The Road to Relapse …

From the September OA Sea to Sky newsletter 

What is the road to relapse? It may well be practicing the 12 Steps in reverse! If you’re struggling, does this sound familiar?

12. Having let up on our spiritual program as a result of not doing the Steps daily, and putting our personal priorities ahead of carrying the message, we let our fellows fend for themselves and once again practiced our own ideas.

11. Let our conscious contact with God as we understood himlapse by not making time to meditate and praying only in emergencies for our will to be carried out.

10. Slacked off on personal inventory and when we were wrong, denied or hid it.

9. Forgot about finishing list of amends because it’s in the past now, we are doing fine, we want to leave the past in the past and just move on.

8. Rationalized the harm we had done others by justifying that no one had been hurt by us more than we had been hurt by them and so we decided it’s even.

7. Prayer is “I’ve Gotta Be Me.” We decide it is more important to take some time to work on ourselves which includes loving and forgiving ourselves before we can love and forgive others

6. Become unwilling to see that there are defects of character that need removing.

5. Decided to once again stuff down deep inside ourselves all the harm we have done. Pride tells us we don’t need to admit to ourselves, to God, and to anyone else that we did anything harmful; fear tells us we must not admit it.

4. Quickly cast a weak flashlight over our moral inventory and focused on what’s wrong with the world and everyone else to avoid focusing on ourselves.

3. Made a decision to keep our will and our lives totally in our own control, because we don’t understand God and think we won’t get what we want.

2. Came to believe that we still have some good ideas in how to solve our problems and are unwilling to accept outside help from God or a sponsor.

1. We decided that we “got this” and have no interest in compulsive overeating and binge foods. Now we have information, determination and fear, plus sit in on some OA meetings, we will be fine. – Anonymous

The Road to Recovery

In fact, there’s only twelve things we have to do to recover: 1. Admit; 2. Come to believe; 3. Make a decision; 4. Make an inventory; 5. Admit some more; 6. Become ready; 7. Ask; 8. Become willing; 9. Make amends; 10. Continue; 11. Improve; and 12. Carry this message.

If you’re struggling, OA’s helpful relapse-prevention document “Been Slipping and Sliding? A Reading and Writing Tool” is updated with page references for the OA 12 & 12, 2nd edition.

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


As We Understood Him

Before my second time around in OA, the God of my life was vengeful, punishing, unloving, and terrible. God demanded that my parents abuse me verbally, physically, and emotionally through beliefs such as “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”

When I first came to OA, God was a huge stumbling block for me. OA is a spiritual program, but all I heard was the word “God” and not what followed, “as we understood Him.” It took almost two years of reading OA and AA literature, not going to meetings, and relapsing into overeating before I finally heard and understood those words.

My Higher Power today is forgiving, loving, kind, and gentle. I describe my Higher Power as mother earth, father sky, and nature, in all their beautiful wonder and awesomeness. I now have a deeper understanding of my own spiritual side as well as OA’s spiritual program.

I returned to the OA rooms after a two-year absence that included a long relapse with a weight gain of over 50 pounds (23 kg). Now I have been abstinent since October 2012 with my Higher Power’s help.

Thank you, Higher Power and the Fellowship of OA, for being patient and there for me always.

— Chris L., Bloomington, Minnesota USA

Fallen Star

I was the self-appointed poster child for OA: I had physical recovery, I performed a lot of service, and I had several sponsees. My phone rang day and night. I was asked to speak at marathons and retreats. I wasn’t anonymous, and I didn’t want to be anonymous – I was a star.

I was lacking in self-esteem, and OA offered a platform where I could succeed and show my worth. When I attained a normal body weight and performed more than my fair share of service, recognition came my way. People looked up to me! I was finally perched on a higher rung of that imaginary ladder of worth. Self- righteousness only strengthened my grip.

Members began to look my way whenever a service position needed to be filled. By then, my life was full to bursting with service, family, work, and the fixer-upper home I’d purchased.

Then at one business meeting, a question hung in the air, needing an opinion. I always had at least three opinions on the same issue, but this time I didn’t oer any of them – I leaned back in my chair and remained silent, letting someone else take the lead. It was the start of humility.

Building a persona at meetings takes a lot of energy. I imagined myself better than others because that was the only way I felt good enough. Imagine the effort it took to keep up such a sick standard! How you continued to love me defies all reason, but you did.

When the inevitable fall came, I tossed away my abstinence and sank into a three-year, 70-pound (32-kg) relapse. I continued to come to meetings, fearing what would happen if I didn’t. My shame must have been palpable to others in the group, and it took every last shred of courage to show up. Ironically, the only member who ever sneered at my relapse was the other “star” in the group. The rest of you loved me through it.

When I see other OA members repeating my mistakes, I appreciate their willingness to give, and I hope they learn balance before they fizzle out and fall away from our Fellowship, unable to sustain endless service commitments and perfect back-to-back abstinence. I am aware that some members (the “experts”) want to influence decision-making based on the length of their membership. I only know because I did that too.

We can only love the stars blazing in our meetings, make our own decisions, and keep our “expertise” to ourselves. We all have one voice and one vote, and none is more substantial than another. We are all trusted servants, not self-appointed leaders. I’m grateful that OA taught me the difference.

— Cynthia W., Wickenburg, Arizona USA

Starting Over, Again

I’ve heard relapse begins when I “start stopping” recovery behaviors. Daily recovery behaviors include planning and committing my food, praying, meditating, striving to live a spiritual life, practicing the Step principles in everything I do, being honest and doing service.

