Tag Archive: mental illness


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I’m in good company according to reliable historical documents.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.

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Misconception of God #4,897

creative thought bubbleI once thought I had a better understanding of God than all the rest of the humans. Today I know I am as blind as the rest of the race, perceiving only a small portion of that which the Divine has determined to reveal of Himself. One misconception that I am learning is fairly common, and for which I had long blamed the Creator, was the idea that He is all finished creating. I took Bible references to the Sabbath to mean that all was complete, and Christ’s quote on the cross, “It is finished!” to mean that God’s involvement in building what is to be built was pretty much concluded.

What I didn’t understand was that the One who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, has presented me with the option of deciding what my middle will be, and to what master I will present it. Will I spend my middle serving my cares, concerns, and cravings, or will I make God the god of my whole life: beginning, middle, and end? If I can serve but one master, and the cravings of the greedy rob a person of life, than the choice seems simple. Serving God actually benefits me. But if I choose to serve God for my own benefit, aren’t I really just serving myself in a back-handed way? It turns out that God invites the burdened, the hungry, the brokenhearted, the spiritually impoverished, and all those who recognize their unmet need for Him to return to the Manufacturer for counsel, companionship, and conformity to their original design and purpose. No matter how far removed we become from the pattern in which all things work like they were supposed to, we are under warranty, welcome to come back for an overhaul.

“…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV)

Dear Father, today, I give you my middle. Be the Master of my whole alphabet, from beginning to end. Make every part of me work according to Your will and design, and take pleasure in employing me to Your purpose. Thank You for continuing to construct me into something new. I am happy to be a tool in Your service, for a tool in the hand of his Master is of value while a tool standing in front of a mirror is just shelved scrap.

Scripture References:

Genesis 2:2
John 19:30
Revelation 1:8, 21:6, 22:13
Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13
Proverbs 1:19
Isaiah 55:1, Matthew 5:3-12

inequalitySome of my most pivotal revelations come when I’m busy talking, and such was the case at a recovery meeting I attended recently. I was in mid-share when it occurred to me that at the heart of my mental illness is an erroneous equation: imperfect equals worthless. If you factor out this faulty formula, you conclude that anyone who assesses value to the imperfect is therefore either incompetent, misguided, or worthless themselves. Since I know better than anyone my own imperfection, I am, according to this mad science, worthless and so is anybody who says otherwise. This makes relationships with anyone difficult, since any other people who hold me in any esteem whatsoever are, as I have just proven, imbeciles; and because I am too faulty to be relied upon for any emotional support or camaraderie.  This is the hub on which my self-pity wheel turns and on which my reward and punishment party wagon rides.

The clickety-clack of this wobbly wheel sounds like this: You deserve to eat what you want. You deserve to die a lonely death…early! You’ve had a bad day and need ice cream. You’re celebrating so we’re having a cake with your name on it. You’ve done well, and have won an edible prize. You made poo-poo in the potty and get candy! Maybe it does go back that far, but there is something wrong with my value estimator. Good behavior gets rewards! Ask Mother, my teachers, Santa Claus, my bosses, even (dare I admit) my misconceptions of God. I remember gagging just a little when I heard someone parrot that trite adage: “God don’t make no junk,” because I blamed Him for the mess I was, and there was no doubt about it – I was junk.

There is where I was at Step One: admitting that I was powerless over my problem and that the way I was living life was never going to work. I gradually became able to accept that if God says one thing and I feel another, the chances are God is more likely right than my feelings. After all, I had proved it with my food choices, and I could see it in my selfish defects too. My way is poison compared to God’s way which always brings life more abundant. I figured that “act as if” phrase just might fit me if I wore it on this particular point. Acting like God is right instead of me turned out to be the most pivotal change in my life. When someone turns that abruptly and goes the opposite direction, it’s referred to by a number of phrases: doing a one-eighty, an about face, or this one that sounds familiar to the religious circle – “repent.” I’d been a Bible-thumper for decades but was missing the repentance that is supposed to follow knowledge of the Giver of grace. I was the forgiven debtor of millions who beat his neighbor over a nickel owed (Matt. 18:21-25) and I believe it was because I was so convinced that, as an imperfect – and therefore worthless – person, I had to somehow make myself appear less worthless than everyone else so that I could at least, in that way, assuage some of my painfully disappointing worthlessness. Does that make sense? I doesn’t to me either, but I believe it to be a logical explanation of my insanity.

The truth is that if we believe we can be perfect on our own then we have made ourselves our god, and God is not in charge. That’s a disappointing experience, because I’m even worse at being a god than I am at being a human. The whole idea of a higher power is that mine ought to be higher than me, not even worse at his job than me, so I needed to terminate me from my position as my own higher power due to unquestionable incompetence. Once I let God have His seat on the throne of my life and really started trying to do what I understood He wanted rather than what I wanted, things began to turn around and fit almost like they were designed to go that way by a highly intelligent Creator. Amazing!

It turns out that God never expected me to be perfect, but He did design me to crave perfection so that I would seek Him out. You see, only He is perfect, and He shares Himself with those who seek Him. He is also a bit of a mosaic artist, taking the shattered pieces of my life and arranging them perfectly to suit His grand design so that every torn edge and ragged shard has a place and a purpose. Nothing is wasted, and none of it was ever junk!

Dear Father, today, help me to remember that You are the Creator of creation, the Breather of life, the Redeemer of broken things, the Orchestrator of circumstances, and the Source of all hope. With You in charge, I have nothing to fear. If you forgive, who, including me, can convict me? I choose to live in Your grace rather than my wrath. Thank You for freeing me from me. Please do it again tomorrow.

Day 1,705 or Day one?

I feel like I’ve relapsed totally. Last night, during an emotional tirade, I fussed at my wife and then went to bed, disregarding the fact that I had not yet eaten my last planned meal of the day. When I remembered it, I said to myself, “Forget it, I’m not eating!” which is dangerously close to my abstinence phrase, “Forget it, I’m eating!” and I can see how the two are related in the lives and recoveries of some of my friends who restrict food intake. To make matters worse, once I did go to sleep, I dreamt of every imaginable self-indulgence, starting with cake and ending with an extra-marital affair. I woke up afflicted with guilt and shame, and it took a while to remind myself I had not actually done any of the things for which I was feeling guilty, except for the harmful fit that started it all. By the time the artificial guilt eroded, I had completed the personal inventory that makes everything my fault, so generally my guilt was never really assuaged but redirected at the defects that ignite outbursts of rage in an otherwise peaceful home.

Since my abstinence does not say anything about restricting, I will not consider this a “day one” but I need to acknowledge that I am a hair’s breadth from relapse if I do not do something about my spiritual condition.

Dear Father, today, keep me aware of what I have done, but wash me clean of it. Help me remember the atrocities of which I am capable so I can be vigilant against them. Protect me from the spiritual forces that war against me, and help me to stand up against my own internal battles that tend to weaken me to any outside force. In my weakness make me strong. Secure my insecurities so I can be gentle and selfless in my relationships. Do not let me suffer needlessly, but bring purpose to any pain by making me teachable, and to Your discipline I submit, Lord. Thank You for loving me enough to be patient in re-creating me.

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.