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The Powerless Problem

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I had a problem with my food and weight, which I’d tried most of my life to solve. With various calorie-controlled ways of eating and exercise regimes, I had periods of what seemed like success, followed by gaining weight, feeling worthless, and being uninterested in physical activity. As time went on, the periods of apparent success became shorter: from months, to weeks, to days. My will to stick to any method was no match for my compulsion to eat. This is when I came to OA.

I know I belong in OA because, as Tradition Three states, “The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.” Today, I have this honest desire to stop and stay stopped, and I’m grateful. Before, I wanted the food problem to be solved but was too fearful, too prideful, to give myself completely to the program of recovery as laid out in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.

I know I’m a compulsive overeater because, on my own, I’m unable to eat only what my body needs. There would always come a time when I’d decide to restrict my food intake, and that would lead to a binge or period of overeating. I’ve learned that this behavior happens because I have a mental illness that coerces me back to food, plus a physical allergy that, if ignited, causes me to eat more. Craving is ignited by me putting certain foods (sugar) in my body or eating anything outside a meal—even one nut as a snack!

I’ve found this passage in Alcoholics Anonymous helpful: “You can quickly diagnose yourself. Step over to the nearest barroom and try some controlled drinking. Try to drink and stop abruptly. Try it more than once. It will not take long for you to decide, if you are honest with yourself about it” (4th ed., pp. 31–32). I just changed the setting to a cake shop and imagined myself there having tea and cake with other people. Often, I could eat just one slice of cake (because that is how I ate in front of others). But others never saw what was going on inside me: thoughts of having more and fighting with myself not to eat more, because I wanted to be thin.

For years, I’d used this same Big Book passage to justify that I was not one of them. See? I can control my eating. I am not really powerless over food. So I struggled with Step One and abstinence for years. Then one day, the penny dropped: I thought of that same situation in the cake shop, but I imagined ordering a slice, taking one bite, and pushing the plate away. Could I stop abruptly? No way! I’d have to eat that slice until it was gone. The thought of someone taking the plate away brought up feelings of rage, like I wanted to punch them.

Oh, boy. So it is true: I am a compulsive overeater and indeed powerless over food. When left to my own thinking, I sometimes overreact to situations out of fear, anger, or jealousy. Or, I do not take action at all, out of fear or pride. My life is unmanageable if I don’t connect with my Higher Power.

I came to know that OA was for me through a process of elimination and increasing desperation. I began to accept that conventional methods of trying to control what, when, and how much I ate were not working for me. The negative radio signals in my head were getting louder and louder—chatter of fear, food, weight, and exercise all pointed toward the idea that I was a failure because I could not eat like normal people and maintain a healthy body weight. I knew full well I could exert incredible self-discipline if I put my mind to it. The real problem was my disease grew stronger the more I tried.

Years later, when I realized that my strong willpower was not sufficient to hold back the incessant tide and pull to the food, I went to a meeting. What I found in OA that I couldn’t find anywhere else is a spiritual solution to my problem of powerlessness.

Today, I no longer feel like I’m made of metal and food is a super-strong magnet. I am mostly at peace. I am grateful that I eat three weighed-and-measured meals a day based on principles set out in the OA pamphlet Dignity of Choice. I am at peace with my weight on the scale. On the first of the month, I weigh myself and write down that information to check whether my plan of eating is helping me to refrain from compulsion “while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight” (Statement on Abstinence and Recovery, Business Conference Policy Manual, 1988b [amended 2002, 2009, 2011]).

I have also found a Fellowship of people, some of whom share my desire to be abstinent from compulsive eating no matter what and are committed to working the the Twelve Steps. In speaking with these recovered fellows, I am given evidence of this program working in people’s lives. They’ve shown me it’s possible to be abstinent through a host of adverse situations—bereavement, job issues, ill health, and more—as well as everyday life. This is the recovery that I sought. Through working the Steps with an abstinent sponsor, I’m learning to have a better relationship with myself and others; to focus on my Higher Power’s will for me and how I can be helpful to others, as opposed to focusing on myself and what I want or think I need. My learning and growing continue as I work Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve one day at a time. I have been gifted with abstinence from compulsive overeating since January 2015, along with a spiritual awakening. These are gifts I have not found anywhere else.

— Anonymous

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