Posted by: innerpilgrimage | May 24, 2012

Heretic

      “The church is a whore, but she is my mother.”
                                                                                    — attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther, Daniel Berrigan, and Dorothy Day, among others.

      I’m going to say it outright: I don’t only use OA-approved literature in my recovery. Does the OA-approved literature make a difference? Yes. Just like the Bible is a fantastic starting place for a Christian, the Big Book, AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and OA’s 12&12 start one out with gaining knowledge in recovery. But just like any living faith, it deserves to be lived instead of locked into the hard-and-fast documents of the past. I mean, we have an OA-approved magazine, Lifeline, to remind us monthly of the living program. Recovery is faith-based. In Our Invitation to You (from the text, Overeaters Anonymous): “To remedy the emotional, physical, and spiritual illness of compulsive overeating we offer several suggestions, but keep in mind that the basis of this program is spiritual, as evidenced by the twelve steps.”
      The spiritual journey is broader than just the Twelve Steps, which I will state here is a path that works for me. I look at it broadly and have a deep understanding of how it can relieve a person of compulsion. The steps progress a person who has suffered the disease (which the 2008 Encyclopedia Britannica describes so well as, “a harmful deviation from the normal structural or functional state of an organism”) of compulsive use of a harmful substance (alcohhol, drugs, food) or harmful behavior (gambling, sex, toxic love) into a miraculous ability to react normally and sanely regarding our addict substances because we live from a place of tolerance and love. (For further reading, this is addressed on pages 84 and 85 of the Big Book, just after The Promises of Recovery). In examining program, it’s about the simplest path to sanity I could imagine: Accept there’s a dangerous and deadly problem I can’t manage or fix, trust there’s a solution, (even if there’s no cure) excise the triggering demons in my head, take comfort that I am imperfect human by sharing that truth with another person, examine behaviors I dislike in me, begin to change them by looking within for answers instead of to “experts”, examine what behaviors I want to apologize for because they aren’t aligned with my true self, apologize and accept the free will of others to embrace or reject the apology, practice positive alternatives to destructive emotional habits daily, and let the solution work. It’s akin to surgically removing a tumor then having chemotherapy to kill the rest of the cancer cells. When we accept sobriety or abstinence or withdrawal? That’s the removal of the tumor. The rest is the often painful process of getting the rest out through regular treatment.
      Just like a cancer patient, we have that awareness it can happen again. Eyes wide open. It can strike again. We can relapse. So, like a cancer patient post-treatment (then in survivor stage), we addicts work daily to keep ourselves as healthy as we can. Perfectly? No. I don’t believe any of us can–even cancer patients. However, if we are loving and compassionate to ourselves (which allows us to be loving and compassionate toward others by extension), the healing can continue–and the extension of time we’ve gotten can be lived with gratitude and fullness.
      Am I advocating avoiding the steps? No. The twelve steps work, and they only work if we’re willing to use tough love on ourselves. If we’re willing to get out there and be truly honest with ourselves and others without excusing it as “I was in addiction” (we still are, part of the point of admitting we are addicts at meeting), truly open-minded that there is a spiritual solution to this problem and that in vigilance can we achieve relief, and truly willing to experience the discomfort of making real and lasting changes on a daily basis? We can know the Promises of Recovery in our lives.
      What I am saying is that a zealotous adherence to using approved literature as the only source for knowledge regarding this killer disease is destructive. There are people who even consider the OA 12&12 to be a feel-good softball to compulsive eaters, that the only text to turn to is the Big Book. I disagree. We’re out to seek knowledge when we first enter program, and sometimes the concepts are so alien and feel so punitive that our addict self rejects it all. And, well, I’ve found that alternative behaviors are lacking in most program books. So, I advocate a gnostic attitude toward faith-based recovery: start with the literature to gain knowledge of the solution and continue seeking knowledge wherever one’s Higher Power leads. Step Eleven, worked properly is about going within to seek knowledge about how to live in the world as a humane being. I mean, we were given a wretched disease, one which “normal” (and even addicts in blind denial) people say we brought on ourselves. That we chose it, and we only need to exercise a little willpower, discipline, and self-control to fix.
      We are those who were chosen in this lifetime to experience this disease (and the social derision associated with it). Why were we chosen? Because we were also chosen to find our true selves through a spiritual journey which can lead us to a level of compassion, tolerance, and humanity equal in measure to the Hell we lived.
      When I first walked into the rooms, I felt alone. No one could have understood my inner world, I assumed, because no one had before then. But when I heard my own story, I felt the Universe, itself, shift. I awakened to a new Truth–I am not alone. Walking the path, I learned that we addicts are united in addiction. The details are different, but the basic truths are all the same: We are children of the void, of emptiness. We chose to walk the world denying our Higher Selves. We were bodies and brains trying to fit into lives others wanted for us. The sensitivity to being so completely at odds with our true paths made us break: We wanted to be part of “normal” society yet we are supposed to walk a narrow and sometimes unseen path. The war going on inside of us leaves us in such agony that the first distraction which “feels good” becomes the crutch to keep walking on the path proscribed for us by others. It always gets worse as time passes; we hunger for permanent relief. We want bliss, and it’s just not in the bottle or bag or bed or one-armed bandit. We know this truth, and we close our eyes to it and keep turning toward culture and experts to give us instructions on how to live OUR lives. Well, our first-world culture looks to the external. Buy this, and your life will be perfect. Follow this expert’s advice, and your life will be perfect. Follow this diet. Read this magazine. Join this club.
      We slap on label after label, and our Higher Self is suffering. It wants unity. It knows the way to bliss, and we are ignoring it. We have no direction; we wander the dark forest of addiction trying to find the easy way out. A wide road, the one culture says we are supposed to tread.
      Sometimes it’s a doorway, like Dante supposedly found in the Inferno poem of The Divine Comedy. Sometimes, we reach our own house in that night-blackened forest. We are in the silence of the moment, and our culturally-driven house is asleep. That’s when we find the secret stair.
      The Twelve Steps.
      I walked through a doorway, hoping it would be a way out. I knew program from going to an AA meeting in college. It seemed scary, harsh. To admit I was an addict of any sort was Hell. But I had entered, and it took over twenty years to reach the gates of Purgatory–an OA room. I lived in the Hell of a compulsive relationship with food and with toxic love.
      So, yes, I believe the steps work for me. Do they work for everyone? No, but that’s working their programs, not mine. This is about my recovery. The program. My recovery. Have I been working the steps with the vigilance of a person who agrees Step Zero (page 58 in the Big Book, Fourth Edition) applies:
     
