Seventeen years ago I didn’t know what was wrong with me, but I knew something wasn’t right. I was often angry, confused, and troubled. There was no peace as I failed in my attempts to figure out what others and life wanted from me. I was desperate to be thin, yet I couldn’t stop eating or stealing food from my employer and friends. I constantly thought about food and, after I ate, worried about how to get rid of it so I could have the thin body I craved. Over time, I found more extreme measures to control my weight, like exercising for four hours a day and vomiting after eating. My life revolved around the drive to be thin, which left me feeling anxious, depressed, and, at its worst, suicidal.
Although I desperately wanted to start a family, I was too sick from starving myself and over-exercising that I had amenorrhea and could not get pregnant. I had also been doing so much weight lifting that I had high testosterone, which didn’t help the situation. I was an early childhood teacher who loved children and wanted my own. But it became impossible for me to continue working full time and to behave professionally due to my anger and unhappiness. I had to downgrade my job from a desired kindergarten teaching role to a part-time nanny. The difference in pay and prestige was significant, but I could no longer do my job. I thought I might lose control with the kids in a fit of rage and damage my professional reputation if I continued as I was. Somehow my husband hadn’t left me, despite me behaving appallingly toward him with anger and violence. I blamed him, thinking he was somehow responsible for my misery. I don’t know how he withstood such horrible treatment.
The 12 Steps were a beam of hope
At some point, the pain got bad enough and I began to want help and a way out. I knew of Alcoholics Anonymous and discovered there was a 12-Step programme for people struggling with their eating. At my first meeting, I identified immediately with the stories I heard. Until then, I had no idea there were people who understood the confusion, sadness, anger, shame and frustration of living the way I did as a result of my addictive eating and behaviours. There was immediate hope that perhaps I didn’t have to keep living that way. There was a way out.
I soon discovered the solution is simple, but not easy. I did everything suggested, except I could not stop eating addictively. Finally, after five years of trying, I met someone who seemed to be completely free of the obsession with food and her weight. Immediately I asked what she was doing to achieve such freedom. She talked about getting sober from food and other behaviours by taking direction, eating on a food plan at mealtimes, talking to other members every day, and going to meetings. I especially didn’t like the sound of taking direction, but what I was doing wasn’t working so I became willing to ask someone for help.
I struggled to take direction and follow suggestions
When I began eating on a food plan (mostly at mealtimes), the bingeing and over-exercising stopped. My weight stabilized and I managed to have two children without obsessing about being thin as much as I used to; I didn’t hate myself or my husband as much as I had before, I wasn’t suicidal or struggling with insomnia. Despite these changes, real peace of mind still eluded me, and the unmanageability of my thinking and life continued. I thought I was getting better, yet I constantly wanted to eat outside of my mealtimes. I ate standing up or in the car and I started eating before my meal was fully cooked. I answered the door or the telephone, I sorted out my children and multi-tasked while supposedly eating my meals in one sitting and at the table. My eating was messy and I was not free of the obsession with food. It also became clear that the exercise addiction had never really left and just presented itself in other forms, like surfing, paddleboarding, hiking, and endlessly walking and training the dog. If truth be told, I filtered out suggestions I thought didn’t apply to me.
I needed to surrender to become happy, joyous and free
Today I am still uncovering areas of my life that aren’t working and that I need to surrender to a loving Higher Power. Throughout each day, I find myself asking my Higher Power to restore me to sanity. I know that the answers to my life’s problems are to be found in the Twelve Step programme of Addictive Eaters Anonymous. I know I would not have my health, my children, my job or my relationship with my husband if it weren’t for this programme. I understand today that I am physically and mentally different from others. It’s okay today if people don’t understand why I don’t drink coffee or alcohol, or take a pill, or eat food prepared by others. Other people can do those things. But I am not like other people.
Today I want to be of use in the world and to be of maximum service to God (of my understanding) and other people. This excludes obsessing over food, my weight and how I look. I am getting better at recognising when I am worrying and obsessing about what other people think of me. This programme offers me freedom from every obsession that ails me, including my constant thinking about myself. Thankfully, there is hope. AEA members promise me that if I keep coming back, keep taking direction and handing my will and life over to the God of my understanding, things will get better. I understand what it means to be joyous, happy and free today. I have found out what is wrong with me and the answers I need are in Addictive Eaters Anonymous. Life continues to get better and is more peaceful today. With the help of my Higher Power, I can also be more helpful to others. Thanks to Addictive Eaters Anonymous and God I am finally free of compulsive exercise, addictive eating, anger and self-obsession.