Tag Archive: compulsive overeater


Broken but not severed

tree-callingWhat an evolution of thought plagued me while en route to my recovery meeting this morning! I didn’t want to go, but I knew I need to be involved. I almost gave into the impulse to do what I wanted rather than what I knew. Then it hit me like a big bang: I have to go to a recovery meeting, because when I begin to think I don’t need a meeting or the program, my thoughts betray that I am the sickest one in my head, and maybe even the sickest one in the meeting room I’m trying to avoid.

“Abstinence” in Overeaters Anonymous (or anywhere else, including the dictionary) is the action of refraining. (Technically, OA’s official definition of abstinence elaborates, but I shortened it for emphasis.) My personal declaration of abstinence has several food types and behaviors, but the primary point of my abstinence is that I will refrain from the “F- it, I’m eating!” response. (“F- it” is shorthand for “Forget it!” If you thought otherwise, get your mind out of the gutter. If you didn’t think otherwise, get real!) That’s the nature of my disorder – to know what I should do but do what I want in a given circumstance. If I am not careful, I can live in any number of “F- it”s that have nothing to do with my primary addiction of food.

“That’s the nature of my disorder – to know what I should do but do what I want”

I’m in good company according to reliable historical documents. My great-to-the-Nth-power grandparents, Adam and Eve, had one ordinance to follow in Eden. Wouldn’t you know it was a food-related abstinence rule! (Who says God doesn’t care about what we eat?) The sticky part of this bun is that when what they wanted conflicted with what they knew, they chose to block God out and indulge in the ripe, juicy succulence of the tree of “thou shalt not.”

I don’t know if it’s every human’s experience, because the only human I’ve ever been is me. I know, though, that the dysfunction caused by this tug of war between what the higher self knows and the lower self feels like is so powerful that it took the Creator of Earth coming down from Heaven to pay for the discrepancy and remind humans of the priority. So it must be more common than rare.

“…tug of war between what the higher self knows and the lower self feels like…”

The epiphany dawning on my cranial committee today is that if I am living in half of my “thou shalt not” statement then I’m 50% across the line already, whether I’m stuffing my face or not. When I permit myself to say, “F- it, I’m watching TV instead of studying,” or, “F- it, I’m buying that expensive item even though I’m out of money,” or, “F- it, I’m sick of caging my rage, I’ll let the fur fly this once,” I’m doing just as much spiritual damage to myself (and those around me) as if I had stopped by the bakery for a dozen doughnuts and destroyed the evidence down my gullet before arriving home. In fact maybe even more since, in the process, I’m lying to myself about how “recovered” I am and how little I need a recovery program in my life  just because my bathroom scales don’t groan when I get on them anymore.

“…if I am living in half of my “thou shalt not” statement then I’m 50% across the line already…”

The pretentious me (okay, more pretentious me) used to look at addicts of other substances or behaviors and say, “At least I don’t have it that bad.” The truth is, I have it worse than anyone when I’m thinking that way. Jesus observed two similar people in Luke 18:11, when he condemned the Pharisee who thought he was shiny stuff compared to the “sinners” around him. Frankly, the comparison is lopsided in my direction anyway, since the alcoholic or drug addict have to go to special lengths and pay tariffs or drug dealers to get their teeter to totter and it only takes a sandwich to make me crazy. Clearly, I’m still in need of a Savior. Daily. Hourly. Ok, each breath is a do-over. I’ll get the next one right.

 

“I’m a very important passenger car following at exactly the right distance from my Higher Power, the only Engine that can…”

Truth is I’m not The Little Engine that Could, but I’m not the caboose either. (Don’t you dare call me a “Bozo on the bus!” I have a problem with clowns.) Instead I’m a very important passenger car following at exactly the right distance from my Higher Power, the only Engine that can, and He is faithful to provide exactly what I need to follow in line as long as I stay connected to Him. Want on this train? Hitching in is optional, progress is our destination, and anytime you want off your first dozen doughnuts is on me. Okay, not really. Considering the train wreck I have been, I’m just happy to be on a track at all and linked with such fine people as those in recovery from various addictions. Thanks for sharing the journey, for going ahead or falling in behind. We make this thing go when we link together and drag each other along.

white flag surrenderWhile I believe the world was created in an instant cosmic response of obedience to God’s word, I believe that same God designed an order of things – an order defined by variances of growth or decay. In this balance, homeostasis is delicate and requires change to be kept in check. Failure to sense imbalance can lead to indifference, then to neglect, finally to decay. That is one of the main reasons I find maintenance in recovery so difficult. When I am free from my obsession of food and weight, I am liberated from the constant weigh-ins, content with what I see in the mirror because I am looking at the spiritual child of God and not his outline. A few extra pounds attached themselves to me while I was in the bliss of just such anesthetized ignorance – routine that looks just like spiritual fitness only isn’t. Awareness of this unwanted growth came just as my enemy would will it: timed perfectly in a bed of weakness, insecurity, and self-doubt. Clearly, not a fit spiritual condition.

