Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 7, 2010

Step Three: Light a Candle or Curse the Darkness?

Abstinence from Compulsive Eating: 4 months, 21 days (144 days)

      The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous relates a really great analogy about depending on electricity in our everyday lives. Whenever we flick on a light switch, we depend on the Higher Power of the electric grid in our lives. With electricity, our lives are made easier because we rely on that Power Company greater than ourselves for light and heat and a means to prepare food and even a means to communicate. And when there’s a blackout, we are left to choose: Curse the darkness or light a candle.

      Before abstinence, I sat in the dark and lamented about how I wished I could do so much but could not–because it was dark. When I walked into my first OA meeting, I was handed tools to drive away the darkness. Step Three is the box of matches to light the candle (or the batteries for the flashlight) so I can find the phone to call the power company. The willingness to light that candle (or use the batteries to power the flashlight) the willingness to release this problem to my Power Company. Once I have electricity, all of the problems I could not get past (avoiding hitting my shins on furniture, making a meal, washing laundry) are gone. My Power Company provides a service I have come to rely on, one which would overtake my time trying to solve (without much success).
      The first action step, Step Three is hard because the ego tells us we are responsible for our spiritual predicament and we (alone) are responsible to extricate ourselves from it. I appreciate not being alone as a the fits-and-starts release of my willpower to a Higher Power. What’s so amazing is that I gave up my willpower to my food addiction. I cursed being fat, but I never did anything about it.
      I like the dependence on our modern conveniences as an analogy for releasing my will to a Higher Power. I rely on the grocery store to have food; I rely on the gas station to have fuel for my car. I rely on clothing stores to have something for me to wear. I rely on the eye doctor to write my glasses prescription and the opticians to make them for me. And now, I rely on a Power Greater than Myself to make me sane.
      The clarity I received when I became abstinent was the first taste of the sanity to come. Yesterday, for example, I had a sandwich which wouldn’t stay together. I wanted to eat it, but I did not have a fork and I just did not want to pick at the fallen-out interior with my fingers. They were clean, but not freshly washed. I could happily eat a paper-wrapped sandwich had it held together, but I would have ended up with two slices of bread and the insides spilled everywhere.
      I got emotional. I knew I was being irrational. I told my husband that I knew I was being irrational. I said there was nothing wrong, but because I could not have things as I wanted them (no place to wash my hands, no desire to get sandwich fixings on them, difficulty wrapping the sandwich to hold it together, annoyance I would end up eating paper, just everything), I was being irrational. I knew it would pass within 15 minutes, and it did. Once I was home, I had the tools I needed to enjoy the sandwich (bigger paper towels, a ready sink to wash my hands before and after I ate) and I was able to relax.
      Before abstinence, I would have gone mad and lashed out at my family, the sandwich maker, everyone around. I would have had a full-on tantrum, indignant that I paid for a perfect food experience and could not achieve it. I would have been punitive to my family for not empathizing with my insane behavior. (Why would they?! The behavior was insane!)
      The ability to actually have the tantrum inside and talk it out is part of the gift of sanity. Yes, it’s scary to split-screen the before-and-after person. And I could have done more to release it to my Higher Power (the place did have a sink my son used to wash his hands at, but I was so upset that I forgot about it until now). I know I will always have that compulsive person in me. There is no magic cure. BUT, being able to calm down instead of hold resentments for weeks (or years!) over a stupid sandwich is huge progress. I mean, I am only months from having even touched sanity after decades of obsession with food.
      I can understand that it took time to put the weight on, and it will take time to take the weight off. Just like the symptoms, the disease took years to cultivate. It will take time to recover from the spiritual ravages of compulsive food addiction. But, like losing weight (or finally having a medication stave off enough pain so I can function again), I can rejoice in the progress toward the end goal of a lifetime of recovery.
      I don’t turn to my Higher Power as often as I should, and I know I need to make it part of my morning ritual so I don’t forget that the whole point of it is to heal the broken person inside the vessel. My mind can deliver logic when I am being irrational; my body reflects the physical self-control of a plan of abstinence by edging me toward a healthy weight. My soul, however, has been starved for real nourishment. It’s been overwhelmed with spiritual junk food for most of my life. Like the guy in Supersize Me! took a long time to recover from his fast-food-only diet, so must I accept that even though my spiritual diet of the 12 Steps and a Higher Power, it still will take a long time to get to a spiritually healthy place again.
      I guess what I’m trying to say is that Step Three is only overwhelming until we realize that we rely on powers greater than ourselves every day already.
      And with something as important as personal sanity, why not be willing to rely on something greater than ourselves?
      My name is Jess, and I am a food addict who relies on grocery stores for my food, the power company for my electricity, the gas station for the fuel my car needs, and a Higher Power for guidance and sanity.



  1. i like how you can split screen yourself and see how the old you would have reacted to the sandwich situation. once again, your insights and growth is inspiring to watch.

  2. thanks!! this has really helped. i’ve also started looking to the text for guidance (for the first time). i really appreciate all you have to say here.

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