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Expressed Emotions

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Before OA, which for me was fourteen years and 140 pounds (64 kg) ago, I didn’t know why I overate. But after Steps Four through Nine, I came to understand that I was using food to escape from unpleasant emotions. If I was angry or depressed, I ate to numb my anger or cheer myself up. I binged or acted out with character defects: I expressed anger by shouting insults. If I felt frustrated, I tried to control others thorough intimidation and manipulation. If I felt lonely, I’d withdraw from family and friends. Then, I would eat to drive away the guilt. I had no way to express emotions in a healthy way.

Through OA, I learned instead to express my emotions with the Tools of Recovery. I tried writing first, and I realized that most of the time, I was eating out of an emotional need, not physical hunger. How could I possibly have been physically hungry when I was eating during every waking hour? Then, I read that most healthy people can go four or five hours without feeling physical hunger, so one of the next times that I started feeling the need to eat inappropriately, I grabbed my journal instead and began writing.

I wrote what I was feeling at the moment. I did not write, “I feel hungry,” because that was only the result of an emotion. Instead, I wrote down the emotion: “I feel tired.” “I feel angry.” I was careful not to write the word that after the feeling because if I were to write, “I feel that my wife hates me,” then I would really be expressing a thought instead of a feeling. Did I really mean, “I think my wife hates me”? No, not really. I may have felt depressed (an emotion) because of something she’d said, but I needed to examine what she had said to learn the truth about my depressing thought.

I learned that my emotions were being triggered by thoughts, and I realized I needed to express my emotions (like expressing water from a washcloth) by examining the thoughts that produced them. I began wringing out the thoughts that produced the feeling. First, I would write down, “I feel angry.” Then I would examine the thoughts that produced the anger: “Why was I angry?” “Because my wife insulted me.” “What about her insult made me angry?” “I feared I would be considered unworthy or look foolish in the eyes of my friends.”

I continued the dialogue until I had wrung out or expressed the real truth behind my anger: fear. Then I noticed something strange: after about ten minutes of journaling, my hunger had vanished. This was my first real “aha” moment in OA. I remember saying to myself, “Wow! This stuff really works.”

I no longer have the need to hide from emotions with food. I can now express emotions directly. I no longer have the need to act out, because I came to understand some real truths about myself.

— Sander B., Marietta, Georgia USA

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