Posted by: innerpilgrimage | August 25, 2010

If I Have Such Great Tools, Why Am I Having Trouble Opening the Toolbox?

      In OA, we now have nine tools of recovery at this point (though the “action plan” will be officially defined at the World Service Conference in 2011). They are: A Plan of Eating, Sponsorship, Meetings, Telephone, Writing, Literature, Anonymity, Service, and An Action Plan.

      A Plan of Eating

      I have a plan of eating I use on a daily basis. The plan of eating is the core of abstinence. The primary goal is to leave that addictive mindset. Once I leave that addictive mindset, I am able to work my recovery.
      A food plan can change, and mine will be changing unless I settle at my goal weight. Whatever the caloric intake I choose to have, I have in mind that I should live between 170 and 180 lbs. to maintain a healthy weight.


      I do not have a sponsor, and it affects my recovery negatively. I do need a sponsor to work Step Eight. Sadly, it seems that few people in OA are willing to take on the sponsorship role.
      I just found out that one of the pamphlets which has been revised is the sponsorship pamphlet. The revision, entitled Sponsoring through the Twelve Steps, probably still has the recommendation that sponsors should encourage sponsees to pick up interim sponsorship (ie. temporary sponsorship) duties once they complete Step Four and are abstinent. Sponsoring newcomers up to Step Three is a wonderful gift for a newcomer, who really needs a sponsor.
      In the old pamphlet, it states that at Step Four, one should become a food sponsor. And, upon completing Step Nine, the sponsee should pick up step sponsorship.
      I think I am going to ask our intergroup to start sponsorship education classes, taught by people who are abstinent, active sponsors. If more people knew what to do as sponsors, perhaps we could have more people available to sponsor members.
      Currently, I am slowly working through a book entitled Twelve Step Sponsorship: How it Works by Hamilton B., an AA sponsor and sponsee whose own experience as a sponsor encouraged him to write a helpful book on what’s expected and how to work through the 12 Steps. I have sponsees, and I am currently overwhelmed by it. In my effort to help, I’ve started to struggle with doing it right. I am not pushing my sponsees to contact me when they’re struggling with abstinence or the steps, which is something I need to do. I do let them know I am a somewhat interim sponsor, only able to do it up to Step Seven.
      I feel like I am failing them by not pushing, but I worry I would try to take over their lives if I did. Well, I’m only human and an addict, myself. I have weaknesses and strengths, just like they do. And, because I do not have a sponsor of my own, I am having trouble with my own program.
      I may have to do the unpleasant task of letting my sponsees know that I’m struggling and may need to drop the sponsorship responsibility and go back to just being a co-member. I’m just not cutting it as a strong sponsor and I am very aware of it.


      I attend two per week, and sometimes that feels like it’s not enough. I am often not inspired to go to one or the other, but I have committed myself to certain responsibilities which keep me coming back regularly.
      Yeah, I resent that sometimes. Resentment, of course, is part of my addict self, and I have to remind myself that meetings are necessary for my recovery. When I stop attending meetings, I will return to the addiction. (Ew, my addict mind just plugged in “the comfort of the addiction” as I composed that.)


      Communication, in other words. Emails, text messages, internet chat, and telephone conversations are the means by which we’re supposed to communicate in times of distress. Whether we’re about to binge or want answers to questions from people more experienced in recovery and the program, communication is what keeps us from isolating.
      I suck at phoning people. Why? I don’t actually know how to talk on the phone or end calls. I often worry I will write the wrong thing. Generally, I am so self-conscious about it that I cannot pick up the cues. I worry that I am bothering someone. Plus, dealing with people is exhausting.
      So, I choose to do it alone, which is the first real breakdown of a tool that could improve my recovery. If I communicate with others on a one-to-one basis, I am not isolating. Isolation and its related emotions of loneliness and depression at being lonely (and socially inept) leads to the addict mind getting in and playing havoc.


      I don’t write here daily, and I should. I planned on doing this entry yesterday, but I was uninspired and chose to watch DVDs instead. And I ate all of my grain servings before dinner, which alerts me to the problem that I was seeking comfort food.
      I love to write, as anyone who has read my generally long-assed posts surely has noticed. I often write 2,000 to 3,000 words in a sitting when I journal here. Part of journaling is that I write with the honesty of that day. I may change my opinion, I may even write in the addict mind (and I have deleted and edited posts and comments because of it). The positive of writing in this journal is that it is a very real journey of an addiction. I have written both about hope and despair here. I have written about the spiritual, physical, and the mental journeys I am taking. I have overcomed road blocks to my recovery just by writing.
      I have to admit sometimes I am not as honest as I could be. That is a combination of not wanting to reveal too much in this journal so I lose anonymity and not wanting to expose my flaws because I don’t want to appear weak. But I have a hope that when people see my struggles with addiction and the sometime relief from recovery, they see a whole picture over time. This is what my recovery looks like. It’s not perfect, but it is mine. Through writing, I can touch it. And when I choose not to write, it’s like choosing not to attend a meeting. When I don’t write, I am struggling.
      Writing may not be as deep as it could be, like when I fall back on old writing stand-by themes like writing about the tools or the traditions or the steps or the language or the literature of OA. I can, however, see growth cycles–the questions, the despair as I seek the answers, the satiety or surprise when I get the answer, and the hope when I chip away at yet one more addictive core belief.


