TRG SPEAKER PROGRAM
Personal Stories of Recovery
~ January K. ~
My name is January and I'm glad to be here!
I want to begin by saying that I am a compulsive overeater. It took me a
while to realize this. I had trouble taking that first Step. The word,
“powerless” always gave me an icky feeling. If I am not responsible for my
food choices, who is?
For me to say that I am powerless would put me in the position of playing a
professional, life-long victim. In order to take Step 1, I had to develop a
new outlook. God has re-interpreted Step 1 for me so that when I tell my
sponsor or others that I have worked this Step, I sincerely mean it and I do
not have to work a program of recovery as a "victim." I am powerless only if
I forget to include my Higher Power in my journey. In and of my own power,
I could fail and keep falling back to where I was -- and this I will never
do again, with God’s help.
My name is often given out to folks who are facing tough weight-loss and
physical rehabilitative issues. This is my main experience, strength, and
hope for those who suffer. My top weight was 386 pounds. I'm still braving
the odds, though I am nearing half the person I used to be. I have owned up
to my responsibility in my compulsive overeating. I have identified the
foods that set me off and make me crazy. I avoid those foods.
It took me quite a while to gain the confidence to come through the meeting
doors because I had a lot of weight to lose. I was caught up in a medical
situation that was truly awful. For nine-and-a-half years, I had a tumor. It
was operable. It was a common medical problem among women, yet the doctors
refused to acknowledge that I had a tumor. I was only 26 years old when I
detected the tumor in my abdominal region. I told doctors about it. They
looked at me as though I were daft … as though, “How could she tell?” They
placed me upon diets. They never ran other tests -- why, I don't know. I
was only about 30 pounds overweight at the time, which is ironic.
I’d bet that I had every diet book created. I had them all lined up on my
bookshelves in order. I would order them with great excitement and hope.
They collected dust and I never had enough willpower to try any of them. Not
a one. I knew I needed something simpler than memorizing a book, something
that would leave little room for excuses.
Fast forward, 7 years later, I still had the tumor. It had grown. My waist
measurement grew to 65 inches. Doctors finally agreed to give me a simple
sonogram test. It revealed the tumor, but they would make me wait an
additional two years before the tumor would be removed. After I waited for 9
1/2 years the tumor was removed, and it left me quite deformed. I then had
to find someone to do plastic surgery. The hospital that made a mistake on
me ignored my situation, so I found other physicians that wanted to help.
Understandably, I was tired of waiting.
After my plastic surgery I found the confidence to walk through the doors of
OA. I had lost about 80 pounds on my own, but I was floundering. Why would
anyone who had gone through all this and managed to lose 80 pounds by the
strength of her own still get the urge to overeat? Then I met a lady at my
health club who heard me complaining that I had lost 80 pounds and wanted to
binge again, and I couldn't understand why. I didn't know. She heard my
frustration. I had watched this lady melt before my eyes. She was getting
smaller and smaller, and happier by the day. I wanted what she had. She was
the first person who invited me to a meeting. It was an OA-HOW meeting.
By listening to others at the meetings, I found that they were working 12
Steps and 12 Traditions to order their lives. I heard they read our
literature and I saw the literature lived out in real lives. I noticed that
when these folks made mistakes, they talked about them, admitted them, and
they were not turning to food for “answers.” They were learning how to live
life without using food as a medication. I was astounded!
I'm still braving the odds. I tell folks that my life had to become a
living, breathing prayer for recovery. My recovery work has been difficult
sometimes. Still, I would not trade all this hard work for my former life:
that of a highly intelligent, creative butterfly of a girl trapped inside a
386-pound body. I never knew that I was my own jailer and that the key to my
cell was dangling both inside of myself and out there in OA meeting rooms.
I felt sorry for myself for so long … thinking that my situation was unique.
But there were many other stories I would hear that would make me feel that
I wasn’t alone.
