Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Step One

It amazes me that I have been in program for over six years now. During that time I have attended numerous meetings and listened to boat-loads of people share their experience, strength and hope. Many of them talk about this “allergy” thing they have with food—especially flour and sugar. I have listened very dutifully and thought that was just their dramatic way of explaining to other people why they don’t eat flour or sugar. Of course, we all know that it isn’t REALLY an allergy.

I have finally learned that whenever the “old timers” say something that I think sounds bizarre, over-dramatic or down right crazy, it is usually word for word out of the Big Book, and the reason it doesn’t sound familiar is because my initial breezing through the Big Book wasn’t nearly enough to grasp, let alone internalize, all the important concepts.

I have been studying the 12x12 with my sponsor. As with the Big Book, I am amazed at how clearly it outlines the problem of food addiction. Of course, it is talking about alcohol, but it is clearly all pretty much the same. Every time I open either one of those books something particularly critical to my recovery jumps up and hits me right between the eyes.

In my last blog I talked about the nature of addiction: 1) an obsession of the mind and 2) an allergy of the body. Furthermore, recovery is also pretty straight-forward—not easy—just straight forward.  1) complete abstinence, 2) work the 12-steps to heal the crazy thinking that drives us to turn to our addiction. Virtually everything we do in our recovery program is related either to staying abstinent or working the steps.

Step One: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become “unmanageable”.   Label for step 1 = HONESTY.

No one, much less me, wants to admit that they are powerless. But I tried to solve my eating problem; I kept thinking I could do it on my own. Regardless of my best efforts, my destructive eating was so out of hand that only an “act of Providence” could remove it from me. Remove what? The obsession of the mind, the constant pre-occupation with food. It turns out that being able to admit that kind of powerlessness is the bedrock upon which recovery is built.

The book says that no good can come “unless he has first accepted his devastating weakness and all its consequences. Until he so humbles himself, his sobriety—if any—will be precarious.”

Humble?  “Awareness of one’s own shortcoming or powerlessness.”  It is interesting that that kind of humility is inseparably connected to serenity. It turns out that serenity doesn’t come until we are done with the experimentation….until we are done trying to figure out what we can get away with and still stay at an acceptable weight ( or stay sober, abstinent, sane….depending on what our actual addiction is.) Wow, have I struggled with that over the years!

The 12x12 says “none but the most desperate cases could swallow and digest this unpalatable truth’ but when they did lay hold of A.A. principles with all the fervor with which the drowning seize life preservers, they almost invariably got well.”

The chapter ends by saying “under the lash of alcoholism [food addiction] we are driven to A.A. [90-day OA]. Then, and only then, do we become…open-minded…and as willing to listen as the dying can be. We are ready to do anything which will lift the merciless obsession from us.”

So that is how Step 1 works. Be honest with myself. Admit that I am a food addict. Admit that no matter how hard I have tried, I haven’t been able to overcome it on my own. Get to the point that I am so desperate for help and healing that I am willing to do anything to find recovery. When we get to that level of desperation—our “rock bottom”—we are finally willing to start following the program and we work toward having that “psychic change” or “spiritual awakening” where our obsession is lifted and

As I evaluate myself in context of step 1, there is some good news and some bad news. Good news: I get that I am a food addict. I absolutely, unquestionably get that I have an allergy (abnormal reaction) to flour and sugar. I have accepted the fact that I can never, for any reason, put that stuff in my body. In that area I have had that “psychic change”. Yesterday we were at a restaurant where the first thing they did was plop a huge basket of the lightest, softest, freshest white dinner rolls with honey-butter in front of me that you could ever want to see. I LOVE those kind of rolls. I would have eaten the entire basket in my previous life. But, I was able to look at them, admire their beauty and smell and then leave them sitting on the table for someone else to eat. I wasn’t even white-knuckling it. I really didn’t want them. I totally have accepted the fact that they are not and will never be a part of my life again. There was no obsession, no longing—just acceptance of my reality.

That is the good news. The bad news: There are other areas of my abstinence that I am still just white-knuckling it. I know I can’t eat certain things without getting in trouble with my sponsor, but I REALLY wish I could and still secretly wonder if some day I will be able to again. Just a few nights ago we were poking through some cute touristy shops and they had some wonderful-looking sugar-free chocolate. I haven’t touched that for a long time now, and yet it was all I could do to not buy a piece.  I longed for it. I had conversations with myself on what the pros and cons would be of putting it in mouth. Note that the vast majority of the shop—regular “chocolate with sugar”—wasn’t’ the slightest temptation. My brain recoils from the word sugar. But that “sugar-free” label almost killed me. I actually had to reach out to another OA member for mental and emotional reinforcements. I didn’t eat it because I have done the “experimentation” and I understand that I am such an addict that I wouldn’t be able to stop at one. I knew that the “allergy” would kick in and I would kept shoveling them into my mouth. (See, I am making progress on step one.)  The difference in this case was that even though I didn’t eat it and didn’t trigger the allergy, I really wanted to. That old obsession of the mind was there in full force. The tools of the program kept me from giving in, but I recognized that  unless I can overcome that “obsession of the mind” in all areas of my abstinence, I will at some point cave in.

Even as I am writing this, I recognize it as a recurring theme—something I have written over and over about on my blog. It is important that I keep writing about it until my acceptance of the fact that my food addiction makes it as impossible to eat anything with artificial sweeteners, or anything that isn’t precisely weighed and measured at mealtime as it does make it impossible for me to touch flour and sugar.

For today, I am not totally there yet, but I am working at it.

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