TRG SPEAKER PROGRAM
Personal Stories of Recovery
~ Di's Story ~
My name is Di, and I’m an abstaining, recovering compulsive overeater. I made the decision to put down the food a few days before March 1, 2004, after an 8 year hiatus from the program and about a 12 year relapse. Originally I had been in OA from March 1978 until 1996. Since my return to the program, I have been blessed with over 3 full years of recovery and continual back to back abstinence for over 2,210 days. I have been maintaining about a 62 pound weight loss for over 1 year and have remained in the same 8-10 clothing range. I knew the pain of squeezing into sizes 18-22 on my small-framed 5’3 ½” body. There were points at which I carried around anywhere from 75-85 extra pounds or more. I weighed as much as 230 pounds at one point, and because I often refused to weigh myself for years, it’s possible that I weighed even more. For years I could not get below 200 pounds. I was 212 pounds when I came back to the program in 2004 and have weighed myself every month since my return as one of many stable components I included in my program. I’ve been able to fit into most of my maintenance clothing that I was wearing back in March, 1978! I have been consistently working the steps with my recovery sponsors since I came back to the program. I consider myself an alcoholic with food. I ate in the same way that an alcoholic drinks. Apart from recovery, I often ate angry, alone, with a vengeance, isolated and in the dark. I could also eat out of celebration, but overall I ate to “get drunk” in a sense, and to not feel my feelings or to just feel whatever excitement possible from the eating. I ate so that I didn’t have to focus on anything else. That’s the way that I drank in the past too. Based on the description to follow, this comparison to drinking is no exaggeration. When I put down the food, I also felt the need to go to AA. While I hadn’t been actively drinking for many years I saw the necessity to examine my drinking history as well as to get more current with my eating history. While attending a Big Book meeting, I found myself identifying, with the utter loneliness and abyss of despair experienced by the alcoholic; the self-centered thinking, the feelings and destructive behaviors. I also found myself strongly identifying with the sharing and the solutions in AA. In putting down the food I came to see that I wasn’t immune to the possibility of again picking up alcohol. They seemed to be potentially interchangeable for me. The solution was that I needed both programs to maintain my recovery footing. My food plan also included abstinence from all alcohol too.
In my earlier years in OA, I had a marginal interest in the Big Book, and my ability to understand and relate to it was somewhat sketchy. This time when I came back to the program, with the gift of desperation, I had a genuine and hearty desire for a solution-based recovery. I wanted to be with other strong recoverers. I wanted to apply the Big Book and OA/AA 12 and 12’s to all areas of my life. I recognized this time that in order for me to fully recover I needed to address everything that might come between me and my HP and others: Compulsive overeating, drinking, the intense loneliness, anger and subsequent acting-out and codependency issues. I worked on all of it. The solution is a combination of means: Attending AA and OA meetings, counseling and my recovery sponsors, all of whom have helped me sort through the confusing family-of-origin and codependency/relationship issues, which had contributed to the subsequent acting-out and self-defeating addictive behaviors. It meant being willing to go through the gradual ego reduction process. It also meant spending more time with my HP, developing more time for prayer and meditation, learning to rely more on my HP and less on myself and adopting an attitude of humility and willingness to face the truth honestly about all of it. Through the process of surrendering and working the steps I began to clean house. Once I made the decision to put down the food and work the steps in OA everything else fell into place. The emotional recovery has been the most challenging and also the most rewarding part of my recovery. The growth and changes that have taken place can only be described as absolutely miraculous!! I’m so very appreciative of those who have helped me in my journey and have witnessed these changes and the transformation that has taken place both on the inside and out. It is VERY exciting. It took a lot of willingness to face the truth about myself and to remain honest, open and willing to do the necessary, oftentimes painful legwork to get well. I have come to embrace the idea that character building can be a worthy pursuit and not just something to endure!
