Step One Contents:
|Part 1 and Questions for journaling|
|Part 2 and Questions for journaling|
|Part 3 and Questions for journaling|
|Part 4 and Questions for journaling|
Hello, WTS Friends!!
Happy New Year, and welcome to the start of our 1998 Working the Steps Study. As most of you are aware, the study has a specific format and is designed to guide participants through the 12 Steps over the year. Each week the leader shares his or her experience, strength and hope (E/S/H) on the step of the month. We generally divide the study into four parts. For example, Step 1 Part 1; Step 1 Part 2, etc. At the end of the share, the leader will pose questions for participants to consider. Some people choose to answer the questions privately as part of daily writing, just for their own growth. Others share with a sponsor either on the Internet or over the telephone. Still other participants choose to post answers to the WTS loop. We invite your participation at whatever level you believe will offer you the greatest growth and benefit. You alone can decide what is right for you!
So, welcome to our journey. I look forward to meeting you as we begin our journey through the steps!
Today we begin the year with Step One. As always, I feel incredibly humble to be able to share on this step. The humility stems from an overwhelming awareness of just how basic, how IMPORTANT, this step is to recovery. In many ways, it is a step and a place to which I return repeatedly during the years. It seems I never move very far from this foundation, and yet each time I return it is to a deeper level.
Understanding, accepting, grasping, and incorporating Step One into all aspects of my life has created the foundation upon which recovery began. Nevertheless, how did I ever get from the disease to a place where I could take the first step? What prepared me to begin this journey to recovery? How could I even consider being powerless, when my entire life seemed dedicated to attempting to CONTROL the food and weight?
I believe the disease of compulsive overeating is what brought me to the willingness to take Step One. In my case, the disease had been laying that foundation for more than 30 years. During that time, it exercised power, control, and fear in most aspects of my life at one time or another. The disease robbed me of self-esteem, confidence, relationships, and achievement. I settled for a life that was less than I'd dreamed of having, and did it with a firm belief that I didn't deserve more. For me, the disease of compulsive eating is about a much more than mere pounds and body size. The disease is reflected in the pain which was so much a part of my life. The core belief that I was and am not enough. Briefly sharing my story will, I hope, help to look at the basics of Step One and how the disease itself is the strongest advocate to begin recovery.
So I would like to invite all of you to participate in the Working the Steps Study as we begin our journey this year. Feel free to join us on this journey, sharing your answers with the loop, with a sponsor, or writing for your personal growth in a journal. Whatever you decide, we welcome you on this journey. Welcome to OA Working the Steps. Welcome Home.
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Hello again, WTS Friends,
Before arriving at Overeaters Anonymous 10 years ago, my compulsive eating and battles with food graphically laid the foundation for taking the first step. I can't think of a time when I wasn't obsessed with food, weight or appearance to one extent or another. The family tells stories based on eating and food fixation beginning at the ripe age of 18 months! At three and a half, when Mom wouldn't give me candy, I went Trick or Treating a week after Halloween to secure the sweets I craved! At age five, I quit dance class because I was so embarrassed and self-conscious about my appearance I couldn't bear to be in a dance recital. By age nine, I was already dieting and trying to control weight, and at 13 was using appetite suppressants. At no point, was I a "normal" size during the grade-school, junior high or high school years.
Throughout this time, food was both my "friend" and my "enemy." I felt safe with food. Relationships, people, and socializing baffled me. I didn't know how to talk to people and had no friends. People, at least those my age, frightened me. I could relate to adults, but not to peers from school. Being alone with food and a book, food and TV, food and a movie were much safer than having to interact with people. Food didn't talk back. It didn't cause me to feel awkward or left out. It didn't make fun of me for being "that fat Linda." Food didn't seem to have any expectations. It was just there. When I was eating, the rest of the world went away. I didn't feel so alone. For a short time, I felt all right and could forget how lonely and different I felt.
Somehow I constructed a life that allowed as much time as possible with food and eating. I would eat as I read or studied. In high school, I would spend an hour or more per day working at the candy store run by the school newspaper. The reason? It was easier while "working" to buy my daily five to six candy bars and consume them while no one was around. I took babysitting jobs so that I could eat and read, alone, after the children went to bed. I stole money from the family piggy bank to purchase food. The secret here, however, was that I seldom or NEVER ate in front of others! I was ashamed of my size to the extent that food consumption or overeating was impossible while others were present. Nevertheless, whenever I ate, life became just a little bit easier and the fear of the world subsided for at least a short time.
Of course, alternating with the relief experienced while I was eating, was an awareness of just how fat I was. I longed to look like and be like the other young people at school. At different times I would try to diet, only to give up. By the middle of my senior year of high school, I was at 200 pounds and feeling desperate. If only I could lose weight, life would be different! I began a "serious" diet in which I somehow managed to lose more than 50 pounds and for the first time in my life wore a NORMAL size! It was amazing! And just in time for my life to change. After all, I was getting out of high school and leaving for college. And at a normal weight. Things would be different now! I had the secret! And now I was at a normal weight! I could live happily ever after -- Right?
