So I sat down with my HP and said, "Okay, God, what message would you like me to share?" I wrote this on a piece of paper and put it in my God box. That physical action of putting that little piece of paper into a box dedicated to questions I have no answers for is my way of giving my will back and surrendering to God. It's my way of "not doing it my way." The answer I got was to share "How it Works." So, I’m like God, I don’t mean to insult you big guy, but 'How It Works’ is read at every meeting. And God’s like, no Diane, I want you to share how it works for you.
"How It Works" for Diane D. - from me, my Higher Power and the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
Rarely have I seen a person relapse who has put into action the Twelve Steps of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I chose not to change, I would not completely give myself to this solution to suffering, because I chose not to be honest with myself. I was one of the "unfortunates." I was not at fault (until I heard the message of recovery); I seemed to have been taught that way. I was naturally incapable of grasping and accepting a manner of living which demanded that I change. My chances were less than average. I, too, suffered from grave emotional and mental disorders, but couldn’t change until I chose to get honest about myself.
My story discloses in a general way what I used to be like, what happened, and what I am like now. If you have decided you want what I have and are willing to change to get it—then you are ready to take certain steps. At some of these I freaked. I thought I could find an easier, softer way to not have to change me. But in 56 years I could not. With all the earnestness at my command, I urge you to pursue change from the very start. I tried to stop suffering without changing myself but continued to suffer until I stopped blaming others and looked at myself.
Remember that we deal with food addiction—not just cunning, baffling, and powerful but a thief who steals lives and brings suffering! Without help it was too much for me. But there is something out there that does have power—and that something is my understanding of a HP. May you find Him now! Being just a little bit willing to change got me nowhere. I stood at the turning point. I asked for the willingness to change myself completely.
Here are the steps I took, which helped me to stop suffering and are suggested as a program of recovery:
- I admitted I was powerless over food—and that my life was unmanageable.
- Came to believe that a Power greater than me could help me stop suffering.
- Made a choice to turn my will over to the care of God as I understand Him.
- Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
- Admitted to God, to myself, and to another person the exact nature of my wrongs.
- Became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
- Humbly asked Him to remove my defects that keep me suffering.
- Made a list of all persons I hurt, and became willing to make amends to them all.
- Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or someone else, not me.
- Continued to look at myself daily and, where I was wrong, I promptly admitted it.
- Asked God daily through prayer and meditation to show me what to do and how to do it.
- Having changed spiritually as a result of working these steps, I tried to share with others how I managed to change and to keep working these steps in all areas of life.
Initially I thought, “This sounds a lot like work, how am I going to do it?”
Do not be discouraged. My understanding is that there is no way to work these steps perfectly. I am not perfect. The point is that I am willing to grow and change emotionally, physically and spiritually. The principles of these steps are guides to changing yourself and to stop suffering. We claim to get better spiritually rather than to get perfect spiritually.
The description of a compulsive overeater, the chapter to the agnostic and other’s personal stories made clear three things that helped me to change:
- That I am a compulsive overeater and I cannot manage my own life.
- That there is no single person, including myself, that could have helped me stop eating compulsively.
- But that a God that I understood and trusted could and would if I asked him.
The message my Higher Power seems to want me to pass on here is a message of suffering and change. Any time I see the word recover it means "to change" and trust me, I didn’t come into the rooms because I wanted to change for the worse. I may be wrong, but I believe we all come into these rooms wanting to change something. I certainly did. I wanted to change those things that were causing me to suffer. When I came in the biggest thing causing me to suffer was other people. Or that’s the lie that I told myself. I was God-smacked when I realized that to recover or to change meant that I had to change myself. Yes I know that 99.99% of the human race has to change in order for the world to be restored to sanity but that’s not my job. If you are in the business of changing others, these particular steps will not work for you. And to change some people, I don’t think only twelve steps is enough. I have tried all my life to change the past, to change others and even to change the future. And all I managed to do was go financially, spiritually, and physically bankrupt (400 pounds, homeless and suicidal).
So let me break down How It Works according to Diane by looking at the first paragraph (Big Book, page 58):
Yes, this program is most certainly a simple program. If you can color within the lines then you can work this program.
