The Recovery Group is a Twelve Step support group for compulsive eaters

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 food.

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 overeater.

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 change!

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 height.

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 food.

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 young women!

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
d) dance
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 responsibility.

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 difference!

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.

January K.

Recovery Speakers Bureau Contact
Recovery Meditations
Recovery Site Map
Recovery Main Page
The Twelve Traditions
The 12 Steps of Recovery
Recovery Message Board
Recovery Online Meetings
Serendipity ~ Our Newsletter

Website Contact:

spinning globe image
© Copyright 1995-2006 THE RECOVERY GROUP All rights reserved