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Tony’s Story of Recovery
My name is Tony. I’m a compulsive overeater from Christchurch, New Zealand.
I first went to an Overeaters Anonymous 25 years ago. I’d like to say I’ve been sober ever since, but there was a 17-year lag between my first OA meeting and me admitting complete defeat.
Thirteen of those long, miserable years were spent in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. Now if that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.
All that time, I put up a false front. I had a good job and I was heavily involved in sport. I had a wife and two kids I loved, a house and a car but food always came first. I clamped a smile on my fat face, but I was crying and dying inside.
I always knew there was a solution in OA – I saw it in a couple of people at my very first meeting. They were free of the fear, guilt, shame, secrecy, anger and humiliation which had always accompanied my eating. They told me if I wanted to get well I’d have to give up eating, drinking and drugging. They offered me an answer but I flung it back in their faces. For years I came in and out of OA’s batwing doors, insisting I wanted to do it my way.
My eating was no different to theirs. I believe I was born an addict. I always remember having the obsession to eat and the craving for more. I stole food, ate burnt or soiled food and food dumped in rubbish bins. I screamed at the staff in a fried chicken joint because they’d run out of chicken. Once I started eating I couldn’t stop, I was powerless over the craving .
When I was 12-years-old, a classmate collapsed with a ruptured spleen. He’d barely hit the floor before I was plotting to steal his lunch. I furtively lined up at the takeaway counter and mumbled his name. I cradled his bag of sausages and chips to my chest like a baby, only grudgingly giving a few chips away. I’ve always been selfish and self-centered.
Yet, for so long, in OA, I kidded myself that “my case is different’’. I was a man, for a start. I can’t recall any men at my first meeting. There still aren’t a lot here but I no longer believe “this is a woman’s problem’’.
I thought I had a weight problem, but it was only a symptom of the disease of addiction. My problem centers in the mind.
For years, I deluded myself I could use AA as a one-stop shop for all addiction ills. That never worked either. I can only stay sober alongside other compulsive overeaters.
This is certainly a fatal, progressive disease. I was around 25 when I first came to OA. I was 42 when I started to get well. Near the end, I was separated from my wife and kids and was really just living to eat.
Every day I woke up, determined to “beat it’’. Within an hour, I’d be eating and the whole sordid cycle would start again. I was convinced my steering was faulty because my car always lurched to a stop outside food stores and takeaway bars.
I was once almost run over leaving a buffet restaurant because I was too stuffed to run to avoid a fast car.
I’d end my day blobbed out in front of late-night TV, too gorged to sleep. I fought the urge to drive into the base of the bridge to break a leg and get some time in hospital, some respite from my head.
So what changed for me? The two most expensive cans of cola in the world were a catalyst, but the real impetus came from my Higher Power.
I was working overseas and got ensnared in a bar scam in Paris. The French woman I’d met on the Champs Elysses drank two bottles of champagne. This so-called “sober’’ alcoholic slugged two cans of coke – and choked on a bill for around $1200.
Later, back in my hotel, having had to explain why I’d booked it to my company credit card, I just knew that my actions weren’t those of a sober man. My Higher Power sent me the message: I was as powerless over food as I ever was over booze.
I came back to Christchurch and went to every OA meeting I could. But I still had the obsession for some months. I badgered a food plan from another new member and adopted her breakfast and lunch. Yet all day my head was consumed with what I’d eat for my “free choice dinner’’.
My recovery only started when I did the one thing I’d never done in OA before – asked for help. I remember my sponsor asking if I was entirely ready to give up the food. I said, “I can’t say 100 per cent, but I think I might be’’. Something shifted then.
Next day, when I called her for a food plan, the fight I’d had all my life had somehow gone. I’d finally let go of my old ideas.
I haven’t had to eat since. After accepting I was a newcomer, I came to understand the answer wasn’t in the food plan. I set out to work the steps of recovery from Step One. I did my first real, searching and moral inventory.
It was a shock to find I’d harmed many people after I’d joined AA and it was humbling to make direct amends to people I’d insulted and assaulted many years before.
I’m very grateful that the obsession to eat has been removed. I try to show that gratitude by following the example set by my sponsor and many others in pulling my weight (once a herculean task) in service. Today, I strive to live my amends by being a better dad, grandfather, son, brother, friend and worker.
The Big Book contains four words (Pg 61) which pretty much sum up any (self-induced) problem I have today: “He begins to think”. I still have one of those magic, magnifying minds that focuses more on what I haven’t got. My sponsor still regularly reminds me that if I keep staring at my navel, I’m going to get sunstroke with a hairstyle like mine.
A slow learner, I’ve discovered there are no Big Book chapters entitled “Into Thinking’’ or “Into Feeling’’, just, “There Is A Solution’’, “How It Works’’ and “Into Action’’.
I’m still a compulsive overeater, I’m not cured. But, no matter what happens in my life, good or bad, I don’t have to eat, one day at a time. I’m very grateful that God has removed the obsession.