With this attitude, I set off for school. During my freshman year, I met a man, we became engaged, and got married between my freshman and sophomore year. This was during the Viet Nam War, and he was in the Air Force so our first year of marriage was "separated" because of the war. Somehow, I managed to keep most of the weight off while he was in Viet Nam, but on his return the pounds began to creep, and then pile back on! Within a year I was again at 200 pounds, and deep into the disease. But, never fear! The end of college was nearly here, and my husband had orders to a GLAMOUROUS city halfway across the country!! Completing college, moving to a new life, getting a professional job!! Hey, wasn't that the solution? Surely with those changes the weight would be resolved and life would be great. I just knew the cause of the weight gain were all those external problems. When we were in the right place and I had the right job, well --- I'd lose weight. It wouldn't be a problem anymore. The difficulty was all that stress I'd always been under. This was about to change. Things would be fine.
The day I graduated from college, I joined my husband in our new city. What a change! It was so exciting, but also frightening. There was no family, no friends, no job. We were starting over together. Shortly I began looking for work, and within months secured employment in my chosen field. Weight was still a problem, but by this time I had found diet clubs and weight loss centers. Before long, I became a professional member of these places. Sometimes I would lose weight, sometimes not. If weight loss did occur, it was temporary at best and somehow I always "found" as much or more than I lost. No, life was not perfect, and moving, graduating from college, finding a job did not solve all those problems. Fat or a little more slender, I was unhappy. Our marriage began to falter, and ended six years after it began. Hey -- now there was the solution!! HE was the problem and once divorced the weight would take care of itself and I would be happy. Obviously, the problem was the relationship and once out of that and into a new one I'd be happy. Life would be worth living.
Oddly enough, with the divorce I did lose weight. A friend from work introduced me to a wonderful man in due course, and life improved. My new boyfriend explained that he didn't care for heavy women, and encouraged me to lose weight. He was, in fact, enormously helpful in this area. He took an interest in the commercial diet program I was following. After work, I would go to the gym and work out. He came home from his work and was willing to prepare meals in keeping with the food plan I was following! It took several months, but I attained "goal weight" and was thinner than I had ever been in my life! How wonderful!! Hey, this divorce and new boyfriend really were the answer. We got engaged, including a solemn vow on my part NEVER to gain weight again in my life. Still, that wouldn't be hard. I now knew how to eat properly and had a person who loved and supported me in this endeavor. That was all that was needed.
Only for me, knowledge of HOW to eat just wasn't enough. I tried. Yet at every crisis or stress point, I would turn to food for solace. Sometimes I would just gain a few pounds. Mostly it was more. Between, I learned every commercial diet or weight loss scheme known to man --- or at least it felt that way. I tried prepackaged foods, weight loss books, exercise, counseling, behavior modification, and various combinations of solutions. The obsession with diet and weight loss became overwhelming. I adopted the belief that one could never be too thin! This was in the very early 1980's --- the time of Karen Carpenter's battle with anorexia. I had not heard of that disease, and would have laughed if anyone said I was too thin. But I was consumed with the need to exercise and lose more weight. I began restricting my food, running, and had a goal to compete in marathon races. Each day I would set out to break the running time of the previous day, and would step on the scale hoping to be just a little thinner. It never occurred to me that I was losing too much, and to this day I resist the notion that I became too thin. I still am unable to say that I ever had anorexia. However, my doctor began to question me about it and asked directly if I did. He was most insistent that I gain weight. People I worked with, including those who barely knew me, questioned my size and insisted that I had become too thin. Inside, I was convinced I was still fat. On the street I would see women whom I thought were slender and pretty, and asked my husband if I were that thin yet. He would stare at me, and insist that I was much thinner than they were. That didn't ring true for me. I knew I was fatter than they. Even my husband was getting concerned, and wanted me to stop losing weight. The world must be nuts!
Within months the disease of compulsive overeating kicked in, and over just a couple of years I doubled my body weight! All that knowledge, all that awareness, and I couldn't keep the weight off. I really was a failure, and this just seemed to prove it.
It took me another three years to finally walk through the doors of Overeaters Anonymous. They were the most painful years of my life. Almost daily I would vow to get the eating and weight under control. I tried diet after diet, seldom able to last more than hours, if that. At work I developed a ritual. Periodically I attempted to find a solution for the weight. During the afternoon I would look up weight loss, reducing, health clubs in the phone book, and would call around seeking a solution. I knew that a mere diet was not the answer. If it were, one of the dozens tried before would have worked. I didn't know the solution, but continued to hope someone, somewhere, would be able to help. None of the myriad calls made resulted in an answer which held out hope. I was growing desperate, and wanted to die. Although I was not yet willing to kill myself, I surely did NOT want to wake up tomorrow.
