My Dearest Companions on the Journey of Recovery
What a precious an invaluable treasure it is to accompany you in these upcoming 12 weeks of recovery in the 12 Steps of Overeaters Anonymous! In doing some preliminary preparation for leading this step study over the previous months, I realized that I was working the steps myself once again. Thank you for the gift of deepening my own recovery as we embark on the incredible and mysterious journey together.
Are you ready for this inimitable adventure? The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous (p.24) suggests that we are probably not ready until we hit bottom. That means different things for various people, but basically we are brought to our knees by food and compulisive overeating. For me, that happened after what I call my last diet in which I shed 75 pounds. When I took a job for which I was not suited and the stress in my life rose sharply, I returned to the food for solace. I regained all the weight, became depressed, and was even suicidal. I did not have one more diet in me and I was desperate enough to try anything.
The AA 12&12 goes on to say that few people will sincerely try to practice the program unless they have hit bottom. Practicing the steps “means tha adoption of attitudes and actions that no alcoholic [food addict] who is still drinking [overeating] can dream of taking.” The 12 step prgram of recovery is simple, but it is not easy. Sometimes we have to be beaten down and desperate enough to do what it takes to recover.
But there is much hope here. Many people have done what is necessary and continue to do so, on day at a time. What will it take? I recall a time when I played clarinet in a community band. A famous professional trumpet player performed a concert with us and gave a master class. Someone asked him, “How much do we have to practice?” His answer was simple and profound. “How good do you want to be?”
How much effort you should put into your recovery depends on how happy, joyous, and free you want to be.
Questions for reflection
- Do I feel I have hit bottom? If so, in what way? If not, what will it take?
- Am I ready to embark on this journey? How do I feel as I begin?
- How much effort am I willing to expend in order to recover?
- What are my expectations of Working the Steps in the next 12 weeks?
- Alcoholics Anonymous (Big Book)
- The Doctor’s Opinion
- Bill’s Story
- There is a Solution
- More About Alcoholism
- The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous - Step 1
- The Twelve Steps and Twelve traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous - Step 1
A NOTE ABOUT SUGGESTED READINGS
The readings are “suggested” in the way that it is suggested that one use a parachute when skydiving. My experience, strength and hope is limited. To get a profound understanding of working the Steps, it is critical to read the literature, work with a sponsor, and communicate with other recovering compulsive overeaters.
The readings for Step One are the most extensive, so I am sending them out now to give you a jump start.
Leader's Share and Step Questions
My Dearest Companions on the Journey of Recovery,
I am truly awed and humbled by your honest, open and willing responses to the introductory questions. There is much hope in this group! Now onward with the First Step!
Step 1 We admitted we were powerless over food---that our lives had become unmanageable.
The first step is the ground from which we launch our recovery and it is the only step which must be done perfectly. We must be absolutely, wholly, unmistakably, unequivocally convinced of our powerlessness over food. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to a physical allergy which sets up the phenomenon of craving. Once that craving is triggered by certain foods, no HUMAN power, willpower, strength of character, intelligence, or moral fiber is going to stop us from eating compulsively. Trigger foods vary from person to person. Mine include fast food, anything that is fried, or anything that contains sugar or white flour.
We are also powerless over our mental obsession with food and, for many of us, diets and weight as well. Without excess food, we are restless, irritable, and discontented until we can eat. Taking the first compulsive bite sets up the phenomenon of craving.
Have you ever seen a normal eater take a bite or two of a rich dessert, then push it away saying, “That’s enough. It’s too rich!” I always though they were crazy. (Until I found out that I am the one who is insane!) It would be easier for me to donate a major organ than to push away a rich dessert after just one bite! What happens is, when a normal eater takes a bite of food, the brain begins to signal satiation. When I take the bite, a neon sign flashes in my brain which says, “MORE, MORE, MORE!”
After overeating, I always felt shame and remorse and resolved never to overeat again. Then my emotions provoked the mental obsession from which I could not free myself until I soothed it with excess food. Then the first bite triggered more craving. That is the vicious cycle of powerlessness.
