Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Here I am again, not having been to a meeting since last Monday (as in the Monday before this past one). Have things been busy lately? Yes, incredibly. Could I have found time to make it to a meeting anyway? Absolutely.

I am feeling very much stalled in my recovery. Not only that, but I'm also feeling very strong in my disease lately - yesterday, I went inside a gas station while filling up my car to see if I could use the bathroom, and as I was walking in, the urge to fill myself with sugar hit. I don't know if "urge" is exactly the right word to use, even, because it was more like a little voice in the back of my head suddenly got very loud. The voice was making all kinds of delicious suggestions. Candy bars, ice cream, and all manner of other things were floating around in my head all of a sudden.

The interesting thing about food for me is that even though I'll admit that my trigger foods taste delicious, the really delicious part about them is the numbness I feel. The OA "Twelve and Twelve" talks about the idea that food addicts feel everything will be all right so long as they can get enough to eat. And isn't that the truth? The scarcity perspective I apply - did we order enough pizza? Did I buy enough sweets to tide me over? - is absolutely ludicrous. It has nothing to do with actual amounts, because a slice or two of pizza would tide anyone over as a meal. It's more like me saying, "Is there enough pizza here to drown out all of my sorrow and fill the void I've felt in myself and my life since I was 8 or 9 years old?"

There's not enough pizza in the entire universe for that.

I'm also thinking a lot about confessions tonight. I want to confess today's sins. I think part of that comes from not having been to a meeting in awhile - I haven't said the words, "I'm Sarah and I'm a compulsive overeater" in a long time. I am ashamed of what I've done and I don't want to say it "out loud," but I think I have to. Today I ate a bagel smothered with cream cheese, and I ate a sandwich, yogurt and grapes for lunch. I had a relatively reasonable portion of ribs with barbecue sauce for dinner. But I've also eaten one of those big Tollhouse cookie ice cream sandwiches, two 2 oz. Fast Break candy bars, and an entire pint of Ben & Jerry's Half Baked ice cream. The empty container is on my nightstand right now, and it's mocking me, almost. It called to me with such fervor when I saw it in the freezer at Walgreens earlier today. Now it's gone, polluting my body with trans fats and carbohydrates and all that other stuff. It's mucking up my health.

And I inhaled that ice cream. It didn't matter what I was eating - it could have been pure lard or just granulated sugar, so long as it had the same calming effect on my weary mind. What is it that I look for when I overeat like this? I'm looking for silence. I'm hoping to shut my mind up. My stupid, incredibly fallible, overly analytical mind needs to leave me be. And the only time it ever gets even a little bit quiet is when I've just taken that first - or fourth, or fifteenth - bite. Eating compulsively takes my mind off of all the things that normally swirl around it and places all the focus on filling myself up. But it only accomplishes the physical aspect of filling. I am emptier than ever after a binge.

I'm beginning to realize that recovery from food addiction isn't achieved in a matter of weeks, or even months. At least not for me. I am in this journey for the long haul, and it's going to take me awhile. I don't know how to gauge my own level of "readiness" for abstinence or anything like that, but I will say that coming back to this blog and to OA meetings, no matter how much I kick and scream, is probably a good first step.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

This post is all over the place.

This has been a bad week, in many ways. In other ways, it's been average. Nothing particularly tremendous has happened. I found out I didn't get another job I interviewed for - that's the sixth job that's rejected me after interviews, by the way - and I haven't been exercising. I'm taking a break from working out partly because I have shin splints and general pain in my calves, ankles and Achilles tendons, but I also just don't feel like I can drag myself to the gym this week. I've only been to one OA meeting, and even though I have had engagements of some kind on every other night of the week, I still feel guilty for not having gone to more.

What am I supposed to make of the guilt? It certainly doesn't seem constructive. I'm beginning to realize - and maybe I mentioned this in my last post - that I am addicted to exercise. Rather than simply being the self-care technique I wanted it to be when I started this routine over a year ago, it's become a sort of consuming animal. When I don't work out, I feel guilty, fat, disgusting. I told a friend of mine last night that working out is the only thing standing between me and complete, total body hatred. I only feel attractive when I've been working out.