Now to "cannot or will not." Cannot for me means that someone or something is stopping me from changing and will not means I am making a choice not to change. For me, the word "cannot" should be removed from this book, because the only thing in this world that could stop me from changing myself is myself. When I chose not to change it was not because I couldn’t, it was because I wouldn’t.
What does this mean to get honest with yourself? Well I came here lying to myself: "I can’t help it...it’s my genetics...I don’t know how...it’s my spouse's fault because they cook it...my parents' fault because that’s how they taught me to eat...or because my childhood was a mess." And those were the softer lies. Yes, things occurred in my life that might have stopped me from changing, but the bare bones honesty of it all is that I used those things as an excuse for 56 years. I blamed a bunch of spiritually sick, abusive and addictive persons for all of my choices in life.
The truth hit me one day: I WAS THE PERSON MAKING THESE CHOICES. And I am going to hit you with something now that may shock some, and may bother others, but so are you. We are making the choices that are keeping us suffering. A fellow of mine told me once that she fell again and I explained to her that to fall is an accident that can’t be helped, but to fall into the food is a choice and choices are not usually accidents.
As soon as we realize we can make our own choices, we no longer have to suffer. We can stop blaming our choices on others or on circumstances. I grew up in a severely addictive, abusive environment and, as a product of that environment, making choices was not my strong suit (I chose to steal, lie, do drugs, and eat compulsively). Not my fault, right? Wrong! The day I became a person with rights and the day I walked away from any enabling environments, I had choices, and it was no longer a matter of "cannot" but a matter of "will not." I made my own choices. I chose to be a drug addict (self-seeking), I chose to lie and steal (dishonest) I chose to hide behind 398 pounds of fat (fear), I chose whatever I wanted (self-centered). I made my own choices. I may not have chosen to begin suffering but it’s me who chooses to continue suffering. I have not suffered one hour of my 975 days in recovery. Ok, I did have a callous on my foot that caused immense suffering but I had it removed. But just to show you how our own choices cause our own suffering, I had that callous five years before I chose to see a doctor. No different than making a choice to overeat.
I was one of those people who developed grave emotional and mental disorders. I drifted in and out of jails and psych hospitals. In 2009 I collapsed mentally and emotionally. What happened to me mentally was equivalent to suffering a severe stroke. I had a great career as a systems analyst, a big house in the ravine, a spouse and a couple kids; I was living the Canadian dream. Then I crashed and landed in a psych hospital for six years. I revolved from the psych ward to a group home for mentally-ill outpatients — three months in the hospital, two months out, four months in three months out, for six or seven years. I didn’t know who I was, where I was or why. My family came to see me and I sent them away because I didn’t know them. I was given four years of electric shock therapy, when the suggested maximum was one year. They couldn’t get me to respond. They could not bring me back to a "normal way of living." And in the fall of my fifth year of being institutionalized, the doctors applied for a court order to certify me as mentally incapable of ever taking care of myself.
And now I’m going to tell you why I don’t just believe in a Higher Power—I know there is a Higher Power at work in my life today and that there has been every day I have been alive. Right before the court date, I woke up one morning after shock treatment hooked up to breathing thingy and they said I had stopped breathing during the treatment. I don’t know why, and I probably will never know why, but it was like I woke up from a six year coma. I removed the breathing thing and demanded a discharge. Apparently I convinced them I was not mentally incompetent, and I told the doctor who discharged me that I would not be back. That was eight years ago, and I have never been back. That outcome was not by my power but by a greater power.
That was what it used to be like; now I will tell you what happened and what it’s like now. What happened was sometime in February of 2020, I reached 400 pounds. I couldn’t walk up the stairs without help, I fell daily because I couldn’t balance my own weight, I had sores all over my body because my fat pockets kept rubbing against each other and getting infected, I couldn’t fit in my car and didn’t drive for two years, I became isolated and couldn’t even clean myself properly because I couldn’t lift my own weight and because after a while I got used to the urine smell. On February 11th, I fell one last time, in the bathtub. Because I couldn’t lift my weight, I endured the most embarrassing but humbling experience when the firemen and police had to wrench-pull me out of the tub and drag me across the floor on a tarp so I could pull myself up onto the couch to reclaim my dignity. That was the day I made a choice to change, which was a choice to recover! It took me a few days to de-junk the cupboards and fridge and on February 14, 2020 (Valentine's Day — the universal day of love) I started loving myself again and came back to Overeaters Anonymous.
