Posted by: innerpilgrimage | October 25, 2009

The OA Twelve Steps: Working the Workbook Questions for Step One (Still!)

Days until my 40th Birthday: 51
Days of Abstinence from Compulsive Eating: 11

      Okay, I love adding days of abstinence to my list. I have no pretentions that at some point I will possibly fall off the wagon. I am missing several tools which help a lasting recovery. But I am going to have a strong faith in my Higher Power (the Universe setting order out of chaos long enough to enlighten me) that it will come when I need it.
      Last night, I dreamt I started bingeing on a chocolate-covered snack thing . . . like pretzels or chips with caramel or something really . . . I don’t know. They looked like chocolate-covered dried banana chips. I was two-handing them (yes, I was a two-fisted eater), and I knew I had eaten some already and had just popped two in my mouth. I spit them out, realizing I was bingeing. I disposed of them (Okay, I gave them to the family dog in the dream. In real life, she is a spoiled puppy brat who gets leftovers, but I am of the firm belief dogs have been eating off the table for 10,000 years, so why ruin a good thing by feeding her only chicken beaks and chicken feathers and roadkill and corn?). And I went to the business of actually remembering how many I had previously eaten (three) and I did the caloric math and counted those three-chocolate-covered-snacks against my Wild Card Food calorie bank.
      Even in my dreams, I am now working the steps and halting binges before they break my food plan. That. Kicks. Butt.

      Part of me wants to be lazy and not link The Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous in every post I put up, but I thought about it and realized maybe if someone trips over my blog in a crisis and gets something out of what I’m writing–or is interested in what the questions could be and wants to do it themselves–that person should not have to fight to get the information. I mean, isn’t the point of having a Higher Power to be part of the Higher Power’s purpose to help people in the same position I am? I am trying to get well, to start facing life in a sane and reasonable manner instead of eating my troubles into submission. Well, and sometimes drinking them, too. But I rarely drink now . . . because whatever I drink has to come out of the Wild Card Food calorie bank. I am so happy I set my diet up that way. It allows for that necessary wiggle room and puts me in a position where I can decide to eat something “bad for me” a day in advance. And if I cannot find the calorie count or decide it’s not worth burning the calories over, I do not do it. What a gift, to be in control of what I eat instead of what I eat being in control of me!
      The extreme awareness of food is actually helping me a lot. Even the act of getting through the frustration of rejecting some of my favorite comfort foods (oh, once-beloved Mac and Cheese, whyfore art thou so many darned calories per serving!). I have to face off with my emotions because my food plan, while allowing those things, doesn’t allow for binges of those things.
      My food plan, I believe, is one of those remarkable tools of my Higher Power. There is no emotion in it. There is no right or wrong in it. There is just the framework for a healthier life, one page of food-related sanity at a time. I can eat anything. I just have to make sure it stays within the basic framework of my daily food chart. And I realized once I get to my goal weight and have a regular exercise program, I can move from the 2,000 calorie-per-day plan to one that ranges from 2,000 to 3,000 calories, sliding between caloric intake sheets depending on how much I moved the day before. I know I will never be able to eat anything I want. I will never be free to do that. But I will have the ability to create an extremely livable lifestyle. And I look forward to the day when I can portion-size by sight, because that will make my life so much easier.
      I am at the point I have to buy myself a set of measuring spoons and measuring cups for myself. Oh, and since something happened to my scale in the move, I have to get a new kitchen scale for weight-based measures.
      Okay, back to the exercise at hand.

