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

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

Holiday Tools

I am a grateful compulsive overeater, abstinent since I walked through the doors of OA fourteen years ago. Thank you, God!

I am maintaining a 33–35 pound (15–16 kg) weight loss, one day at a time. I have greater emotional and spiritual fitness than when I came. I live a life that is happy, joyous, and free; it’s a miracle I’m not obsessing about what to eat or about my sleeves being too tight around my upper arms (although they aren’t anymore). It’s a miracle I have conscious contact with a Power greater than myself, and I pray every day in thanksgiving.

OA literature reminds me that as the holidays approach, I need to return to basics and do what I did to stay abstinent during my rst holiday season. What worked for me then will work for me now: using the Tools. My food plan has changed throughout the years, and will continue to change as I age and my nutritional needs change, but I’ve always had a food plan.

I must always go to meetings and read literature, just as I did when I first started. As my emotional and spiritual needs change, I choose Step or Big Book meetings. As my responsibility to carry the message of OA becomes evident, I choose to attend Traditions meetings. Sometimes I need to hear the experience, strength, and hope shared in speaker/qualifying meetings too.

Members at meetings said that during the week leading up to Thanksgiving, they made more phone calls; some even called people on the day itself, and those people were glad to hear from them. I’ve tried it, and it’s true. People are glad to be remembered and glad to be reminded we’re in a Fellowship that helps us get through everything abstinently. I’m going to do it again this year. It will be the message I carry when I call a newcomer, my sponsees and sponsor, and at least one person I haven’t seen in a while.

At my first meetings, members told me that because holidays are few, we don’t get as much practice at being abstinent on them as we do every other day. People shared their imperfections and how, through their Higher Power, they found the willingness to continue their recoveries instead of going back out there
to eat. They told me that OA is the only place they continue to recover from their mental obsession. The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous says, “Another power, stronger than ourselves, had to be found to relieve us of it, if we were to stop eating compulsively and stay stopped” (p. 3). I learn best when I see something demonstrated. The people at my first meetings showed me the only way to continue to recover was by “passing it along,” and they did, one day at a time.

“As the holidays approach, I need to return to basics and do what I did to stay abstinent during my first holiday season.”

Is this not an awesome program? To think that I can continue to learn, grow, and recover by just showing up. I wish you all the willingness to show up this holiday season.

— Lisa D., Salem, New Hampshire USA

Loner No Longer

“I never have to be alone again . . .”

It was June 1989: I was powerless over food and my life was unmanage- able. I had just lost forty pounds (18 kg) again and quickly gained ten pounds (5 kg) back. I was on my way up the scale and full of anger and rage. I felt totally helpless, hopeless, desperate, and alone. My highest weight was around 213 pounds (97 kg), and I thought my problem was a moral issue: I was the only one who ate like this. I was a glutton. I was a “foodaholic.”

On June 16, 1989, I attended my first OA meeting and for the first time ever felt at home. I belonged; I was “a part of”! I heard, saw, and felt the strength, hope, and recovery that this wondrous program offers. I listened to people who used to do what I did with the food, but they’d found a solution. I was no longer alone!

I did not get abstinent initially, but I started recovering that day and kept coming back. I did not get a sponsor right away, but I kept coming back. I went to three or more meetings a week. Meetings were the only times I felt at peace, so why wouldn’t I keep coming back? But since I’m also a loner (as a military brat, I moved locations every three years and learned never to trust or let anyone inside), I remained apart and distant.

After six weeks, I finally got a sponsor, someone who would give me the discipline and flexibility I needed, guide me through the program, and love me until I could love myself. Because of her, I learned I could not remain a loner in this program. I had to learn to trust and be willing to be part of the OA family to recover. This was my first introduction to being an active piece of the OA puzzle.

I’ve learned many things through my years in program. I slowly realized that one of my assets, my piece of the puzzle, is my ability to appreciate and gently welcome newcomers who might not want hugs or who want to be left alone. I can also lovingly and gently welcome people who are returning. This role is simple: I say, “Welcome back. I’ve missed you,” and remind them to keep coming back.

There is no one way to work this program and no one way to recover. Because of the Steps and certain mentors, I have learned that I am enough, the way I work my program is just right for me, and I always have an opportunity to help someone else recover. I am no longer a loner, nor do I want to be. Today I am grateful to be a piece of the OA puzzle, sharing and giving to all who share my compulsion.

~ Tina C.