When I haven't been exercising, like this week, I feel constantly scared. I feel like I'm going to gain back all the weight I've lost. And of course, while the fear itself is kind of irrational, it doesn't help when people say things like, "Well, of course you won't gain weight, unless you compulsively overeat." Um, have we met? I always overeat compulsively. It's how I stay alive, ironically enough. Of course, I don't mean to say that if I didn't overeat, I'd die without all the extra calories or something like that. But it's my coping. I am terrified to take it away. As some people in OA have said, when you take away the food, all that's left are the feelings...

Can I handle my feelings?

So maybe I've gained a couple pounds this week. Probably I have. I was the one to do the grocery shopping earlier this week, and of course I stocked up on things sure to feed my addiction. Ice cream sandwiches, snack cakes, sugary cereals, hard salami and cheese for sandwiches, sour cream & onion chips. I'm noticing that several of those foods start with "s," but that's not important. What is important is that these foods are sucking the life out of me. It's a slow process, but that's what makes this disease so ultimately deadly, and so stealthy. It starts with not liking how one looks in clothes and swimsuits. Then you get comments from family and friends, confirming your suspicions - "Have you put on weight?" (Well, I don't know about friends, but some of my family members are allllll too quick to point that out). The lack of mobility sets in later, when things have gotten really bad. And then there are the health problems - high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type II diabetes. Heart attacks, strokes. Death.

But see, I've been active in my disease for fifteen plus years now. I haven't yet seen the direst consequences of this illness staring me in the face. I just don't want to wait until they're inevitable to try and make them go away.

Meanwhile, I still don't have a sponsor. It isn't easy to approach someone and ask him/her to sponsor me, and I don't know why it's giving me so much anxiety. I'm a very social person - outgoing and gregarious, I'd even say - outside of OA. But I feel out of my element when I'm in the meetings. These people don't know me and they don't have to care about me. I know that's not what the purpose of OA is - the preamble even says that meetings are friendly places - but I'm projecting all over the place. I'm so afraid of being rejected. How can I ever make headway, though, if I don't take risks?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Gotta Have Faith

So, George Michael song references aside, I am seeking faith these days. Tonight's OA meeting - which I had to drag myself to, by the way - focused on the second step, which is all about believing that a power greater than ourselves being capable of restoring us to sanity.

I realized something important tonight. I haven't gotten past the first step yet. I am having a lot of trouble finding faith in anything - whether it's the oft-evoked "God" or even the OA groups or programs themselves - partly because I still believe I can kick this addiction on my own. It's kind of a disturbing revelation, because the twelve steps and everything that accompanies them are based on an admission by the food addict that s/he has no power over food. But when I have days like this past Saturday, when I tried to eat "sensibly" - reasonable portions of foods I shouldn't be eating because they trigger me - and succeed by some fluke, I get the idea that I can do that sort of thing in the long run. I mean, it's not as though I've eaten myself to death already, despite having had this problem for fifteen or so years. So maybe I can control it?

I have a feeling that someday, maybe not too far off in the future, I'll look back at this post and the feelings and thoughts that created it and I'll laugh. Or maybe I won't laugh, but I will definitely shake my head. Because it's so ludicrous. I'm desperately out of control with food. I spent all day today wishing I could be eating everything in the world because I was feeling down and wanted comfort. I do not know how to self-soothe! Food has been the only thing that's ever worked.

But that's just it - it hasn't ever worked. My favorite part of the chapter on the second step in The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous - heretofore referred to as the "Twelve and Twelve" - is the following passage:

"The more we ate the more we suffered, yet we continued to overeat. Our true insanity could be seen in the fact that we kept right on trying to find comfort in excess food, long after it began to cause us misery."

I read that aloud to myself the other night before bed, chuckling at the sheer RECOGNITION I felt when reading it. I've often thought about how paradoxical and ridiculous it is that the very thing I look to for comfort is slowly killing me, not to mention making me miserable a lot of the time. Interestingly, the leader of tonight's meeting pointed out that exact excerpt from step two, and I feel like it gets at the crux of why a lot of us have come to OA. We've been trying really hard to get better anyway we know how, but what we've been doing has not been working. It's been backfiring, big time.

A very wise professor of mine in graduate school, a therapist in practice over 16 years, once told me, "People change because staying the way they are is too painful." Surely this principle is what brought me to walk into my first OA meeting, and every one I've been to since. My search for faith is treacherous thus far because it's so integral to believing the program can work. It's integral to believing anything at all, I suppose, or at least anything that hasn't already materialized before me. I've always been the type who only believes things when she sees them; can I learn to act as if there was a higher power that could take my character defects and flaws and remove them? What about self-reliance and taking responsibility for my actions?

