STEP ONE ~ INTRODUCTION - STEP LEADER'S PERSONAL STORY
My name is Penny, and I am a compulsive eater and food addict, and your leader for the next WTS Step Study.
I came into Overeaters Anonymous in 1987 and in that time I've experienced years of sort-of abstinence, rock solid abstinence and relapse (more about this later). God willing, I will celebrate three years of solid abstinence on April 3, 2002. I'm also an OA "retread," having been in OA in the mid/late 1970's.
My earliest memory of compulsive/bizarre eating is nibbling around the rim of a salami when I was really young and when asked, explaining "Penny loves salami." Everyone thought it was cute.
Even though my eating didn't really take off until I was about 9 or 10 and in 6th grade, fear ruled my life from early childhood. If my parents were late picking me up, I panicked, convinced they either were dead or had forgotten about me. I always felt different from my classmates, although I desperately wanted to fit in. I started out a bit younger than my classmates because I had started school six months earlier than most kids, and my brains and my emotions never jived, especially after I skipped a grade, making me at least a year and a half younger than everyone else. That can be a HUGE gulf when you're a kid who's already socially awkward. I was socially wonderful with grownups but socially negative with kids my own age.
Food took on new meaning in 6th grade: if I couldn't join in with the popular kids, I would eat like them. They all ate at a corner luncheonette, but I had to go home for lunch (boy, am I dating myself - these were the days when kids left elementary school for lunch and came back - plus I'm from Brooklyn, NY, where "busing" meant taking public transportation). I didn't have any money, so I stole it from my parents, ate my lunch at home under our housekeeper's supervision, and ran to that corner luncheonette to buy another lunch - making sure the popular girls saw me. I figured that if they saw me eating lunch by myself, they'd think I was grown up like them. "If I can't join 'me, I'll eat like 'em" became my philosophy of making friends. I kept this up through junior high school and high school. It didn't work. They didn't like me any better, and I got fat. Buying friendship - by offering to get kids rides up the hill from the high school or inviting them over to my house or doing favors for them - didn't work either. I got fatter - and more miserable.
People would tell me how beautiful I was, "if only ...;" and I'd eat more ... and I got more and more miserable and angry. I took modern dance in high school - I cannot look at the pictures of myself without cringing or feeling so sad for this little (5 feet) girl who was trying so hard to be like everyone else.
I thought I was amazingly talented - but few people recognized my ability. Actually, I *was* talented ... turned out I had a really excellent voice ... but opera wasn't too popular, and I got made fun of more than got admired by my classmates. I spent high school fat, miserable, angry, lonely, sad, terrified (of getting bad grades and being unloved). No one loved me, and I was a victim. I went on my first diet, the binger's dream diet, as a high school senior. All the protein I could eat and as much water as I could swallow, and I lost a lot of weight. I experienced a new emotion: power. Thin meant power, control, energy, love. I developed magical thinking: thin was the antidote to fat. As long as I was thin, I'd never get fat again. It never occurred to me that I got fat when I overate, which I eventually did. But then I learned to starve myself and exercise, and now 300 - 400 calories a day meant power, control, energy, love. I binged and starved my way through college, secretarial school (this was going to pay for my opera career - I was still at it) and my first job on Wall Street.
My body size might have changed from large to small to large again, but my mind never changed. I was still awkward, lonely, desperate to be loved, terrified of not being loved (now terrified of not getting or maintaining a job), miserable and angry. "When I get ..., I'll be happy" became my philosophy ... a job, a husband, a child, a VCR, a condominium ... "when I get ... I'll be happy." My opera career (that wasn't) died off when I realized I was going nowhere rapidly; I was terrified during auditions and frequently got sick before auditions and performances (I've since learned that that was a coping mechanism to protect myself from what I saw as inevitable criticism and rejection).
I got a husband, I had a child, I got fatter and more miserable. I punched holes in walls in rages caused by my believing I had screwed up. I punched my own stomach in rages caused by my loathing my body and believing I had screwed up by bingeing. I hated myself. I may have been married and living in another state, but I was still a baby. I went on one diet after another, gaining and losing weight, exercising, using laxatives. I ate out of garbage pails and freezers. I hid food, stole food, snuck food. I ate off others' plates and out of serving bowls. I bought food for my family and ate it all and had to restock.
In 1987 we gave birth to twins. That pregnancy and subsequent birth brought me to my knees food wise. I spent the nine months terrified of being the mom of twins because I believed I was a failure as a mother. I never once asked anyone for help with my daughter during my pregnancy, even though by the end I was so enormous I could barely stand up, because I had to do everything myself so I wouldn't appear weak and needy. I had gained 65 pounds, and my eating was completely out of control; I could not stop eating.
When my sons were eight weeks old, I crawled into OA. I was a mess physically, spiritually and emotionally. I could not stop eating. I was completely dependent on myself for everything - and failing miserably - and believed that if I only tried harder, the world would stop (and the weather would change) at my command. But twins proved to be my undoing because as much as I tried to control them, they just wouldn't be controlled. And now I couldn't even stay on a diet for more than an hour - or more usually beyond getting out bed in the morning. My life was falling apart, and something had to be done.
I joined OA on August 17, 1987. For several years I didn't understand the concept of total abstinence, and I honestly thought the "food rules" were for everyone else but me. Eventually, however, I surrendered and achieved abstinence. By working the steps, I learned a number of things. I am allowed to have emotions; I do not have to act on them. It is acceptable to want to control things; I can't, and I don't have to. I can want to be the center of the universe; I'm not, and it's OK. I have choices, I am not a victim. I count, I matter, I have value, I am important, my wants are important. I do not have to binge; I do not have to be fat. I can ask for help without feeling indebted. I do not have to worry about the future; I can do the footwork and breathe. I don't have to know all the answers; I can ask questions and say, "I don't know." I have a Higher Power now. I call that Power "God," and God and I are on speaking terms for the first time in years. When I am confronted by angry people or criticized or judged, I remain 5 feet tall and no longer shrink into childhood.
For thirty plus years I abused my body, mind and spirit. Yet today I am alive, I am a miracle, and I am beyond grateful to OA.
Yours in recovery,
Penny, Step Leader
WTS 2002 Study, 2nd Quarter