      I do read a lot since I have been in recovery. Right now, I am reading less OA-approved literature as I try to understand more about the process and the goal of recovery in the big picture. The books I read are meant to improve Jess as a person, though I do return to the OA-approved literature when I am having questions about the program.
      Right now, one of my groups is doing a Big Book study, as I mentioned. It’s really sinking in as the members read then share their experiences which relate to it. The Big Book is gaining a depth of meaning it did not have before. I very much so appreciate this Big Book study, and I hope we do it again next year, once we’re done with the Big Book and move on to other OA literature.
      Though I don’t read my Voices of Recovery daily, I think that every OA member should have it or For Today. These two books are broken down into small daily readings. As a means to get into recovery mode in the morning, to switch on that spiritual by turning one’s mind toward recovery, these two books take less than a minute to read and affect the whole day as one’s mind processes something to consider. Sometimes the entries reach to a problem and help answer it; sometimes it’s just something to read. But it is helpful to keep daily awareness going, and literature is how we learn the language of our particular recovery.


      This is a hard one, when it comes to me. Now it is black-and-white to me about others’ anonymity. I haven’t been perfect in this as I learned to understand what’s okay to share and what’s not. For example, I like to share others’ inspirational quotes and stories which touched me enough to want to share. But I have to be mindful of names, dates, and details. In fact, I am seeing that even putting down someone else’s experiences isn’t appropriate. The quotes are fine, and I guess it’s my job to relate them to my experience.
      I do state my first name in this journal, though I work hard not to drop my last name. Actually, I hate doing it at all (even for my sponsees . . . isn’t that weird?). I am not famous, not anyone special. Yet I fear people so much sometimes that I can’t reasonably give it away. In other words, I compartmentalize my recovery from my real life and call it anonymity.
      About my own anonymity, I am learning what is too much. Like I have said before, I am pretty sure it’s known where I live currently and where I used to live because I have traveled and written about it. But I wasn’t detailed about it. However, there are days when knowing others are aware of the part of the United States I live in is a level of familiarity that bothers me.
      I guess as I work on understanding my personal anonymity as defined by OA and by me, I can at least take heart that I now have a clear sense of it for others. People in meeting are “friends” or “people I work with”–both true statements. The slogans and quotes I want to share don’t need the background of the other person to give them value–therefore, I owe it to my community not to flesh out those quotes with their experience . . . even if I am vague. Not my story to tell. But I can take their slogan and apply it to myself and my experience.


      I’m a sponsor, a treasurer, a room-opener, an intergroup representative, and a meeting leader this month. I used to be the meeting contact, but after changing my phone number due to a really negative experience with someone who did not respect my request not to send me texts that cost me money, I am more protective of my new number.
      Unfortunately, the person who ends up with my old number is about to find life really unpleasant. So I have footwork to do today to make changes.
      I did not go to the last intergroup meeting. I really didn’t want to. I really don’t like going, and the meeting I represent does not seem to have feelings either way about having their say at the intergroup level. It’s a commitment to service that would lead to service I don’t want to do. I’m already overwhelmed because I overcommittted.
      I ended up treasurer because the person who did it before wanted to release the service. I ended up opening the room by taking it on from someone whose schedule changed. I do have people who I can rely on to take up those two service positions for a couple of weeks as needed, but I am not able to shrug them off. That said, they keep me going to meeting at all, and that is probably the most important part of it. But there are times when I resent not being able to miss a meeting if I want.
      And when I am thinking sanely and in recovery, I am grateful I have these responsibilities to keep me coming back into the rooms. The temporary leadership position, taken on because I had the time this month and was going to be in town, is keeping me coming back to the rooms, as well. Meetings equal recovery for me, or at least enough recovery to make it through the week. But I am overwhelmed and I have one foot out the door. I want to have the freedom to come by choice, not by force. I feel guilty when I don’t get out of the house early to open, and I rush to get there and feel guilty if I am not done with my duties there before anyone arrives.
      My service as a sponsor is the hardest because I freely admit I have no idea what I’m doing. In an effort not to control my sponsees’ recoveries, I don’t do much to contact them. I am a sponsor in name only most of the time. They, like me, don’t seem to like contacting me.
      I want to become a hardass and require they contact me daily (or once every 2 days) for 30 days, either by email or phone. Just so they get used to making contact at all. The problem is that I don’t want to drive them away from the program.
      My biggest problem is that I can’t do it for them. If they want me, they need to use me as a tool of their own recoveries and contact me. That’s probably where I have to draw the line and say, “Listen, you’re not contacting me at all. I’m not an effective sponsor for you. I think you need to find an effective sponsor, because I’m not willing to take control of something that’s not mine to control.” Well, I need to say it less jerk-facey. But the point is clear–their recovery is what they can control.
      Me? I just have to make sure I surrender and have my phone on me and answer the damned thing and turn emails around same-day. I also need to read that book on sponsorship and find a sponsor of my own–one who won’t push me into a religion or a food plan that doesn’t fit my life. The one person who would fit that role is moving out of state soon and already has a boat ton of sponsees. So, I guess I just wait.
      But yes, it is a huge and shameful disappointment to admit that I am the suck as a sponsor.