My head is spinning a little with regard to OA and recovery-related stuff. I mentioned that during sharing tonight. Other members said all they could say - keep coming back, recovery will come. Have faith, or act as if you do.

So now I'm left to fake it 'til I make it, I suppose. Will it work? Stay tuned...

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I haven't posted anything in a week, and I'm sitting here wondering why. The obvious answer is that I have wanted to avoid the self-reflection and critical thinking that go along with writing about my deepest, darkest fears and secrets. Keeping up the lie I've been telling myself for a long time now - that everything is okay, that I am not, in fact, a food addict, that I will wake up one day and be able to control portions, etc. - takes far less effort than does a "searching and fearless moral inventory," which is what OA and other twelve-step programs recommend. The searching and fearless moral inventory doesn't come until a later step, and I am waterlogged at step 2 right now (more on that in a moment), but I guess I feel like until I begin that process, I will not understand my own recovery in concrete terms. Everything will be abstract.

According to The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, step 1 is as follows: "We admitted we were powerless over food - that our lives had become unmanageable." Now, you'd think that by entering an OA meeting, a person has tackled step 1. But the truth is, I have been attending meetings regularly for a little over a month now, and I'm just now coming to terms with the fact that I am powerless over food. It's so easy and so seductive to think and believe that I am not, in fact, powerless, which is an uncomfortable and strange state to be in, but that I simply haven't learned to control myself. I'm starting to get it now - I have no fucking control over food, certain foods especially. It is cunning, baffling, and powerful, just like the OA literature says. I don't know that I completely believe yet that I am powerless, but i'm working on it. I'm getting there.

So maybe I'm not yet to step 2, which is: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Yeah, no, I'm not there yet. Maybe I'm a special case, because I've grown up in a religiously lax household, never being made to believe in much of anything spiritual. I'm also a devotee of logic, rationality, practicality - even though I have a creative writing background and my career field is social work, I've always relied on science to tell me the "hard facts," the inalienable truths. I guess you could say that if I can't see it, I've rarely believed in it.

But I have come, in the past several years, to understand that life is not a big, random mess of chaotic atoms bumping against one another in the ether. In order to make sense of my life and the lives of those close to me, I have begun to imbue certain turns of events with meaning. I don't really believe in coincidence, for example. I believe that everything happens for a reason (or at least I want to believe this). Is it coincidental, for example, that my best friend and my mom both went searching for love online and both found partners who ended up living a block away from them or less? No, I don't think it is. I think that the universe works in mysterious ways. So in the few times that I've prayed in the last few weeks, following the advice of fellow OA-ers, I've addressed the universe, the Life Force Energy, the cosmos as God. That's where I see him/her/it/them.

So maybe I've acknowledged, in some situations, that there is probably a power greater than myself. I've even gone so far as to contact that power and ask to know its will for me. And I must say, the couple of times that I've gotten down on my knees and prayed to know God's will, it's occurred to me within mere hours of the prayer itself what God's will is. I don't hear divine voices speaking to me, but I do have realizations, or a-ha! moments, if you will. God does speak to me, somehow.

But can I acknowledge and truly believe that this higher power can restore me to sanity? I guess I'm dealing with a lot of doubt and shame and guilt and all manner of other [largely self-imposed] obstacles. Should I pray to God that I begin believing more strongly in God? Does that even make sense? Sheesh.

I recently purchased some OA literature, and among my purchases was a small white book called For Today. September 16's short "for today" thought is this: "Just as truth freed me of my obsession with food, so it can free me of other living problems. I am not afraid to seek the truth." If I repeat this enough out loud, will it be true?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

You Win Some, You Lose Some

Well, dear readers, I hate to break it to you, but not every post on this blog will be full of joy or rainbows or fuzzy puppies. That might already be crystal clear, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate.

Tonight is not a great night for my recovery from food addiction. Or maybe it's a great night because I'm learning some important things. Either way, I'm writing this as I eat candy. That's right, candy - if you think you recognize that from my [long-ass] list of trigger foods, you're absolutely right! I cannot control myself around candy. And I am not even trying to control myself right now.

