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Medical Matters

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I don’t remember how I heard about OA, but I do know it wasn’t from any of the many medical or support professionals I went to for help. During my thirty years as a compulsive overeater, I never heard about OA from any doctor, nurse, therapist, plastic surgeon, nutritionist, dietician, eating-disorders charity, or acupuncturist . . . and the list goes on. But I am very lucky; I found my way here eventually and have been blessed with five years of abstinence. I’m maintaining a weight loss of 75 pounds (34 kgs).

Now I’m gaining some experience doing professional outreach. My outreach includes serving at a booth at an eating disorders conference, introducing healthcare professionals to OA, approaching doctors and nurses in diabetes and bariatric units via email and letter, and going with other members to various hospital departments to talk about how OA has helped me.

Fear used to stop me doing many things in life. I was afraid there was an exact “right” way to do something, and if I didn’t instinctively know what that was, I wouldn’t even try. God forbid I’d ask for help or venture several attempts or a few different versions. What if I was wrong? And worse, what if someone saw that I was wrong? (Even writing this article has been an exercise in procrastination!)

But when I began getting in touch with doctors who knew far more than me about medical matters, I had this realization: I can only tell my story, simply recount what happened to me, and that is all that’s needed. I offer a description of my thirty-year battle with food, my extreme weight gains and losses, what happened when I came to OA, and the difference working the Steps has made to my life. It’s similar to speaking at a meeting: I say what it used to be like, what happened, and what it’s like now—keeping in mind that my audience is medical and may not understand all the language of recovery.

A very rewarding experience ensued when I saw a nurse for a routine checkup at my local practice. I spotted some scales in the corner of the surgery and asked my nurse if she ever saw people with weight and eating problems. We had a good honest chat; I told her my story, offered to come to the practice to talk about OA, and followed up by sending her some pamphlets about the Twelve Step process. These included OA’s Fifteen Questions, Introducing OA to Health Care Professionals, About OA, and To the Teen. She responded with information about how to arrange a talk at one of their weekly practice meetings. When I and another OA member turned up, we found more than thirty-five medics in attendance. In the past, when I’d gone to doctors for advice and tried to communicate my despair about my overeating, I’d often been told to “eat less and move more”— as if I just had to exert some control. But on that day, I really felt able to communicate the powerlessness of this disease and the solution that exists in OA. I felt a huge gratitude for having the clarity to be able to do it.

OA literature can help in this arena. Many more ways to use our literature are suggested in OA’s Professional Outreach Manual. There are sample letters to use or adapt, and members can send these to any institution or professional that might benefit from hearing about OA. The Manual also contains suggestions for Professional Outreach committees: how to form them and use them to best carry the OA message outside the rooms. The book has information about how the Traditions apply to doing PO work, and suggested guidelines for panels and meetings. The Professional Outreach Manual really is an invaluable tool.

I am so grateful today, after years of isolating and doing my best to hide myself and my eating issues, to be able to stand in front of a group of healthcare professionals and say, “My name is Jacqueline, and I am a compulsive overeater.”

— Jacqueline, London

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