RELAPSE ~ A TOTAL NIGHTMARE
Here is a more detailed description of what my life in relapse was like prior to coming back to the program in 2004:
Just prior to coming back to my senses and recovery, I was utterly broken, overweight, alone and desperate. I was probably at my all time lowest rock bottom. For the disease had fully progressed beyond what I had ever experienced in the past. I went from the more occasional overeating and periodic binges to where food at times could be like my “girlfriend” and a lifestyle for coping with everything. Some of the physical difficulties included: very dangerous esophageal reflux disease, where I was regularly, but not intentionally, throwing up food all night long, through my mouth and my nose because of the quantities of food that I was consuming; great difficulty walking, back problems, asthma and chronic bronchitis, fatigue, bending over, the obsession and debate and “want” for the food was almost as torturous as the actual consumption of the food. Here are some typical examples of the kinds of insanity that I was experiencing throughout my relapse years, and particularly within the previous months before coming back to the program:
After work, or other times, I’d go through the drive-thru places, ordering multiples of my favorite binge foods. Then I would drive to a convenience store, get an assortment of my typical binge foods, take them home, eat them in part, or as much as I could get down, and then throw a lot of it away. While shopping at K-Marts sometimes, I would open up packages of my favorite binge foods and eat them before they were purchased. I’d finish my shopping, and come up to the check-out counter with half or entirely eaten bags of food. It was pretty humiliating to be at the check-out counter with others standing in line behind me, watching me give the clerk several half eaten or fully eaten bags of food. I knew it was wrong, but I could not stop myself. Then there were the times, I’d go to the bakery and stand there for probably half an hour, staring and debating about all the foods I wanted, meanwhile knowing I shouldn’t be doing this. I would feel compelled and ashamed that I didn’t seem to have any self-control. I’d be looking in the store for a quarter or half a sheet cake. I didn’t want an entire cake. I’d get very annoyed if the clerk asked if I wanted to have them put Happy Birthday on a full cake. All I wanted was the cake, and not for anyone to talk to me. Often times I’d end up going up to the check-out register with my binge foods, only to have my husband return everything. I’d walk out of the store with no food, only to go to another convenience store where I could be more discreet, and I would get a whole bunch of binge foods. My husband would witness this glazed and half crazed look in my face as I stood there in the store, needing and wanting the binge foods. It was completely insane. There were times that I could eat enormous quantities of food and other times, I could care less about it. I would get these cravings at odd times, and I had to have the perfect nibble. Just like Bill W.’s story in the midst of his addiction, he states “he HAD to have the booze”. Well, I HAD to have the food. Just like for Bill W, the power of choice seemed to be gone! Sometimes I would go to 2 different stores so that the clerk wouldn’t recognize my buying more of the same items the same day or the next day. It was, in my thinking all a big secret. Then there were the times that I’d be on my husband’s case if he didn’t get me enough of certain favorite foods. He tried, in his own mind, to control the amount of foods I was consuming. I guess he thought he was doing me a favor buying smaller amounts of those foods. As he soon learned, coming between me and my binge foods was a big mistake. I’m sure that it had to be very difficult for him dealing with my erratic, out-of-control behavior. In 1992, when we were planning our wedding, my focus was entirely on the wedding, honeymoon, the people we invited, moving, and getting adjusted to my new life. The mindset of recovery that I once possessed from 1978 was greatly diminished. The accountability and other recovery fundamentals seemed to be gone, for the most part. After the wedding when we went home to our new place, my husband indicated that it was traditional for the top tier of the wedding cake to be put in our freezer for one full year. Of course I went along with his wishes, and the cake tier came home with us. Imagine my husband’s dismay when he discovered it was gone within a couple of days. My focus on recovery and my abstinence continued to wane. I think I believed somehow that my knight in shining armor could take care of me. He’d make all my dreams come true and all my pain disappear. But, as it says in the Big Book, “No human power can relieve us of our compulsive eating, but God could and would if He were sought.” I just wasn’t seeking God or program help very much at that point. While I remained in OA after I got married my weight was definitely higher. I recall putting together an OA workshop all about service in 1995, but I remember being rather foggy about my abstinence and recovery. It took me quite a while to admit I was in denial about my relapse and to face the truth about the subsequent weight gain. Pride can be a very challenging problem for those of us who have been in the program a while and have enjoyed a measure of success. I have since learned that no matter how long or how much success I may have been experiencing with recovery, if abstinence from compulsive eating and the maintenance of a fit spiritual program are not a priority, the risk of relapse is always a strong possibility.
COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE TRUTH
Around December, 2003-January 2004, after trying a few other approaches to dealing with my compulsive overeating and weight, I began to feel “homesick” for OA. In these programs I wasn’t hearing the components that I was accustomed to in OA that were part of good successful recovery practices. These elements were missing in these other programs; elements I had once enjoyed in my days of recovery long ago. I kept saying to myself, “they don’t understand accountability. They don’t see the importance of giving away the program”. I knew in my heart that I needed to come back to OA. I think the passion for recovery and the yearning for that freedom that I enjoyed in my earlier recovery years was slowly taking hold, once again. I wanted to experience peace with myself and with food, and some saner alternatives in dealing with life, as well as a healthier, slimmer body. While that may have been the case, I still did not seem to have enough of the gift of desperation that it required to take the necessary action. All of my past OA victories and understanding just wasn’t cutting it. Clearly knowledge was not enough. Even my faith wasn’t working this time. The question wasn’t whether I had faith, for I have been a solid Christian Believer. The problem and question was --- faith in what? It definitely wasn’t being appropriated in the God of my understanding with the necessary accompanying actions that must follow. Yes, for sure I had faith all right—Faith in figuring my life out all by myself, controlling my life, faith in the food, and living a very lonely and isolated existence. As the Big Book states, “Faith without works is dead”. Regarding the other methods I sought after, the Big Book also says that “half measures availed us nothing”. The dilemma that I was experiencing was UNBEARABLE!
