When I attended my first OA meeting—a no-nonsense, positive-sharing meeting— attendees had up to 27 years of continuous abstinence and were happy; I wanted what they had. Their shares conveyed the messages, “I know how to eat; teach me how not to” and “If you follow this program, your life can be wonderful.”
That day also marks the start of my back-to-back abstinence. It was a Saturday. I had been planning to begin abstinence on Monday, but my sponsor stopped me and asked what I was going to eat for lunch and dinner. That began the incredible life I now lead.
Before program, I was a judgmental, mean-spirited, jealous person (just three of my 47 character defects). I’m not going to spend much time describing what I used to do: eating off the floor and out of the garbage, eating outdated food, eating off other people’s plates, stealing food or money to buy food—the usual compulsive overeater things. Getting and eating food were all that mattered. The physical pain and emotional shame were not enough to stop me, no matter how much I wanted to be thin.
I want to tell you about my recovery. And I am recovered—exactly as described in the Big Book: “We have ceased fighting anything or anyone…sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally…We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality — safe and protected … the problem has been removed” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 84–85).
I can stay recovered as long as I do what will keep me from the obsession.
First, I must be willing. I must look at people with 5, 10, or 25 years of back-to-back abstinence and be willing to try all that works for them. I must be willing to put down the food. No matter how hard it seems, I must not eat between meals. I must believe that something greater than myself can get me through times when my own thinking cannot.
Next, and most important, I must be honest: telling the car dealership they gave me the $2000 discount twice; returning $10 to the restaurant that shortchanged itself with the delivered party food; being where I say I’ll be and doing what I say I’ll do, including eating exactly what I’ve told my sponsor I’m going to eat.
Next, I must be abstinent. For me, abstinence means eating only the foods and quantities I’ve committed to my sponsor and staying away from foods that make me crazy. It’s easy to identify them. They’re the ones I planned to eat as soon as previous diets ended—ones I couldn’t get enough of or would drive in a snowstorm to get. I learned that as long as I didn’t take a first bite of them, the physical cravings stopped—stopped dead in their tracks! Once I stopped putting sugar and white flour in my body, I physically recovered. What a miracle! I could go from one meal to the next without feeling deprived or hungry. I learned how to stay abstinent and not eat these foods.
OA’s recovery Tools were my mainstay. The more I used them, the easier things became. I did whatever I had to do to avoid eating between meals. At first, I went for walks and took hot showers. If they failed, I slept, whatever the time. I treated myself like a two-year-old, and gently with love guided myself away from the food. I prayed before each meal, “Please God, keep me abstinent.” I left signs in the cabinets like “Get out of here, it’s not time to eat.” At first, I had a habit of looking in the refrigerator. Someone told me to put a copy of the Big Book in the fridge and to read a paragraph every time I looked in there. I called people, read, wrote, went to meetings and retreats, and used all the Tools. Everything fell into place, and the food stopped calling to me.
I have been to meetings in several states and on cruises. I’ve talked to people with long and easy abstinences. They have three things in common: (1) they put down the food and don’t deviate from their food plan, no matter what; (2) they do an unbelievable amount of service; and (3) they have done their Steps the way the Big Book says to do them.
My life changed when I did the Steps. Doing them has relieved me of the mental obsession. Remember that Bill W. and the first 100 people who recovered from alcoholism did it by working the Twelve Steps. They never picked up a drink again. The best suggestions I can pass on are put down the food; don’t pick it back up, come hell or high water; and do the Steps.
If I want to be free of the food obsession, I must use all eight Tools and all twelve Steps. Twelve-Step meetings were never designed to be social groups; they were designed to save lives. But my best friends, the people who love and care about me the most, are here. When I’m here, I feel accepted, peaceful and happy. I’m where I belong.
No bite of food is worth giving that up.
— Reprinted from Lifeline magazine