Let me paint you a picture. Tonight I left work, had a quick meeting in Uptown, and then drove north to Skokie for an OA meeting at 7 pm. I had some time to kill, miraculously, and arrived at the meeting early, only to find out that it actually started at 7:30. If I hadn't already had to waste 30+ minutes at Lane Bryant, I might have been more willing to stick around, but I was already feeling kind of awkward (this would have been my first time at this particular meeting). I was also hungry, I think, since I ate lunch at 1 and hadn't eaten since, and my resistance was growing ever stronger. At first, I decided I would just wait in the car, maybe eat the package of raw almonds I keep in my work bag for emergencies. But as I walked out to the parking lot, I knew pretty much instantly that I was going to leave. I don't know how to explain the feeling, but I've had it before when it comes to overeating - it's like even though I don't want to eat compulsively, even though I am fighting against it, tooth and nail, it's already been decided for me. I'm going to do it.

Maybe that's where the "addiction" part of food addiction comes in. When I'm actively consuming these substances - sugar, high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats, simple carbohydrates - they are exerting negative influence on me and my judgment is impaired. I don't know if that's really a thing, but I'm hypothesizing here. For so many years, I've blamed myself for what I've perceived to be lapses in judgment. "I have no willpower," I've told myself. "I'm defective in some way."

I think I still believe that, to be honest. And the only thing that has a prayer of removing those incorrect thoughts from my mental lexicon is consistently going to OA meetings, finding a sponsor, developing a food plan, working my program. I'm just struggling so much. I want - and often feel I need - the comfort that food has to offer. It's what I'm used to, after all. Food has been getting the job done, no matter how sloppily and with how many negative consequences, for 15 years now. Furthermore, my thoughts and feelings of doubt and self-blame have been with me for just as long. How am I going to break free of all this?

At this point, I haven't been to an OA meeting in 10 days. WAY too long. I need to bite the bullet about so many things - like finding a sponsor! - but I'm scared and holding back and pushing against this healing process with all my might. In some addiction recovery programs, they say you have to cover your "ASS" - accountability, structure and support. I don't know that I have any of those three things covered as of right now. I need guidance, and I need to look for it in the right places. And those right places, in case you wondered, do not include the drive-thru at McDonald's.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Come Together

Well, things are starting to gel in this old brain of mine. I had a session with my therapist tonight - yes, I see a therapist, and I'm proud of it! - and things are beginning to come full circle. I've been in therapy numerous times and I've had great experiences, mediocre ones, downright uncomfortable ones. You name it, basically. But I feel as though my increasing willingness to be honest with myself and with others - an absolute requirement for participation in OA and in therapy - makes each experience even better than the last.

Without going into too much detail, I'll say this: my compulsive overeating behaviors, my difficulty in intimate relationships, my general unhappiness and other emotions, thoughts and behaviors are all connected to one another. And they're all connected to certain core beliefs I hold to be true. Needless to say, these core beliefs are negative, and they were developed early on in life. They are hard to break away from, but I'm trying every day.

In other news, other things are gelling too. For example, I'm beginning to realize why OA recommends that participants refrain from eating any of their trigger foods, even if they can eat them in moderation (which, let's face it, no one in OA actually can). It's because eating those trigger foods triggers something in my crazy brain that tells me I can't - and don't want to - stop eating whatever it is. Today, I had tacos for lunch (I slept too late to make myself something before work), and I got a real taste (no pun intended) of what this whole not-eating-trigger-foods-at-all thing is all about.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, all Mexican food is on my list of triggers. But what I should also say is that tacos are number one on the sub-list of Mexican food triggers. I one heard a sage OA member say to us newcomers that every food we thought we could never live without belonged on our list of prohibited triggers, and once again, I get it now: I love tacos more than I love life itself. I love tacos more than I will probably ever love my firstborn child. I love tacos more than sunshine and rainbows and ponies.

Now, I realize that my love for tacos is not actually love, at least not in a healthy sense. It is a love-hate relationship, really - I love the taste, I love the feeling of euphoria that washes over me when I take that first bite. But I do not love being fat. I do not love feeling out of control, like sixty tacos wouldn't even be enough. And most of all, I do not love the fact that I am a slave to food like tacos.

What I am trying to say with all this rambling is that I ate some tacos for lunch today, and felt that wild, uncontrolled feeling. It made me want to come home tonight and binge on whatever I could find - the sugary cereal my sister likes, American cheese slices fresh from the deli, sour cream and onion chips - and just drown in the feeling. I don't really think that follows logic, because drowning in a "wild, uncontrolled feeling" is not something any sane person would actually want to do. But it's all I know - it's what I've used to cope since I can remember. And it's safe and warm in my cocoon of food-addicted misery.

