Nancy’s Story

“We are not a glum lot”

Nancy D

My compulsive overeating became noticeable to me because it stopped working as a sedative for anxiety, fear, and self-loathing. I had to continue my exhausting binge cycle, yet it wasn’t fixing anything anymore.

I remember coveting other children’s food.  I hid food under my bed during my teens, twenties, and thirties.  I started bingeing daily in my mid-to-late twenties.  I made regular food runs to top off my stash. I’d buy something, eat part of it, throw it away in disgust, think about it, fish it out of the trash, and dig in.  I cooked whole feasts for myself.  I secretly took appetite suppressants and hid this costly truth from my spouse.  I obsessed and salivated over the promise of food.  I binged and then overexercised, to the point of joint injuries and surgeries. Food was the first thought on my mind when I woke, and I pushed bedtime back so I could keep eating. I ate so quickly, and so much, that I developed a hiatal hernia. I also had hormonal imbalances associated with insulin resistance. I was about 40-50 pounds overweight and resigned myself to the fact that I was just a big girl.

My rock-bottom eating occurred when I was in my thirties.  Beset by fear, doubt, and insecurity, I believed I was not part of the establishment.  Worse, I thought my people-pleasing skills could get me the approval and validation I craved.  I would attack the day and work early, hit a mid-afternoon mental fog, escape home on a commuter train, make multiple pit stops for binge foods, and eat my way to oblivion. Eating was my best tool for dealing with my incessant mind. I’ve heard that addiction can be defined as a “pathological relationship to a mood or mind-altering substance or process that has life-damaging consequences.” I had learned that using when alone, and hiding the substance, are signs of addiction as well. I started to be concerned about how important food was to me and the vague sense that I was unhealthily attached to something.

I suffered then because I neglected to practice faith or live spiritually. My need to live in faith is not a religious fact; faith can benefit anyone who suffers from excessive, distorting fear. I have an allergy to the word “faith” because I developed self-sufficient and perfectionistic habits to manage reality. But “faith” is simply defined as “complete confidence or trust in someone or something.” As “We Agnostics” states, to live without confidence in anything is pretty rare. I have confidence in lots of things; I worship lots of things. The trick, for my serenity and best life, is to continually redirect my energy and focus to something abstract, intangible, spiritual, and mysterious—to the principles of the 12 steps and to HP.

For me, God’s will (or the way of truth, or health) is love, service, balance, and simplicity. When I write “God,” I mean the universe, or reality, or truth. My HP is not a personified, religious entity but rather an energy or source (which I don’t understand) that is also part of me or my “higher” or “true” self. I have a deep streak of intellectual pride so I can relate to how Bill W. shivered in the shade of the “icy intellectual mountain” that prevented him from acknowledging his personal need for a higher presence. But God touched me somewhere very concrete, regular, and daily: eating. The truth is that I can never make a wise decision about food on my own.  Every time I eat a committed meal, I feel HP’s goodness and sanity.

When I came to my first OA meeting, and for some time after, I couldn’t tell you what I was eating over.  However, the daily practice of calling a sponsor and originating calls to my OA fellows really helps me distinguish my feelings.  I got tired of worrying about “bothering” my OA sisters, and most of them seemed to enjoy our talks. I started committing tomorrow’s food and talking about how I feel today, and my feelings and thoughts became clearer. Taking calls from my sponsee helps reinforce this clarity.

The overriding principle in my recovery lately is a combination of self-forgiveness, self-love, and self-care, which I hope translates to kinder behavior towards others.  Hearing my fellows’ laughter and straightforwardness reminds me of what the Big Book says: “we are not a glum lot” (132). My HP wants me to remember not to take life or anything so seriously.  Becoming a mother has given me a new way to practice this spiritual exercise: some things are just too important to do them alone, in hiding. So I apply the steps to new challenges: trust God, clean house, and serve others. OA has enabled me to pause, seek higher wisdom, communicate, make a decision, and take a concrete baby step and let go of the outcome. This new coping protocol has improved my day-to-day mental outlook and emotional balance.

However, a huge part of the increased emotional balance I feel is my daily OA phone calls. Though all the tools are important, phone calls are so important for me.  Listening to others and allowing myself to be heard shows me what it feels like to let a Higher Power love me. I’m eternally grateful to my sponsor who exemplifies God’s love, patience, and wisdom on a daily basis. She is human of course, but her sanity inspires hope. She enables me to practice honesty with my food, and that integrity slowly ripples out to other areas of my life. She taught me that abstinence is step 0. With it, I stand a chance of clearing away other pesky habits, illusions, and patterns that cause unnecessary suffering. The promise of being restored to a deeper sanity is a strong motivation to do my OA work today.