I work the HOW Grey Sheet. But I have also done other food plans that had
worked for me just prior entering Program. I had been able to experience 2
years abstinence, even though I didn’t know that it was called that at the
time. The HOW plan is pretty much how I have to eat the rest of my life
because I had a hidden medical condition--TYPE II Diabetes, amongst other
things. Since my team of doctors did no testing on me whatsoever and did not
read a prior physician’s medical diagnosis of Polycystic Ovarian Disease,
they placed me on diets that doomed me to failure. Counting sugar and white
flour calorie-laden foods was not going to work for someone who is
insulin-resistant. One physician admitted to me that most doctors are not
schooled in nutrition, bariatrics (the study of obesity, or food
compulsion/addictions). I didn’t need another “diet,” I needed a plan for
life. Working this 12 Step Program and using a food plan of my choice is my
current plan for life.
I have owned up to my responsibility in compulsive overeating. I overeat
certain foods because they are my favorites. Some of them have been
childhood comfort foods. I avoid those foods, while at the same time I
reject the “food addict” label because of its tendency to render me to
helplessness and being irresponsible for my part in compulsive behavior with
I knew all the popular little catchphrases of self-help and psychology:
"dysfunctional, abuse, trauma." I knew how to eat, but I could not seem to
remain constant in my focus and great self-restraint. I would come to
understand that labels such as “bulimic, anorexic, and victim of sexual
abuse” are helpful labels to professionals when used to assess psychological
casework, medical treatment or psychological counseling; however, these
labels were not helpful for me to carry around inside while attempting to
participate in my own healing. Thinking of myself as a hopeless “label”
would not move me forward.
As with the alcoholic, the STOP IT approach to my recovery from food
compulsions has been very effective after I identified my list of Trigger
foods -- going cold turkey, as those in AA must do. I could not continue to
“play games” with food. I could not have just a little bit of sugar or just
a little bit of a white flour product.
The BIG BOOK of Alcoholics Anonymous says of compulsive overeaters ... the
danger to them is "the belief that some day he or she will be able to eat
like a normal person." Recovery will not thrive unless we are convinced that
we are compulsive overeaters. I am convinced, today, that I am a compulsive
President John F. Kennedy once said, "The greatest enemy of truth is not the
lie -- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth -- persistent,
persuasive, and unrealistic."
It is the MYTH that someday we will be able to eat like other people
(non-compulsives) that is the absolute KILLER!
I want to also mention that I am survivor of sexual abuse, although I never
thought of myself as a victim. I didn't know that this experience is
somewhat common among compulsive overeaters, even among men. I had to be
willing to look at these issues as well. I knew that I deserved recovery and
that the people who had hurt me were now living normal lives and were
completely oblivious to the inner-pain I still carried. I knew I would have
to work on myself. I couldn’t change these people. I couldn’t roll back the
clock and get justice. The only justice that I could obtain was to become
willing to take my life back.
For most of my life, everything that had happened to me was about what
others had done to me. It is part of my humanness to identify when others
have not treated me fairly or when I have had no mercy or justice. I came
to the strong realization that if I continued to allow myself to live
perpetually in a state of "honoring the past," I continued to allow all the
people who have hurt me to live absolutely RENT FREE in my head. Who wants
to build and maintain a hall of fame for abusers and rude people? Not me!
Yet for many years I would allow the past choices of others to nearly
dictate who I was and what I would do in life. How sad. But that would
As a six-year-old child, the world was a great place. I felt somewhat secure
and had wonderful, hard-working grandparents. I am sure they did their best
to protect me and help me. “Parenting is a tough job,” I was warned. I
scoffed. Surely I could do better!
I was raised by my mother’s parents. My grandfather seems to have been a key
to the environmental factor in the way I learned to eat. We ate when we were
happy, when we were slightly sad, when we wanted to celebrate, and when we
wanted to "be together." My grandfather grew up thinking there would not
ever be enough food.
In my “eating history” work I did in the question packets that we write out,
I discovered that he was the key to some of the genetic and environmental
factors of my compulsive overeating tendencies. He came from a verbally --
and borderline physically -- abusive family background. He faced far more
than the typical ups and downs of family life. Alcohol was NOT involved,
and drug lords had not been invented yet ~ but there were
bootleggers—moonshiners. He grew up during the days of Prohibition and had
a part-time job as a twelve-year-old boy, running moonshine in the
tarp-covered back of a pickup truck.
His family had their own gardens and farms and in during my youth with them,
we always had huge pastures of vegetable crops. It would not be surprising
when food would become my favorite childhood “reward.” As an adult in OA, I
would be re-educated, learning how others could be kind to themselves and
others without food as a payoff.
