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Gift of Empathy

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I have gained many gifts from the OA program and recently realized a new one: empathy. I’m not sure I ever had true empathy. I know my eating behaviors made me very selfish. I was nice and respectful to people, but only if there was something in it for me, such as keeping my job, being liked, receiving thanks, or being perceived as a good person in society. But if someone else’s pain seemed too much to handle, I put up walls and isolated myself from the person or the situation. My walls did more than keep me from becoming too enmeshed; they kept me from experiencing normal intimacy and connections with other people.

Recently I got some bad news about a friend of mine. She had been going through a dangerous situation at home for three years, but I hadn’t received any clues from her. My heart ached. My feelings were heavy, and I felt a connection with her that I’d never before experienced. I had to pull out my OA Tools to be present and process the feelings without using my numbing food behaviors. It was painful, but I suspect it was something I needed to allow.

Shortly after that first situation, an OA fellow called and shared some deep things she was going through. Again, I felt a connection that I’m not used to feeling, especially with someone I haven’t known long. This time, I became excited because I recognized a normal human reaction to another person’s pain. I had always struggled with expressing and accepting feelings and intimacy, so this was a growing experience for me.

My new gift of empathy is a sign of the promises manifesting. “We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 84). I understand this gift may bring me some pain, but nothing can be as painful as the isolation of my eating disorder. I am grateful.

— Kym, Portland, Oregon USA

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