One day, I picked up the phone, and began seeking yet another counselor. This time it was different. Rather than run through the names of people in the counseling field who might recommend an expert, I picked a name and number from the phone book and scheduled an appointment. The counselor suggested attendance at OA as part of the treatment process, and a month later I walked through the doors for my first meeting.
At that point, I was more than 100 pounds overweight, unable to diet for even hours, suicidal (or very close to it) and had very little hope of any future. My husband and I had a marriage in name only, and I'd spent three years in the guest room because he found my weight so objectionable. I'd hit bottom, and was ready to do whatever was needed to change my life. At my first meeting, I heard others share things about food that I thought ONLY I had ever done!! I had come home at last. And the disease of compulsive eating is what brought me to this place. It did the work before I ever walked through the door.
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January 6, 1998
Hello WTS Friends,
Welcome to the continuation of our 1998 study.
My first OA meeting was 10 years ago, on December 28, 1987. Around Thanksgiving of that year, I had sought out a counselor. At our second appointment she suggested Overeaters Anonymous. I'd never heard of OA, and somehow didn't make the mental connection with AA. For a few weeks I stalled attending an OA meeting. The thought was terribly frightening for some reason, but after stalling I feared she would refuse to see me again unless I followed through on the referral. Reluctantly, I called the OA number in the phone book, gathered meeting information, and after another week of delay went to my first meeting.
That meeting was a painful experience. I don't know what touched me, but I cried through the entire meeting. It was mortifying. That was especially true since I had inadvertently managed to sit to the left of the leader. Ashamed of my tears, I did the best I could to have it appear I had allergies -- faking sneezes and sniffles, and sneaking tissues under my glasses. In retrospect, the entire scenario is hilarious, but at the time the tears and emotions humiliated me.
In many ways, I was lucky to begin OA when and where I did, and to encounter many of the people I encountered. I believe that my Higher Power must have REALLY wanted me to recover, because there were some incredible "coincidences" which took place in the first few months. A definition I have heard of coincidence is that it is God acting anonymously. Well, my Higher Power was putting in some overtime on my behalf!
One "coincidence" was matching me with my first sponsor. The woman who became my sponsor was someone I had initially rejected as a possible sponsor. However, my Higher Power knew we were exactly what the other needed then. She needed to be sharing her program with someone desperate to recover and willing to go to any lengths. I needed a sponsor who could take time with me, and who had a firm foundation in the steps. After I had been attending meetings a bit over a month, I went to my regular meeting with the intention of asking a particular person to be my sponsor. She didn't say she was a sponsor, but she had a peace about her that I wanted. I was afraid of rejection, and actually had practiced being turned down with my counselor. The meeting was huge!! To allow time for people to share, the leader split the room in two, and I was exactly at the dividing line. One chair further, and I would have been in the other half of the room. The person who became my sponsor, and the one whom I had selected were both on my side of the room. The first person to share was X, the woman who became my sponsor. Before sharing, she said, "I have been listing myself as a sponsor for a while now, but have not been asked to be a sponsor. I have a good program, based on the steps, and I need to be sharing this for my recovery. If you are here and looking for a sponsor, please consider asking me. This is something I need to be doing." She then went on to share on the topic. The NEXT person to speak, was the individual I had selected. To this day, I have no idea what she said, but as she spoke there was an absolute certainty that if I asked her it would be the mistake of my life. After the meeting, X came up to me, said she was so happy I had continued to come back to meetings and was very friendly. As she walked away, I looked up and mentally said, "OK, God, I get the picture. I'll ask her." Then I followed X, and told her I had come to the meeting to get a sponsor.
When I asked this wonderful lady to be my sponsor, she said several things I needed to hear. First, she told me that we could talk about food and food issues if needed, but that recovery was in the steps and we would be doing the steps together. She made sure I had a Big Book, the AA 12 and 12 (we didn't have one at the time!), and the pamphlet "The 12 Steps for You and Your Sponsor." We looked over the literature and she pointed out several things which the pamphlet suggested reading. I was to call her at 7:00 the next evening. Thus, began my introduction to the steps. Over the next four days, we completed the first three steps.
In working step one, we spent much time talking. What did powerless mean to me? I learned to use a dictionary, to define words for myself so that I would be comfortable with their meaning. I learned to look past the surface issues of weight and bingeing, and to understand how the disease was affecting my life.
To begin with, we looked at what it meant to be powerless. The dictionary says: "1. Destitute of power; unable to accomplish an effect; impotent." That seemed to sum up my situation with food. I couldn't control it anymore. Every day I tried to diet, only to fail and succumb to the desire for all the things which made me fat. My efforts to control the food through diet were without avail. Certainly I had lost the power of choice over what I ate.
