My name is Neil Rauch, and I am most definitely a compulsive eater, and grateful member of OA.
I first want to say that I’m honored to have been asked to facilitate this quarterly walk through the steps. After 20 years in OA and 14+ years of abstinence, I’m happy to report that I‘m less sure than ever as to what may be right for someone else, but I will try to pass along some of my experience and insights in the hope that it might be of some use to you. To be sure, these are strictly my personal reflections.
Today’s share will be longer than subsequent ones; please bear with me. I felt it was important for people to get to know me a bit, and where I’ve come from.
Before I get into anything else, I would like to share how I work my program. I’ve never weighed more than 190 pounds. I was 155 lbs. from age 15-17 (I’m 5’ 10”), and that’s still my ideal weight. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve had to work harder and harder to try to stay there. I believe in the concept of “an ideal weight” – a set point that I should always be striving to achieve and maintain. Just as I have emotional and spiritual ideals that I probably will never satisfactorily achieve, I am better for having them, and knowing that it is in the striving in recovery that I learn the most about myself.
Also, my program is about accountability and honesty, and I can’t very well purport to be living in recovery if I’m turning a blind eye to what’s going on with my own body.
I find great value in structure, boundaries and limits. I eat three meals a day, weighed and/or measured, and refrain from eating anything with more than trace amounts of flour and sugar. I don’t have caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, artificial or “natural” sweeteners. I try to enjoy the foods the way that God made them, and not adulterate them too much (e.g. with spices, cinnamon) for an “extra hit”.
Some of my religious obligations involve having my third meal late in the day, so on those days, I have a small snack (a fruit and an oz. of nuts).
I’m prone to high cholesterol, so I avoid foods that would exacerbate that condition. And I have some food sensitivities, and have to be careful around them as well.
I do not believe that the tools are optional. I believe that they are there to show me where I am most likely to become lazy or take my will back, and therefore I do them for the immediate benefit of restoring me to sanity before I get too far “off center”…and I would never think of encouraging a sponsee to do something that I’m not doing myself.
I am very active in OA service at the Group, Intergroup and World Service level. Through these practices, my OA family has grown extensively, and I’ve stayed connected to people who have enthusiasm about this wonderful way that we come to live.
The feeling of usefulness I get from service has proven to be the basic antidote for what ails me as a food addict.
I also think that strong physical recovery and a willingness to do service are the most fertile conditions to accelerate the recovery process of working through the steps.
To me, continuous abstinence is the goal. I either am or I’m not abstinent. Accidents inevitably happen, but I feel that a slip is just compulsive eating if it results from poor planning, a cascading series of bad decisions, or a failure to take reasonable measures to get support before deviating from my food plan. When I had slips, I was encouraged to treat it as a spiritual blind spot, and to find the lesson that I had missed or forgotten – to start counting days again – and to learn to appreciate the miracle of each and every abstinent day.
As a foot soldier in G-d’s army against active addiction, I humbly apply my defenses against the very first compulsive bite. After that one, typically it goes from bad to worse. Living this way, I have been continuously abstinent since Jan. 30, 1996. It can be done.
Speaking for myself, my disease has an emotional foundation, and it was the loss of control of my emotions and the apartness that brought me to program. I was a nervous little person and became a nervous big person. I was fidgety, shy & very self-conscious about what seemed to me to be enormous feelings coursing through my body.
Was it a brain chemistry thing? I really don’t know whether life experience creates the chemical imbalance or the body chemistry alters the perception of one’s experience. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, I can get well working this program.
As I got sober and abstinent, I began to see myself more clearly, and develop a sense of the type of person that I wanted to be. The program gave me the means to do this with the help of my Higher Power and other people in the fellowship. (G-d with skin)
I had a lot of shame about my inability to cope with my feelings, and learned early on to keep all that a secret. I came to resent having to do that. I craved attention, and settled for negative attention through my mischievousness, and/or aggressiveness with other kids.
I was fairly gifted athletically, but to me, that was just a means to get my hostilities out. I loved dominating my opponents (I generally assumed that they were having a much easier time in life than I was). Exercise & athletics was part of my “gladiator” mentality.
