Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tools of Recovery

Overeaters Anonymous, a program of recovery based on and very much like Alcoholics Anonymous, is deeper than I thought at first, offering a wide range of possibilities for change and healing, proven to work for many individuals. I stumbled into OA through reading Holy Hunger by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, an amazingly honest and thorough exploration of her personal experiences with binging, purging, dieting, emotion-evading and all the crazy voices in her head which provided every excuse for continuing to eat compulsively.

Although I've never purged, all the rest, the angst, the yo-yo dieting, the binging and obsession with food, the voices, all as she described in her book were exactly as I've experienced for 60 years of my life. It is as if she wrote my story, not hers.

Her story and her book offer an addict, like me, great hope because she turned to OA, admitting her disease and her powerlessness. In accepting her weakness, accepting the support and fellowship of other OA members, accepting the help of a power greater than herself, she turned herself around and was able to stop eating compulsively, stop binging, stop feeling crazy, reach a desirable, healthy weight for her size and remain at that weight without the relentless struggle of dieting.
The biggest benefit, for me, is to stop feeling crazy. It really makes me feel crazy knowing absolutely, without a doubt, that eating a dozen cookies at a time is not a healthy thing to do, knowing that if I eat one, I'll continue eating them until they're gone, and yet I do it. More than the weight, more than the embarrassment about my food habits, more than high cholesterol and other health problems directly related to my eating, much more than all that, I hated the feeling of being crazy and my inability to resist the slightest temptation.
OA teaches us that this is not a motivation or will-power problem. This is a disease, a progressive disease, one that can not be cured with will-power, a diet, a pill, a stay in the hospital or surgery. Yet, it is not hopeless, as once I had thought.

The way I interpret OA, to arrest the symptoms of the disease, two parallel pathways must be followed. The first is to use the tools of OA to stop compulsive overeating. The other is to work the 12 Steps of OA (and AA) to gain a spiritual foundation for change. Tonight I want to write a little more about the tools and about how I am using them at present.

There are eight tools of recovery, as follows:

1. Food plan. Since I definitely suffer the binge syndrome of overeating, where I've been known to eat a whole box of cookies, a whole bag of candy or a whole pint of ice cream in one sitting, the first part of my food plan is to identify and eliminate these foods from my diet completely.

"Why can't I be like other people? Why can't I eat just two cookies or half a piece of chocolate cake?" I don't know the answer, really. It's part of the disease. The important point is not why, but just that not being able to resist or stop is a fact for me. There is no half-way. I ask myself, "Do I want to be abstinent on my binge foods today, just for today?" So far, the answer is "yes."

Other than two slips, I have not eaten any of my binge foods (candy, cake, cookies, pie, ice cream, pastries) since April 17th, which is 199 days!

Just today, in a coffee shop with a fellow OA member, I briefly noticed a huge display of tasty-looking and delicious-smelling assortment of muffins, rolls, sweet breads, cookies and cakes. In the past, I would have been obsessed with looking at them and selecting which one or ones I would eat or equally obsessed with not being able to eat them because of dieting. Today, I noticed them in passing, got my coffee, and thought no more about them until writing a description of them here.

My point? The obsessive compulsion about sweet things is gone! I attribute this delightful change to a food plan of abstaining from eating my particular binge foods. Another benefit? Well, for once, I don't dread the soon-upon-us holiday season, the time of year previously known for stuffing myself with every imaginable treat and gaining 10 to 20 pounds in three months.

The other part of my food plan is simply to eat three meals per day and nothing between meals. I don't pay much attention to what I eat, although "healthy choices" are ingrained after years of dieting. Not eating between meals is definitely a challenge, one I struggle with, particularly during meal preparation. Sometimes I stay with the plan; sometimes I don't. I do the best I can.

Although, because of a previously negative relationship to the scale, I do not weigh myself, I have lost weight, going from a snug size 18 jeans to a comfortable size 12 in the seven months I've been practicing my OA food plan.

2. Sponsorship. I am fortunate to have two sponsors.

One is my sister-in-law, who is 16 years sober in AA. She is an invaluable mentor, guide and support! Talking on the phone and emailing several times a week, she helps me to accept both my success and my failures, to understand the program, and most of all to have patience with it.

