Posted by: innerpilgrimage | December 8, 2010

A Spiritual Awakening as THE Result of These Steps

Holiday Eating Season Countdown: 25 Days

      Recently, I was made aware of listening to people as they read Step Twelve at meeting. Apparently, there’s a tendency to say “as A result of these Steps” instead of “as THE result of these Steps” when it’s read.

      So? What’s the difference, right? For me, it’s that I won’t have just a potential spiritual awakening among the other cash-n-prizes that come from doing the steps. Nope, there is a promise in that 12th Step which says it’s going to happen if I do Steps One through Eleven to the best of my ability.
      Some people get epiphanies on the road to Step Twelve. Some people slowly open their eyes to it. But everyone gets that spiritual awakening.
      So, what, then, is the spiritual awakening we’re promised? Well, it’s talked about in vague terms in some of the literature and more specific terms in other places. But the biggest thing is that we can look backward to the moment before we crossed the threshold of our first meeting and see the difference in our lives as we live our lives.
      On pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book, we are given the promises of recovery. The first sentence speaks strongly to me because I have experienced this: “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.”
      When I committed to working Steps One through Three with my sponsor to the best of my ability, I found that each of them cemented a new way of living for me. I know the purpose of each of the steps in my own recovery, and I see that it is my ascent to freedom. And knowing that has already changed how I approach the world, my thinking, my attitudes on the ever-changing nature of reality. I am starting to let go of tomorrow and yesterday. I have learned to trust that even if I don’t know what’s coming, I do know that it will be an adventure an an opportunity to make progress in my recovery. Planning stressful conflicts with people, places, and situations only causes me pain; generally, things rarely play out precisely as I imagined. People act differently; places are different than I expect; situations may already have been changed before I walk into them. For example, my best friend (who lives far from me), used to fight change. She actively chose stagnation and her life was violently upturned the moment reality had to realign and she had to realign with it.
      Over time, she has embraced changes. Things she was 100% sure she could never do (and therefore, those things would never come to pass) have become regular parts of her life. She is open to the possibilities. Has she abandoned her fear? Not entirely. But she is willing to try and fail and try again. And she’s finding that she’s succeeding when she tries, so she tries new things and makes fundamental changes to how she approaches life.
      I fought change, as well. The addiction kept me in a place of denial, where I stagnated in a pool of rotting junk food. I wore it under my skin–physically, spiritually, and mentally. I was clocking time until I died, hating the world for not being accepting of everything I was and did.
      It took abandoning the need for the world to accept me and embracing the need for me to accept the world that made the biggest change. Learning the depth of the Serenity Prayer helped a lot, and I love to share that all of the time. I cannot control how others deal with me and the world; I can change how I deal with others and the world. Putting my energy into the place which makes the difference (not even “the most” difference, because I cannot affect any change in others; it’s all them as to whether or not what I say or write or communicate affects them) gives me the ability to draw on the changes I’ve considered or implemented. I am a permanent “Work in Progress”. Instead of that being a horrible, tantrum-and-tears worthy desperate situation, I am relieved that I’m not expected to be perfect. In fact, I am not expected to make progress. But, for me, progress is about self-care. If I even make one teensy move forward in my awareness, I have achieved my goal for the day.
      A woman I admire very much introduced me to the slogan, “Thank [HP] for the seemingly bad.” Now, when I first heard it, I was thinking it was just an effort to minimize the pain and try to convince myself it wasn’t as devastating as all that. While I am still making progress on turning this idea into action and making it part of my core beliefs (and, in the process, turning me from my old beliefs that my mistakes mean I am a mistake), I have a new awareness of what that means to me. Every event which turns out unfavorable or even devastating is an opportunity to learn about myself in recovery. I start to identify what triggers me to eat or seek approval. I still have triggered past events which came on so hard and fast from nowhere that I cannot identify what person, place, or situation triggered that strong a reaction. I thank my HP that my character defects arrive on deck before a food binge even gets close. I definitely see that I blame others when I feel my plans for the day have changed. I definitely see that I target people who are sensitive so I can see the effects of my defective behavior in their faces and feel that I have control over them. The minute I feel like shit over my behavior? I know I’m in compulsion. And the minute I am in compulsion, I have something to take to my inner Recovery Laboratory to dissect and test and examine and hypothesize about. Then I can look back and see the reproducible results scattered throughout my actively addicted years. Do I need to know the source? Not at all. What I do examine is the similarities in the people, places, and events which are at the core of the triggered addict reaction. Those similarities allow me to identify unsafe situations as they approach me (usually really fast). I can batten down the hatches and ride the maelstrom, turning my attention from what I cannot control to what I can and trusting that I will probably survive this time, too–as I and others have before me. As long as I do not panic, as long as I take the rational and sane steps necessary to give me the best chance of a positive outcome, I have done what I can. The rest is out of my control, up to nature. Fretting about it will only lead me into panicked reaction, which could end up causing devastating harm to myself and others. Sometimes I just have to ride it out, as unhappy as I am about it.