In order to tie this post together - because, let's face it, that's the theme of the evening - I will recount a memory from my childhood. These "drowning" behaviors have to come from somewhere, right? And I think I see where they originated. I can remember being 10 or 11, maybe a little older, and being very excited to discover a package of Matt's chocolate chip cookies on our pantry shelf. Our pantry is actually the landing between the kitchen and the basement, and I grabbed those cookies like they held the key to eternal salvation and started going to town, all while sitting on the basement steps. My mom must have heard the pitter-patter of little feet, because she opened the kitchen door and discovered me stuffing my face with cookies in secret. It was one of the most shameful feelings I've ever, ever had - I was caught red-handed, and my mom had gotten a look into my disease. I doubt she's ever forgotten this scenario either.

People have said to me recently, when I've shared with them that I'm beginning a lifelong process of recovery from food addiction, that they've seen me eat and I "don't really eat that much" or that I "don't eat bad stuff" all that often. The kicker is that these friends and family members have been deceived; it's been my deliberate plan not to let them see what I'm really like when my addiction rages out of control. That's why I've hidden food in desk drawers for years. That's why I've ordered large pizzas and devoured them in bed alone, quickly recycling the box so that no one discovers me. I don't want anyone to know how dark it is in here. Some people see it, but it's a hard thing to witness. And it's been going on for what seems like forever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


This is a blog about food addiction. But it's specifically a blog about my food addiction. So tonight, I want to talk about the intersection of my addiction and another part of my life: relationships.

One of the twelve steps - forgive me, I'm too new to remember which one or exactly how it's worded - talks about making amends to those you've harmed while active in your disease. Call me naive, but at first, I thought to myself, "It's not like I'm an alcoholic or a drug addict - I haven't harmed anyone with my food addiction." But I'm slowly beginning to realize that's not true. I have harmed many people in many different ways.

I'm not trying to say that I've pummeled my partners with the snack cakes I was about to binge on or anything like that. But I have expected things from my lovers that no one should expect from someone else. My disease developed as a combination of many factors, several of which I probably haven't even discovered yet. But one of them - a big one - was my need to fill the void left by my absent, alcoholic father and the fallout from my parents' terrible, tense relationship. I have, without ever realizing it until after the fact, expected every one of my partners to love me enough to validate me, which is one thing my father never did. Every child needs validation, love, and support, and without it, I've grown up with a sort of metaphorical hole in my heart. I eat to plug the hole up, and when that doesn't work, I look to other external things. I've been asking a whole lot of my past partners.

High expectations don't even begin to explain what I have for the intimate relationships into which I enter. I ask for simple, straightforward things like communication, honesty, and fidelity. I ask for those things outright, or in the form of some "contract" - making it official, for example. But there are things I don't say out loud that I am constantly asking my partners to do. If they don't show enough affection, I get pouty. If they don't say "I love you" back, I panic. If they leave me, I feel worthless. If they start dating someone new shortly after we've parted ways, I become enraged (I recently found out that my newly-minted ex - two months since we broke up - has been dating someone new for a few weeks, so this really hits home).

Why all the drama from my end? Great question. I'm not trying to justify it, but it comes from this deep, wounded place in me that I haven't figured out how to effectively soothe with anything, food included. But I try food almost every time, because it has this numbing effect. Plus it tastes good, and it stimulates the pleasure center in my brain. It's legal, often cheap, and easy to get. No one suspects me of foul play when I'm eating a sandwich or an ice cream cone. But the ways I act out with food are emotionally and physically criminal, and I'm the one who suffers most.

Coming full circle, this brings me to more thoughts of amends. If I harm myself most in the process of overeating compulsively, should I make amends to myself? Where would a process like that even begin? "I'm sorry for causing you untold amounts of self-hatred and despair"? Is that what self-amends look like?

Questions like these tell me I need a sponsor, and fast. I'm considering a bold move at the next Monday night meeting: raising my hand during the announcement portion of the evening and telling all 30+ people - most/all of them strangers - that I'm new and I need a temporary sponsor. That is not the sort of thing that would normally daunt me at all, but this is new territory. It's a whole new me, in fact.