To my Loved Ones, from an Addict

I returned from a treatment centre for food addiction last week, armed with a new practice around my food – weighing and measuring my meals (in addition to abstaining from certain food substances, committing my meals to a sponsor, and other practices). My Dad, who I was staying with for a few days after treatment, asked me: how different is this current eating plan compared to how you were eating before? I took his question as a launch pad to address my loved ones regarding the fact that I am an addict.

I am an addict. In my case, it’s usually food that I’m addicted to. More specifically, I am addicted to sugar, flour, caffeine, high fat, volume, processed foods, bingeing, purging, restricting, over- exercising, under-exercising and body obsession. These are the food drugs and food behaviours over which I am powerless. In the same way that a heroin addict is powerless over heroin – she’s lost the ability to just say no – I am powerless over my drugs and behaviours. Incidentally, I’m powerless over alcohol, money, my emotions, other people, and self-destruction. In other words, these are other areas in which my addictive personality comes into play. In these areas, my life is unmanageable [Step 1].

Many food addicts before recovery (or in relapse) are significantly overweight or obese. Some are mildly overweight, at a normal weight, or underweight. This can be for a number of reasons, ranging from compensatory behaviours (purging, restricting, fasting, exercising, dieting, etc.), to metabolism and genetics. Food addiction, like all addiction, is a progressive disease. Later stage addiction is far beyond “habits” or “problems” or “vices” or “coping mechanisms” – it is a full-blown disease barreling headfirst for death. This is not an exaggeration. My disease will kill me, and it has had me in a stalemate for a while.

The most literal course towards death for a food addict is when the morbidly obese individual dies of a heart attack or from complications resulting from diabetes. Another obvious death sentence is heart attack, stroke or other complications arising from bulimia. I’m certainly at risk for those, at times spending up to 12 hours repeatedly filling my body with litres and litres of food and inducing myself to vomit it out. Death from addiction can often be slow or amorphous. It is often a spiritual death first, or, in other words, a destruction of everything life-giving and good in the addict’s life. When I choose my addiction over my health, relationships, career, spiritual life or other meaningful pursuits, I’m committing a slow suicide.

I’ve been so firmly pressed into a corner by my disease that I’ve been on the verge of selling all of my possessions, relocating to a remote corner of the world, and eating myself to death where no one can judge me or stop me. This is nothing but a slow form of suicide. Nor is it a mere fantasy – I could do it as easily and as suddenly as I recently moved across town in attempt to escape my disease. My impulsivity on account of co-occurring disorders exacerbates this risk. I’m also an addict with the propensity for cross-addictions, like alcohol, drugs and sex – my disease will pick up anything to try and kill me (I’m pretty sure it prefers food).

Many people think that the only side effects of food abuse are weight gain. But the fact is, when used in excess by certain types of people, food drugs can impair judgment and severely alter the state of one’s mental health, for a number of well-documented physiological reasons. Food-related addictions are deadly serious and hardly different from addictions to drugs, alcohol, sex, or gambling. In my experience, addiction is addiction, period. It is the same acute spiritual suffering that brings all addicts to twelve step programs worldwide.

And so, I work a twelve-step program. And I surrender my food wholly by weighing, measuring and abstaining, in the same way that the alcoholic surrenders alcohol completely. And I do recovery the only way possible: the hard way, which is one day at a time.

Thank you for your love and support.

~ Fernanda, Vancouver

 

The Holidays are over …

… aka Sponsor Wisdom …

After an excruciating long explanation of why my holiday was no where near the Norman Rockwell experience I would have preferred, my sponsor had a brilliant four word comeback: “Tomorrow is just Tuesday.” Somehow all that hot air was deflated by those four simple words.

And now another holiday weekend approaches. I will soon be able to say, “Tomorrow’s just Tuesday.” And just like that the holidays will be only a blip on the screen of my life.

How can I NOT make such a big deal over holidays?

Number one thing I can do is to take the holidays through the first three steps of “Twelve Stepping a Problem.” Truly I AM powerless over holidays. The experience will change year after year and I need to be open to each experience. I certainly need to answer the question what would recovery look like in relation to holidays. And then I need to turn THIS holiday over to the care of my Higher Power.

Another thing I can do is concentrate on what I have rather than what I don’t have. Gratitude. My sponsor always tells me gratitude is the antidote for what ails me. That and service. How can I be useful to another is always a question to consider when times seem hard for me.

So I can look forward to a new year with hope, gratitude and service; remembering that tomorrow is just Tuesday.