Question Three
      Oh, this is a doozy, only because this I still do. Ugh, awareness of the problem is the first step to recovering from it, right?
      The funny thing is that what I want is a moving target for people. I am extremely aware of it, and I often apologize for vacillating (which I am so aware I do). I want the house clean, I want my son to do his homework and not lie about not doing it, I want to be supported and left alone while I am doing my work. The demands on my family are very selfish, especially during November, when my life is not my home but National Novel Writing Month. This has changed over the years (since 2003, when I first started writing and didn’t stop until late December). The last two years, I have quit closer and closer to the goal line, stopping writing within a week of starting. In 2006, I wrote three novels totaling 223,100 words in the 30 days. I really did write 223,100 words. Now, my goal is to write 50,000 precisely.
      The requests for me to do the things I normally should in my life (make breakfast, do laundry, do at least one load of dishes, make dinner) made/make me snap at the people I love when I am in that single-focus mode. In Novembers past, I didn’t eat well, and I ignored the real people for the fictional people. Ugh. Found a “harmed” for Step 4 right there. I hate knowing it and writing it. That is the core of shame right there, ignoring my family for the fictional characters in my head. But that is probably the best example of wishing people would let me do whatever I want and leave me alone to do it. I want them to step up and take over my work with a happy smile. Hey, if I don’t always have a happy smile about getting in and scrubbing the toilets or removing hair clogs from the drains with long-blunted tweezers (yes, that is what I do with the tweezers that don’t work any more), why should I demand it from them?

Question 4
      When? Nearly every day. How? Because I demand that people be decent, even when I don’t want to be. I think the hardest thing about managing my life is how much I have just made myself into this human jellyfish drifting in life’s tidal zone. I am often so “ditzy” (extremely unaware of my surroundings because I am living a dual life inside and outside of my head–comes with the territory of being a creative writer) that I end up embarrassed by the lack of care I take in my life.
      Like a jellyfish, if something gets too close or threatens me or is honestly just prey in my eyes, I will sting it and grasp at it and generally cause a horribly painful nuisance of myself. And, like a jellyfish, it takes so little to beat me down and tear me apart. But before I am rendered harmless, I have caused harm and gone from this beautiful animal (Don’t believe me? Take a look) to something that causes extreme pain.
      Right now, I am holding on to my food plan like a life raft, because it is the only thing I feel I can control. It not only exposes my binge triggers, it also allows me to think about something I didn’t think about before. And if I’m thinking, I’m able to act reasonably and with purpose.

Question 5
      It happens all of the time, actually. I promise myself that tomorrow I will do what I set out to do and then I don’t. I feel like a failure–a fat failure. The only real control I have is something I have released from my own control–the amount I can eat every day.
      I like that it’s not whether or not I can give in. I have two tools right now that are giving me the strength to keep going: weekly meetings and my food plan. I have an extremely reasonable eating plan which I don’t need to deviate from because it is a forgiving plan. When I was looking for a plan I could cater to myself, I made sure that it was forgiving because I knew I would rebel against a really strict diet. It’s why I would love to do Grey Sheet or 90 Days, but I know I would end up breaking abstinence just to be contrary. The only person hurt when I break abstinence is me, and the punishment for breaking abstinence is shame and self-loathing. My goal in OA is less to lose weight and more to become a healthy person who eats reasonably. My personalized 2,000-calorie diet puts me into a position where I can eat enough food not to rebel against a strict (often non-vegetarian-friendly) diet. I am losing weight slowly, but it is definitely happening. And when I reach the weight that the eating plan leaves me at, I will be within my proper weight range.
      This is a success, but no, I am not “happy”. I am generally still an unhappy person, which is why I insist the compulsive overeating is a symptom of the greater disease that a 12-step program can tackle for a person who is ready for it. I didn’t walk into OA out of despair, I went because I wanted to be relieved of the source of the addiction. I GAVE food power over me; it became a habit that I was powerless to break. I swore that if I was thin, I would be happy. I believed the chocolate would make me happy (while it hits the chemical pleasure sensors while I am eating, the post-nosh crash is awful and causes me to take another hit of food).
      Right now, I am putting my happiness on working the steps and being honest with myself: No person is ever 100% happy. That’s okay, it’s part of the human condition to have feelings. I want to be at peace with my past, and I want to be a decent human being. Those things are achievable. If happiness results, then good.