As for the second part of the step, could my life be considered unmanageable? The definition is "Not manageable: uncontrollable, intractable." My sponsor and I discussed various aspects of my life. Obviously the weight was out of control since I was 100 pounds overweight. Nevertheless, was that the only problem I had? At work I was doing an adequate job, but not my best. All those afternoons of thinking about weight and diet and calling weight loss programs would suggest I was not doing by best. At home I was upset and depressed, filled with anger I could not acknowledge and pain I blamed on my husband. I spent far too much money on food, hobbies, and clothes, going on spending sprees of several hundred dollars a month at times. I had withdrawn from people, preferring to eat and isolate. At one point, I even considered leaving home and job. My goal was to find a small apartment where I would eat, read, and watch TV until I ran out of money -- then kill myself. I'd gone as far as to investigate the funds I had available for carrying out this plan. The fact was that I was desperately unhappy.
In the past, I had always thought that if I could get my weight under control, I would be happy. The difficulty with this type of thinking was that in the past my weight HAD been under control. Although I'd been at a "normal" weight several times, I had continued to be unhappy. All my problems had not magically disappeared. I was no happier in my marriage, at work, or with myself when thin than I was while fat. Several times over the years I thought I had the key, that I had identified the one thing outside myself that, if changed, would solve my problems. Each time I made the change or reached my goal: graduated from High School or college, married, moved, divorced, changed jobs, -- I remained unhappy. Surely, I thought, the problem was that I had not handled the weight at the same time. If I could just get everything to come together then I would be happy. By the time I arrived at OA, I knew a diet wouldn't solve the problem. Diets alone hadn't worked in the past, but I continued to believe that somehow solving the weight problem PERMANENTLY would make me happy. I was convinced the obstacle to happiness had been my failure to stay thin LONG enough to get the rest of life "under control."
As I talked to my sponsor and we looked at the first step, it began to dawn on me that my problem was NOT my weight, but my adjustment to life. My PROBLEM was ME. I was responsible for my own unhappiness.
This initial understanding of the steps and the program was enough to get me started. For the first time in my life I could look past the weight and the food to my LIFE. I could begin to take some responsibility for my own pain, actions, and stop blaming the rest of the world. Additionally, I lost some of the shame I felt for being a compulsive eater. Before my first meeting, I thought I was the ONLY person in the world who went to more than one fast food place for lunch, who lied at the check out stand about purchasing the treats for nonexistent children, who stopped at the convenience store on the way home from work to get enough food to make it through dinner. I thought I was the only person who hid food in drawers around the house, avoided social occasions because of embarrassment over appearance, or who cried herself to sleep nightly. I thought I was the only person who put on a "happy mask" before leaving home each day, pretending to be confident, competent and energetic, only to come home at night drained, afraid, and stuffing all the insecurity in the refrigerator.
With the help of my sponsor, I made a beginning on recovery. I took the first steps, wrote an inventory, did my fifth step, began looking at defects of character and making amends. It was a start, and actually a firm foundation for recovery. I began to see that if I were responsible for my own problems, with help from my sponsor and the 12 Step program I could also be responsible for the solution and recovery. I understood that recovery would come through working the steps and making a commitment to the program. The Big Book talks about being willing to go to any lengths. I was willing to do whatever was needed to recover.
This awareness and knowledge took me a long way toward recovery, but it wasn't everything *I* needed to make progress. Little did I know that I still did not have a firm understanding of the disease of compulsive eating. For me, that would come later through studying the "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous. Learning about and understanding the disease was an extremely important part of recovery for me. Nevertheless, working through the first step as I did with my sponsor was an essential beginning.
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January 14, 1998
Hello Fellow Travelers on the Road of Happy Destiny,
I'm so glad you could join us in continuing the study of Step One.
After I had been in OA for about six months, I was introduced to an AA Big Book study by Joe and Charlie. It was through this and subsequent studies of the Big Book that I gained a real understanding of this disease. Gaining this understanding of the disease of compulsive eating has been really important to me in my recovery. However, I don't often hear people discussing the nature of our illness in the same way I needed to do. I only know that it was only after I heard Joe and Charlie that I could comprehend WHAT compulsive eating was. This was an essential part of my recovery, and one without which I would have made little progress. I would like to take the opportunity to share with you some of what I learned through the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. I truly hope it is as beneficial to others as it has been to me.
My first discovery in studying the Big Book was that it was written by not just one person, but by 100. (Page xiii: "We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered.") I can argue with and question ONE person, but the book relates the recovery experience of one HUNDRED people. That creates a much greater impact. The program of action outlined in the book has already helped these 100 people to recover. It has WORKED for them. In studying the material, I am forced to concede that what worked for those 100 people is likely to work for me.