I have been sick with a respiratory infection to varying degrees for twelve weeks. Twelve weeks! I have been on and off powerful antibiotics, breathing treatments, and even steroids. Some of the medicines I have taken came with warnings that they might make me “edgy,” a gentle euphemism for a condition I used to call home. They cannot, however, take the blame for what happened yesterday.

Just like most spiritual attacks, this one was well orchestrated to undermine a ministry commitment. Yesterday was our rotation for church prayer ministry, and it involved both my precious bride and me. No good attack comes from only one direction or by only one weapon, and so it was with this one. The weakness that comes by disease affects the body, but it takes something more to erode the spirit. This one, unfortunately, was complete.

My physical illness has been so chronic that my wife declared by assertion that she was taking over the lawn maintenance responsibilities whether I liked it or not. She rightly pointed out that caring for the lawn aggravates my allergies, and argued that we cannot afford for me to be sick. This tied together two insecurities, physical and financial, rolled them into a ball, and gagged me to silence. So, with my body bound by affliction, and my opinion choked out by insecurities, I was cast into helplessness. Well, not entirely. Yet.

I bought a new self-propelled lawn mower, set it up, and showed my precious bride how to run it. I offered suggestions, but was soon made aware that they were being taken as manipulative assertions of my selfish way and will. In keeping with my living amends, I kept my advice quiet. Mostly. Its new operator lowered the deck on the lawnmower so that the previously well-manicured lawn was shaved bald. When I asked why, I was told it was to keep from having to mow as often. I gritted my teeth, but somehow managed to delicately sum up the hours of research I had done on the optimal height of grass. The exchange was positive and concluded with mutual agreement. When the second week went by without any trimming or edging, I spoke up again. I was told the neglect was intentional, an effort to grow centipede grass runners which would then be cut and transplanted in areas of thinner grass population. I agonized in silence for a steamy couple days. Then, in a single hour of defiance, I donned my particulate filter mask and tore through the chore of trimming and weeding the front yard with the most contemptible resentment of my recent recollection. What could just as easily have been performed as an act of love was, for me that day, a venomous blast of selfish, fearful, insecure anger. But that was almost a week past, merely groundwork for the attack that would come yesterday.

My work on the front yard went unrecognized, and perhaps unnoticed. Wounds fester better when left unattended.

The spiritual topography on which it was fought would have a lot to do with how this battle was lost. With the mountains of financial insecurity defined by retirement, college expenses, and an unanticipated job loss in the family, it was easier to pin me down against the insecurity of the eyes of the neighborhood homeowner’s association. But that would have left some wiggle room. To be sure I didn’t survive the onslaught, my other weaknesses were covered in the several hours before, as conversations bounced off my frailties like a pinball racking up bonus points. Old hurts and fears were brought up in benign ways like viewing harmless artifacts in a museum. But their ghosts lingered and began to swirl around me. I began to remember the painful fear of abandonment, rejection, failure, and isolation as “remember when” and “what if” made themselves at home on my left and right.

This is the climate in which my weigh-in came. I had tried to fasten a pair of shorts and their belt the day before and noticed they were tight like some of my tee shirts had lately begun to feel. I made a commitment then to weigh on Sunday morning. In retrospect, I admit that could surely have been planned better. Seven pounds may not seem like much for a guy who used to gain and lose that in two days, but it is a lot when confirming fears of a delicate balance lost. As much as I tried to remind myself that pounds are not my responsibility, but are the result of many choices which are, I still read the scale, “Seven pounds of failure!”

As my bride and I readied ourselves for church, the casual, if not playful, conversation turned too quickly for the slippery surface of a frightened compulsive overeater faced with failure on a bed of every imaginable insecurity. Wounded, scared, and backed into a corner, I bared my teeth the way any beast, no matter how fluffy or cuddly, will do when cornered. I harmed again, spewing venomous curses, laying down my will like it was law, and issuing threats.

Now, I am sitting in the dark, alone. The isolation and abandonment I feared has become my sentence. That, and the awareness of the uncomfortable constriction of my belt around my waist. She’ll be back. I know this well enough that it should never have been a fear in the first place. But she will not be happy about it. Of that I should have been reverently afraid. My selfishness makes me needlessly and harmfully afraid. To defend myself against the things I fear, I have perpetrated acts that have realized those very fears. Again!

