This is the first part of a three-part post discussing the spiritual, emotional, and physical facets of my recovery from an eating disorder.
May 25 marks three years of back-to-back abstinence (which is equivalent to sobriety in AA) in O.A.-H.O.W. HOW is one just one way of working the Overeaters Anonymous program, but it is a very structured approach. It is the reason that I do things like a daily writing assignment, making at least three calls to other people in OA, and committing and weighing all my food (yes, even my vegetables).
I chose to work the HOW concept because I was attracted to the spiritual, emotional and physical recovery that I saw in HOW meetings. I first began attending HOW meetings because I was desperate to see living examples of people who had as much weight to lose as I did, who did it safely and without surgery. I couldn't find examples in my local, traditional OA meetings, so I started hanging out in HOW circles. At the time, I thought people in HOW went overboard, and I found their approach quite threatening. Thankfully, I was able to find abstinence in traditional OA, albeit still with a strict sponsor. A sponsor is your guide in a 12-step program; people work with sponsors in a variety of ways, but at the very least, your sponsor is usually the main person who helps you work the 12 steps and holds you accountable.
I had my right ankle ligaments reconstructed in June 2006. It was very hard for me to leave the house, so I started doing OA phone meetings at that time in lieu of face-to-face meetings. The very first HOW phone meeting had just started on Wednesday nights, and I called in every week. In HOW meetings, we read a lot from primary 12-step texts. Anyone can do those readings. We also read summaries of the eight tools of recovery, and then HOW sponsors (and only HOW sponsors) share their personal experience with using those tools for up to three minutes. At meetings, only I grew frustrated being on the sidelines, and not being able to fully participate in the meeting since I was not a HOW sponsor. At the same time, I became willing to do the two things that up to that point had kept me from jumping into HOW with both feet: weigh my food in public, and give up alcohol.
At the time, I thought it was slightly amusing that I was taking all this on. After all, I was at my sickest with my Lyme Disease: I couldn't write, type, or cut vegetables, among many other things. I can see clearly now how much the HOW concept has saved my butt over the course of my extended illness. The reality of having to talk to three other people in program and my sponsor every day means I can't isolate. The emphasis on service both in and out of the program has really allowed me to get out of my head and think about how I can help others, which is especially useful when I'm full of self-pity about having been so sick for so long. The fact that I sponsor two amazing women who need to speak to me six days a week before they start their busy days means that I have to wake up by 7 a.m. instead of sleeping until noon like I would otherwise.
A major thing HOW has done for me is really spur my spiritual growth. The most poignant example of this is my change in my observance of kashrut [the practice of keeping kosher aka adhering to Jewish dietary laws]. One of the most painful and shameful parts of my food addiction was the discrepancy between my public face of being an Orthodox Jew, and my private hell of binging five days a week on McDonalds, Burger King, etc. I felt like a fraud. Oh yeah, that's because I was a fraud. I prayed and prayed to God to keep me from sinning in this way; I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't stop. Now I know that as long as I was putting addictive foods in my body that triggered my compulsive eating, and as long as I engaged in compulsive eating behaviors, there was no way in hell I could have stopped. When I am eating sugar, my compulsion is off to the races, religion be damned. This is really like the alcoholic who has only one drink, but soon is blacking out. For an addict, one is too many and a million never enough.
The feeling of sneaking all of this treif [non-kosher] food was one of humiliation, fear, disgust, and exhaustion. It took a lot of planning to procure the cash to binge, because I wouldn't use a debit or credit card at a restaurant that would allow my husband to see how I was drawing down our bank account. He used to wonder why I was regularly withdrawing $60-100 in cash a week that mysteriously disappeared. When I ran down our bank account, I would go to a drug store and buy junk food there, since that was a "legitimate" looking charge on our statement. Then there was the whole element of how I would avoid seeing Jewish friends when going on my daily sprees; I had ready-made excuses about why I was buying such-and-such thing. I was always looking over my shoulder.
Thanks to recovery, that dark time of sneaking around fast food joints is long passed. It feels so light, clean, and honest to be able to look in the mirror and have my outward appearance and behavior match my inner faith and values. Please don't think I'm never tempted: the other day I walked by an Italian restaurant and could feel the texture and taste the mozzarella sticks and tomato sauce in my mouth. I'm thankful that I can have cravings today and know that they're just cravings -- I don't have to give in to them, and they will pass. Now, when I go into a McDonalds, it really is just for a diet coke or bottle of water!
Thanks to the work I've done in the HOW concept, I feel closer to God now than I ever have. I have true joy in celebrating my faith, and have made it a priority to engage in regular, formal prayer, in addition to my freestyle prayer in the mornings. I'm even becoming one of those people I've wanted to be for so long: the type who regularly checks in with God, not only at set times of the day or when I need something, but just to check in. More and more, when I have to make a decision, I try to discern God's will for me instead of making it all about me. It's good.
Insurance company readers: this post took me two days.