The second discovery was the PURPOSE of this book. In the foreword to the first edition, again on page xiii, it reads: "To show other alcoholics PRECISELY HOW WE HAVE RECOVERED is the main purpose of this book." This tells me that if I read and study this book, if I follow the instructions EXACTLY, I can probably recover just as those first one hundred recovered.
But recover from what? What is the nature of this disease? The World always told me my problem was lack of willpower. In fact, after years of lectures and criticism from all around me, I had come to the conclusion that I was just a stupid, fat, weak-willed slob. In "The Doctor's Opinion" of the book Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned that I had a disease. What a relief. I was not a "bad" person. This was not something I was responsible for any more than I was responsible for having asthma, or if I had diabetes, or cancer. I HAD A DISEASE!! For me, there was relief in that knowledge. I moved from being a "bad" person to being someone with a disease which could be treated if I were willing to follow the treatment program outlined in the book.
In "The Doctor's Opinion" we learn "that the body of the alcoholic is quite as abnormal as his mind." (Page xxiv of Alcoholics Anonymous) This states quite clearly that there are two aspects to our disease: 1) physical component; and 2) a mental abnormality. I'm not JUST crazy or mentally defective. Nor is there only a mental aspect which needs to be addressed. There are TWO parts to the disease. It helps me to remember that with the dual nature of the condition (mental and physical) I must address both or I will not recover.
Further down the same page it says: "The doctor's theory that we have an allergy to alcohol interests us." This began to give me a small insight to the nature of the disease. I have an allergy? My first reaction was "Wait a minute!! ALLERGY." I mean, I knew what an allergy looked like. When around smoke or floral perfumes, I have immediate asthma attacks. THAT is an allergy. Then there is my friend Mary, who is allergic to legumes and when she eats them her throat swells. I have another friend with an allergy who gets hives. None of those things happen to me when I eat most foods. So how could I possibly be allergic? At first this made no sense whatever.
Then I made a discovery. I turned to my trusty dictionary for the definition of allergy and to check out what those AA speakers were saying. My college dictionary defines allergy as: "1. A condition of heightened sensitivity in an individual to a substance that in similar amounts is harmless to a majority." Okay. Putting it in my own words, an allergy is an abnormal reaction to something. Dr. Silkworth, in "The Doctor's Opinion" said that in some people this abnormal reaction is manifested in a craving. I had to consider this based on my life. Was that EVER true for me?
Looking back at my eating history, I had to admit it was. There were certain foods that once I began to eat them, it seemed like I was unable to stop. I'd start with the best intention of having just a taste, just a tiny bit at a special event or party. The plan would then be to resume the diet immediately the next day. How often had I tried that, only to eat not just a sliver, slice or taste but then go back for seconds, thirds, or later buy an entire package and consume it? What about the Christmas after I had been clean from sugar for more than 20 months and chose to pick up the sugar just during the holidays. I would resume the diet and exercise regime the first of the year. Only I didn't, no matter how hard I tried. It wasn't long before I doubled my body weight all the while trying to diet and lose weight, and baffled about why I couldn't do it. Sometimes I would start with one substance I didn't particularly care about, only to progress to others that were "favorites" which it was impossible to put down.
On the other hand, I have never overeaten some foods in my entire life! In fact, some of them you can sit in front of me, and I won't even try them. After considering my history, and talking to friends in OA, I have come to believe that many of us have trigger foods. I believe those triggers differ from person to person. My personal experience is that for me the worst triggers are foods with a lot of sugar and/or fat. If I'm going to overeat, those are what I head for and where the binge usually starts. Those are MY personal triggers. Other people have different triggers, and some appear to have no specific trigger foods or problems. Nevertheless, in looking at my situation honestly, I was forced to admit I appeared to have a physical allergy to some foods, IF we could say that the manifestation was a physical craving for more of the substance.
In refining my understanding of the disease of compulsive eating, it became necessary for me to go a step or two further. If the problem is an allergy, then what can be done? After all, I have to eat. Surely that is different from being an alcoholic. I mean, NO ONE has to drink!! What could be done? Again, the answer was to be found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. On Page xxvi it reads: "We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types can never safely use alcohol in any form at all". At first that seemed to confirm what I was thinking. An alcoholic can stop drinking. Then I read closer: "can never safely use ALCOHOL in any form." The key was identifying the substance to which I was allergic. An alcoholic still drinks. They must. If a person were to stop drinking totally, cease consuming any fluids, that person would die in short order. A recovering alcoholic drinks soda, milk, tea, water, juice, and the ever-present coffee. They consume great quantities of fluids. The key is that these fluids do not contain any alcohol.
