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Controlled Response

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After ten years in OA, a cancer diagnosis pushed me to realize abstinence is a matter of life or death for me. Doctors told me my best defense was a normal body weight, regular exercise, and a healthful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, even though I had been in OA for a decade, I was unable to stay abstinent or reach a healthy weight. I struggled for a few more years until, demoralized, I realized that even when my life depended on it, I could not control my eating.

Finally, I surrendered to a more disciplined format for working an OA program. I didn’t choose my own food plan—an addiction-literate dietitian did that for me. I used the Tools every day. I planned what I would eat in advance and reported that day’s food every morning to my sponsor. I did a daily Twelve Step reading and writing and, guided by my sponsor, worked through the Twelve Steps abstinently. I didn’t much like all the rules at first, nor did I understand the need for them, but I made two promises to myself: I would be honest with my sponsor, no matter what, and I would do what she told me to do, even if I didn’t understand the reason or agree with it.

That was my surrender and it was enough. My obsession with food was removed. I lost 50 pounds (23 kg), reached a normal body weight, and became physically fit. I developed an active lifestyle— biking, hiking, running, and kayaking. A new devotion to OA and relationships with program friends replaced my previous activities of overwork and trying new restaurants and recipes.

Then, after eleven years of abstinence, my cancer returned. It was treated successfully, but doctors told me this type of cancer would return again. The only question was how soon and how severely.

Had all my efforts and surrender been for naught? Following my food plan religiously, exercising, getting enough sleep, and managing my stress had not been enough. Those years of abstinent recovery failed to protect me from a recurrence. My will could not control cancer. Once again, I was powerless. Fortunately, it didn’t take me long to realize that abstinence has gifts beyond a normal-sized body. Years of program work have taught me that the only thing I can control is my response to what life brings. Recovery has shown me how to refrain from negative thinking.

I do not know when or how cancer might return, but I know this: I can be healthy and live a happy life, or I can live in constant fear. It’s my choice. I lose the ability to choose my thoughts if I let go of my abstinence, so I work to keep it, one day at a time. When I surrender my will and my negative fears, my Higher Power grants me serenity and peace. This daily ticket to a happy, satisfied life is the greatest gift of abstinent recovery.

— Anne C.K.

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