I was once congratulated by a therapist to whom I had just confessed my suicidal thoughts I had only weeks before. As my mind began to consider ways I might dispose of his body, I managed to sanitize my words enough to ask, “For what?” He told me that everyone who has ever been in despair has considered suicide, but since I did not act on those thoughts and lived to tell about them I deserved to be congratulated. The Thanksgiving holiday can be a tough time for recovering compulsive overeaters like me. So to those of you who maintained your abstinence and even those who merely survived the American holiday most associated with overeating, congratulations!
I was chatting with another recovering compulsive overeater today and it occurred to me that I am a bit of an elitist when it comes to my disease. My sponsor said of me after my first 5th Step that I sounded like “an egomaniac with an inferiority complex.” I’m sure he didn’t coin that phrase. It sounds like Program talk, but it fit me then, and it fits me still. Sometimes during a recovery meeting, I listen to someone who clearly has none of what I want and their ramblings are like fingernails on a chalkboard. I tell myself that, no matter who is talking, I can learn something. Sometimes I hear what I need to do and other times I hear what not to do. It helps me to identify the characteristics of the disease from many viewpoints. To know one’s enemy is to be better prepared to resist his attacks. When I sit in my chair, fold my arms, and decide I have nothing to learn from the one sharing their experience with this disease is the moment I have been deceived by my own. The miserable truth of this disease is that, no matter how far down the scale my body weight has gone, and no matter how many calendars I flip while in recovery, I am still a recovering compulsive overeater, and I need God today just as much as I did when I first read the Twelve Steps. Living them takes work, and the resulting relationship with God and others around me is worth the effort. The physical realities are merely favorable side-effects of recovery.
As I listened recently to a person share about their battle with fear and pain, it occurred to me that we are not battling fear and pain, but cowardice. Recovery is not the absence of fear or pain, but the God-built ability to live around them rather than in reaction to them. Courage is the ability to disregard fear in preference of a right action, and cowardice is our self-serving habit of reacting according to fear and pain. Analgesia, the inability to sense pain, is considered a debilitating disorder, and I imagine the inability to sense fear or danger would have even more dramatic consequences. Imagine not being cautious when crossing a street or railroad tracks, treading on elevated structures without regard to their boundaries, or gratifying every selfish desire or impulse free of any cares about harming self or others. For me that includes eating the whole gingerbread house without guarding against the monster that lay in wait inside it. I embrace my fear. Fear of relapse keeps me in Program just like fear of abandonment keeps me monogamous and fear of burns keeps my hand off a burning stove. Pain is the experience that leads to fear. I might not know to keep my hands away from hot stoves were it not for my previous encounters with them. I guess that is why I am fascinated by the stories of those who have come and gone from the rooms of recovery – I need to develop a healthy fear of straying from this path. I need to remember that I can learn from the mistakes of others without having to experience it myself. And I need to remember that, no matter how far I’ve come, I haven’t come so far that I don’t need to bow my knee to the One who created me and let Him have the throne of my life every single day.