For me, the solution was to determine my "alcoholic" foods. Those are the foods which, for me, are the items that trigger the allergy and thus the phenomenon of craving. My personal alcoholic foods are very probably different from those of another person. Still, since we are all individuals that doesn't matter. This is not a program of comparison, but one of honesty. My only job is to be open to discovering what MY personal alcoholic foods are. Over the years I have refined and modified the list of alcoholic foods. Some items have been added because over time they have become trigger foods and are no longer "safe." At one point I could eat them in moderation, only to discover they had become triggers later. One example is the health food form of dessert items. At one point they were safe and I could eat one or two. As time passed, I discovered rather than eating one or two, I was obsessing about the package and coming closer and closer to consuming the entire package. This was no longer a safe food for me, and was added to the "alcoholic foods" list. This has occurred for several items. Honesty in working my program, and willingness to make changes has been instrumental in this aspect of my program.
Finally I was beginning to understand this disease of compulsive overeating. There exists an allergy which manifests itself in the phenomenon of craving. When I eat foods to which I am allergic, my body begins to crave more of the same. Having comprehended that much, the book led me to the next important aspect of our disease. "Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol." (Page xxvi) What? This was something new. Previously my response would have been that I ate because I liked the taste of various foods. Another answer would have been that I ate when stressed or upset. Both were true. Careful consideration revealed the truth of this statement about liking the effect. It wasn't until my mind began to dwell on myriad situations during which I would feel the compulsion to eat and turned to food.
As I mentally reviewed my life, I began to see a pattern. My choice to eat appeared to be governed by some inner need fulfilled by the food. It dawned on me that food did have some mysterious effect on me. Compulsive eating or food DID something special to me or for me. The scenario which convinced me of the truth of the statement that I eat because I like the effect produced was one which surprised me.
Over the years one of the most loathed duties of life was to attend parties. I especially dreaded the requirement to attend holiday parties or any occasion resembling a cocktail party. At these rather unstructured events it was expected that attendees mingle. Safe social occasions were ones where I'd find a couple of individuals we knew well, and elect to sit with them. In program parlance, they had been taken hostage for the evening. At a cocktail party, it was much more difficult to claim hostages. People don't seem to settle down and stay put. I felt out of place and uncomfortable. Materializing ahead would be the buffet table, loaded with goodies!! Of course, prior to the event I would have experienced all the expected emotions and concerns related to my weight. Who would be at the party? Had they seen me since my last diet. What would they think about the weight I had gained? Does my ensemble fit properly? Be careful not to eat too much and to stay away from the buffet. What will people think if they see you eating?
The more uncomfortable I felt, the stronger the buffet would beckon. It was as though the mythological sirens inhabited the buffet and were calling my name. Shortly, I would be drawn to the buffet, standing nearby with loaded plate consuming an array of goodies. As I ate, my feelings would alter although I am uncertain I was consciously aware of the change. But in reviewing my behavior, recognizing the alteration is possible. Before securing the food, I would be alone, feeling awkward, uncomfortable, nervous. Even when I knew people around me, striking up a conversation seemed overwhelming. Yet as I consumed the food, the discomfort slowly decreased. Speaking to those around me was not so daunting. Before long, another person and I would be chatting away. Food had removed my fears and replaced them with confidence. FOOD WAS DOING FOR ME WHAT I COULD NOT DO FOR MYSELF!
While grasping the idea that food and compulsive eating did something for me, I also made another discovery which helped to explain some of the difficulty experienced when trying to diet. First, most of the diets attempted in the past did not eliminate my alcoholic foods. I had done that once, but most of the time those foods were simply moderated. So, periodically, or even regularly, they were ingested and they triggered the phenomenon of craving. No wonder it was so difficult to diet!! I had to constantly fight that craving which urged me to continue eating.
However, the Big Book offered an additional explanation. On page xxvi-xxvii it reads: "They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks - drinks which they see others taking with impunity." This may not describe you, but it certainly describes me better than anything I have ever read. While dieting, I often became a beast. This person I could scarcely recognize would emerge. She was irritable, on edge, cross, sharp-tongued. That person snapped at the slightest provocation, was overly emotional and constantly thought about all those foods denied to her. There was anger and bitterness at the multitude of people who could eat what they wanted and not get fat. It wasn't fair! They could eat whatever they liked, and *I* was stuck with THIS. Self-pity became a constant companion. More often than not, the yearning to shed the sensation of being "restless, irritable and discontented" would become overpowering, and in due course, I would return to the food.
The Big Book predicts this when it says in the next sentence: "After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again." How often did that happen, including the proclamation that this would be the last time. I would stick with the next diet and would never give in to the food again. Yet before long I would have repeated the pattern. It happened many times until I despaired of finding a solution.
