experience for me! It was as if I was only – just in that very moment – experiencing the full impact and wide range of emotions and feelings from 9/11, and the life that unfolded after it. Back in 2001, when the horrible events of 9/11 transpired, I was all too busy and deeply consumed by my disease (of compulsive dieting, restricting, excessive exercise, and deep denial), to actually “feel” the immense feelings that (more than likely) would have overwhelmed me at that particular time in my life.
Back then, things were not easy. I was, once again in my adult life, without a partner (because another marriage had failed). I was living life as a struggling single Mom and sole support for my 13-year-old son (who, as a young, impressionable teen, was rightfully confused and frightened by the evolving events). It was not the best of times to begin with, so the US attacks on 9/11 felt extremely frightening, and only added to an already heavy emotional and financial load.
Almost exactly one year prior, I had gone through a devastating miscarriage. This tragic event was promptly followed by an unhappy divorce from the father of that unborn child, which, in retrospect, was a very good thing. At that time, however, it was perceived as a harsh and painful life event (especially, given I had already gone through a previous, and very difficult, divorce from my son’s father).
Despite the hard reality that compulsive eating has always been my core addiction, I had foolishly allowed myself to drift away from OA, thinking my two other Twelve Step programs would be more than enough to keep me abstinent. NOT the case! In fact, I was swiftly back into the insanity of endless dieting and punishing levels of exercise, just to keep my weight from ballooning upward.
I’ve always remained very active (and deeply committed to my membership and service) in two (other) Twelve Step Fellowships where I have decades of recovery. But recovery in those programs, no matter how much I worked them, did not address my core addiction of compulsive eating. Wishful thinking doesn’t change the fact that I needed help for my compulsive eating from people that understood my disease. YOU are my tribe, and this is a “we” program. Alone we suffer, but together we get better!
With Complete Surrender, Came Serenity
Until 2017, when I fully returned to OA, life around my alcoholic foods proved to be a huge challenge. On 6-14-17, I became abstinent from ALL my trigger foods and surrendered completely. This is when I came to find some peace and serenity around food.
Over my lifetime, I’ve been up and down in weight. After 1998, I was in and out of OA, and could only hold onto an abstinence for brief periods (a few months to a few years). Those abstinences worked well while I was in surrender. Unfortunately, the instant I took back my need to control my food, I found myself back into the food. I had a food obsession that was difficult to admit – and even harder to stop!
My childhood was not a walk in the park. It was littered with trauma and ongoing abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual. After a violent rape (that took place in 1991 on Valentine’s Day), at long last I came to seek what is referred to in our rooms as “outside help.” It was a kind (and well-informed) therapist who referred me to three different Twelve Step programs – and what a gift that turned out to be!
OA was the very first Twelve Step meeting I had ever attended. Blessedly, from the very start, I KNEW, down to my bones, that I had found something wonderful! In OA, I discovered people just like me, who struggled with food and who did crazy things around food! Bingeing, purging, starving, restricting, dieting, over exercising, eating until stuffed (or sick), swearing off, and yet doing it all again and again.
Over the course of my life, my weight swung (widely) causing my shame and embarrassment over my shape and size to mount! After yet another regain, I just never knew who I might run into, so I tended to hide from the world. What I discovered in OA was that there were many people who were just like me – people who isolated because of their shameful addiction and body image issues, and who turned to food for ease and comfort.
Finding Freedom from Food
Within a month’s time of that very first 1991 meeting, I had ceased bingeing and purging (that was to be the last of my bulimic purging behavior). Instead, I was actively working the steps with a sponsor, attending in-person meetings regularly, and experiencing the first “freedom” I had ever known from compulsive eating. This was because I was abstinent from sugar, flour, and chocolate – my 3 trigger foods at that time – and I was actively practicing the principles of the program one day at a time. I experienced an 80-pound weight release, started sponsoring others, and assumed service positions, so I came to know what it was like to truly live “happy, joyous, and FREE!”
And yet, less than 7 years later, when friends of my (first) ex-husband came to OA and then took what they heard from my most vulnerable “share” back to my ex (who brought what he learned from them into the court during our 6.5 year custody battle), I lost my trust in OA, and fell away from the rooms.
This decision to leave OA was a truly foolish one! I thought that I could “manage” my compulsive eating by attending my other (two) Twelve Step programs. I was dead wrong! I erroneously “blamed” OA for the actions of a few, very sick, individuals (who disappeared from the meetings only shortly thereafter, apparently not at all sincere about their interest in OA recovery).
My issues with trust were pretty intense, so I fell away from OA. And in falling away from OA, I fell apart, bit by bit, venturing back into the alcoholic foods and into compulsive behaviors that would only add to my misery, shame, and body weight.
Although I, at first, managed to keep my weight somewhat under control, after a time, I entirely lost my abstinence and my serenity around food. My crazy, compulsive thoughts and feelings around food returned, and I had nothing with which to combat their return! My defense against the first compulsive bite was nil!