      If you have decided you want what we have and are willing to go to any length to get it–then you are ready to take certain steps.
     
      Any length. Any length. It doesn’t say, “If you’re willing to use only program-approved literature.” We are working toward embracing the life we are meant to live. Being an addict? Isn’t living life whatsoever. It is a slow and desperate suicide in an effort to find bliss in ideas and objects. We couldn’t find a solution because the easy answers didn’t work and the tough ones were too hard to contemplate. We were exhausted. We needed simplicity. The steps are very simple; our success in the program is directly related to our honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. The more we put into the program, the more we get out of it. The more surrender to a Higher Power, the greater willpower we can access.
      Sometimes, however, what’s in the literature just doesn’t reveal truths. Sometimes the literature and meetings trigger us into relapse or simply giving up hope and leaving program for good–without seeking an alternative.
      What drove me from the rooms? Myself. My inability to detach from others’ program. My inability to detach my ego from the success others pinned upon me; my inability to speak “anorexia” and get understanding. I was desperate to be heard, and I felt alone in group.
      It’s Hell when you’re the only person abstinent with significant weight loss. On paper? I am an “OA winner”. I have 2 years and 7 months of abstinence. I have over 100 lbs. of weight loss–and that century mark is a magic number.
      In reality? I am a food addict who has no withdrawal in my SLAA program. I don’t act out sexually, which is a blessing I accept with gratitude. However, I isolate and act in–withdrawing from social and emotional contact with others. I have many rationalizations for it, but that doesn’t matter. I am unwilling to complete a rigorously honest Fourth Step because I am afraid of looking into Nietzche’s abyss and coming away the monster I am fighting. I fear relapse because I perceive I can’t handle the pain of looking at what I have tried to obscure all of my life.
      Because I have this fear, I look at the grace of the weight loss and crave to lose 150 total pounds. That’s more success, more lovability in program . . . so says my anorexic.
      I speak anorexia, and I feel alone in the very rooms I went for help. I speak abstinence to people who warm chairs and ignore the spiritual program in favor of The Diet and Calories Club. In SLAA, it’s worse. I used honesty to create false vulnerability. That honeyed poison I set out–it rings true to the ear, so I can be perceived as a “truth teller” and judged trustworthy–is bait for my trap. I am still in my head with those toxic thoughts of controlling and manipulating emotions of others. And I am so frustrated because the books don’t say a damned thing about a whole lot of important concepts. We habitually look for external validation, external guidance (not wisdom given through others to us in program). Sponsorship can lead us to superiority and to martyrdom. I’m not saying it does in all cases, but we are a group of addicts trying to make our way. Not like having an expert lead us would help. We want authority to fix us, so we can blame it when we dig our heels in and refuse to move. However, being solely responsible to contact my sponsors (they didn’t call me) and not ever seeming to find “the good time” to talk (they were perpetually too busy) made me feel as unimportant as ever. I can toss blame here and there, but it doesn’t matter. I had the trigger; I had the reaction; I walked from meetings because I feel alone in the rooms as an anorexic.
      Let’s be honest: There’s so little Bulimia and Anorexia literature that it’s pointless. We admit we are compulsive overeaters–which I promise isn’t the problem when I am in anorexia mode. I am punishing my body by denying it a basic need of life. At least a compulsive eater doesn’t deny that need, even if the off switch is broken. Anorexics avoid the switch, testing ourselves to see how long it takes before we finally crack. I have felt deep pride in being able to manage a whole day eating less than 500 calories in food; that felt more lasting than a binge. I could return to it, savor it, live in that moment, challenge myself to do it better. To eat less. To eat nothing. To take this body I loathe because it will never be perfect at any weight and destroy it so subtly. Destroy it with culture’s permission, because body-by-anorexia is culture-approved.