So I admit to God, to myself, and to you the exact nature of my wrongs. I am entirely ready to let God remove my defects of character. I have humbly asked God to remove my shortcomings, have chronicled my harm, and am ready to mend what I have broken.

God, grant me the opportunity to live in a mended fashion, but to trust You to do the mending. Help me to flex rather than snap, to give rather than grab. Help me concern myself with the emotional welfare of those around me rather than what I might lose or fail to attain. You are the owner of all, and I have no reason to insist on anything. May Your will be done, and Your glory magnified!

 

white chipsDear sponsor,

As a result of my recent lack of exercise and increase in girth and weight, I am making a change in my plan of eating (POE). I am reducing my daily energy intake by 150 calories. I also plan to eliminate the daily breakfast egg as well as the single red potato lately taken at suppertime. This will put my caloric target at 2150 rather than 2300. When I get back on my feet and off my butt I will reexamine my energy intake. Until then, I’m splitting the difference between what I have been doing and the RDA of 2000. My food log is still published online at http://www.livestrong.com/thedailyplate/diary/who/TLJax/.

 

 

 

Restaurant Suprise

Dear sponsor,

I had a mishap that came from my failure to plan. I took my mother to her favorite restaurant for her birthday. I have been there before and I know what I get so I planned to eat my typical meal from there, but the menu had changed and my planned item was no longer offered. I started to panic, but then decided to calmly order a sensible meal and stop at that. I would tabulate the calories afterward, and all would be fine. I did as I planned without interrupting dinner or making a scene. The problem came afterward when I entered the supper into my tracker and discovered I was 96 calories over my daily limit, and this even without my normally planned fourth meal, which I skipped to compensate. I needed to report this deviation from my plan of eating, however accidental it may have been, because I cannot allow myself to start excusing this kind of error. Planned meals are the structure that holds up my abstinence, and this made it feel dangerously wobbly.

From now on, planned meals, with a backup plan!

Thanks for Fear and Pain

hot stoveI 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.

The Impetus for Change

change ahead signSomeone asked me yesterday, “What happened in your life that made you decide to make such a big change?” While I am used to answering with Step One, “We admitted we were powerless over food; that our lives had become unmanageable,” I was drawn deeper into thought by this woman’s question. I decided to recall a few of the precipitating factors in my coming to Step One.

  • I was running out of doctors because I kept firing the ones who told me I needed to lose weight.
  • I was diagnosed with hypertension, gastro-esophageal reflux disease, and extreme obesity (47.3 BMI).
  • I saw myself in the mirror.  It was a several times daily experience.
  • I stopped sharing photos of myself, even when honored at work and featured in the news, too ashamed of my size and appearance.
  • My tool belt fell off me in the middle of the street while I was working because it would no longer reach around me.  It was something akin to losing one’s pants in front of an audience.
  • I got exhausted just getting dressed or walking to a flight of stairs.  (Not up them.  To them!)
  • I profusely perspired in 65 degree air-conditioned rooms.
  • I suffered the embarrassment of rejection from a roller coaster ride in front of my children because I was too big to fit in the oversized harness even with two attendants pushing and squeezing with all their might. (They had me stand with the discarded shoes to wait for my kids.)
  • I grew too heavy for my own skeleton, and severed my ACL (knee ligament) during mild play with my nephews at a city park.
  • I was denounced as a hypocrite while preaching “total balance: physical, mental and spiritual” to a group of healthy twenty-somethings, while I stood with crutches, weighing 320 pounds, beet red, sweating in a 65 degree air-conditioned room.
  • Three days after attending a seminar on the physiology of addiction as a conditioned response to stress, I caught myself eating, in response to stress, half of a pie that was given to my wife to honor her for Mother’s Day and was supposed to have been reserved for later.
  • I recognized that I was pursuing the will of the flesh rather than the will of God, and serving my lusts and desires as an act of rebellious idolatry. The irony is that what the flesh wants is detrimental even to itself.

This is a short list, but it served to remind me that I would rather live a day in the vitality of recovery than a year in the misery I once survived.  By the grace of Almighty God, and through working the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous, I am a recovering compulsive overeater.  I have been freed from 140 physical pounds and untold emotional weight. (More details can be found on my blog pages.)

Whatever shadowy death valley you’re walking through, there is hope for Light and Life on the other side of it. Just ask my Higher Power.  His name is Jesus.

Psalm 23 NIV

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

Psalm 147:3 NIV

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.