Leader's Introduction

Hi, everyone.
My name is Penny, and I am a compulsive eater.

It’s an honor for me to be leading the step study this quarter.

Over the next months, we’ll be working with the Big Book, the OA 12 & 12, and various other OA conference-approved literature. Since we are not meant to take this journey by ourselves; please make sure you have a sponsor!

To get started, let me tell you a little about my recovery journey and myself.

I was 9 or 10 in 5th grade when my disordered thinking about food kicked in. I was a lonely, socially awkward, and immature kid. I’m pretty sure I was born full of fear of being abandoned and. My soul was filled with guilt and shame.

I decided that what made the popular kids popular was their being able to eat lunch out in the local luncheonette, while I was stuck going home for lunch. Food would be my equalizer: if I couldn’t make friends, I’d eat with them. And if I couldn’t eat with them, I’d eat AT them, and then they’d see that I was grownup, just like them. This continued through junior high school.

I was a control freak, desperately trying to manipulate everything in my path from people to the weather. I made bargains with God, and when God didn’t provide, well, obviously God was out to get me. If the universe could get away with giving 100% of their efforts to their jobs, I had to give 150%. Other people could go find new jobs if they were unhappy in their current positions; I was convinced that I’d never get another job, so I’d stay in miserable places.

By the time I was in high school, my doctor told me I was a walking heart attack time bomb, so I went on the first of many diets. The first was Stillman (all water, all peeing, all protein), and I lost buckets of weight. It was awesome. I could eat an entire chicken and lose 2 pounds overnight, especially if I didn’t drink the water. That my kidneys are not fried is nothing short of a miracle.

Long story cut very short – losing weight and wearing size 0 didn’t change the way I looked at life. I did everything I could to control food – starvation, exercising until I dropped – but I was still immature, unreachable (and unteachable), full of resentments that life had treated me poorly, unhappy, terrified of everything, ashamed of my very essence, trying to control myself and my surroundings.

And I continued to eat. I ate to make the fear and the pain of being me go away. I hated my body and myself. I’d binge to the point of pain, and punch myself in the stomach that I despised. When my twin sons were born in 1987, my eating reached its peak. I could not stop eating. I had tried OA years before but wasn’t ready for it. This time I had nowhere else to go.

Full of anger, self-pity, fear, resentment, pride, ego, and everything else you can imagine, I went to my first meeting, and I was home immediately. I found a lovely sponsor, I worked the steps like a fiend, and I started to recover. Long-term resentments disappeared through Steps 4-9. Fears began to dissipate. I began feeling free. Feelings that had terrified me now were in perspective; anger – something I was told at an early age was inappropriate for me to feel – was now something I felt, acknowledged, wrote about, reported to my sponsor, and moved on.

I also lost some weight but in 2007’ish, I eventually needed a nutritionist’s help to deal with some physical issues. She put me on a very strict/rigid diet (probably less than 1000 calories a day), and I lost a lot of weight. She didn’t care that I (by now) wasn’t eating sugar or flour, she didn’t care that I went to OA, and she didn’t care that I had no idea how to handle the extremely rapid weight loss. And it was very fast: I went from 143 to 109 in a few months, losing weight and sizes on a weekly basis.

I loved it. This was power. I had my OA recovery, I had my weight loss, and I was invincible. That is, until I wasn’t invincible.

The time came when I simply couldn’t maintain the way I was eating, and my nutritionist couldn’t handle my constant questions about what I should eat or how much I wanted to weigh (I mean, wasn’t she the professional?). I regained some of the weight, which meant I was a failure. I sought therapy for my body image issues and a new nutritionist who, kind as she was, didn’t really understand that I had no idea how to “eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full” and that simply considering this extremely healthy way of looking at food terrified me.

Eventually I needed to take a break from OA. I do not regret my decision because I learned a huge lesson in gentle perspective: for me (and I speak only of myself) there are no forbidden foods. There are maybe foods and sometimes foods and not every day foods. But my obsession with weight, food, and my body image never left. And the regained weight was still a punishment of shame that I wore like a prison sentence.

So I came back to OA in October 2015 with one specific goal: to be freed from the obsession with food and my body, accepting a life of imperfection as good enough, wearing recovery like a loose garment instead of punishment.

I have been abstinent since then. I work the steps with a wonderful sponsor whom I have never met (I live in Connecticut and she lives in Scotland), and – here’s the miracle – I actually have days when I can stand my body and don’t obsess about food. There are days that I love myself. Because my schedule doesn’t give me the freedom to get to local meetings, I attend OA phone meetings pretty much every day and on-line meetings when I need an additional nudge.

I have given up resentments that haunted me, resentments that I nourished, nursed, and fed. There are days when I feel no fear. I have learned how to listen with compassion and not think I have to fix the world and its people. OA taught me how to love and support my family and friends on their individual journeys.

With my sponsor, I have a renewed take on food. There are still maybe foods and sometimes foods and not every day foods. But I no longer see food as a weapon for punishment or a reward for good behavior. I make the healthiest choices I can, based on the way I believe my Higher Power wants me to eat.

I live in today, focusing on my program of recovery one day at a time, doing footwork as necessary and letting God handle the results. OA gave me a power greater than myself (I call that power “God”) with whom I have a personal relationship; OA renewed my religious faith and affiliation. Every day – one day at a time – I give my life, my will, my fears, and my day over to God’s loving care, the same way I sometimes have to give my health over to the care of professionals.

And yes, there are days when I accept my body and my soul exactly as they are. For someone who spent a lifetime hating and resenting me, this is truly a blessing.



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