Came to believe that a Power greater
than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
What can bring us to believe?
Nothing had helped me in the years before I came to OA. Of course, what I was looking for was magic, a God to wave a wand and make the trim and healthy, and able to go on eating as I wanted to. Since no such God existed, it was only to be expected that I did not believe in him or her. At least, such a God, who obviously either had no power to wave that wand, or who didn’t care to do it for me, wasn’t worth believing in.
The problem for me was that I sought to find the center somewhere in the great beyond, when the center was always in me. I will not debate that by nature God must be both greater than me and beyond me in some ways. But for me to know that Power, I had to find what was in me, and I really didn’t want to look. Everything that was wrong with me wasn’t my fault.
And in some ways, this was true. Most of us have a history that is painful. We come from dysfunctional families, and usually create one of our own! The dysfunctionality may stem from any number of sources, alcoholism, physical or psychological abuse, and on and on. We didn’t do that, it was done to us. Children are not to blame for what was done to them. And children react in whatever ways they can, to ease the pain they are in. In our case, we found an ally in food. For some of us, this finding came early, for some later. But we were smart – we found a way to survive.
And then the survival technique became an addiction itself. And addiction drives out spirituality, and spirituality is what we need to recover.
The first step, which is Step One, is to admit that we cannot manage the situation ourselves. So does a Power exist that can “restore us to sanity”? The Steps do not tell us much about this Power, in fact, we are encourages to write our own definition, “the God of our understanding.” For some of us, this is the God we learned of in religious training. For others, it may be the Group. For others, the Twelve Steps themselves may represent a Higher Power. And so on. What we need is a center that can live inside us as well as “out there.”
When I began to look inside myself I found that my feelings were frozen in ice. There was so much anger that was suppressed, because good children didn’t express anger, and if they did, they were punished. Better to sit on it. Better still, to eat something until the pain went away. And don’t think about it, don’t dwell on it, it will only make things worse. So if there were a Higher Power attached to my soul in some way, I couldn’t find that Power because I dared not look inside.
I had to thaw out my emotional life. For me, as for many, this was a process greatly eased by therapy, but I have also come to know that the Steps themselves will work, too.
I will never forget the first time I came to believe in a Higher Power who could and would deliver me from my addiction. I had to traverse a food court at high noon without eating, and as I began this journey, I was seized by the hunger pangs that only a good food addict can know. I also know that in the past, I would have eaten my way through the food court. This despite the fact that an abstinent lunch awaited me in thirty minutes. Trying this and that in the food court and then going to lunch would have been my old behavior.
But my sponsor had pounded into me that when confronted with such a situation, I should ask for help. So, with little hope of assistance, I did that. A prayer to the unknown God, one might say. But then a strange thing happened. The ravenous hunger of the addicted John simply passed, and the gentle stirrings of nature saying that it would soon be time to eat, and won’t that be nice, because it is all planned and abstinent, was all that was left. For the first time in my life, I had experienced a miracle that was not given by magic wand, but by a Higher Power who simply was willing to walk with me through that food court. And that, it seemed, was enough.
The next time I was in a similar situation the same process worked again. And after that, I realized that I had come to believe.
- What kinds of things can you discern in your family of origin and your present setting that were possibly dysfunctional, and contributed to your compulsive eating addiction?
- Was there abuse? How were you affected by this?
- Was there criticism and hostility toward you?
- How would you like your childhood and early adult years to have been different?
- Make a list of the secrets your family of origin and perhaps your present setting kept or keep. You may share these in whatever way is most comfortable for you to do so. Remember that you will not be announcing anything the rest of us haven’t had some experience with as well.
- In what ways do you see how you chose food as a means of survival? Note if you can remember when the mode of survival turned into a mode of destruction.
- Describe what you need a Higher Power to be or to be like for you to be able to overcome.
- What experiences have you had that have led you to believe that such a Power may exist?
- Are you willing to “act as if” in order to come to believe? This is not being a hypocrite. It is merely suspending judgment until more evidence appears.
- How have you grown spiritually as a result of this program. I realize that we are at all stages of recovery, and there are no right or wrong answers, just our experiences. Sharing strengthens us all.
- Are you willing to continue on this journey? What path do you see lying ahead of you?
My family of origin was deeply affected by alcohol. While my parents did not drink a lot, they had grown up in homes where alcoholism was active. Their own drinking patterns were strange, if not alcoholic. There are forms of alcoholism besides the stereotypical falling down drunk. They exhibited some of those sorts of patterns, I learned later in my life.
- There was abuse. It affected me greatly. Punishment was capricious and sometimes brutal. There was sexual abuse, too. These things taught me not to trust, not to know good boundaries, and to think of life as capricious. And I found solace early in food.
- This was not direct, so much as a matter of unreasonable expectations, most of which, I, as the good child, tried to reach or exceed. I invested enormous energy in doing the things other people wanted or expected of me, and did not learn exactly how to set my own course.
- The way my childhood became different was that I re-reared myself after coming into recovery. I learned to trust, I learned good boundaries, and I learned how to respond to life without eating over things. I “defrosted” the anger trapped inside me, and took the journey inside, and found that I had what I needed for my own journey.
The deep secret was the alcoholism. There was complete denial, despite what, in later years, I realized was the obviousness of it. There was denial that the abuse was abuse, whether physical or sexual. It was a great help to me when one of my parents later in life experiences a spiritual awakening and we were able to sit down and cover some of the territory with forgiveness. Not everyone has that opportunity, and I am most grateful for it. It was a gift from God.
I really don’t remember exactly when I began to eat for consolation. Pictures of me in early childhood show a normal looking child. But sometime in the early years of school I began to eat, as I remember being large by the time I was ten. It was sometime in late High School that I realized that food and I had a “different” relationship. One summer at camp I was advised by the camp physician to try a diet. It was a healthy diet, and I lost a lot of weight. And that was nice. But once I came home, the dynamics changed, and the diet simply ended. To live where I lived, food was a necessity.
The first thing I need is for my God to be there. Absenteeism on the job is not allowed. I also need a God who is both understanding and compassionate, and yet serene. A God who cares about me, and is with me and for me.
Beginning with the story I told of my first experience with “restoration to sanity" in a food court, my experience with my Higher Power (whom I choose to call God) has grown profoundly. I have come to see that imagination plays a role in seeing myself as a person of spiritual depth and understanding. I have safe havens within myself. I have practiced meditation to the point where not it takes only a breath to pull me back into center when the world around me is going crazy. That kind of serenity is hard to break.
My first sponsor had told me to believe in “Ziff,” which is “as if” pronounced rapidly, until I could come to a deeper understanding. Somehow, it was easier with a name, even though it was just “Ziff.” I haven’t used “Ziff” in a long time, but it was a start.
In # 5 above, I have already indicated some of the growth I have experienced. The meditations have been a tremendous help to me, as they are so much on target. I now use several meditations every day. I learn from the different approaches. I learn from just sitting with God every day, too. Sponsoring has been an instrument of growth for me, too. If I am going to explain the program to someone else, I have to be able to explain it to myself first. This has made me come to terms with my own issues and my own spirituality more than I can say.
I am willing to continue. I cannot imagine the horror of ever turning back. I do not know what lies ahead, but I have faith that the journey will continue, and will continue to be rewarding.
The Twelve Steps
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