Question 6
      What a weird way to pose that question. I can honestly say I understand why people think AA is a cult when things like that are posed. Having been in a cult once (when I was 21, I was found by a Christian cult when I was vulnerable), I think this is a bizarre way to approach this question.
      I believe it’s not the only way to save myself from this addiction, but I think to admit the problem is half the battle. You can’t fix a problem if you insist it isn’t there. It’s why I don’t believe courts should mandate AA or NA or whatever addicts Anonymous group they want to send someone to.
      The program requires the readiness to use it, like any program. So, no, I do not believe that, because it takes more than admitting I’m a compulsive overeater to reach recovery. I have 11 more steps to go. This is just the first step.

Question 7
      Well, the problem is that I started OA before I got the workbook, so this question is sort-of moot, too. My current management is working at this point, though I will agree that I need to use the rest of the tools. I use the daily recovery plan (my food plan), the weekly home group meetings, daily writing, and approved literature. I led the meeting last week, so I got some service in. I use writing daily (both online here and in a journal and in my Step 4 spiralbound notebook). The only things I don’t use are sponsorship and telephone. The first week on program, I tried to use telephone and didn’t get the people I was trying to call (and I didn’t get a callback or acknowledgment I called when I attended my next meeting–another part of the reason I don’t have a sponsor). I have a little resentment about it, and I really have to address it. I know they’re busy people, but I felt hurt and rejected. My home group, however, has been instrumental in getting me moving toward recovery at the meetings, themselves, so I really don’t want to push. I don’t want to give that up because people have lives outside of group.
      Besides, there are other meetings in the area and online which I can attend, and I am sure at least one has a person in it who really want to be a sponsor (and would love to be mine) or who want to be telephoned when things are going amiss. I mean, if I want to be a sponsor some day and I want to be contacted to support someone having a rough patch, others want to be.
      I suppose I’m not really doing too great or too awful about anonymity. The definition of anonymity as a tool is vague. And I’m not sharing what people say outside the group. Though I don’t know if saying that the people in my group are really busy is considered breaking anonymity.
      So, I guess, to get back to the question? I found OA and I am using it, so it’s moot, like question six.

Question 8
      I wouldn’t be in OA if I wasn’t. I am spending a lot of effort learning how to work the 12 Steps in a manner which allows me to get where I need to go. I have researched many different ways to do Step 4, from ordered inventories to something akin to free writing to answering questions about my life. I have found the Agnostic AA 12 Steps, which allowed me to complete Steps 2 and 3 with no reservations (I have strong resentments about all three of the organized religions which apply patriarchal monotheism). I committed to not eating seconds and to thinking about what I was eating before I finally developed a firm eating plan that I could live with. This is Frankenstein’s eating plan, I will admit, cobbled from several sources so I could get what I needed when what I usually eat isn’t available in a food encyclopedia. But it works and it is working well. It encourages my success instead of cages me in. It forces me to face off with my compulsive eating, and I have discovered things about how I ate that really shocked me. What’s frightening is that this week, I realized I could eat enough calories to sustain a thousand-pound person in a day.
      That is terrifying that I was able to get up to 12,000 calories by eating junk food and food with sneaked-in fats and sugars. In a sitting, at a restaurant, I really think there were times I did eat 2,000-plus calories. Crap. Chile rellenos are now on my banned foods list. The OTB relleno is 900 calories–and I can eat two in a sitting. Plus at least one basket worth of chips and beans and dessert. And guacamole. Holy cats, that’s as much as I eat in a weekend, now. And I ate it in one sitting.

Question 9
      This question again is pretty loaded, though I agree with the point it’s trying to make. But again, this is one of those questions that make people who are already wary of 12 Step programs point and say, “Cult.”
      Well, I am currently in the process of my honest look at my food habits. They keep popping up, and every time I see something new, it’s startling that I was always wondering why I was getting fatter and fatter. Between eating small portions of high-fat foods, sneak-eating and forgetting, and eating large portions of calorie-dense foods, I completely understand what was happening, now. I am aware. My willpower didn’t let me down as much as my unwillingness to actually look at what I was doing to myself.
      I wish this was phrased differently. This question is phrased to emotionally break a person down, not ease a person into revelation. In fact, Questions 6 and 9 are both highly loaded, and 7 is borderline, depending on the attitude one approaches it. 8 is fine.