Unknowingly, I had been using food as a medication: it had become a way of
reacting to life, circumstances, achievement, set backs, the whole kit and
caboodle! I weighed 90 pounds in first grade, but no one said much about it
because I was so tall. I was sexually abused from age 3 until age 4, so it
wasn't surprising to me that I weighed that much by first grade … that I had
discovered food as a best friend. Even at three years old, I was able to
realize that I was not worth protecting, and I was angry. Not only that, but
I had to “be quiet” about it. The fuse was lit. I know that I began to
“eat my heart out” because I was already practicing stuffing things down by
stuffing my body with food.
There were body image differences in my family. My grandfather was slightly
over 7 feet tall. My grandmother was about 5 feet 4 inches. My own father
was 5 feet 10 inches and I am one inch short of my father's height. I always
wished I'd been 6 feet 2 inches, then I would be closer to goal weight, darn
it!!! My grandfather's father was verbally and physically abusive about his
size. My grandfather stood slightly under 7 feet tall. He was six feet six
inches at age twelve and suffered heart trouble later on due to his great
My grandfather's father harbored scorn for anyone who didn't fit the
physical norm. Of course this attitude carried over to my grandmother’s side
of the family as well. Because my grandfather was so large and sturdy, his
father decided that he would use the tall boy like one would use a field
horse or an ox. My grandfather started pushing a tilling plow -- usually
attached to a field animal -- as he walked the acreage forming furrowed rows
to ready the earth to receive seed for planting.
I knew that my great-grandfather had the money to hire extra field hands for
labor, and his treatment of my grandfather did not increase my respect for
him one iota.
Needless to say, my grandfather was prone to eat as though he had been
physically plowing the back forty because he had been PHYSICALLY PLOWING THE
BACK FORTY for so many years! His food habits were formed in childhood and
this would be his preferred style of eating a meal. To eat as though you
are plowing the back forty, you eat: southern-fried, marbled fat, deep
dish, smothered (you name the main course while I refrain). I am
gratefully-working a Program of recovery and abstinence.
Grandfather grew up feeling that there would never be enough food. Hovering
over his plate as though someone were going to take his food away from him,
he would wolf his food down quickly in a strange manner if we were eating
alone as a family. Perhaps the feeling of “there will never be enough" was
communicated to me. I have experienced compulsive overeating in my own life
to be a combination of genetic, environmental, slightly trauma-induced, and
learned habit. I was bound to have chosen food as a release since it was
readily available. Drugs weren't for me. Alcohol was inaccessible since my
grandmother had hidden the key to the liquor cabinet so very well, and the
church never gave me enough of the sacrament wine to make even a small ant
colony drunk. I was rewarded with food and a toy each and every Friday when
grandfather would pick me up from school. Food became the reward and
celebration for everything.
By the beginning of 2nd grade I towered over the other children and I
weighed 90 pounds. Being a very tall and chubby kid, I was still not
particularly obese-looking if you were seeing me face-to-face. Prior to this
weigh-in I had been flat on my back for nearly a year. While walking home
from school for the first time, I was crossing a busy street when a teenager
struck me while traveling in his pick-up truck without a license. The
impact knocked me 50 feet up into the air and back down onto a paved road.
The truck had no brakes.
I was in the hospital for several months: concussion, broken arm, and two
broken legs. After a few months I was placed inside a body cast for another
4 to 6 months. Later I would undergo physical therapy and learn how to walk
all over again. When they cut my body cast off, (which had grown unbearable)
I had suffered a weight gain that placed me at this 90-pound weight for the
beginning of 2nd grade. And yes, being flat on my back, bored, frustrated,
and in some pain, I had turned to food for solace.
In Junior High I progressed to 190 pounds. In High School I would learn to
fast and over-exercise and would get down to 164 pounds. I was 16, nearly 5
feet 8 inches tall, with measurements: 38-26-38. After a family death, I
regained 20 pounds. Other pounds would follow. I acted and reacted with
My grandmother truly believed that unless a person was thin (whatever that
means) they would not be able to do many things in life. Grandmother was
very "thin-oriented," as was most of her family. This means that they did
not believe anyone could be attractive or successful unless they were a
certain size. What that PERFECT SIZE was, was anyone's guess.
