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When Choice is Not an Option

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Over the years, I’ve heard people in our Fellowship speak about having “choices” when it comes to food and eating: “the choice to eat healthy or not” or “the choice of bingeing or not.” While this might be true for some, I feel compelled to speak to those for whom the notion of having choices does not apply. I know with certainty that the option of choice does not exist for every person in OA, because it does not exist for me.

For many years, I struggled to become abstinent . . . but abstinence did not come. No matter how hard I tried, I could not stop eating compulsively. I did all that was suggested: I adopted a food plan; I planned my food, wrote it down, and called it in; I used a sponsor and phoned her daily; I went to many meetings, often one every day; I joined Step study groups (more than once); I did Big Book studies; I prayed; I performed service. No matter— my compulsive eating did not stop for almost nine full years of “practicing these principles in all my affairs.”

I was finally able to stop eating compulsively when I surrendered and became willing to do what I’d been especially unwilling to do: seek outside help. I was reminded I couldn‘t apply the Steps in my life if I was still eating compulsively. As the Big Book suggests, “We favor hospitalization for the alcoholic who is very jittery or befogged” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. xxvi). Believe me, my compulsive eating kept me jittery and befogged.

Several good things happened for me in my treatment process, but most important, I believe, was adopting a food plan free of my addictive foods; this is what I had missed in all my years in OA. Yes, I had followed a food plan, but one that still included my addictive foods. Pretty much unknowingly, I was introducing into my body substances I react to as an addict reacts, and I was suffering the phenomenon of craving. The Big Book indicates clearly that if we are ingesting our addictive substances we are powerless—if we have the phenomenon of craving, we will binge or act compulsively.

I was recently reminded of this pointedly while rereading pages 23–24 of the Big Book, which describe the addict’s loss of control. “Everybody hopefully awaits the day when the sufferer will rouse himself from his lethargy and assert his power of will. The tragic truth is . . . the happy day may not arrive.” When the most powerful desire to stop is of no avail, it says, the power of choice is lost, and willpower “becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense.”

I’m one for whom that happy day may not arrive; I’m one whose most powerful desire to stop bingeing was of absolutely no avail; I’m one who has lost the power of choice in eating; I’m one whose willpower has become non-existent; I’m one who cannot remember the horror and humiliation of my last binge; I’m one who is completely without defense against that first compulsive bite. And to entertain thoughts that I can choose what I eat and what I don’t eat would put me back into the hell of compulsive eating.

So, just for today, that’s me: I’m a real food-addicted compulsive overeater. I have absolutely lost the power of choice in my eating. My thinking is diseased: it thinks it knows what I can and cannot eat. I must consistently disregard my thinking when it comes to food and eating and instead surrender to my plan of eating. My power of choice is gone!

In my duty to carry the message, I seek those of us who do not have the power of choice in food and eating. For me, and for those like me, to entertain this illusion of choice would be deadly.

— Karen K

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