An Action Plan

      Okay, this is the warning I am going to offer to anyone who struggles with “the vanity” as they try to “stay for the sanity”, as I have: reducing calories and not moving doesn’t do what one hopes it does.
      My body is not what I hoped it would be when I reached a healthy weight. In fact, it’s actually somewhat disturbing. See, I had this vision in my head of having a lean, healthy body like I had at 17. Well, I weigh the same as I did at 17. The difference? At 17, I had far more muscle mass. At 40, I am not lean.
      And I have a lot of excess skin. By a lot, I mean that when I bend forward, my skin lops. I have the underarm yadda-yaddas, and they make up about a third of my arm size.
      Without the support of the ladies’ undergarment industry, I look like I am wearing a deflated fat suit. My stretch marks are now raised scars. This does help in the love addiction area, because there is no way I would ever be willing to consider disrobing for anyone save for the one person who loved me when the stretch marks were stretched to the extreme and the sagging skin was taut with fat cells.
      I do yoga not-daily, and I come up with every excuse under the sun not to move if I can avoid it. This tool, despite my initial reticence to even have it has become as important as a food plan.
      This is the warning I offer–if one only uses the food plan without at least some sort of movement, the deflated fat suit is a very real possibility.
      That said, I am doing yoga and the endpoint of my body has brought a lot of recovery as I come to terms with the reality that my imperfect body is still better off now than it was 100 lbs. ago. I can sleep on my back without my throat closing and in essence choking me. My knees, back, and legs don’t hurt all of the time (but they do hurt sometimes because there’s not enough muscle there to support the joints). And the chest pains are gone. Oh, yeah . . . and the one thing that gave me the most teary hope? I can run.
      I just don’t.
      Well, I am trying to start slow with yoga, and it’s actually sort-of nice. But I don’t do it daily. Which is stupid not to do, because I actually feel rejuvenated after I do it. I also need to do more free-weight stuff to try and at least figure something to do with the skin.
      I have accepted my extra skin for a few good reasons. First, the surgery to remove it is prohibitively expensive. Think car expensive. Second, the results are sometimes worse than what was there before. Third, I have historically had trouble with mild anaesthesia (I was awake enough to babble but I was completely out of it and disoriented and was in recovery for a long time, long enough that the family anaesthesiologist was disturbed by how long I was in recovery), so getting hit with the big stuff might cause real problems.
      Add to it that it would be a surgery meant to assuage my vanity (as opposed to a necessary one), and I have decided I can live without. Plus, my loving and amazing spouse told me that I should keep it in case I need a graft some day. Yes, that could be taken wrong, but it was his way of saying that he not only accepts me as I am, he would rather have me not risk my life for something like this. Besides, this was going to happen sooner or later, since I am getting older. The difference is that I have been given a reprieve from the death sentence of my food addiction. Some saggy skin is a small price to pay for maintaining a healthy weight, achieving a healthy mental outlook, and embracing real spiritual growth. Yes, all three are a work in progress, but I got part of the promise. I am not going to die of obesity-related illness. Well, unless I lost weight too fast.
      However, if I have to go to the hospital for an emergency, I have a better chance of survival now. The surgeon won’t have to fight through layers of me to save my life. He or she will just have to deal with the extra skin, which can be used if I need a life-saving skin graft. 🙂
      Anyway, my own experience is that I think I would have rather moved more over the last ten months. I wouldn’t be here trying to build atrophied muscles up and I would have had more interesting experiences had I just gotten off my ass and got outside and moved more.

