Struggling with Self-Acceptance

I start my day with a meditation on the Twelve Steps of the OA program. Sometimes I also meditate on the Serenity Prayer and ask my Higher Power to help me let go and turn my day over to him/her. The quality of my day is a reflection of how sincere I am in this request.

I have followed this pattern for the past 21 years. No matter what happens, I know that food will not solve my problems or fill any void I feel in my heart. Some days I have to keep reminding myself that I have a “living problem” and food is the drug I use to handle it.

My feelings of being fat and not accepted surfaced in my teens. I thought weight was my problem, so I tried most of the advertised diets. I usually lost weight, and then waited for my life to begin. Unfortunately, nothing changed since I did not change inside. Back came the weight, the unhappiness, and the self-loathing. Compulsive overeating became the means by which I tried to handle my fears and unhappiness.

I learned about OA while completing graduate work in the US. I found an OA group, concluded I was a compulsive overeater, and started to attend OA meetings. I acquired a sponsor but was unable to achieve abstinence. My compulsive overeating continued, and the stress associated with graduate work and trying to fit in with my American friends made abstinence seem elusive. I was unaware that everything caused me stress, leading me to overeat over happy or sad events. After many years in OA, I learned that I wouldn’t accept myself. I did not believe I deserved to be happy.

When I returned to Canada, I found OA in Alberta and began attending meetings. I found a kind, loving, and accepting sponsor. She required I be honest with her regarding what I was eating and what was eating me. I became abstinent in the fall of 1980. With the strength of the program, OA literature, a loving Higher Power and OA friends, I spent one-and-a-half years in Malaysia working at a job I loved. Shortly after returning to Canada, I met my loving husband and began a family.

Being abstinent does not make all life’s problems disappear nor make every day happy or exciting. Neither has being thin made me well. I still struggle with self-acceptance and my overwhelming need to please everyone. But I am getting better. Not abusing food allows me to deal with the issues I meet. I attend counseling sessions, where I continue to work on self-acceptance.

My husband, who met me when I was abstinent, does not understand why I read OA literature, keep in touch with OA members and believe that OA saved my life. He loves and respects me, however, and accepts that I do what I need to do to keep well.

Some days, abstinence seems to be the only thing I have going for me. I usually find that I have slipped into emotional bingeing and tried to take back control of my life. Giving up and letting go of my need to control is hard for me.

Fortunately, I have many more good days than bad days, and the bad days bear no resemblance to the bad days I had while bingeing. Abstinence is easier some days than others, and holidays are more difficult than regular days. On those days, my Higher Power and I keep in much closer contact.

Years ago I heard the saying, “There is no problem so large to make me so small to eat about it.” I am a recovering compulsive eater, grateful to my Higher Power who showed me the way to OA.

Reprinted from Lifeline magazine

Courageous and Vulnerable

I found OA after my therapy group ended, shortly after I had had a nervous breakdown, lost my cat of 19 years and mourned the first anniversary of my mother’s death.

After a binge one night, I felt I was in hell. Then I thought of OA, found the phone number and called to find a meeting. I went to my first meeting a few days later. I’ve been abstinent since then, staying within two pounds (1 kg) of my goal weight.

I’m starting to eat more slowly and to enjoy it more. I am making new friends. Talking with others is becoming easier, and I’m less shy and more apt to initiate contacts. I’m finding people fun and comforting. I’m less critical of others and of myself, accepting an imperfect me. I’ve found a warm, caring and enthusiastic sponsor. I feel this will be an important relationship. She will be a mentor and buddy in this adventure of recovery, of learning to function without compulsive eating. She has taught me that unrealistic expectations may engender resentments.

In OA my emotions are valued and fostered, even if they scare me. I learn it’s necessary to feel them, rather than drugging myself with food, stuffing the pain out of consciousness. A goal may be to be “courageous and vulnerable.” I feel I’m a valuable person, I’m worth saving, and I have something to offer. I can be a support to others, an example and a good listener, useful even because of my troubled past and transgressions. I’m able to better appreciate small things and big things like a vacation.

I’m getting rid of an old illusion of self- sufficiency, replacing it with nourishment and the strength of OA’s welcoming Fellowship. I enjoy the increased phoning and email, which enrich other friendships as well. Living alone makes it easy to isolate. Paradoxically, daring to experience loneliness carries with it the seed of the remedy; feeling the hurt permits healing.

My concept of my Higher Power is harder to put into words. It is an experience rather than a being. It brings into my life balance, health, wholeness, conscience, emotional growth and recovery, and self-nurturing rather than self-punishment. My grace is “Thank you for nourishing food.”

I value my meditation for the calm and insights it brings, even to my violin playing. I’m trying more prayer, starting with spontaneous thanks to God during the day. I had abandoned prayer for years, not trusting God because of painful family and health experiences. Fourth-through-Seventh Step work has given me a new lease on life, and I avoid incurring future amends through missteps.