      Actually, I think bulimics probably are in the middle of the worst of the perfect storm. They consume as proscribed by mass media then display the “willpower” to reject that food after-the-fact. Indulge the sinful binge; purge, and become the clean saint again. By the way, this isn’t a criticism of bulimics. This is something worth shedding tears over–that a human being (with so many gifts of character and nobility, with sensitivity and love and a desire to create unity) would destroy their lives to please two diametrically-opposed mass culture messages.
      Bulimics are the flag in the tug-of-war between indulge to excess and deny to show intense willpower. At least with binge-arexia? I have to find a caloric midpoint–eat enough but not too much. Bulimia? That is the life-destroying art of All-then-Nothing.
      And just like anorexics and non-purging compulsive overeaters? Bulimics cannot control the impulse whatsoever. We all get our own high; we all get a payoff that demands more sacrifice and reaps diminishing returns.
     
      Program literature cannot be the alpha and the omega of program. Me? I’d like to offer this consideration: What worked for others doesn’t always work for us.
      Does this mean that we admit we’re sort-of-but-not-really addicts? No way. That we can do it without turning things over to a Higher Power (be it God, the Goddess, a tree, the Void, Reality, or the Program itself)? No can do. Healing comes from the heart, and that heart-to-HP connection has got to be made. We were the centers of the Universe in addiction. We must make our way back to the spiral arm of the Milky Way and take our REAL place in the Universe if we want to use all of those gifts of mind, body, and heart we happened to get dropped into our laps (whether or not we choose to use the life map in our internal “glove box”) and instead turn to outdated road maps others give us and often directions scrawled on scraps of paper with lines and X’s and random food and drink stains.
      So, I buy self-help books. Some are program-approved. Some aren’t. Honestly, I haven’t seen a list of OA-approved literature, so I have no idea.
      Hazelden and Hay House Publishing are great resources for me. Ever since I listened to “There is a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem” by Wayne Dyer, I have collected his later-life books. I’m not really interested in the books from the stages of life I have passed through. I’m sure they’re good, but they’re not relevant. However, what’s been published in the last ten years seems to be as I transition in life. He is a proponent of living a mindful life, of connecting to a Higher Power that is so brilliant it has the power to energize and heal not only us but others. Miracles in everyday life–small and large. Taking action with a deep sense of personal responsibility for what we put into the world: joy and pain. Choosing consciously what we want to add to the world, and living true to our spiritual selves.
      Patrick Carnes and Pia Mellody do a good job of educating love and sex addicts (and anorexics) on the process of the addiction. Knowledge illuminates the dark places of our lives and lets us observe from the safety of clinical analysis before we take that knowledge and apply it to ourselves in order to dredge up our own acting out experiences.
      Philosophers, poets, sages, anthropologists, psychiatrists, and saints are all included in my collection; books on yoga, mindful healing through meditation (including chakra meditation), anger, fear, love, gratitude, the soul, death, life after death, religion, atheism. Books on being an adult child of addicts, of learning how normal people act. Yes, that sounds really weird to me, as well, and it would baffle a person who didn’t grown up how and where I did. I can say, “Others had it worse,” to minimize it. But it doesn’t change the fact I have no idea how to socially interact without having the fight/flight/freeze reaction.
      Yet despite the weirdness of wanting to learn the secrets of normal people–I can liken it to reading a National Geographic magazine on a culture completely alien to me–there is a completely rational explanation, which Gandhi said so eloquently in literature I assure is not program-approved:
     