MY RETURN TO RECOVERY AND OA
My relapse was monumentally painful enough that when the light went on in late February, 2004, and I heard my HP say to me, “Call the OA Hotline,” I knew that I needed to “heed the call”. I knew at that moment that I felt beaten and utterly powerless over food and that my life was totally unmanageable. After calling the Hotline something clicked inside, and I was given that reprieve from the insanity of compulsive eating and all of the inappropriate behaviors. That blessed day in late February, I made the decision that I was done with the lifestyle of compulsive overeating. I proceeded to take the necessary steps to recover. From the years in relapse and looking back on this side of recovery, I realized and accepted that this is a serious, life-threatening, debilitating addiction which requires serious measures, focus and attention. I finally had the willingness to pay attention, and I proceeded to check in to my own personal “rehab” hospital right at home. That day I went home and told my husband what happened. I cooked a sane, abstinent meal as I knew it from previous times. I felt honest and clean inside for the first time in a long time. Abstinence tasted wonderful! I managed to come up with a very reasonable, workable food plan that I could live with and lose the excess weight. I found my AA Big Book and some old OA literature. Upon reading it, the steps and truths of the program lit up for me. I read the portion of the How it Works section telling of the 3 pertinent ideas: that (a) I was a compulsive overeater, and my life had become unmanageable, (b) that no human power could relieve me of my compulsive overeating, and (c) that God could and would IF He were sought. I knew that night that I sought Him with all of my heart, and “I asked His protection and care with complete abandon”, to quote from the Big Book’s “How It Works”. I felt relieved of the bondage of compulsive eating followed by a great flood of energy, hope and joy. Upon reading that portion of the Big Book I felt compelled to get my hands on all the program literature and tapes that I could find. I immersed myself in program materials, and I put myself through a kind of self-imposed rehab. I found the OA website and online book store. I also discovered online recovery and all of the wonderful resources which have been of enormous benefit. After reading those 3 pertinent ideas and some of my OA literature that night, I realized that I wanted to make recovery and abstinence again my highest priority. Looking back at that blessed night in 2004, I had a greater appreciation for my wonderful recovery and for my HP! I knew that I was indeed, given a second chance at life. I began to experience lightness in spirit and a great sense of relief that this huge burden was lifted from me. I started attending OA meetings, shaking everyone’s hand with great joy. It was like Christmas time for me! Everything felt brand new! I was like George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” after his amazing conversion from being a broken and bitter man, to emerging into this wonderfully loving chap, filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm. He was finally able to see himself and all the real riches that he possessed in life that mattered, including the gift of a second chance.
After a couple of meetings, I met my first OA sponsor. She helped me with the first 3 steps. With the readings, writings and sharing I was able, for the first time in a VERY long time, to face the truth about myself and the addiction. A renewed relationship with my HP began to emerge. The result was an emotional and spiritual revival that was somewhat reminiscent of what I had experienced in OA in the late 1970’s. As I began to work the steps with my sponsor, I knew that I didn’t have to face this alone any longer. I began to trust again, knowing I could share all of this with another human being who understood and supported me. I enjoyed that wonderful freedom that abstinence brings along with a new joy for living. I have a clear understanding of the meaning of the “hot flame”syndrome, as mentioned in the Big Book, where I have a healthy respect and proper fear where my behavior and thinking around food is concerned. Through the writings I’ve been able to see what I was like when I was into the addiction: the insane, maniacal and insidious behavior, the obsession with food and all the other nine yards. Over time I was able to slowly come out from the denial and shame I felt about my overeating, weight, and more. Happily, with abstinence and working the program, I’ve been able to make living amends to my husband, employers, family and others.
SERVICE AND ON-GOING RECOVERY
Service has been a vital part of my recovery. Reaching out to others, sharing experience, strength and hope, not to forget where I came from, and to be available are ways I keep it green. Such service includes: sponsoring, speaking/leading meetings, regularly sharing both at face to face and online meetings, connecting with newcomers and other members by e-mail or phone, writing recovery newsletter articles, Intergroup work, Regional Rep work, active participation with 12th- Step-Within work and assisting with marathon work. I have continued to heal from the pain of the past and to take responsibility for my life. These days my mission is to stay grounded in the basics, maintain a more stable lifestyle and to be more mindful of what I can contribute to life. I’m still “a work in progress.” I can’t say that recovery is always a walk in the park. Among many lessons, I’ve been learning to be more accepting and tolerant of others as well as myself. Patient improvement is pretty much the mode. I’ve seen many of the promises come into fruition, and I see how God has been doing for me what I could never do for myself! I feel so very grateful to my HP for bringing me back to the program, which has totally saved my life! These days, I am indeed, beginning to experience what the Big Book describes as “a life of sane and happy usefulness”, one day at a time!
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