I walked into my first OA meeting in late November. It was cold. Dark. All women. At my therapist’s (routine) suggestion, I went. And I stayed. Because that’s what everyone kept telling me to do. Keep coming back. I planted my booty in several rooms several times a week for the next six months. I spoke. I wrote. I read. I found a sponsor. I worked Step 1, 2, and 3. I found relief. I found answers. I woke up early. I stayed up late. I put recovery first. Undoubtedly, OA helped me during a very excruciating and painful time in my life.
I no longer attend meetings and have not for the past seven or so weeks. My recovery is stronger than it has ever been. I am in a healthier state of mind than I was before my eating disorder even began. OA taught me great tools, and I gained some wonderful insight and friendships along the way.
I love the philosophy of the Twelve Steps for addiction models, but the structure of OA became too rigid for me. I have a disorder, and I am aware of how it affects me, but I do not have a biological nor psychological addiction to food. I never have. I used food and exercise as a crutch and coping mechanism; in recovery, I have learned how to identify feelings and appropriately manage them. I have learned how to like myself. CBT has done wonders for me in that sense.
I maintained my eating disorder by denying my feelings, settling for people and things that negatively affected my happiness, and fighting for unrelenting control over everything in life. Part of my recovery meant dismantling the rigidity. Only in learning how to equalize all foods and exercise and practicing the method of moderation and intuitive living have I been truly able to make remarkable progress. I stopped the program at Step Four, meaning I did not complete the searching and fearless moral inventory. Why? Because, I realized I needed to stop focusing on my flaws, weaknesses, and vulnerabilities. I needed to LET THEM GO.
Recovery has made me insurmountably proud of my past. Every single choice, good or bad, led me to where I am today. And where am I now? Exactly where I want to be. In a state of mind that I never knew I could have. I am not “passively” existing. I am active and excited. I am okay with being busy and okay with relaxing. I love myself and I can give love freely and happily to others. I am Europe-bound, halfway through my graduate program, one month away from working with clients, in love with the most amazing man I’ve ever met, content with family, happy with my body, gratefully employed, and OPTIMISTIC and EXCITED for life.
I am not in denial of my imperfections; I never have been. In fact, I had the opposite problem. I was acutely aware of my vulnerabilities and fears, but I was unwilling and unable to let go of them. I let my mistakes define me. I did not do Step Four because doing so would have just sunk me deeper into my own pity party, and I spent many years celebrating my shame. It is time to move on.
I am a firm believer in the power of group therapy, but this is not the intent of OA. At times, the program made me feel broken; I was a “compulsive overeater,” and it was literally a chronic disease that can only be managed and not beaten. I was never comfortable identifying myself as a disorder. In school, we are literally forbidden from calling people by their diagnoses. I would never say he’s schizophrenic or she’s bipolar…this pigeonholes individuals into a cluster of symptoms. I am Me. I am not ____, compulsive overeater or bulimic or anorexic…whatever. I am ME.
I do believe I can beat my eating disorder; I have always believed that. From day one. Even during my lowest of lows, I always knew I was going to get better. That faith and optimism in myself has kept me going day in and day out. You can all see my progress and struggles outlined here. I am not just rainbows and sunshine. But I am positive about my life.
I gained a sense of spirituality from OA, and for that, I am grateful. I absolutely believe in the good karma of the universe, and I adopted that as a sense of Higher Power. However, I do not believe in turning my eating disorder over to the universe. Moreover, I never felt comfortable praying to a force greater than myself. The universe has taken great care of me, and I realize that I can let go and release the stress and preoccupation, but I do have the power to control, stop, and CHOOSE my actions. The serenity prayer is beautiful; I may not be in control of much in this world, but I am in control my eating disorder behaviors. I used to think I was helpless and “out-of-control.” I couldn’t stop a binge to save my life. I couldn’t eat a fear food without freaking out. I couldn’t gain an ounce of weight without hating myself.
I gained some responsibility over myself. I learned just how much my eating disorder was influencing my self-esteem, decision-making abilities, and quality of life. I have choices, and to believe that I am powerless makes me feel helpless and scared.
Moreover, I struggled with defining abstinence from the first day. What am I supposed to be abstaining from? Compulsive overeating. Well, yes. But that sounds rather black-and-white, which opposes the picture of recovery I tried to color. Abstain from trigger foods? When I did this, I underwent just another extreme diet, because suddenly I couldn’t handle anything that I didn’t deem as safe. Once again, I found myself putting certain foods on a pedestal. I kept labeling “good” and “bad” foods, and, in doing so, I developed even more of an anxiety and fear hierarchy. I was told that I needed to avoid the fears rather than face them. In other words, this was maintaining a self-defeating cycle, one in which I believed my body could not handle certain foods due to their alleged toxicity.
Engaging in an eating disordered behavior is not a failure and perfect recovery is impossible. Slips are inevitable, and I wish OA would take those setbacks more into consideration. I was made to believe that any alteration to my “plan” sent me right back to square one. Indeed, I became caught up in the perfectionistic cycle of counting days and numbers…if I had to be the “best” at an eating disorder, I sure had to be the “best” at recovery as well, right?
I needed to dismantle perfectionism, and, unfortunately, OA made that difficult. The structure felt so black-and-white. Don’t binge. Only eat at these times. Only eat these kinds of foods. No ifs and or buts. I realize OA does not actually endorse such limitations, but most of the fellowship followed relatively strict rules concerning their food intake. My recovery meant breaking the rules instead of making more of them. I was already living with countless rules that I had created for myself. I needed to learn how to listen to my body and intuition, rather than follow another plan. I needed to learn how to ultimately trust myself, which was one of the scariest, but most worthwhile, decisions I ever made.
I am not for or against OA, and I have seen it create miracles for some. I met some wonderful people. I love my sponsor and her advice continues to be invaluable.
At this phase in my recovery, I am in no position to say whether or not I will go back to meetings. For now, however, I like the fluidity of my recovery. I like being able to eat what I want, when I want, and how much I want. I am at a healthy weight with a relatively positive body image. My disorder no longer defines or controls me.
I am not “recovered.” I am not cocky nor ignorant about my recovery process. There is an ebb and flow to this journey, and I have hit many rough patches and dark spots along the way. Food may always be my achilles heel…I know how likely relapse can is! However, I have learned an abundance of healthy coping strategies and I will continue with what works: therapy, writing in this blog, reading, seeking support, and continuously making myself feel good.
The best thing I learned from OA was the message of living life on life’s terms, and that’s exactly what I’m doing: riding this delicious energy called life.