      Recovery doesn’t mean I am happy all of the time. Perma-happiness is a state of denial. In reality, good and bad things happen. Real emotions are experienced, dealt with (or not), and then learned from (or not). If my purpose in recovery is to learn to emulate a “normal” non-addicted person, I must accept that real people get mad, sad, happy, meditative . . . the whole range of emotions are felt by normal people. That’s why we have so many words for the different human emotions we experience. None are good; none are bad. For example, fear can drive me into hiding and despair or it can invigorate me to take on a challenge with courage. Anger can turn into an uncontrolled rage or the boost of energy to do what I can to change the situation or learn what I am ready to do if I am ever in a position to change a situation. Sadness can be used to generate a thick tar pit of despair and depression, or it can remind me that I have the gift of empathy and the ability to pass through it and learn to live after whatever made me sad. Stubbornness can keep me from being teachable, or it can be redirected into perseverance. And even the frustration which leads to the character defect of blaming others comes from a very clear awareness that I am not in control of the world, and I can choose to let go of what I cannot control and turn that energy toward making progress on what I can. That same frustration can also lead me to the character defect of judgmental behavior. That judgmental behavior can be used to fuel grandiosity or inferiority, or it can be used to discern how I want to live my own life in alignment with my natural self then do so–mindful that it is not my responsibility to change others’ behaviors or beliefs. Just as I wasn’t ready to abandon the idea that I was a “normal” eater until I was 39, others are often not ready to abandon what they know . . . even if it is causing harm to them and others.
      The change in attitude, even so far, has been as amazing as the Promises of Recovery tell me they will be. I walked in the room wanting to join a diet club, though I hoped that the 12 Steps might help me change my attitude about food enough to make the diet stick. Instead, my whole life changed. I started out just wanting to get to 198 lbs., to reach a weight just below 200 lbs., where I was sure I would be happy. I fantasized that I was happy the last time I was there. I wasn’t, but that did not stop my addict mind from the euphoric (though erroneous) recall of being happy.
      I have experienced physical recovery miracles–getting under 250 lbs. by January 1, 2010 (despite being 283 just that June and unable to lose more than 5 to 10 lbs from June to the end of October, when I stepped on a medical scale). On my thirteenth wedding anniversary, I was able to fit into my wedding dress–something I have not been able to do for any other anniversary. I broke 200 lbs. in May of 2010 and learned that I was not happy because of the weight loss. I hit a healthy BMI in July of 2010, a year and a day after I took my “before” picture–when I had a severely and possibly morbidly obese BMI around 40 (I did not weigh myself in July 2009, but I am pretty sure I gained weight because of the stress of my parents’ and sisters’ family visit and the birthday party I was trying to make perfect to prove I was a good mother and worthy of my family’s approval. In June, I had a BMI of 39.2; I would not be surprised if I popped up another 10 lbs. in anticipation of the misery of my family’s shame and shaming of me).
      When I focused on my diet over August 2010, September 2010’s scale reading brought me back to reality. It went from being about the scale to about the recovery. When I let the scale reading go to my HP through to mid-October, the lesson was learned.
      And, in November, I was at the amount of weight my food plan was designed to set me at. I have weighed daily to see if this is it, and apparently it is. I am sitting at 165 lbs., give or take 5 lbs. depending on the day.
      I weigh the same as I did in High School, and less than I did when I graduated High School. And, as charming as that is, I’ve also learned that I have excess skin I have to come to terms with through recovered means. If it’s going to tighten at all, there is very little I can do but wait. In other words, I take the footwork to increase my lean muscle mass so I can do more with this recovered body. My food plan still works as-is, so I’m not changing it like I threaten to sometimes. If I start exercising enough that I drop to 155 lbs. (which I would prefer not to), then I will shift my caloric intake upwards. But that hasn’t happened yet, so I have no need to make the change.
      Anyway, the skin thing is in my HP’s time, not mine. I cannot fix it. And it does not bother me unless I am leaning forward. It does not halt my mobility. It only is unaesthetic to me. If it’s so important to change it, then I need to change my attitude toward it, which I am working even now as I remind myself that I could be a diabetic amputee who cannot put down the sweets and is facing yet another amputation before I end up dying in a hospital bed in abject misery with my despair-filled spouse beside me.