Because of some gastrointestinal problems, I was put on a restricted diet as an infant. Ironically, I wasn’t allowed to have flour of sugar products, which is part of my plan of eating now. However, by the age of two that passed, and I found sugar, and we became inseparable very quickly, and for quite a while thereafter.
Because I was thin, my mother didn’t mind that my food choices weren’t always the healthiest. She was just happy to see my eating and getting a little less scrawny.
Fantasy was an early escape vehicle for me, and I spent innumerable hours in front of the TV, killing time eating, (later, it paid me back by trying to kill me), immersed in a world of images far away from the responsibilities of life. Reading infinite numbers of comic books, playing games of solitaire; empty, brain-draining exercises in inertia were a part of my diseased thinking. Put life off as long as possible, I figured.
And when sexual feelings showed up… holy shmoley, I can’t begin to explain how much kinetic energy went into the contemplation, consummation and preoccupation with them.
Those early preferences turned into habits, then dependencies…it set up an association between urges, pleasure-seeking and comfort that didn’t let up for 30+ years.
I grew up in a pretty normal upper middle class Jewish family in New York , wanting for little. I had an older sister, a younger brother and parents who were intelligent, attentive and interested in me turning out well. Not all addicts are a product of dysfunctional families. I probably was pretty much the cause of the dysfunction.
I had ADD and struggled in school. That wasn’t very good for my self-esteem. I was a bed-wetter, and had various nervous tics. In short, I was a mess. However, I was bright enough to get by without having to study very much. It’s amazing how you can have an 82 average in high school and still feel like a slug.
I share these things only because I had multiple addictions, but it was the emotional underpinnings that needed to be resolved before I could shake the addictive tendencies. I needed a good brainwashing and a spiritual transplant.
I grew up Jewish, went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvah-ed, and like many Jewish boys, that concluded my spiritual “training.” I felt that organized religion was for weak-minded sheep that had no sense of adventure or personal identity. This, from a kid that was afraid to compete in any area of life unless I had a pretty good idea that I would succeed. The idea of a benevolent G-d was beyond me, as I felt so broken that surely He had made me that way because I deserved it. I still can fall back into the very sad belief that G-d has nothing better to so than to punish me for being intrinsically inferior.
That’s just one (of many) piece(s) of misinformation that I defended my right to assert until the whole emotional house of cards caved in eventually.
Over time, my weight gradually climbed in increments of 3-4 pounds as I cycled through the process of over-exercising, becoming injured, (over) eating in the same ways, then rushing back before my body had sufficiently healed, in order to stop the weight gain. Each incremental increase was as difficult and humiliating for me as the sizable weight gains that I’ve heard larger people talk about. I felt like people could look inside of me and see how out of control I felt I’d become.
My body was a big billboard, screaming that I no self-respect. And as long as that was there, I needed to make myself feel better by treating badly any poor soul who looked uncomfortable in their own skin… judging them and believing myself to be superior.
I never had the ability to diet, because I couldn’t really stick with anything. It was all about what I wanted “right now”, and to heck with something that required a measured, day-by-day approach. I would have told you that I simply didn’t want to do it, but in reality, I was powerless over the ability to do it.
That became my operating strategy – take care of the here and now, and don’t get bogged down with the inevitable consequences that come from making poor choices. That is the approach of an immature child – and that description pretty much fit, until I became a member of a 12-step program – and it still took a good long time to change.
My first bottom came for me in 1983, when I joined AA. I had been using (mostly pot) almost daily for 12 years, and couldn’t stop. Between the food and the pot, I was beyond help, until G-d saw fit to put me in a dating situation with a sober woman in AA. Her manner of living life day by day, seemingly hanging on by a thread at times, was so courageous and attractive to me that when my time came, I eventually realized that I needed exactly that sort of help.
Fifteen months later and sober, I met another woman who was to become my wife. She came into AA and OA 6 months after our first date, and eventually, she led me to OA. I worked a rigorous food plan at first, got abstinent, and lost it shortly thereafter. For the next four years, I was abstinent most of the days, but when I really felt like blurring the lines, I crossed into compulsive eating – but generally in ways that had more to asserting my will than in bingeing, so my weight didn’t change.