My other sponsor is a long-time member of my OA group. A spiritual guide, she is helping me to understand the 12 step program, to face myself and my disease with honesty and to seek help with this journey. I see her at meetings and meet with her one-on-one as needed. Right now, I'm fairly self-motivated, yet I feel her support and am grateful to know when I need her, she'll be there for me.

3. Meetings. I've written about our meetings fairly often, about how they're invaluable to me in this process of recovery. We are united in our weakness and in our commitment to recovery. We share our process and our inspiration to the benefit of all. What if, for some reason, there were no OA meetings where I live? Having experienced the understanding and fellowship of meetings, I would go instead to AA meetings or I would join an on-line, live-participation OA meeting. I am certain meeting are a significant tool in my recovery.

4. Telephone. This is a tool I haven't used very much as I'm not very fond of talking on the phone. Yet, I understand the importance of resisting isolation in recovery. I guess blogging (writing and reading) and emailing are forms of communication like the telephone, yet not so immediate. I shall consider using the telephone a bit more.

5. Writing. Of course this blog is all about writing my feelings, thoughts, process. I love writing here, reading other recovery blogs and the exchange, inspiration and support that happens between us, almost as if we are all meeting together. It's magic for me!

I must also write privately as I work the 12 steps. Here is another area where I'm dragging my feet at the moment. Time to call my sponsor and get some help.

6. Literature. Over the years, AA and OA have amassed a vast library of literature relevant to recovery. There are stories, history, workbooks and guides. I've read and been inspired by several of these, the most recent being The Big Book itself, the fourth edition of the original Alcohol Anonymous book, written by the founders of the program. Quite an unexpected treat, this book both instructs and inspires me, helping me to better understand the concept of alcoholism or compulsive overeating as a disease. I'm currently reading an OA workbook designed to help participants work through the 12 steps.

7. Anonymity. I respect the concept of anonymity in OA. It gives me power to be honest with myself and others. For this reason, I do not use my name or anybody's real name in this blog.

8. Service. Although I have taken responsibility for the meeting-room key, until today, I had not offered my service to anybody else suffering from overeating, at least not directly. Perhaps indirectly, as a result of reading my blog or talking with me about what it's like to suffer the disease of compulsive overeating, I may have been of some slight service to others. However, today I offered to be a food sponsor (as opposed to step sponsor, which by my own standards, I am not yet qualified to do) to another OA member. I don't know where this will lead or how it will be for her. But, I can say that for me, it feels like a good thing, a pathway that can only lead to greater learning and healing, hopefully for both of us.

So this is a summary of the tools and where I am with them in the OA program at this time. My gratitude for having learned of OA and for all the assistance I've received to date is boundless.


  1. OA - very good for you!
    And the slips?
    That's just feedback....
    about what works and what doesn't work as well...
    Good, too that the dread is gone!

  2. This was very interesting; thanks for sharing. You probably can imagine that I was thinking of myself and some of my own problem foods when I read about your abstinence. I love that you gave no thought the to the bakery items and that you don't dread the coming holidays:)

  3. You can add me to the list of folks you've helped.

  4. PeacefulBird, you are right on, all except one thing. You have been of enormous service to me. (And I'm sure to others.) How, you ask? Your willingness to "let it all hang out" here, let us inside you head, feel your pain and your progress, has laid down a template to follow. It has made it seem possible to take a good, mature look at myself, and take action on it. Of course, other factors have come into play for me, but you came along as a mentor at just the right moment for me. You may be happy to know I've avoided my "trigger foods" (bread, butter, anything made of flour or sugar) since January 11th. I am free of the cravings, I see it but it doesn't speak to me any longer. You can take part of the credit for that. My cholesterol has dropped 60 points, the scale has dropped 35 pounds. I'm happier, and know that abstinence will be a lifestyle for me, one that I am content with. You, Peacefulbird, can take a lot of the credit. Thank you.

    With much admiration,

    T. B-N.

  5. I admit that I have always rejected the idea of OA because of the spiritual componant. I appreciate your blog because I can learn about the program without having to feel pressured by the things in the program which would trigger me to rebel!

    Plus, you make such a good example of the arguement for abstinance that I feel much more solid in the choices I have made along those lines.

    So service to others? You can check that one on the list of steps!


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it very much.