~ Anonymous

12 Steps to a Better Holiday Season

We admitted that the holiday season has a deeper meaning than devouring food.

We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could help us see and celebrate the true meaning of the season.

We came to believe that our Higher Power could help us appreciate the joyfulness of the season as we understand it.

We made a searching and thorough examination of our relationship with food during the holidays and other things we enjoy about the season.

We admitted to our Higher Power the exact nature of our food habits during holiday season past.

We became entirely ready to allow our Higher Power to remove our attachment to food as a necessity of the holidays.

We humbly asked him to remove our desire to compulsively partake of holiday treats.

We made a list of all persons whose presence makes the holiday season joyful for us and with whom we would like to share our joy.

We made plans to spend time with those people whenever possible, except when to do so would remove us from our primary purpose of abstinence.

We continue to enjoy the company of friends and family and other nonfood aspects of the season.

We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our appreciation of the season, praying for knowledge of its meaning and the joy we feel at the time.

Having realized that  sharing the joy of this season with others far outlasts the fleeting pleasure of food, we gave ourselves the gift of abstinence throughout the holidays and gave others the gift of our full attention and appreciation.

~ Edited and reprinted from New Horizons newsletter, West 10th Street Big Book Meeting, November/December 1998.

To the Season

I’m writing out the holiday cards,
wishing everyone good cheer.
Suddenly it’s holiday time,
but I don’t feel holidayish this year.
Dinner with friends and family
will surely brighten the day,
but being around all that food
concerns me more than I can say.
“Thank you, God, that’s not my food,”
has worked for me before,
and when they ask, I’ll say,
“No, thanks, I don’t want any more.”
Holiday foods have always been
a big part of the season.
But this year I’m not eating them—
I’m listening to the voice of reason.
“Those foods aren’t treats; they’re poison!”
my OA friends all say.
I know it’s true. If I took one bite,
I’d be throwing my life away.
I’d hate myself, I’d want to die,
and nothing else would matter
but eating more and more and more,
while growing fatter and fatter.
Now I’m losing weight.
I’m feeling great!
My clothes are starting to to fit.
I’m calm and serene,
my heart’s full of hope,
and I really don’t want to quit.
They say, “It gets better and better!”
and “Don’t quit
before the miracle comes.”
Okay, why not?
I’ll give it a shot.
Light the candles,
sing the carols,
drum the drums.

— Phyllis B., Danville, Kentucky USA

Willingness

A speaker at an OA convention once shared that he would have been willing to sit naked on a fireplug and hand out leaflets if that was what his recovery required. Fortunately, our program requires no single act of daring. Instead, we are shown a path to follow the rest of our lives.

For those of us who sought a magic pill or diet to cure our overeating, the “fireplug program” might seem easier than practicing the principles embodied in the Twelve Steps. Our program tells us that through “the process” of working the Steps daily, sanity and abstinence will be found. We who have followed that process for a time, and then became distracted from it, have found that sanity and abstinence are hard to maintain without it.

This program promises real and amazing recovery. Hopeless bingeing is replaced by healthy eating. Excess weight disappears without diets, purging, or excessive exercise. We can live free of the obsession with food and eating, day after day, for years at a time. But none of this is automatic. We have to be willing to live the Twelve Steps daily, in order to keep our recovery.

~ Excerpt From: Overeaters Anonymous, Inc. “Voices of Recovery: A Daily Reader. pg 328”

Dishing Up for Others

Holidays have always been a difficult time in my family. My earliest holiday memories revolve around eating very large quantities of food. I still remember the treats my mother bought and hid in the dishwasher so my father wouldn’t nd them and confront her. Sometimes it is hard to unlearn habits that date back to child- hood, but I have discovered it’s not impossible.

A few years ago a friend asked me to help prepare a holiday dinner at a local charitable organization. The meal would be shared by many people who had no family dinner to attend. It was a lot of fun preparing the food in assembly-line fashion. Laughter and merriment were present in large measure, and the spirit of fellowship and love was palpable. But the best part came when it was time to serve the food. It was a chance to personally greet and serve each person and offer best wishes for the New Year. They expressed their gratitude and appreciation freely.

Serving others was better than eating any of my favorite holiday binge foods.

In short, I completely forgot that once upon a time the holidays would have meant overindulging and hating myself for it afterwards. Serving others was bet- ter than eating any of my favorite holiday binge foods. It was just the gift I needed!

— Terry, Pennsylvania USA