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

Personal Stories of Recovery

~ Sharon S. ~

Dear Friends,

My name is Sharon and I am a compulsive overeater. I have been asked to share my story: what it was like, what happened and what it is like now, so here it is. If I think back to what it was like before I came into the program, I realize that I was probably a compulsive overeater from when I was very young. Although as a child I wasn't overweight, I was a very lonely, withdrawn, I can still remember being very shy and happier with my books and being on my own. I used to bury myself in the stories and of course no book was any good without all the food I would consume while reading. It wasn't until I reached puberty that I started to pick up weight. Because I was doing ballet at the time there was pressure to be thin and so I began dieting. This began the obsession with my weight and what I put into my mouth. In retrospect, I wasn't really that fat at that stage but I had and still do have distorted body image so I never saw myself the way I really was. Also, at that stage I started to become very short sighted and had many complexes about wearing glasses. So instead of my teenage years being fun, going out with friends and on dates, mine were very lonely years with food was always there to console me. On Saturday nights when other girls were out on dates, I was home with my books. After all, food never let me down, rejected me, disappointed me or at least that's what I thought back then. I used to live in a dream world where a handsome prince on a white horse would come into my life and carry me off into the sunset where I would live happily ever after.

The other thing I remember about my childhood was that my mother wasn't very demonstrative. I know she was only doing the best she knew how but I didn’t know that at the time. I'm sure she loved me but it always seemed as though she only loved me when I did well at school or ballet. Then she could brag about my achievements. I felt as though I wasn't accepted or loved unconditionally. As a result, I wrote a script for myself that read, “In order to be loved I had to be the best at whatever I did.” As a result I became an overachiever. Because of my feelings of insecurity and not being good enough or thin enough or pretty enough to be a success on the social scene; I wanted to shine on the academic side. I accomplished that both at school and university. The food was still my friend and either I was on a diet or else I was compulsively eating to stave off the feelings of loneliness and emptiness inside.

I hadn't dated a whole lot and I was swept off my feet by the person who I thought would be my handsome prince. In reality, he turned out to be a frog. Even though I may have realized at some stage that my marriage wasn't perfect, I didn't want to admit I'd made a mistake. In order to make life more bearable I turned to the food with more desperation. They say this disease is progressive and my experience shows this is true. The harder the problems became in my marriage the more the food helped me to cope. I didn't want to admit what I was feeling and couldn't bear the thought of anyone knowing what I did in secret. Then, in addition to my bad marriage and the financial difficulties, my brother was killed in a car accident. Because he and his wife were getting divorced at the time, in one fell swoop we lost both my brother and my nephews. Our family, especially my parents, fell apart. So I put aside my feelings of grief and loss because I had to be strong for my parents. Again I buried my feelings with mountains of food. Then when I got divorced I had to be strong for my children. The pattern of putting my needs aside because I felt that my needs weren't as important and because others needed me to be there for them was becoming very obvious.

When I remarried I again thought that my life would be perfect. I soon discovered that second marriages are much more difficult. I had never expected that it would be so hard. With children from different marriages and ex spouses my life became even more unmanageable. I turned to food even more than I had in the past and the binges became far worse. Because I had always been dieting on and off, I wasn't that overweight at any given time. Nobody knew what I was doing as it was all done in secret. The shame and guilt was enormous. My compulsive overeating spun totally out of control when my stepson committed suicide and my husband lashed out at me and my children in his pain and grief. I didn't know how to deal with it and instead I ate and I hated myself all the more. At that stage I didn't know that I had a disease and that I was powerless over food.

Fortunately, I was led to the doors of OA just over thirteen years ago and I related to what everyone in my first meeting shared. I knew I wasn't alone. Because my normal pattern was to do whatever I tried perfectly and I couldn't remain abstinent for longer than a few days, I felt like a failure. More than anything, I struggled with the concept of a Higher Power. I was angry at God at that point and could not believe that God could do what these people told me He could. I mean where as God when my only brother was killed in a car accident or when my stepson committed suicide? So I left the program on step two. Also at that time I was busy studying for a postgraduate degree in Psychology, and there was no way I could imagine studying without all my binge foods. I buried myself in my studying and food. Fortunately for me, I got desperate enough to come back. I decided that I would do whatever those crazy people were doing because I saw in their faces something that I wanted. I didn't know at the time what that was, but now I know I saw in those faces hope ~ and I needed that. So I decided to do whatever they were doing for recovery. I just did the footwork and "acted as if." I believed it would work and that there was a Higher Power that could restore me to sanity.