Though I was working my other programs in earnest, where my food issues were concerned, I was not being entirely honest with my two sponsors. I would talk openly to them about so many other deeply personal things, but NOT THE FOOD! I was simply too ashamed to speak with them about what I was doing with my food.
How could I possibly admit to them that I would binge on sugary, doughy, chocolatey, processed jumk one minute, and then starve myself the next, forcing myself to play racquetball (for hours on end), and run up and down the slopes around my home, hoping beyond hope to keep the pounds from coming back! Not being compulsive eaters, I knew they could never understand, so I kept my secrets to myself, and I suffered in silence.
Sadly, my obsessions with certain foods came back with a vengeance! In a matter of years, my weight began to creep up…and up…and up! I found myself, yet again, with wide-ranging clothing in sizes in my closet, not knowing from one day to the next, what I would be able to wear on any given day. The swings in weight grew more and more pronounced! Up and down for about a decade, then steadily holding at over 225 pounds for several years, only to creep up to 267, at my highest!
In high school I was a bright, yet athletic, 5’8” and, most of the time, a reasonable and healthy 135-140 pounds. One year, just before my 16th birthday, I refused to consume more than 500 calories. Basically, I starved myself down to 126 pounds. After my hair began to fall out and fainting spells became an all-to-common occurrence, my Mom took me to a doctor who put me on Valium (a prescription sedative) in an attempt to address my anxious and depressed state. It didn’t do much more than make me extremely tired and apathetic.
However, I was introduced to another substance (alcohol) that seemed to help me deal with my emotional pain, anxiety, and severe depression. Of course, believing that alcohol was “helping me” was nothing more than a delusion! It was, however, one that I clung to for some years. Drinking and smoking cigarettes, at least for a brief period of time, helped me keep my weight down. But the vomiting that ensued from my hangovers only served as an introduction to bulimia: a “binge & purge” practice I would use in a desperate attempt to control my burgeoning weight.
Regrettably, as I aged, my issues around food grew – and so did I! Thanks to some crazy dieting and excessive exercise, by my 31st birthday, I was “slim,” but not mentally well! It took an ugly rape in 1991 (and a therapist’s referral) to initially get me into OA, but then, by 1998 I had allowed the actions of a few sick people to knock me out of the program and back into the disease!
By 2017, I was very sick, morbidly obese, and feeling utterly hopeless! After the sudden death of my first husband from complications of obesity (the father of my only child), OA became “the last house on the block” – and that’s when I returned with that “gift of desperation” (a much needed “G.O.D.”) as my motivation!
I became abstinent shortly thereafter. However, by that point, I needed medical intervention to deal with some of my out-of-control health issues. I had a vertical sleeve gastrectomy – bariatric surgery – and I am forever grateful for the aid of that medical intervention, as it enabled me to stop taking 25 prescription medications, and to eliminate some very serious health issues that would have placed me in an early grave.
I do not advocate bariatric surgery, though it was clearly the right thing for me at the time – my comorbidities were simply too numerous and life threatening to ignore! While it was life saving for me, I know many who have had bariatric surgery, only to regain every pound, and more, because they failed to deal with what was going on between their ears.
While I have heard many refer to this surgery as “the easy way out,” it is NOT! It is costly, time-consuming, and comes with its own associated risks and consequences. Typically, female bariatric patients can never again eat more than 1000 to 1200 calories, or the “lost” pounds WILL find their way back. It’s definitely not a magic bullet or a quick fix. But it did for me what I needed to alleviate some very serious and life-threatening health problems, and for that I am forever thankful!
What is important to understand, is that if we do not deal with the underlying “causes and conditions” (the disease of compulsive eating and the mental/emotional and spiritual issues that accompany it), at its best, bariatric surgery only offers brief relief for the morbidly obese. For far too many bariatric patients, life after surgery is filled with near-endless mental and physical challenges, along with far too much weight regained if the calories (and type of calories) consumed exceed the modest amount necessary for survival with an altered GI tract.
I now live with 85% of my stomach gone! I must take vitamins and supplements to ensure continued health (because nutrient absorption is more difficult after bariatric surgery). I have also been warned by my bariatric surgeon to never again eat pasta, bread, potato, or rice, AND to strictly limit my sugar intake. Given I don’t know how to “limit” sugary or starchy foods, I practice “entire abstinence.” For me this is the only solution to my disease.
On page xxx in the chapter, “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it states, “The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence.” For this compulsive eater, this is what I now know to do – eliminate my “alcoholic/red light” trigger foods ENTIRELY!
If I don’t take that first compulsive bite, it cannot lead me to another, and another, and another! One bite is too much, and yet a thousand bites is never enough!
Today, I have a clearly defined set of “red light/alcoholic foods” that I NEVER touch. Consequently, I know what is “my food,” and what is “NOT my food.” I have surrendered those foods to my Higher Power, and I don’t ask to have them back. Instead, I stick to my carefully defined plan of eating (that has been developed with help from my sponsor, along with the aid of a registered dietician who understands my unique health requirements) and I adhere to my action plan of regular meetings, prayer, meditation, and practicing the principles in all my affairs (Step Twelve).