      “Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.
      Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.
      Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior become your habits.
      Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.
      Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny.”

     
      This reminds me of that nursery rhyme about the kingdom being lost for the want of a nail. For the want of an alternative to what I was taught was “normal” and “right”, I can die of my addictions. Personally? I want that alternative.
      Am I slavish to the books I read? Not at all. Some books have a lot more good and useful information than others. Some books honestly have two or three pages of recovery gold (for me). Most self-help books make me angry because they are simply published lists to memorize. Folks, I am an addict. That means I have no clarity when I am in addiction. I can’t concentrate, can’t remember the 1,001 things to make a perfect life. And, well, most of them tend to be shallow.
      I think, in summation, I’ll go with Gavin de Becker, author of The Gift of Fear, which I wrote about yesterday. In that book, he has a great passage that I want to share, because it rings so deeply true to me. It generates grief and hope when I read it. I feel grief because I wanted to go back to a creche-mentality that if I cover my head with the blanket, the monster will go away. I feel hope because it resonates. He is asked by a twenty-seven-year-old woman, “How can I tell if a man I date is turning into a problem? Is there a checklist of warning signs about stalkers?” He engages in a conversation, in which she reveals a situation in which she basically answers her own question. He doesn’t write what he says to her, but Mr. de Becker does offer this for the reader:
     
      My best advice might not have been satisfying to her: “Listen to yourself.” Experts rarely tell us we already know the answers. Just as we want their checklist, they want our check. (The Gift of Fear, pgs. 33-34)
     
      So, the quote with the many attributions? Well, the 12-Step organizations in which I have membership (based on Tradition Three) is the church to me in that situation. I love OA and SLAA because they saved my life. Without them, I would not be able to have enjoyed any time in serenity. I would have lived two-and-a-half-years (from first 24 hours of abstinence to now) at 275 lbs. or more. I would have been eating compulsively and blaming the world for it.
      The organizations are as imperfect as we are, and we do indulge in ego in program. I know I have. Zealotry in program drives people away, as does the message that our hands are always out to help when they aren’t. Sponsors who are inflexible toward newly arrived members drive them away–from forcing our food plans on others to rejecting them if they don’t call the sponsor at a certain time on the dot every day (which did happen to a young woman who wanted me to sponsor her, when I don’t have enough recovery to do so–having been stalled at my second and more rigorously honest Step Four) send dying people out of the rooms.
      When we make rules on salvation, people die. They return to the despair, to the addiction. The meeting rooms aren’t coming home to them, just like it isn’t to me any more. It used to be. Now? I feel like a stranger in a strange land. Should I seek new meetings? Yes. Program works for me. Just . . . my current meetings don’t.
      And I hate that it’s something I am powerless over. But hate is just an emotion, it’s just non-acceptance. Let it go to the Universe and listen to the silence for the answer–which will come in its time.
     
      My name is Jess. Binge eater. Anorexic. Toxic love addict. Social and emotional anorexic.
     
      Ensouled human being capable of change. Capable of empathy, compassion, love, hope, joy, serenity. Capable of the grace inherent in humanity.

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