The problem with that self-serving way of working program was that I had never truly taken step one – and as a result, I held onto my will in many ways that resulted in emotional distress, expectations and disappointments in relationships, which inevitably bred recurring resentments…I was pretty thin in body size, but I surely wasn’t free.
Eventually, I got a sponsor who taught me how to be responsibly abstinent – honest and accountable, and I began to learn that there could be joy in eating just enough food – no more and no less. Truly a spiritual experience.
I worked all of the tools all of the time – no excuses, and I flourished. My recollections from that time going forward are far more vivid than the memories of the preceding 4+ years. That is the power of physical recovery while working the steps versus doing the program piecemeal.
I’ve always received value in direct proportion to the amount of energy I invested in working my program. When doing service with others, I get back much more than I give…it’s one of the true blessings that I can count on.
When I gave myself over to the process, I was given the ability to see the truth, embrace it, and be granted the willingness to seek help & take practical actions (the “ritual” in spirituality, I like to think of it) based upon what I’d learned.
I hope that many of you come to enjoy the same experience of self-awareness and willingness in the coming weeks, and I look forward to coming to know some of you during that time as well.
In gratitude – Neil Rauch
Leader's Share and Step Questions
Hi everyone. My name is Neil, and I’m a compulsive overeater
Welcome to everyone who is making a commitment to their recovery by being a part of this group. Let’s take a moment to go over some “suggestions” (that’s my secret code for “just do it, OK?”).
I’d like you all to have a Big Book and an OA 12+12.
This week, please read Step One in your 12+12 and the first 56 pages of the Big Book. It will take you beyond the first step, but I’m pretty sure that won’t be injurious to your recovery.
If you are able, find a sponsor with a year of abstinence that has been through the steps to support you. If you don’t have any strong live meetings in your area, I recommend trying some of the phone meetings.
As you saw in my intro, I don’t view the tools as optional, and if you integrate them into your daily program, they will become second nature as you negotiate the sometimes stormy waters of early recovery.
Try to view this step group as a safe place to get to know yourself better and to accelerate your recovery, rather than as a homework assignment that you dread. Set aside a specific time and a quiet place to do your step work, free from distractions.
I look forward to working with you all, and getting to know you better along the way.
Step One: We admitted we were powerless over food – that our lives had become unmanageable.
The operative words are powerless and unmanageable.
It was critical for me to understand what powerlessness and unmanageability were if I was going to make any progress in my OA recovery.
I knew that there were foods that I couldn’t stop eating once I started. There were times when I obsessed about having (or not having) certain foods. The effects of addictive eating left me drained of all motivation or optimism. There were well-intended promises, intentions, resolutions and bargains that pretty much fell by the wayside after they were tested by some sort of minor challenge.
My ability to cope with change and with life was thoroughly stunted by my disease.
In the end, a simple definition of powerlessness for me was knowing that there were times when no matter how much energy or desire that I could muster to make things go a certain way, I was incapable of producing that result.
That discouraging recurring cycle ultimately stripped me of any sort of self-esteem, confidence, or hope that things could change. It extinguishes the spark that burns inside of healthy, motivated people and allows them to make something of themselves. It made me believe that I didn’t deserve a solution to my problem. It made me a liar and a cheat. It robbed me of my integrity.
Once I got serious with my program, it was important for me, and later, for any sponsee that I took on, to write a “first step inventory” about the ways that they have been powerless over food. Specific behaviors, binge foods, any sort of odd rituals that preceded or followed compulsive eating, food secrets, rationalizations.
My definition of abstinence would address all of these things and include their eventual elimination.
For me, abstinence meant measured meals comprised of certain food groups (protein, starch, veggie, fruit, fats), foods and behaviors that I needed to completely refraining from, and a schedule that separated meals by a set number of hours.
Once that was accomplished, I was then encouraged to write about what my compulsive eating cost me in terms of lost opportunities (socially, in school and/or business, in relationship building)…physically, emotionally and spiritually.
It was only by learning to connect the dots between my actions and their real-life consequences that I could begin to see the gravity of my condition, and the extent to which my unnatural relationship with food compromised my ability to function in so many other areas of life.