It was then that I arrived at Overeaters Anonymous where I encountered others who were recovering from this disease of compulsive eating. These people had not only lost weight, or were in the process of losing their weight, but they had "something" I could recognize but not name. It was a peace or calmness about them -- an acceptance of life, and joy in living. I'd lost weight before, and been a normal weight a few times, but never had that aura of peace and serenity these people had. I wanted that, and was told that through the 12 Steps and the recovery program of Overeaters Anonymous I, too, could have this indescribable something I identified in others. The longer I attended meetings, the more this "something" drew me toward the program and recovery. It is what kept me coming back.
Thank you for letting me share. Next week, we continue to discuss the problem, the mental obsession, and discover what the solution to recovery is. I hope you will join me then.
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January 24, 1998
Hello WTS Friends!!
Step One: "We admitted we were powerless over food, that our lives had become unmanageable."
Welcome to the conclusion of our Step One study. I applaud all of you who have been reading, answering the questions, and seeking growth through working the steps. Reading your responses to the questions has been inspirational and a privilege. Thank you for sharing your recovery process!!
At the end of Part 3, we were looking at our pattern of repeatedly returning to the disease despite our earnest desire to stop. According to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, based on that behavior alone, my answer would qualify me as a compulsive eater. The Big Book lists two questions as criteria for determining if you are, or are not, a compulsive overeater (alcoholic). Those questions are (Page 44): "If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quite entirely, or is when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic." Boy, were both of those true of me!! No question about it, I was and am a compulsive overeater.
Throughout most of my life, at least from grade-school on, countless hours were spent planning diets, binges, exercising, dreaming of being thin. I would diet, often lose several pounds and even attained and maintained at goal weight on various occasions. Nevertheless, before walking through the OA doors, I had lost the power of choice over food. No matter how badly I wanted to diet and lose weight, I was incapable of sticking with a plan. I swore off, promised myself incentives, promised others to diet, but inevitably was back into the food in a matter of days, if not hours. Once I began to eat, I could not stop.
Without question, food was no longer my friend, although at some point in the past it had been my "best friend." However, somewhere along the line, food had turned on me. Previously, *I* used food for comfort, to ease situations, to give me courage and enable me to handle tasks I would have been otherwise unable to perform without my personal brand of false courage. Now, instead of *me* turning to food and using food, I discovered that *food* had taken over. The FOOD controlled and ran my life. I no longer had a choice in the matter. I *HAD* to eat. Even with the best of intentions to diet, I would find myself mysteriously at the store purchasing my favorite binge items. I didn't want to do that and truly WANTED to diet. I WANTED to lose weight, but there I was, once again. Binge items in hand at the checkout counter and wondering how it had happened. Food was in the driver's seat and ruling my life.
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous explains it this way on page 24:
"The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink. "The almost certain consequences that follow taking even a glass of beer do not crowd into the mind to deter us. If these thoughts occur, they are hazy and readily supplanted with the old threadbare idea that this time we shall handle ourselves like other people. There is a complete failure of the kind of defense that keeps one from putting his hand on a hot stove. "The alcoholic may say to himself in the most casual way, 'It won't burn me this time, so here's how!' Or perhaps he doesn't think at all. How often have some of us begun to drink in this nonchalant way, and after the third or fourth, pounded on the bar and said to ourselves, 'For God's sake, how did I ever get started again?' Only to have that thought supplanted by 'Well, I'll stop with the sixth drink.' Or 'What's the use anyhow?' "
How true that was for me!! Seldom, probably NEVER, did I remember what would happen when I chose to pick up the food and revert to old patterns. For example, one Christmas I decided to join in with the rest of the office indulging in all the special treats. My thoughts were simply that I would eat more leniently and have some of the holiday delicacies. I would resume my diet and exercise program after the first of the year. Memories of all the times I had "broken" my diet and gained enormous amounts of weight never crossed my mind. If they did, those thoughts were supplanted by the notion that this time I *KNEW* how to take and keep the weight off. This time I would get fat. I bought into the illusion that I could control my eating and put down the food whenever *I* chose. Was I burned? You bet!! In less than three years I had doubled my body weight.
As a result of my little excursion, the eating became completely out of control. My marriage was in tatters, work performance was far less than it should have been, and I was as miserable as I had been at any point in my life. Perhaps more miserable. But the false belief that I could resume my diet and exercise regime right after the first of the year had been the deciding factor in picking up the food. I could not, or did not, remember what would happen. If I did remember, I believed the results would be different this time, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
In retrospect, what is baffling is the number of times I gave in to the delusion this time it would be different. This happened many times even after I had been away from what I now know are my alcoholic foods. Sometimes I had refrained from eating those substances for months. Still, the occasion arose where I would allow myself to experiment my own brand of Russian Roulette. I loaded up the gun, fired as I picked up the food, and hoped I didn't get the barrel with the fat. What mystifying behavior that is in the light of past experience.
