I started dieting when I was 12 years old. I wasn’t overweight but I felt pudgy and I wanted a new boy at school to like me. Somehow, I obtained a calorie counting book and quickly memorized it. Each day, I tried hard to reach my goal of eating a certain number of calories. It was well below what I needed to eat as a growing child, but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I just wanted to get rid of my squishy stomach and eat a little less. Thus began a powerful obsession with being thin and trying to control my eating. But I also couldn’t see that at the time. I didn’t realize how much mental energy and time I spent thinking about what I was eating, when, and how much, or how inadequate I felt for not being perfect or thin enough.
Soon, my parents became concerned and sought advice from our family doctor. He made a referral to a local clinic for treatment in eating disorders. I remember visiting the psychiatrist for the initial visit feeling completely misunderstood and frustrated because the doctor just didn’t get it. This was followed by a course of weekly counselling sessions with a therapist. After one year, I finished therapy because I was considered a normal weight and able to comprehend that trying to be perfect wasn’t very healthy. Secretly, however, I felt ashamed and like a failed anorexic. That sounds shocking now, but at the time I thought being anorexic was better than not being able to control my eating. Each day seemed to end with more feelings of shame and failure. I also felt resentment toward anyone who was able to eat what they wanted and stay thin. Why couldn’t I? That was always my secret wish, a private yearning that I kept hidden from others. While I secretly obsessed about food and being thin, I also felt weak for being so stuck on such a small-minded and selfish thing. Emotionally, I was troubled and tangled up in a knot like a ball of yarn.
During high school, I tried many different diets and methods to control my eating. Exercising at the gym, running cross country, and playing sports were all part of my obsession to be thin. Romantic obsessions also preoccupied me. These self-focused obsessions didn’t make me happy, yet I couldn’t stop myself. Given my frenzied state and all my feelings of self-pity and obsession, it isn’t surprising that I began drinking alcohol with friends. From the first time, I drank so much that I vomited and blacked out. This led to binges with food followed by self-induced vomiting and a steady decline into hopelessness and despair.
By the time I reached my first Twelve Step meeting, I had experienced seven years of the unrelenting cycle of dieting, exercising, drinking, vomiting, obsessing, and trying to look normal. There was a lot of pain, but I also experienced a few phases of reprieve when my eating seemed almost normal. As a result, I was able to graduate high school, start university and to hold it together somewhat on the outside. But I never stopped searching for things that might fix me. In one attempt, I discovered a local Twelve Step food fellowship. At my first meeting, I was struck by the honest sharing of the members and felt a sense of identification. So I proceeded to try a few different sponsors, food plans and meetings, but once again I failed to control and enjoy my eating.
While traveling in another city, I spoke to a woman after a meeting. In a clear and straightforward manner, she shared how her problem with addictive eating had been removed and how she was happy to pass on her experience to me if I was interested. She explained how addictive eating is a disease and that to get well she needed to give up food, alcohol, and other substances. Although a part of me resisted, I was attracted and interested in her message. Immediately following our conversation, I was overcome with an experience that I now associate with a Higher Power. I felt a deep sense of freedom and peace, very different from anything I had experienced before. Some willingness sparked within me to follow the suggestions of a woman I had just met and to keep phoning her to learn how she had recovered and gotten well.
This sudden change in my feeling and outlook could be described as an awakening to the presence of a Higher Power or God.
Returning home, for the first time in my life, I felt the presence of a Higher Power everywhere I went. I had grown up believing in a power greater than myself, but after years of addictive eating and obsessive thinking, I was blocked from the grace that flows through life. Now, something was happening within me and doing the impossible. The food obsession and cravings that had always been there had suddenly disappeared. It was quite miraculous and made me want to share my experience with anyone who would listen.
I quickly learned that nobody was very interested in my talk of miracles or spiritual awakenings. As reality returned, I found that I desperately needed the Twelve Steps as a practical guide for my life. I needed to go to a lot of meetings and to talk with other addictive eaters on the phone. I also required much help and direction from a sponsor about how to practice discipline and the slogan of putting ‘first things first’ in my life. This required effort and was not always easy. But it became clear that getting well involved more than just stopping eating addictively. Instead, I needed to repair the damage I had done in my old way of life and to prevent further harm by trying to be of service to others. For someone as obsessive and self-absorbed as I had been, this meant a drastic change in attitude and a willingness to let go of many old habits and ways of thinking.
Each day I am blessed with another 24-hours of sobriety from food, alcohol, and other substances, I am grateful to be free of the obsession with food and thinness. God willing, I will stay grateful and never let go of the life-saving support of the Twelve Steps and the fellowship of AEA. I love our way of life. It is a peaceful path to freedom that works.