In “never enough,” I am out of gratitude and I am out of touch with the moment and what it can show me.  In “never enough,” I am trying to eat more, do more, buy more, exercise more, fix everything, and control everything. Today, with regular daily meditation time, reading program literature, phone calls, and calls to my sponsor and beloved OA pals, I notice more and more how my ego tries to mess with my serenity and gratitude by looking for problems to fix, situations to manage, and things to measure and critique. A spiritual teacher showed me that the false self is not “bad,” per se, it is just my egotistical container to learn and practice from. As long as I behave compulsively and avoid the self-examination work involved with the tools and steps, I will lack clarity and God-consciousness, and then I will whirl around in a maddening merry-go-round. That’s why I used the food in the first place: to stop my head.

Today I use the tools and steps—especially steps 2, 3, 10, and 11—to cope with thoughts and feelings. That’s a supreme gift of my OA 90-day practice: the approach to life that says “Okay, this is what is. How can I respond to it in a way that improves my serenity?” This response does not always come so quickly. And responding in a healthier way does not always mean what I think it does. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m always doing something wrong. Sometimes it just means that I need to change my attitude: to stop and acknowledge the goodness that has come to me from others and that I have done. Sometimes changing my response means noting my rigid, harsh expectations for myself and others, praying to God, and having the courage to do less and just be. Stillness is very good for me, but I fight it often.

Gifts of OA 90 Day include: patience, sanity, my son, practicing intimacy in my relationships, and taking myself less seriously. Another gift, which I have been enjoying lately, is clarity about, and relief from, other compulsions that kick my butt. My OA sponsor and fellows offer sane suggestions and those have become new bottom lines for me. I also begin to notice other triggers that I was previously blind to (e.g., packing for a trip, family meetings, confronting conflicts, overdoing, and shopping). Of course, it goes without saying, that a huge gift is freedom from food obsession and neutrality around foods, parties, restaurants, etc. At a healthy body weight (defined by my sponsor, not me) year after year, fitting in the same clothes, is fabulous, but what I love more is being in touch with my body, noticing how I abuse it, taking actions to be kinder to my body, and praying about aspects that I dislike or fear.

Though my food scale and phone are vital to me, they mean nothing without my sponsor and fellows, with whom I share my food commitment and feelings. It’s true what the long timers say: this disease is tricky and it whispers to you in your own voice. So I have to be vigilant about how I work my plan of eating, food prep, cooking, labeling, and commitment so I don’t get sloppy, make a mistake, or succumb to a bad idea. On this topic, I want to beware of exchanging and replacing one compulsion or unhealthy habit for another, which is my tendency as an addict. If I am not regularly re-affirming my step 3 commitment, I will unconsciously default to numbing out. The worst part is that I often don’t even notice that I’m avoiding my feelings! Addicts are “relief-seeking missiles,” as they say. So when I frequently use the tools of phone, sponsorship, reading, writing, meetings, and service, I am given attitude checks from caring people who help me spot how I am avoiding reality and God.

OA 90-day has also given me a concrete and manageable program. Practicing the disciplines improves my self-esteem and gives me hope for goodness in my life. The practical concept of weighing and measuring can be applied to other challenges, where taking baby steps brings relief and serenity. And OA has also taught me that the only way to do something wrong is not to do it. To be relieved of “analysis paralysis,” make a decision, and start one small action (even if it winds up needing to be fixed) is awesome. It starts with committing and doing concrete food-related acts, but it progresses to other areas in which my life is unmanageable.

Probably the biggest gift, which is endlessly unfolding slowly but surely, is freedom from self-hatred. I recently heard a speaker quote Teresa of Ávila: “the sinner is actually one who does not love himself or herself enough.” For me, the spiritual experience or psychic change they refer to in the Big Book means just that: I learn to love myself just because I am. The psychic change means accepting good, expecting good, and believing I deserve good (as we all do). The psychic change therefore also means owning up to my attachment to suffering and harmful illusions. My ongoing improvement in my relationship with myself goes hand in hand with self-care, which can be taking time to do step work, write a fear or resentment turnaround (step 10), take a nap, tell the truth, exercise, get a massage, watch a fun movie with my spouse, or commit to a new behavior. If I do not take time to fill my love tank, I’m in trouble. I once heard a speaker at a retreat say, “I’m spiritually high maintenance.” Lastly, learning to see myself as a “child of God” or a “sacred soul” has helped me to see past the shameful illusion that I am bad, and to recognize that: 1) my feelings are valid and they will pass, and 2) I sometimes make harmful choices and mistakes based on my ego (or false self) but that is just to build and practice awareness and compassion. Noticing the useless, automatic shame reaction is crucial to constructive change—that’s why Bill W. and I need to practice daily faith in a grace and benevolence, or else we’ll default back to “not enough.” Don’t ask me why “it’s enough,” it just is! There is a grace that descends upon me in stillness when I do my due diligence with my program tools and steps. I believe my sponsor and the other OA 90-day fellows who remind me: the only thing I have to do today is work my OA tools and steps and everything will fall into place. -Nancy D.

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