      And when I consider that, I think, “Yeah, okay. A little extra skin no one but me and my spouse see is really minor in the grand scheme of things.” And although I still struggle with the self-abuse that I was clearly too incompetent to magically lose weight without getting loose skin (everyone gets it . . . why would I be the exception to reality?) or that I am yet again unable to be perfect enough to manipulate the world into full deific adoration mode, so I can show my parents that they need to get on the “Everybody Loves Me, Baby” train pronto or they will be very lonely. Nyah, nyah, nyah.
      I’m laughing at my addiction, because it feels like that sometimes. The extremes addicts will go to in order to rationalize our behavior are comical in recovery. I’m unable to think like that any more, even though I know I did because I can remember it. It’s one of the gifts of recovery, being able to say, “What was I thinking? Oh, yeah, I was in full-blown addict mode.” I honestly never need more than that. It’s not an excuse to not do the Fourth through Ninth Steps, but it certainly allows me a sense of intense relief that I can empathize but don’t live like that any more. Well, I don’t most of the time . . . I’m still an addict. However, I am mindful that it is all about the progress, not about whether or not I can do program better than others–which I can’t because MY recovery through THE program is tailored just to fit my addiction issues through a time-tested method many others have successfully used.
      Gosh, I have meandered all over, haven’t I? I suppose the point of this entry is that I am one of those people who is awakening, not getting a lightning-bolt experience. I think I wanted that lightning bolt experience because I wanted to have an immediate change. But that’s not how I learn best, and I guess reality (my HP) is working with what I have to get a reality-based lifeways and attitude firmly embedded in there.
      Meh, maybe I do belong to a cult. It would be a cult of one, since no one I have met has precisely the same path to recovery experiences or Higher Power as I have. And it’s a cult that is actually trying to get me to live in reality, not in denial or fantasy. And the Higher Power I have isn’t one people told me to have. And I consider myself equal to everyone in the program, so there’s no hierarchy for me to submit to. I don’t have a text I zealously follow; I certainly reject much of the “To Wives”, “The Family Afterward”, and “To Employers” Big Book sections, and I definitely think that having candy at my bedside table to help me alleviate my cravings is probably the wrong way to go on this one (p. 133-134 in the Big Book). I am aware that the founders of AA were not perfect in their own programs, made some horrible choices which harmed others even in recovery. I am aware that people relapse and leave the program to die in the addiction all of the time. I will never proselytize for OA, trying to force my will on others to keep my home group meeting open. Whatever happens to it is supposed to happen to it. I also believe that 12-Step programs are not for everyone and that not all overweight people are compulsive eaters, just like not all thin people are anorexics or bulimics.
      I have a level of acceptance even now, as I am in the middle of my Fourth Step. I started writing my resentments down last night, had an emotional reaction, cried, and actually passed through the emotion and felt better afterward–more accepting that I cannot change what happened and I cannot change others’ thoughts and actions. Mourning painful events long passed with the appropriate emotion made me able to walk through the loss. It went faster than I expected, to be honest, but I think I was ready to shed the tears. I may shed more later, but I know that I am in the process of living post-aftermath. It’s been decades since those things happened to me, and I needed to vocalize my anger, betrayal, and sadness so I could hear them.
      Pretty good day of progress yesterday, after having a pretty good week of progress. I still get anxious and I still act out my character defective behavior part-time, but it’s not nearly 100% of the time, as I did for most of my life. And if I can live in recovery most of the time some day, ever aware that I could end up an addict the moment I let my guard down (what keeps me from ever being “cured” or “normal” when it comes to food or approval), that is a peaceful thought.
      However, just for today, I am going to try to live consciously. And I am running late on eating breakfast, something I am trying to integrate into my life. By not eating in the mornings (either because I’m not hungry or I want to save the food for later meals), I am indulging my anorexic tendencies. Like I said, it’s a process of progress, and I am making large strides some days and barely shuffling my feet other days. But as long as I am moving toward that promised spiritual awakening as a result of the steps (and the subsequent desire to apparently keep doing it because it works for me), then I am working the program to the best of my ability.
      My name is Jess and I am a food and approval addict. I am in the process of my spiritual awakening, and I am already seeing how the Promises of Recovery are manifesting themselves in my life. I am more set in reality than I was when I first started program, and that personal growth toward a sane life is encouraging me to keep working it.
      I am worth it.


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