My journey in this program has not been an easy one. Even though at first I became abstinent and lost the weight, I know now in retrospect that what I was doing was just sticking to one of the innumerable diets I'd been on. The only difference was that this time I was also working the steps. Now I know that I hadn't really surrendered and those early days I was doing it all on self will. Of course, ultimately that fell apart. I was shattered when I had my first slip and then struggled to get abstinent again. The next few years were characterized by periods of abstinence followed by many slips. Even though I never went totally back to some of my crazy binges or stayed in relapse for months or years on end, I certainly struggled to maintain long term abstinence. It was only just over two years ago that I finally realized that I needed to consult a dietician who worked with eating disorders. I discovered that what I was in effect doing was either dieting or else bingeing like crazy. My eating habits were all black and white with no grey in between. I also discovered that when I was being good and on a "diet" I was eating too little. From all the years of yo-yo dieting I had messed up my metabolism and mine had slowed down to 70% of normal. No wonder it became harder each time I dieted to lose weight. But I also discovered that deprivation is a huge trigger for a binge for me and so it has been a learning experience to now have a food plan that at first seemed a bit more generous than my diet head thought I should have. Because of that I haven't felt deprived and have been able to stay imperfectly abstinent for over two years which has been a miracle for me.

This program isn't just about the food and weight and works on three levels: physical, emotional and spiritual. As I've heard it said, “It's not what we eat that makes us fat but what's eating us.” In the past I either buried the emotional issues or became resentful. The net result was that I turned to food to compensate. By doing the steps and taking the actions that have worked for thousands of other compulsive overeaters, I started to clear away the wreckage of the past. I have begun to look at what my side was in whatever had happened to me. In the past I had lived in blame and guilt and in particular I always blamed the other person for the reason why I turned to food. I thought, “If you had a mother, ex husband, child or whatever like I did, you would also have to eat.” Each time I have done one of the steps, in particular the amends, I peel away some more layers of the onion and my relationships have improved dramatically. I felt very guilty about what I had done to my kids because of the divorce and what followed. I have only recently discovered that while I did what I physically needed to do for my children, I was emotionally unavailable to them. Just recently when visiting my son in Australia I was able to allow myself to be vulnerable with him and the result was that I realized how very similar we actually are. In the past I was so busy putting on a brave face, trying to show the world I was doing fine and the result was that nobody knew the real me. What a joy to start learning that I can allow the real me to shine and know that I am still a worthwhile person despite my faults. As they say in the program, I am not a bad person trying to get good but instead a sick person trying to get well.

But the most wonderful change for me has been on the spiritual side. Before program, I was spiritually dead inside and had this huge hole in my soul that I kept trying to fill with food. The God I have found in this program is very different from the God of my childhood. I perceived my childhood God to be a punishing God. The God of my understanding now accepts and loves me unconditionally, which was something I never felt I got when I was growing up. He is there for me even when I screw up. What I have discovered is that I still need to do my part. I still need to do the footwork but I leave the results up to my Higher Power. In the past, I struggled with believing that God could help me with my eating. Because I am such a rational logical person, I wanted to have an "if-then" hypothesis before I could believe something would work. But I know now that God acts through people. At each meeting I attend I hear something that I needed to hear for that day and that for me is God speaking to me through my fellows. One thing I heard at a meeting once that really helped me is that God isn't an outward possibility but an inward reality. He is with me whenever I need to access Him.

Unlike the past when I was on all those diets or diet clubs, I know I'll never graduate from this program; it is a journey that I will always be on for the rest of my life. In the words of an OA speaker at a retreat I once went on, “I came for vanity but I have stayed for sanity.” Also in the past I used to be angry that others could have one of certain of my binge foods and leave the rest, whereas for me one would have been too many and a thousand would never be enough. Now I am actually grateful that I am a compulsive overeater because it means that I have this wonderful program which isn't just about food and weight but has given me a road map for life. I would never be without it. My life is so very different from what it was before program. I could never do it without the help of my OA friends and especially my Higher Power. Thank you all for being here as I need you all to keep reminding me that I am and always will be a compulsive overeater.

Love and hugs,
Sharon S.

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