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Garden Variety

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I’ve lived most of my life in New Jersey, the Garden State, so you’d think I’d be used to eating an abundance of homegrown fruits and vegetables. Au contraire, my OA friends: I grew up with little interest in natural produce, though just outside the New Jersey Turnpike are thousands of fruit and vegetable stands to visit. No, my exclusive preferences and compulsions were for any foods that contained sugar, refined flour, salty, and/or fatty ingredients. As an 8-year-old, I lived on peanut butter and chocolate drink mixes. My physical addiction, the allergy and cravings described in The Doctor’s Opinion (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th. ed., pp. xxv–xxxii), was so compelling that I never went a day without eating some combination of these addictive substances—usually to the point of feeling painfully bloated or sick. I was a grade-A compulsive overeater and food addict, as a child and through adulthood, until I came to OA.

When I first entered the rooms in late 1990, I quickly learned about the physical part of the program. I honestly examined and eliminated my addictive ingredients from my food plan, and voilà!—I became abstinent. After I became abstinent, my physical cravings diminished significantly, and I gleefully began losing a lot of weight. In my first year in OA, I lost 70 pounds (32 kg), going from 220 pounds (100 kg) to 150 pounds (68 kg).

Alas, my abstinence did not stick for more than two years, because I did not regularly focus on and work the spiritual part of the program: namely, the Twelve Steps. Sure, I went to several meetings every week and periodically “did” the Steps in writing groups, thinking this would inoculate me from a return to food obsession and compulsive binge eating. But in reality, it took me several years to understand that putting down the food, sitting in meetings, and socializing with my OA friends was not the whole answer.

After a number of relapses, I came to learn and believe that in order for me to stay abstinent, to be free of the mental obsession around my addictive foods, I had to do Step work every single day. In particular, I finally came to believe and accept that, at a minimum, I had to do Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve every day, not just when I felt like it. I had to do a Step Ten spot check inventory of trouble causing defects as they happened; an evening Step Eleven review, prayer, and meditation; and I had to give Step Twelve service to others. This last Step has turned out to be a very important component of my program, particularly working with other suffering compulsive overeaters. Sponsoring others and making phone calls to newcomers and OA friends in relapse has helped me tremendously.

For almost four years now, I have miraculously been free of binge-food thoughts and more serene than I’d been in many years. Yes, working the Steps on a daily basis has changed my life and kept me abstinent. It is not an oversimplification in OA to say that the answer is in working the Steps.

— Jeff S., New Jersey USA

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