For this compulsive eater, adhering to the OA program of recovery (one day at a time) has worked quite well for more than 4 years! I released more than 90 pounds, and the clothes in my closet all fit – no more “wide range of sizes” to accommodate an ever-changing body shape!
Turning to my HP for real relief
Today, when I ache inside – from the tragedy of 9/11, from bleak memories of my childhood, from reading about acts of domestic violence happening today, from feeling overwhelmed by the length of this pandemic (and the fears of what may come), or simply from hurt feelings caused by an unkind word – instead of turning to sugary/doughy/chocolatey/processed foods that used to feel like my friend (because they “numbed” my pain, offered me momentary pleasure, and a temporary “escape” from my feelings) I turn to my Higher Power, and I find actual relief.
My Higher Power is GOD. Not the traditional God, as some may know “God,” but rather a “Grand Organizing Design” or “Gratitude Over Drama,” as well as the “Great OutDoors” – these are my GOD (an acronym that also stands for “Grant Own Definition”). This works for me!
Choose whatever “GOD” works for you! That’s the beauty of this program – we get to choose the God of our own understanding. And for me, that GOD has been AMAZINGLY abundant and lovingly available, anytime and anywhere, just when I need GOD!
For too long, I suffered with “tiny god syndrome!” No longer! Today, my Higher Power is FAR BIGGER than any problem I could ever run across, and always a provider of infinite possibilities for my healing, wholeness, and happiness!
It took a lot for me to “concede to my innermost self” that I could NOT eat like a normal person – that was an idea I had to SMASH – just as the Big Book suggests on page 30. To be perfectly honest, I never wanted to eat like a normal person! I always wanted to eat whatever I wanted to eat, whenever I wanted to eat it, without any consequences! No such luck! I had to live life on life’s terms – not on my terms!
OA has taught me that while my disease is relentless (“debilitating, progressive, and ultimately fatal,” from page 7 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous) and I am never “cured,” I do get “a daily reprieve” contingent on the maintenance of my spiritual condition. Here is the complete text I have relied upon, slightly paraphrased, from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, page 85:
It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for <alcoholic foods> are a subtle foe. We are not cured of <compulsive eating>. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition. Every day is a day when we must carry the vision of God’s will into all of our activities. “How can I best serve Thee – Thy will (not mine) be done.” These are thoughts which must go with us constantly. We can exercise our will power along this line all we wish. It is the proper use of the will.
I was taught (by my very first sponsor) to “seek GOD!” To “seek” means: to attempt to find; to go in search of; to look for; to try to discover; to ask for (someone or something). And so, today, from the moment I awaken, I make every effort to seek GOD! I will never “find” that which I make no attempt to find, so I make an earnest effort – each and every day – to seek GOD!
The terrific thing is, now that I’m “seeking” I actually “find” lots of evidence of GOD and lots of evidence of things for which to be grateful. I see an endless stream of blessings where I once saw misery, or nothing at all. My disease, and my fear, kept me from seeing what was always there: a beautiful world, full of beautiful people, and beautiful moments I had never bothered to notice because I was far too much into the food and completely mentally obsessed by my disease!
On page 67 of the Big Book it states the following about “fear”:
Notice that the word “fear” is bracketed alongside the difficulties with Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, the employer, and the wife. This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?
The word “fear” is defined as: an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. How often did I “fear” simply feeling my own emotions? How often did I conjure up fearful imaginings – things that “could” happen – but that never came to pass?
I feared so many “imagined” things, just as if they were somehow real and tangible. I was foolishly consumed by my thoughts and fears, and wasted far too many hours consumed by things that never came to pass. I would find myself anxious or depressed, yet these were just thoughts, not things? Regrettably, I would eat myself into the next size up time and time again, over just such imaginings and utter nonsense!
That was my past, and a very painful one at that! But today, armed with my OA program, my Higher Power, and my fellowship, I have solutions that do NOT include turning to food for ease or comfort! I’ve come to understand that food is fuel. It serves a purpose and keeps my body alive and functional, but it CANNOT solve my problems or stuff down my feelings.
Today, I can weep over things that cause me to feel sorrow, and I can talk about that sorrow, processing the grief that lies beneath it. Eating compulsively is never the answer, so I am learning to turn to my Higher Power, to my sponsor, and to my fellows, for what I really need – connection, compassion, understanding, and a true friend.
While I know I will never be “cured,” today I know I have a daily reprieve from my obsession with alcoholic foods that rests firmly upon my efforts to grow my spiritual life. Using the “HOW” of the program: honesty, openmindedness, and willingness, I’m able to connect to the God of my own understanding. When I make an effort to “seek,” I get to make conscious contact with my Higher Power. And, in this process, I get to connect to a beautiful life. I get to live and notice how filled my life is with wonderful people that I get to know and love (who have come to love me back). This is so only because I’m present to that precious gift of abstinence. And this gift is a result of working the OA Twelve Step program of recovery. Thank you, Higher Power! And thank you, OA!
– Francine, Grateful OA member, San Jose, CA
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