I’ve decided that while others may self-destruct, I won’t. No matter what happens, no matter what the anxiety, I will not overeat. No matter what the heartache, I will not undereat.

~ D.D., Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA
Reprinted from Lifeline Magazine, March/April 2012

Side by Side in OA

I joined OA in 1993. I attend a few meetings a week, journal daily, commit my food plan to my sponsor every day, answer a question given to me by my sponsor at least four times a week, sponsor other OA members, give service, and more.

My husband does not attend OA meetings regularly, but does practice program principles. We tend to sponsor each other; this works well for us. I try to keep my nose out of his food choices, and he helps me stay committed to my food plan. I appreciate it rather than resent it. On Sundays, we plan our dinners for the week. Every morning we discuss our program, challenges, and progress and plan our lives together. His support is important to my recovery. We play by the same rules, OA’s Twelve Steps, and avoid arguments by communicating. We support and encourage each other.

We have been attending the Region Seven convention for a couple of years and enjoy leading meetings and workshops. Having him in OA keeps me honest when eating in restaurants or participating in social functions. He knows when I need a meeting and is not afraid to suggest I get to one quickly. Fortunately, we have never outgrown each other. He progresses more quickly than I in some areas, then I catch up, and vice versa.

OA is the best thing to happen to my marriage. I found OA three months after our wedding, and we celebrated 11 years together this past June. I am grateful to this program because it brings us closer together. My food is the most intimate part of me; if I could not share that with him, our bond would not be as strong as it is.

My family relationships have changed drastically since I found OA. We no longer celebrate the holidays with mass quantities of nonnutritious foods or tons of gifts. We focus on being together. My husband and I no longer force the entire family to get together for the holidays. We visit separate family members over a period of time, and everyone gets along better this way. I have learned how to say no and set healthy boundaries for my family and myself.

I do not babysit—not because I do not love my grandkids, but because I cannot handle it. My children understand and accept my limitations. I am no longer the family savior; I let people work things out without playing referee. I allow my kids to parent their children without judging them or telling them how I would do it better.

I am honest with my husband and he respects me for that. We communicate instead of argue. We can agree to disagree without one of us having to be right. OA teaches me how to accept family members as they are and love them anyway. I am also learning how to accept and love myself the way God made me. I have shared my program with several family members, and a few of them participate in recovery groups.

Being clean with my food gives me more energy to attend to my family. God works wonders with us, and I continue to be amazed.

Reprinted from Lifeline magazine

Head Games

I came to program because I had finally lost my excess weight, well below my “goal weight.” Yet I still felt awful. The ever-perceived solution to my problems had failed. For most of my life, I had fantasized about a day when my body would morph into something straight from the cover of a magazine. But once I reached the “right” number, I began focusing on the defects left behind. That was when I began to look for another solution.

I wrangled with Step One for many months. I felt powerful over food; after all, I had succeeded at limiting my calories to 1,500 per day for a few years (astonishing since I also exercised two or more hours per day). I was in control, or so I thought.

The “aha” moment came when I realized that inside my head, food called the shots. Okay, so I didn’t indulge all those crazy urges. But the more I white-knuckled past them, the more they tortured me. I would spend 20 minutes window shopping in the supermarket’s bakery department, proud for not putting anything in my cart. Food was all I thought about. I wasted so much time and energy counting, adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing. The voices in my head berated me for not having, doing or being enough. Guilt was my constant companion.

Program has taught me to love and accept myself and the world around me. I am grateful that today when I look in a mirror, I can smile instead of flinching with hatred, looking away. This is a small miracle. Now most days the hamster on the wheel running calculations in my head is quiet thanks to abstinence, working the Steps and using the tools. Even though I’m not perfect today, I am definitely good enough.

I have to thank my Higher Power, sponsor, loving OA family and OA for being gentle with me as I continue to have “aha” moments that enrich my life and bring me closer to the person I want to be. Today I barely recognize the person I used to be. What a blessing!

~ Tara L., Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania USA
Reprinted from Lifeline Magazine, March/April 2012

Wildest Dreams

I groan as I roll over and realize it’s morning. What did I eat last night? My brain feels foggy, my thinking confused, and I am filled with self-hatred. I decide to be “good” and eat a healthy breakfast, knowing I probably won’t make it to lunch without bingeing. In the trashcan lie the remnants of last night’s binge. I’ll delay today’s binge, but when the frenzy hits me, I’ll be clawing through the garbage.

By the time I became abstinent at age 25, I had done all the bingeing, purging and starving I could stand. I wanted my head to stop hurting, to gain 30 pounds (14 kg) and to achieve a healthy weight. I wanted to live in one city for more than a month, stay at a job for more than a few weeks and not feel sick and lethargic, afraid of everything and everyone. OA has given me much more.

My friend and I have set our tent backwards on a hill. We laugh about it as we cook our abstinent breakfast over a campfire. Backpacking out, we are besieged by mosquitoes and race the last miles to the car shouting the Serenity Prayer. I inhale a mosquito and my friend shrieks, “Is that on your food plan?” We dissolve into laughter. I am three months abstinent.