Picture a large brick wall. Each brick represents a specific recovery behavior.I did not know I was headed for relapse the first time I decided to stop doing, even for one day, any of the actions that helped me stay abstinent. I removed a brick with each action I did not do and told myself, “I am okay because my food is in order.” I removed a brick with each behavior I added that was not part of my recovery plan but insisted, “I am okay because my food is in order.”

I did not know I was headed for relapse when months later, I decided not to call my food in to a temporary sponsor while mine was on vacation. A brick came out of the wall for each day I did not make that call. The wall began to sway, but “I am okay because my food is in order.”

I did not know I was headed for relapse when I held onto a resentment. I removed another brick each day I didn’t discuss it with my sponsor or look for my part in it. The wall began to sway and weaken, but “I am okay because my food is in order.”

I did not know I was headed for relapse when embarrassment kept me from weighing and measuring my food at a class reunion. Another brick came out of the wall, but

“I am okay because my food is in order.”

I did not know I was headed for relapse when I thought “justified” anger was okay because I was right and had failed to look at my part in the situation. But “I am okay because my food is in order.”

The wall eventually collapsed, and I was in relapse.

A brick comes out each time I make a decision on my own about my food; miss a day of prayer or meditation; miss an opportunity to do service or Twelve-Step someone; become selfish, self-centered or fearful; and don’t ask for God’s help as the Big Book says we must to live a spiritual way of life.

Today I take relapse signs seriously. Keeping the bricks in the wall with God’s help has kept me abstinent for 19 continuous years through the grace of God and all of you.

Lifeline, Sept/Oct 2011

Back and Digging Deeper

I’ve been in OA twice. The first time was for seven years, 20 years ago, with successful food abstinence. I made it back eight months ago, and I am struggling. This time around, I see how much more deeply I am working the Twelve Steps. I went to many meetings 20 years ago, sponsored people and was thin, but I did not work the program like I am working it this time. We live in a small town and are lucky to have three to four people at our meeting regularly; but we are there, and we work those amazing Steps! I have experienced abstinence off and on, but it sure does seem like I am learning much more about myself in the process this time. It is painful and scary, and those emotions will send me to food in a heartbeat. But I am learning to call my sponsor, to write and to turn things over (sometimes each moment) to my Higher Power. I didn’t take these actions much in my first seven years.

Recently, my sponsor asked me to write down what I wanted food to be in my life. I procrastinated about this for a while, but Higher Power sat down with me this morning, and I want to share what came.

I want to be grateful for my food, not obsessed with it. I want to eat to nourish my body and only when I am hungry—not to stuff down, run from and avoid my feelings. I want to enjoy food, not feel angry because I can’t eat more or eat when I want and feel deprived. I want to know my food is a blessing and not feel guilty because I ate too much. I do not want to use food as a weapon to abuse my body, mind and spirit. I want eating to be a choice, not something I reach for when I “need a fix.” I want to be able to eat normally, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I don’t want to be afraid of food or feel victimized by my addiction to it. I want to give my relationship with food over to my Higher Power daily and let him show me, through the Twelve Steps and OA, how to listen and hear how to eat in a sane, healthy manner. I want to appreciate the food I am given, my support system, Higher Power, my friends in OA and anyone else I can talk with to help me get a clearer relationship with food.

Lifeline Nov. 2009

An All-In Proposition

“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone . . . the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. We are neither cocky nor are we afraid. . . . That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., pp. 84–85).

When I first came into OA, I read the above passage and said, “That’s what I want!” I was tired of the schemes, micromanagement, and constant battles with food, weight, purging, and futile at- tempts to get it all under control.

What would it take for me to get into fit spiritual condition? Just like physical conditioning, it would require exercise. Yet spiritual fitness differs from physical fitness in an important way. With physical exercise, if I did half of what was pre-
scribed, I would receive some benefit.

With spiritual fitness, however, the benefits I would receive if I did only half the work are explained on pages in Alcoholics Anonymous (4th ed., pp. 58–59):

  • “Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program.”
  • “Some of us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely.”
  • “Half measures availed us nothing.”

The message was clear. My commitment needed to be an all-in proposition, and I needed to follow the time-tested prescription of the Twelve Steps to achieve a fit spiritual condition.

My first year in OA, I was a sponge. I received my gift of abstinence by absorption. I went to lots of meetings, hung around my OA fellows, and did no Step work whatsoever. Instead I did the OA two-step. I admitted I was powerless over food—that my life had become unmanageable. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of taking Step One, I tried to carry my message of recovery to anyone who would listen, even those who didn’t want to hear it.

A year in, I had lost weight and stopped throwing up. Fortified in knowing I was a compulsive overeater, I left OA, certain I wouldn’t do that stuff anymore.

A year of additional research followed, then ended when I crawled back to OA 50 pounds (23 kg) heavier, throwing up daily, and blessed with the gift of desperation. I was willing to do what was required to become and remain abstinent. I listened to those who had what I wanted: long-term abstinence; ease around food, people, places, and things; orderliness and sanity; joy and happiness. They all shared a commitment to working and living all Twelve Steps.

Through the Twelve Steps, each one had built a sustaining relationship with a Higher Power, and that Higher Power gave them the daily gift of abstinence. Their part of the deal was to maintain a fit spiritual condition. So I start each day asking God for the ability to live each of the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. I must take, live, and work all the Steps to become and remain abstinent.

~ Diana G.