Some of the things I wrote on my own list…
1) It was not uncommon for me to have 6, 8, 10 cavities each time I went to the dentist
2) I ate spicy foods because of their laxative effects.
3) I used to do 100 sit ups after eating a pile of spaghetti (to defy the laws of nature?)
4) I developed ulcers and still couldn’t stop drinking coffee (or eating spicy food)
5) I suffered from headaches and chronic aches and pains from the abuse I put my body through with exercise – not giving myself time to recover from injuries, etc.
6) I couldn’t eat chewing gum without swallowing it. I’d chew a whole pack for two minutes and swallow the whole thing.
7) When I felt pudgy, I’d stop drinking water, or wear tight pants as a form of motivational therapy/punishment for “letting my body go”
8) I approached social “eating” situations with “strategies for maximum food consumption”
9) I stole food at various times in my life.
10) I bloodied and burned my mouth, eating cold cereal before it got soggy, and eating things like pizza or soup before they had cooled down.
11) As a kid, I’d take a bar-b-q skewer, put six marshmallows on it, put it over the burner of the stove, and then eat them like a sword swallower…and do that 5-6 times
12) I took pride in the amount that I could eat, without becoming (really) fat. I still recall with pride eating five cotton candies in one sitting….strange, huh?
13) I often ate food “with an attitude”, a behavior that followed me into recovery. At times, I’d just “get it inside of me”, kind of annoyed with the whole eating experience. It was like “if I can’t eat to excess, I’m just going get this over with as quickly as possible.
Unmanageability – put another way… a lack of balance… where did I lack balance in my life?
In my case, this was a fairly extensive list, and it proved invaluable to know these things as I began to think about what a Higher Power would be for me - and what sort of help I needed to ask for from Him/Her/It.
1) Impulsivity – insufficiently weighing my options before making decisions or speaking my mind.
2) Inability & unwillingness to ask for help.
3) Poor boundaries in relationships; either sharing nothing of myself, or sharing too much, too fast.
4) Inappropriate dynamics with women. Once puberty hit, I was pretty much addicted to them too. It certainly made it hard to have respectful interactions when I felt attracted to any woman that I found quirky, funny, intelligent, or one who demonstrated the least bit of interest in me.
5) Recreational drugs. By my mid teens, pot that became a legitimate addiction in its own right. Eventually I found AA in 1983, and that’s where my journey in recovery began
6) Money – the same inability to maintain control over my food followed me into money matters. I was lazy & immature, irresponsible, codependent on my parents to take care of me, with a real sense of entitlement in that area.
7) Movies/TV – I spent many, many hours of unproductive time in this area.
8) Repetitive gaming – computer/video/online poker-backgammon
9) Critical & judgmental of others… always comparing. A terrible waste of energy.
10) Living outside of the rules. Having a level of willful disregard for conventional methods.
11) Lack of proper rest. I pushed beyond the limits of my available energies, not realizing that I inflicted my frustrations and inappropriate behavior on the people around me when I did.
12) Over-scheduling – spreading myself too thin.
13) Impatience/Anger - Trying to control others.
14) Fear-based thinking: Anxiety and worry. Cynicism/negativity. Projection – failure to live in the moment.
As you can probably infer, many of these tendencies caused or made other ones worse. That’s unmanageability.
It allowed me to rationalize my misbehaviors. After all “if you had my problems, you’d act out too.”
Other common forms of unmanageability include reliance on caffeinated beverages, chronic lateness, over-spending or financial anorexia, or, for the more timid -- playing the role of victim, martyr or “the aggrieved party” or putting people into the position of inevitably disappointing them. The list is virtually endless for the imaginative addict
1) If you haven’t already done so, write a first step inventory about your specific compulsive eating behaviors, binge foods and attitudes towards food, the elimination of which ought to be part of your plan of eating and/or definition of abstinence.
2) What has your compulsive eating cost you (physically, emotionally and spiritually)?
3) In what ways is your life unmanageable, or out of balance? Do you suffer from other addictions or unhealthy dependencies?
4) Have you admitted that you are powerless over your compulsive eating?
5) Can you see the negative impact of your compulsive eating on the course of your life?
The Twelve Steps