      Okay, I am finding that I’m not always pleased with the literature, though I understand a lot of people come to it and need a lot of intense guidance. I agree that a lot of people need serious hand-holding to get started in the program. But the phrasing of those questions (and some of the literature) is really heavy-handed and dangerous if one doesn’t want to appear like a cult.
      For me, I almost did abandon OA (like I abandoned Al-Anon and Alateen). Of course, Al-Anon and Alateen only really help if the family members you’re supporting are actually in AA as opposed to still getting drunk every night and being offended as Hell that you’re attending at all.
      Well, I almost abandoned OA because I resent the reference to patriarchal monotheistic religions and the fundamental need to expose the truth to one’s self and others while asking agnostics to lie so they can “fake it to make it”; those two fundamental approaches just don’t jive.
      I know OA is made of individuals and I know we’re not supposed to support a group-based diet plan. Why are there grey sheet meetings at all? Why is there the 90-day meeting? I mean, isn’t the point of OA for an individual to find one’s own way when that person is ready to take on the 12 Steps? Isn’t the point to recover, not just to lose weight?
      I rebel against too much control. I will always rebel against too harsh a control. I joined OA because it wasn’t a calorie counting club. I was in Weight Watchers and lost the weight and gained it all back plus some. I have done weird diets and pills and starved and even threw up after I ate and felt happy I was losing weight because of the uncontrollable emotional vomiting (it was a reaction to health-harming stress, and I still get it when things get really rough).
      I am not in OA to lose weight, I am here to get physically, mentally, and spiritually healthy. The food plan I chose will get me physically healthy. Doing the steps will get me mentally healthy. And taking in those moments of enlightenment–when I realize what I have been doing to myself and that there are people worldwide coming together in fellowship to acknowledge the disease that is the source of their addictions by exposing the symptoms in the light of day–will get me spiritually healthy. All recovering addicts are part of my greater power; we all walk together one day at a time. And each day I stay on my eating plan and each day I decide to go to a meeting and each day I write and each day I read what others in OA are doing to recover and each day I work the program is a day that others are doing the same thing worldwide, inspired by something greater than themselves to become an addiction survivor.

      I am Jess, and I am a compulsive overeater. I will keep coming back to OA because the plan does work (even if mine is not exactly the same as another person’s). It works if I work it, and I will work it because I am worth it.



  1. just wanted to pop up and say hi!
    we have a lot in common. i’m 41 and i’ve been a compulsive overeater for a good 30 years, but didn’t know there was actually a name for my ‘food issues’ until about two years ago. i’m going on 22 months of abstinence. every day, who am i kidding, every hour, is a struggle. i went to oa for over a year and found it amazing to be sitting in a room full of people who know exactly where i’m coming from. i thought i was the only one who was obsesssed with food and eating way too much crap. i started to see a therapist because i wanted to know where this compulsive overeating came from.
    anyway, just wanted to let you know that i’m here for you and i support your 11 days! one day at a time and you are doing great!
    for therapy for myself and to hopefully help others as well, i just started blogging about this two weeks ago. if you feel like it, i’m at love2eatinpa.wordpress.como.
    take care and keep up the good work!

    • Thank you so much for your supportive words; congratulations on your own 22 months of abstinence–that is so exciting! Your words made me feel happy that the 12 Steps are do-able, that recovery is a goal that can be achieved, just like that 24-hour chip.

      Have you any personal suggestions regarding pitfalls of or ways to make easier one’s Step 4 Inventory? I have a really hard time getting into it because it’s hard to dig all that stuff up. It makes me feel weak; when I feel weak, I just want to hide in a food coma of fat and sweets. Or starve (just as bad). I am getting through it (slowly), and I know the primary advice is to just do it.

      I may end up in a group therapy situation at some point when the past gets a little more gruesome and I need someone to listen to me about the things I am putting behind me. Sadly, the last time I spoke to a therapist, it went terribly wrong–she was childhood-focused and I felt I needed a behaviorist. Another resentment, but I’m not going back to her because she abused her authority as a therapist and talked about her own severe mental problems and applied her own problems to me. Very bad session; I was terrified and honestly thought she would harm me.

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