And what did I change? I changed every single choice I was making that was keeping me suffering. I’ll tell you of a few ways that I suffered, maybe you can relate:
I suffered every time I fell because I weighed 400 pounds, so I made a choice to drop some of those pounds to stop falling and suffering. I chose to do this by abstaining from anything and everything that contained flour and sugar (including artificial sweeteners because they remind me that I love sugar). I had never made these choices before, so yes I was willing to change. I have not fallen since. And if you’re here and you only weigh 200 pounds and thinking this doesn’t apply to you...remember I was 200 pounds once.
I suffered in my relationships because I chose to lie or control or blame or say hurtful things or...I could go on and on. So I made a choice to get honest, not just about today’s choices but also about choices I had made in the past. If I knew I had made a choice to hurt someone then I chose to deliver honesty as an amends.
I also suffered because I lived in fear of the "what if." What if people are talking about me or what if this or what if that. I lived in my head, and the hardest road we travel in life is the one in our head.
How did I change? I chose to work the twelve suggested steps from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, which are transferrable for my drug of choice, which was food at that time, usually in the form of flour and sugar.
So...what are these steps and how did they help me change?
The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, adapted for my addiction to food, and how they helped me change myself and stop suffering:
Step 1. I admitted I was powerless over food — and that my life was unmanageable.
Food addiction had power over me and my choices caused me to suffer. I ate, I cried, I hated, I fell, I suffered, and my life was unmanageable I binged, I stole, I used other drugs of choice (gambling), I couldn’t sleep, I lied and I lived in misery. That night after the fall in the tub I surrendered. I admitted and accepted that I was powerless. Powerless means that we are without choice.
Example: Stopped for a train and already late for work…I am powerless, I am without any choice but to accept that I am powerless over that train. But who made the choice to leave late for work? I did. So I must accept that my choices are the cause of my suffering. But my disease says I had no control over that train. No, but I had control over the choices I made leading up to that train. Normally I wouldn't have cared when the train came, but I left late and my choice created my suffering. No different than the foods I choose to eat. My choice to binge on food created my suffering.
Step 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than me could help me stop suffering.
If I am powerless and without choice, then who or what does have power (power means I have a choice)? Well that part is up to me. Since I have accepted that I am without power over that train, then I also accept the outcome and I also accept that something bigger than me will move that train in time — not my time. Now who hasn't been in the train situation and found themselves asking "Higher Power, if you move that train now, I promise I will never leave late again." If this is you, then you already believe in something greater, so give it a name. As to “help me to stop suffering,” the only way anyone or anything can help me stop suffering is if I do what it says. How the heck do I know when my Higher Power tells me what to do? Well...I listen.
Another example: Here’s a surprise…we always get a cue or an answer from anyone or anything when we listen for it. Again, not in our time. So every time I eat pizza, I suffer (I get acid reflux, I gain weight, I fall). But every time I eat pizza I hear two voices in my head. One says if you eat that you'll get sick (HIGHER POWER). The other voice says if I eat this I won’t be sick for long (DISEASE). So now HIGHER POWER has given me guidance and my disease has given me guidance. I can choose to suffer and eat the pizza (take my will back) or eat healthy and do what HIGHER POWER suggested (trust my HIGHER POWER).
There’s that choice. Did I choose to eat the pizza (my own will) or did I choose to give up that will over to the power I am choosing to trust. Listen to the voices — one is your disease and one is a power greater than you.
Step 3. Made a choice to turn my will over to the care of HIGHER POWER as I understand Him.