Her people were short and small in stature. Both she and they admired the
ultra-thin appearance of the runway super-models of my childhood, which were
very similar to our “heroin-chic” and “waif” body types of today.
To this day I am still traumatized by certain models! I don't care what
anyone says, those chicks had major body issues! Or so I believed at that
time. Sadly, I would not know until I was older that it was the media and
the modeling industry that imposed those weight restrictions upon those
My grandmother and I were always at odds about what I should weigh and she
was extremely negative in this regard. She was instrumental in implanting
the negative belief within me that I had to WAIT for that “one day when I
was thin" to:
a) enter swim meets and wear a swimsuit
b) get a boyfriend
c) appear on the stage
e) get married
f) get a job
g) and all the other et ceteras (insert here).
Hers was a very narrow, restricted world in which I had to be perfect in
size. I nearly believed her. I had to learn that those were her beliefs
and that some other people believed the same way. I knew I would never be
able to change unless I learned to accept myself exactly as I was. I had to
be good enough as I was, in order to work on myself. My life has been on
anything but a HOLD PATTERN dictated by a grandmother who wanted me to have
a “perfect” body!
I would like to go on record that I did do all those things that grandmother
said I would never be able to do. I was on a swim team; I never lacked for
boyfriends (strangely enough, not one of them was overweight or psychotic);
I have appeared on the stage; I learned to dance; I've been married 3 times,
(and learned life lessons from each one); and I’ve held great positions of
I always suspected that TODAY was worth living and that I didn’t have to
wait to live and breathe until some better time in the future. "Insanity is
doing the same thing over and over, expecting different or better results."
The right time is now. Living in the present is my gift to myself. I had
begun haphazardly to defeat these warped, crazy-making ideas that society
and family threw at me.
Many folks struggle against the odds and go through horrific times while
avoiding addictive, unhealthy habits. What is the difference between a
compulsive overeater and an average "normie?" Good relationships and
connection to a caring group? Maybe I won’t ever know the answer, but I
believe that connecting with others like myself has made a world of
About the HARDEST THING I had to learn to do is to forgive those who have
harmed me. If you read the older edition of the BIG BOOK, on page 512 it
tells you to pray for people you don't like. I had never heard of anything
so absurd in my whole life!!!! Pray for my abuser? This was so hard for me.
I had confronted my abuser and he said he didn't remember abusing me! I
wondered how a 3 year old could remember such detail and be so angry about
it that she would grow up and carry it into the business world with her as a
shield of energy or mission statement. I am grateful that God was able to
use my anger and this traumatic situation to do something positive.
But did I HAVE TO forgive those who had harmed me? Oh yes! I began to pray
for my abuser and others who were on my blacklist. Miracles began to
happen. Opportunities came my way to talk to these people again. Even
though I could not change these events or these people, I did not feel
exactly as I did before. I even prayed for the doctors who ignored me for
years. I prayed that no one would ever go through what I had, and I prayed
that God would give me courage to appear before this hospital medical board
and talk to them about the way they had treated me. Talking before people
was -- and still is -- sometimes difficult for me, but I was I able to do
this. I showed them “before-and-after” photos of a girl they had nearly let
die within their medical system. Forgiveness was the key to my recovery. For
me it was that simple, and that difficult.
Negativity is a great part of the disease of compulsive overeating. Making
excuses is a part of that negativity. The hardest things I ever did was to
learn how to change my mind and to remove ALL excuses.
It isn't hard to figure out why I hate this disease so very much. It steals.
It kills. It distorted who I really was on the inside and on the outside.
Living in this Program is a reprieve that I would never have thought or
believed to be possible.
I want to say in closing that there is no OTHER PROGRAM ON EARTH like this
program. There are so many big-business industries that are making a killing
off of OBESE PEOPLE and the disease of compulsive overeating. I am thankful
that we have a place to go where the cost is nothing but time, willingness,
honesty, and work. This is a program for those who want it. I am so glad
that I found this program and so glad that I could be with you here today.
It is my hope that I will be able to use my experience to help others. I am
forever dedicated to recovery, spiritual healing, and continuing the hard
work that HP would have me do to become all that I can be. For me, my
journey of a thousand steps started with a single step in the direction of
the mailbox at the end of my driveway.
Never give up! Never, ever, ever.