“Pass the salad, please.” I gaze at OA members who gather each month to have an abstinent potluck. I feel safe eating with them; I am learning how to be social again. After the meal we play Frisbee. I can’t catch it, but it doesn’t matter. I feel loved and accepted. I am 14 months abstinent.

I awaken on the beach to the sound of ocean surf. For a moment I can’t remember where I am. My friend is next to me in her sleeping bag. We are following the Grateful Dead across the US, camping and going to OA meetings. Life seems full of hope. I am two-and-a-half years abstinent.

I stare into the night sky, searching for the Southern Cross through wisps of billowing steam. Across from me are two new OA friends. We are relaxing in a hot spring in New Zealand, where I am spending five weeks traveling solo and going to OA meetings. I am 10 years abstinent.

I struggle up the last steps of a 13,000-foot pass in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The wildflowers are brilliant. My backpack weighs 40 pounds, and I am fit and strong. My husband and I hike 50 miles up and down mountains for more than four-and-a-half days. I have been married four-and-a-half days. I am 15 years abstinent.

I open the envelope and stare at the certificate; I can’t believe my eyes. “Summa cum laude.” I have to look it up in the dictionary. I have just received a bachelor of science in computer science with highest honors. I am 16 years abstinent.

My 15-month-old son runs to me and hugs me. My heart swells with gratitude, amazement and joy. I can’t believe God chose to entrust this incredible being into our care, after seemingly insurmountable fertility problems. I am 18 years abstinent.

How did I get here? How is this life possible for someone like me? In exchange for the first compulsive bite, along with the actions you OA members advise me to take, I have received this amazing life full of joy and difficulty, beyond my wildest dreams.

Reprinted from Lifeline magazine

Here’s to Life!

Before coming to OA six years ago, I did not know what it meant to “live”; I merely existed. My existence consisted of working, eating and sleeping. I had no idea what else to do with my time. After six years in the program and a 50-pound weight loss, I like to exclaim, “I have a life!” My life is full: prayer; meditation; conscious contact with God; going to meetings, workshops and retreats; going out with friends; doing volunteer work that I love; and working. I now eat only to live; I don’t live to eat.

Why do I keep coming back now that I have a rich, full life? Because I want to keep the life I have acquired as a result of this program. By continuing to work my program and attend meetings, I acknowledge that I still have the disease of compulsive overeating; I am not cured. If I don’t continue to work the program, I will forget that I have a progressive disease, and it will come raging back, stronger than before. Also, my best friends are in OA. Before the program, I was afraid to open up to anyone and had few friends. In OA I learned that I could open up, show what was inside and not be judged. We are all in OA together, and I feel bonded with the people I have met here.

Finally, I need to keep coming back to show newcomers that the program works. I love when newcomers tell me I don’t look like I need the program. It gives me the opportunity to explain the disease concept and to tell them the program shows me how to live without turning back to the food. I explain that I pray I will keep coming back for the rest of my life, because without this program, I would revert to my former existence.

To sum it up, I keep coming back because it works!

Reprinted from Lifeline magazine

Nourished from Afar

It’s 9:37 a.m., and I’m sitting in someone else’s car on the way to staff a one-week camp for my job. We’ve been on the road since 3 a.m., and we’ll probably arrive at the camp in another four to six hours. I don’t know these people well, and I’m tired. I’m already homesick and afraid of the responsibilities I will have in the week ahead.

Where does my mind go? I’m a compulsive eater, so I wonder about my next meal. “I’ve been awake for six hours. Isn’t it lunchtime yet?” (Breakfast was two hours ago.) “I have to switch time zones soon, so maybe I can justify eating lunch now.” “How can I make the time fly by until it’s time to eat again?”

Even after several years of abstinence, I instinctively turn to food for comfort and companionship—even my abstinent food. But food can never satisfy my loneliness, fear or discomfort.  Every meal ends. Food is meant for physical, not emotional, nourishment. Food can’t grin, hug, listen, give love or speak encouraging words. I eat it, and then it’s gone. It’s a lie from my disease that a few extra bites will make me feel better.

I turn to my God, pray and read my spiritual literature. I pull out Lifeline and read stories of recovery. I remember that my home group is meeting right now back in Chicago, and I visualize the room, faces and hugs. I can feel the warmth, love and acceptance in that room. I try to remember what section of the Big Book we’re on and imagine what the leader might say about it. Even from afar, I can feel the commitment to recovery and the loving support during the painful times. I can be myself, and I am loved. At 10:15 a.m., I’ll recite the promises and the Serenity Prayer along with the group. Even though I am in a car hundreds of miles away, my hand is in theirs and I am home!

Remembering my meeting and how good it feels to belong there will help me as I make the transition to camp. Only when I receive my “emotional and spiritual food” from God and OA do I have enough to give to the rest of the world.

Thank God for OA and that I will never be alone again!

Reprinted from Lifeline magazine