      The tools of recovery have been a complicated struggle for me. Sometimes I used only my food plan. Sometimes I actually used half of them. But one truth of my own recovery holds: On the days I used most or all of them, I had a stronger recovery.

      Oh, and I finished another hat for donation for this winter. I’m very excited. They’re not perfect, but they’re not beanies. And I’m not suffering the wrist pain from working with the knitting jenny. So, I’m doing well and have something to do with my hands again besides eat.
      My name is Jess and I am a food addict who uses that addiction to cover over my love addiction, anorexic. I read something hopeful yesterday, and realized through it that my intimacy (love, sex, romance) and spirituality are deeply intertwined. When I am connected to the spiritual, it naturally follows that real intimacy follows. When I binge, I cover over that other addiction handily. It is a loving act to fight hard for my abstinence, because it is how I am keeping that core issue exposed and able to be worked. Within OA, I found sanity and serenity away from my other compulsions related to growing up dysfunctional. It wasn’t consistent, but it happened. I questioned it and lost it, but I’ve had it. I know the real and achievable result of working a strong recovery. Now comes the steady commitment to do it.



  1. Hey Jess,

    Great post. I just sat at my desk at work and read this as I had my abstinent lunch. (Yay!)

    With my newfound abstinence in OA-HOW, I’m having to use these tools a lot. I’m writing, reading, calling, using my food plan, attending one meeting per week, I *think* I’m understanding and using the tool of anonymity… Anyway, a lot of it has to do with my sponsor. I never had what I would consider to be a good sponsor – for me, at least – I am so sorry that you don’t have a sponsor, and I wish you the best in searching. I know there are people who are willing to sponsor long-distance. I might be able to help you find someone if you’re interested.

    Regarding the telephone: I have recently had to overcome my telephone issues, since my sponsor requires me to make 3 live phone calls every day in addition to talking with her. I am happy to talk live, but I know that might be a struggle for you with the whole anonymity thing. Just want you to know I’m available. With the help of another anonymous OA blogger, I recently set up a “Charlie” phone number that even disguises my area code. You could do the same through Google Voice if you wanted to. I have met two people online that I call regularly now, and I have ended up dropping the Charlie persona and giving out my real name to them. I would leave that decision up to you, of course.

    One more thought: Do you use Twitter? There’s a nice little OA community over there… I’m OACharlie on Twitter, and I have found some good support there.

    Take what you like, and leave the rest! I hope you’re having a great day. I’m grateful for you!


    • I don’t Twitter or use other social networking because that social networking got me in trouble in my other addiction. 🙂 Plus, I would become obsessed with who was reading and who wasn’t and if they liked me . . . ugh. I would easily end up in an Internet Anonymous group after that.

      I do like that OA-HOW does work the isolation issue hard. Isolation is probably my worst addictive behavior, because I can say that I am working on my spiritual by retreating and focusing on my spiritual journey. Even sitting here for 2 hours writing a journal entry can border on the isolation factor. Unfortunately, I am not sure if I would have stayed in OA if I had entered OA-HOW. I needed to be eased into the changes and would have acted like a snotty teenager and held to my addiction like a security blanket. I think had I not had the bad experiences with giving control to people and situations that weren’t healthy and which did grow the resentment, I would have thrived in OA-HOW. For the right people, it is a fantastic OA program which brings lifelong recovery.

      And Charlie, I am grateful for you. You were my first OA blogger, that first open window onto the online OA community. Through your honest journaling, I learned that my addiction was not going to give in easily. I went from diet-minded to recovery-minded and realized if I wanted a lasting abstinence, recovery, and weight-loss, I needed to get into the grotty, gritty mess that is my addiction.

      I also learned from you that I don’t need to work a perfect program, just a loving one.

  2. Also… I hope it was OK to post this as a comment. I couldn’t find an email addy.

    • It’s fine to have posted this in the comments section. I want people to visit your journal, since your journal was the one which really started me understanding the journey I was about to embark on and the need for me to do it with the kind of honesty that would help people who were once where I was–searching for someone who empathizes and who found a solution.

      I appreciate very much that you’ve been extremely honest about the hard times in recovery, as well. It inspires me to express here my own hard times in recovery. An honest look at how we live the program as imperfect but worthwhile human beings, as painful as it can be, is a service to ourselves and others.

      And I am going to add my email address in 3,737 Days page right now, so private emails can be sent to it.

  3. […] In OA, we currently have eight tools, though a ninth is being defined in 2011. I have written a post about the Tools of Recovery and how I am trying to work them. There is literature and more information on the tools is […]

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