I attempt to express that gratitude by trying to carry this message to the still-suffering male compulsive eater and, to others, like me, who struggled in other 12-step fellowships. It took me so long to pick up the set of spiritual tools laid at my feet. Now, it’s a privilege to give them away.
Paul’s Story of Recovery
Perhaps 3 years ago I was on a workshop in Sydney and I went to a restaurant with a group. Afterwards a close friend and elder said that she had been uncomfortable with the amount of rice and other food I had helped myself to. She also said that she was sure I did not want to set an example to family, daughter and granddaughter who were also at the meal sitting next to me. I resolved to do better and some time later at another shared meal situation at a restaurant I thought I had done well. After that another friend from the same group said he had also noticed me taking more than my share.
I resolved to look at my food issues and began attending OA and identifying as an overeater. Soon I got a sponsor and began work on the steps. As she lives in another city I phone her each week and I am able to phone at other times as well. I have a “home” group which I go to every week and I have phone numbers and can phone when I have a compulsion to eat something off my food list, usually foods that I binge on. I have found that I need to be careful about problem foods being kept in the house. I negotiate with others in the house to see whether they need to have the foods in the house. If they do, then we can often store them so that they are not in places where I store food that I use regularly.
I am amazed, frequently, that I can quietly and without drama turn down offers of foods that I used to binge on or that are foods that I have decided are not good for me. Once I started on these I mostly could not stop or I found that I had less resistance to these foods or other binge foods later.
Now, I am grateful to OA and my Higher Power that I am able to say no to these dangerous foods for me. I am able to serve foods to others and be comfortable in not eating them myself. I can buy an ice cream at the movies for my wife and not have one myself or feel that I am deprived or that I deserve a treat myself. This is a great freedom for which I am grateful and I can only put this down to my Higher Power and OA. I was certainly not able to do this before OA when I was relying on my own self will and powers of reasoning.
I am guided by my sponsor in the decisions on what to eat. For a health issue, I recently went to an herbalist and have suggestions from her on what is healthy for me. I am comfortable with the ideas and have put them out to others including my sponsor. I have resolved with the help of my sponsor to eat 3 moderate meals a day with 2 snacks (usually a measure of nuts and a piece of fruit, if needed).
I have noticed that behaviours around my eating have changed too. I don’t eat so fast or take more than I need, or think that I should finish off the dish or my plate or accept food from someone else. As a child, I was often exhorted to finish what was on my plate or to help clean up leftover food. This was regardless of whether I was hungry or not. One behaviour I can have trouble with, is tasting some delicious food and thinking that was so good I must have some more. Again, I don’t take cognisance of whether I am hungry or not. In fact, I would often have no idea of what was sufficient food for me to eat. I am thankful when I can sit in an OA meeting and not feel that I am too full and I realise how much more comfortable I am to have eaten soberly. While preparing meals, I am able to resist sampling as I cook and serve meals. I used to take more of the best bits for myself and be upset if I got the plates mixed up and ended with someone else getting the plate I had intended for myself. This again is much more than my own willpower was able to achieve.
With my compulsive behaviour around food, I need to take it one day at a time and not give myself a hard time about my failures. One recent challenge has been not to eat foods from the garden away from meal times. This was a habit as a child when I would retreat to the garden and overeat on the “healthy foods” available. I was seeking comfort in food. A habit which I carried into my adult life.
Sometimes I get into rationalising that I am not as bad as other people who really need this program. I am not hugely overweight and I don’t eat the amounts that I see others eating. I need to put the focus on myself and stop distracting myself with taking the inventory of others and judging them. Through working the programme of OA I am letting go of defects of character such as arrogance and judgmentalism.
Family and friends have noticed a change in my eating behaviour and I need to be vigilant and listen to my Higher Power when I get uncomfortable about my eating behaviour. Also to listen to people who notice or question what I am doing with food and not to be defensive.
I am working the steps in OA and doing them thoroughly with my sponsor and am currently on step 9. As I work this step, I write about the harm I have done to others and I consider the defects of character involved. What I notice is that, as I go through this process, and the preceding steps, my behaviour is changing even before I do the amends called for. I notice and no longer indulge in my hurtful actions. Also, as I make amends, I am noticing an amazing change in my relations with others. I realise that it is the change in me (a change in attitude) that has brought about the change in the way that we relate. I need to acknowledge that this is not due to my efforts alone but the work that I have done to involve my Higher Power in working the steps and working with others in my meetings and in discussions with my Sponsor. When making amends, I ask my Higher Power to help me find the words. I have been especially careful to not cause harm when I talk to people and to stay on my side of the street and not to talk about anything that they may have done.
I have done service for OA, been treasurer for my group and helped run a recent workshop run by our intergroup. I am very willing to do service when the opportunity presents itself. When asked to share at a meeting I try to be as honest as I can. As with making amends I can ask my Higher Power to help me find the words.