Here is how my powerlessness manifested itself:
- PROGRESSION I became more tolerant of excess food as the disease progressed. When I was young, a few handfuls of junk food would suffice. Later, it became entire bags or boxes. In my final year active in the addiction, I was eating a full extra super-sized combo or the equivalent of 4-5 meals a day.
- ATTEMPTS AT CONTROL I tried many diets: restricted calories, low fat, low carb, having a “day off”, simply not eating between meals, Susan Powter, TOPS. Everything worked----Until it didn’t. I always regained the weight and a bit more for good measure.
- PREOCCUPATION I thought about food constantly and planned my day around when I could binge. Woe to you if you interfered with my plan!
- AVOIDANCE/PROTECTION I kept my supply hidden, ate healthily in front of others, and overate in secret. I even nearly choked at times by stuffing food into my mouth so as not to get caught.
- LOSS OF CONTROL Once I took the first compulsive bite, I could not predict the outcome. Sometimes I could stop. Often I could not.
- JUSTIFYING OVEREATING I would blame situations or emotions for my overeating “I need this because…. Someone yelled at me, the bus was late, my sock ripped, fill in the blank_______” Or I would say, “Everyone does it… It’s none of their business… People should accept me as I am… or (my personal favorite) I have a slow metabolism.”
The second part of Step 1 addresses unmanageability. At first I was offended at the suggestion that my life was unmanageable. I was functioning well (Or so I thought!) I had a job, friends, interests, intelligence, care and generosity with others, etc. But when I took an honest look at where my life was headed, I saw that it was becoming increasing chaotic. Honesty is the principle behind step 1 and without rigorous honesty, it is impossible to recover.
Here is how my unmanageability manifested itself:
- SOCIAL LIFE Although I had many casual friends and a good number of very close friends, my compulsive overeating wore away at those relationships. My compulsive overeating was a topic I would not touch, even with my closest friends. I would not allow anyone to engage me in conversation about my weight and body size. Because I closed off this piece of my life even to those with whom I have the most intimate relationships, I often felt lonely, misunderstood, and unlovable. I never trusted the love of my family and dearest friends because I felt unworthy of it.
- PHYSICAL CONDITION At my top weight of 250 pounds , I had severe joint and back pain, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, frequent stomach distress, and very low energy.
- ECONOMIC IMPACT I was fortunate to retain economic solvency, but I sometimes went without essentials such as medicine or new clothes in order to buy more food. I estimated that I spent $2-$5 on extra food per day. That extrapolates to $14-$35 weekly, $60-$150 monthly, and $730-$1,825 annually. When I consider this data in light of the social and economic reality in Ecuador , where I live, I feel acute shame. At the time, minimum wage was $140 a month or $1,680 a year. 54.4% of the population does not earn even minimum wage. This means that I spent as much or more money on my addiction than most Ecuadorians earn as a salary.
- JOB I held a job and was functional and even managed to be innovative and creative at times. But my energy level and commitment became increasingly lower as my disease progressed.
- SCHOOL NA
- HOME My depression and mood swings made me challenging to live with at times. I also ate food that was not mine to consume.
- RETIREMENT NA
- VALUE CONFLICTS I am an honest, reliable, and trustworthy person. I was not that person around food. I lied about what I ate, stole food from others, created scenarios which justified getting away (to eat).
- SPIRITUAL PROBLEMS I lost connection with God (Food was my God) and the freedom to live as God intends.
- EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS My emotions took over my life. I became depressed and lost my ability to laugh. Friends and coworkers kept expressing their concern that I was not myself. I seriously considered suicide.
Questions for Reflection and Sharing
- What does powerlessness mean to me?
- What foods, situations, or emotions trigger the craving phenomenon or the mental obsession for me?
- How does my powerlessness manifest itself in: progression, attempts at control, preoccupation, avoidance/protection, loss of control, and justifying overeating?
- What does unmanageability mean to me?
- How does unmanageability manifest itself in:
social life, physical condition, economic impact, job/school/home/retirement, value conflicts, spiritual problems, emotional problems?
The Twelve Steps
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