The Third Step comes with a prayer, as well, and that prayer helps you complete step three. You will need to say this prayer every time you are faced with the choice to eat the pizza or not. Trust me, you will see many different forms of "pizza" challenging you throughout a day.
"HIGHER POWER, I offer myself to Thee to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt (HIGHER POWER I am choosing to do your will so that I won’t suffer). Relieve me of the bondage of self (Help me get outta my own head), that I may better do Thy will (so that I do what you suggest and not what I want). Take away my difficulties (help me stop suffering), that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love and Thy way of life (so that others can see that there is a power greater than them)."
Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.
Step 5. Admitted to God, to myself, and to another person the exact nature of my wrongs.
Step 6. Became entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
Steps 4, 5 and 6 consist of three things I had to do to stop suffering:
- Inventory - a moral inventory for me was asking…am I the best possible version of myself? If not, why? The "why" is the list of character defects I have participated in (judging, self-pity, blaming others, looking down on others, lying, stealing).
- Confession - we are only as sick as our secrets, so we must reveal those secrets to God and someone else (sponsor?) if we are to stop suffering (lying awake at night worrying and guilting and fretting).
- Readiness - You are ready to choose to change (recover from suffering). I became willing (to change)
Step 7. Humbly asked Him to remove the defects that keep me suffering.
This step is about humility. We are not, and have never been, able to remove our shortcomings by ourself, no matter how high our willpower or determination. We need our Higher Power to do this for us. In that case we have to be humble and know that these are our own flaws. I use the 7th Step prayer to appeal to my Higher Power for help with removing character defects.
“I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad (I will live my life how you want and I will let go of my past). I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows (remove all my defects — liar, cheater, thief — that is not me anymore). Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen. (Help me do your will.)"
Step 8. Made a list of all persons I hurt, and became willing to make amends to them all.
Step 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or someone else, not me.
Next I made a list of everyone I hurt (people I judged, lied to, looked down on, etc.) and I planned how to make an amends to each of them (written? telephone? make restitution?).
For step 9 I actually made those amends. I didn’t just share with my sponsor; I approached everyone I hurt and made an amends. This may have been the most challenging, but most rewarding, step for me. I was scared of what would happen — would I lose them, would they hurt me, would they forgive me? Don’t let fear keep you from completing this step, because it can and it will.
Step 10. Continued to look at myself daily and, where I was wrong, I promptly admitted it.
Step 10 is my daily routine (sometimes hourly depending on how many times I was an ass) of combining step 8 and step 9. Detail how you hurt someone and make an amends right away if needed. The purpose of step 10 is to keep cleaning up after yourself. If you make a mess you clean it up. If you don’t do it right away, it will pile up until you sweep it under the rug (relapse) or put it in the garbage bin for good (step 10).
Step 11. Asked God daily through prayer and meditation to show me what to do and how to do it.
Step 11 was more simple. I had to ask my Higher Power for help to keep doing his/her will and to stop practicing my own will. To do this I asked for help and then listened for the answer. We do this by first asking for what we want help with (praying) and then listening for your HIGHER POWER'S answer (meditating). To do this I need a routine, so out comes the God box. If I have a question I pray, write it on a slip of paper, put it in the box and meditate (listen) for the answer, which for me always comes when I look for it.
Step 12. Having changed emotionally, physically (180 pound loss) and spiritually as a result of working these steps, I tried to share with others how I managed to change and to keep working these steps in all areas of life.
For me the spiritual change happened somewhere in between steps 8 and 9. No, I didn’t get hit by lightning, but I felt free and no longer suffered. The promises on page 83 of the Big Book began to come true for me. I started waking up serene and just plain happy with life. The last step is for me to tell anyone who suffers from this addiction the solution the Big Book offers and how that solution helped me change.
Sound like a lot of work? It is! But as a recovering compulsive overeater (I say recovering, not recovered, because I believe I have a lot of changing to do on a daily basis so I chose to continue to recover), I promise if you work these steps your suffering will end. Just because we are in these rooms carrying the message doesn’t mean we are not suffering. Some of us haven’t made the choice to change who we are or to end our suffering.
With that I wish you all another 24 hours.
Diane D. - Region One