reward dog trainingI heard a dirty word the other day during a newcomer’s share and it reminded me of how warped my mind was before recovery, and how it can tend to warp itself again whenever this word creeps into my thoughts.  The word: “deserve”.  The diseases of addiction and compulsive eating use this term to perpetuate our despair and as ammunition for our self-loathing assault on ourselves.  When our feelings tell us we deserve a reward, our thoughts turn to our substance.  When our despair tells us we don’t deserve to live healthy, fully, or live life at all, we again turn to our substance.  Deserve is the poison of the mind.  It keeps us teetering between binges of overindulgent celebration and self-destructive sprees.

The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous mentions this mental game of frustrated perfectionism:

“Compulsive overeaters are often people of extremes. We overreacted to slight provocations while ignoring the real issues in our lives. We were obsessively busy, then we were ‘wiped out’ and unable to act. We were wildly excited then deeply depressed. We saw the whole world in black and white. If we couldn’t have it all, we didn’t want any; if we couldn’t be the best, we didn’t want to play the game.” (12&12 of OA, p.12)

Our addictive substance – in my case, food – is not a reward or punishment.  In fact, even if I am eating according to a “food plan” but do so because I feel I deserve some food as either reward or punishment, I am eating compulsively.


Vocabulary time!

A “food plan,” which is not an official tool of OA recovery, is a shopping list, while a “plan of eating” (POE) is a description of specific ingredients, amounts, and times planned for consumption.  Eating outside the POE does not necessarily constitute breaking abstinence, as long as it is set far enough away from the terms of abstinence to keep slips from qualifying.  For instance, if I plan to eat asparagus but at my planned lunchtime I discover that someone else ate my asparagus so I have to resort to broccoli, I have not broken my abstinence; but if my POE is so vague as, “I will not eat fudge,” and I slip, then I have slipped right into a muddy pit of despair called fudge.

“Compulsive eating” is eating what your feelings tell you to eat rather than what your body needs.  For instance, we all know that eating vegetables, some nuts and fruits with plenty of water is good for us, but when we want treat and eat treat, we are eating compulsively whether we have listed that specific treat on our abstinence list or not.  It sounds like this: “I don’t feel like that tonight.  Let’s have this.”  That’s eating what you are compelled to eat.  Social settings are another venue of compulsion.  How about this old favorite: “I couldn’t say no to Mom’s specialty.  She worked so hard on it.”  Compelled by circumstance is still compelled, even if the palette has nothing to do with it.  “We’re all having some.  Why don’t you have a bite?  One taste never hurt anybody!”  Peer pressure is also compulsion, and one taste has flung thousands of compulsive eaters into relapse, so that lie is lethal.

Okay, I feel like I’ve been behind a podium, but I’m my favorite speaker and I almost always need to hear what I have to say, so I make no apologies, but I will stop now, right after this one last thing.

Recovery itself is the reward, and deserve has nothing to do with it.   Renewed relationship with our Creator, the reality of recovery, comes as an unmerited gift from the Creator to the creation.  It is what He has been hoping we would choose since before He said, “Let there be light.”  We can have it because He loves us, not because we are pure or acceptable.  And He is not waiting to squash us for our failures.  We are the ones who keep doing that.  The 12&12 of OA says, “Perseverance brings us the reward of continuing, permanent recovery” (p. 105).

Dear Father, today, help me trust what You say about me rather than what my warped mind says.