Page 22 of the Big Book reads:
"Why does he behave like this? If hundreds of experiences have shown him that one drink means another debacle with all its attendant suffering and humiliation, why is it he takes that one drink? Why can't he stay on the water wagon? What has become of the common sense and will power that he still sometimes displays with respect to other matters? "Perhaps there never will be a full answer to these questions. Opinions vary considerably as to why the alcoholic reacts differently from normal people. We are not sure why, once a certain point is reached, little can be done for him. We cannot answer the riddle. "We know that while the alcoholic keeps away from drink, as he may do for months or years, he reacts much like other men. We are equally positive that once he takes any alcohol whatever into his system, something happens, both in the bodily and mental sense, which makes it virtually impossible for him to stop. The experience of any alcoholic will abundantly confirm this. "These observations would be academic and pointless if our friend never took the first drink, thereby setting the terrible cycle in motion. Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body."
According to this, the danger for me was not and IS not just the allergy. Oh, that is a huge danger and if I begin eating my substance I have released a monster I may not be able to cage again successfully. But the greatest danger is already there propelling me toward the food whether I have picked up my binge items or not. It resides in the mind. It is the mental obsession which tells me time and again, as it has so often in the past, that this once I can get away with indulging myself. This once it will not hurt me. THIS ONCE, IT WILL BE DIFFERENT. Only, of course, it never is. But the disease is cunning, baffling, and powerful. It will go to any lengths to fool me and entice me back into the addiction.
The mental obsession creates some sort of void. Within that vacuum I am incapable of remembering the pain caused when I pick up the food. I forget the time a small boy in a bookshop pointed at me and said loudly to his father, "Look at the fat lady, Daddy." I am unable to recall the pain of being unable to fit into desks at school. I don't remember the discomfort of trying to fit into too-small seats at the theater, the difficulty in passing through turnstiles at the supermarket, the self-conscious mortification of encountering people who had last seen me 75 or more pounds lighter and the shock registering on their faces when they first recognize me. That pain and embarrassment doesn't even come to mind. The only thing I remember is the food. Somewhere, at a visceral level, there is remembrance of what food does for me. I recognize and seek out that feeling of ease and comfort brought by the food. There is a complete loss, no memory whatsoever, of what it is food will do TO me. Therein lies the problem.
In taking the first step, I needed to recognize several things which were all bound together in those simple words of the step, and then so well explained in the book "Alcoholics Anonymous." First, I had to recognize that my attempts in the past to control the food through diet, exercise, starving, purging, laxatives, therapy, pills, and every other means I had tried did not work. I was POWERLESS over the food. Second, my life was unmanageable. Not just in terms of what I ate, but the eating, focus and obsession on the food affected all areas of my life including work, friendships, money, family, health, school and social life. Third, there appeared to be certain foods and/or behaviors that made return to obesity and lack of control more likely than other things. When I ate those foods or engaged in the actions, it was quite certain that the eating would shortly be out of control. Once out of control, it would be difficult if not impossible to stop eating, to halt the destructive cycle. Fourth, that part of the attraction of the food was what it did FOR me. Deep inside, I needed to understand that it was not just that the food tasted good -- but that it changed me and made me feel better. It calmed, and soothed me. It altered my perceptions. Lastly, I needed to recognize, to be completely aware of, what food did TO me. Until I could recognize the pain it caused, and face the fact that it would continue to cause pain, I would continue to delude myself concerning my ability to control.
To do all these things, I needed the help of a loving sponsor, and the willingness to use the tools of the program and then to face the truth about myself. That is where Overeaters Anonymous made such a difference. I could not have faced the truth about myself alone. I needed the support, encouragement and understanding of others who were recovering from compulsive overeating. The fact these people had faced and were conquering compulsive overeating that they had experienced and were overcoming the same obstacles with which I was struggling, enabled me to begin making changes. I could listen as others shared, learn what had worked for them, and begin to reach out in safety. The bond of the common problem of compulsive overeating, allowed me to reach out to others who were recovering using common solution. The solution lay in the 12 Steps which led us to a power greater than ourselves AND greater than food. A power which would allow me to overcome my problem and to recover, just as the Big Book says.
The admission and recognition which are part of Step One, taken with the help of others in the Fellowship of OA, allowed me to begin the process of recovery. It prepared me to take action. Without action, without taking the first tiny steps toward freedom by making a small commitment to work the program, I would have made no progress. But with the support and help of others in the fellowship, I became ready to take action and the steps One Day at a Time. For me, that is the beauty of recovery in Overeaters Anonymous. All of us with a common problem, working together using a common solution, to recover from compulsive overeating.
Thank you all for allowing me to share on the First Step. It has been a real privilege and a humbling experience. The process has taught me a great deal. I have enjoyed your participation and sharing, and have learned from each of you who wrote on the questions and shared. You have all been great!
Love and hugs,
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