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THE PROMISES OF RECOVERY
The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous has outlined several promises that occur in our lives as the result of working the 12-step program of recovery. These promises are as true for us of Overeaters Anonymous as they are for alcoholics. I’ve thought a lot about these promises and how I have seen them manifest in my life during the past 27 months of my recovery journey and how my despair and disbelief has turned into amazement.
If we are painstaking about this phase of our development we will be amazed before we are halfway through. The Big Book is here referring to working the steps. We must be thorough and honest, rigorously honest, in our working of the steps. The word amazement means a feeling of great surprise or wonder and I have been amazed at how hard the work is and how much easier it’s made my life to live according to the precepts of this program.
We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. At my highest weight and in the midst of my disease of compulsive overeating I did not know anything about freedom and scarcely anything about happiness. Although employed and married, I was merely existing, not living my life. Abstinence and a relationship with a higher power freed me from the smallness of my own life. My inability to move, breath, or choose anything outside of bare survival had made my life so tiny I couldn’t even see a way out. It was from this place that I sought help at a treatment center for my food addiction. They emphasized the 12 steps and I attended meetings daily, working the first three steps while in the facility. Once I got home, I quickly found a sponsor to guide me through the remaining nine steps which has liberated me from emotional pain, shame and a heaviness that was more than weight that I had been carrying for most of my 41 years. I am finding, on a daily basis, freedom and happiness beyond what I could conceive of 27 months ago.
We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. Step 4 has a purpose beyond getting you through steps 8 and 9. I have heard people express the wish to burn their fourth step when they are through all the steps. I believe when we work the steps that way they are intended, and we have a spiritual awakening the past is no longer shameful. The wounds we suffer and the scars we bear are how god gets into our hearts. Once there, those same scars are how god helps us make contact with others who are seeking the transformation that comes from god through this 12-step program of recovery. My past matters because it’s how I became the recovered person I am today.
We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. When I first came into program, I learned the serenity prayer through repetitions and meetings, but I didn’t understand how powerful this promise could be in my life. I thought this promise meant that would never have unpeaceful moments, that my life post-recovery would be blissful. Boy, was I in for a shock! What I understand now is that part of the serenity and peace I have received is in relation to food. I am serene with food, not chaotic or obsessive. I am peaceful when things go wrong in my life and don’t have to eat over them. I don’t have to obsess about the amount or type of food I’m eating either. I also learned, just a few weeks ago, that the serenity prayer is more than just the one verse we recite at the beginning of meetings. It full it says:
God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Knowing the entire version of the serenity prayer helps me understand this promise of serenity and peace more fully and it also tells me how to obtain and recognize serenity and peace in my life. It tells me my life will not be free of troubles, but that god will increase my capacity to handle them.
No matter how far down [or up] the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. I have something to offer to those in and out of this program who are seeking a change in their lives. I like to add the “or up” to this promise because for me that’s the way the scales always went. Living in a body that was almost 500 lbs was a unique social, physical and spiritual experience. I have been shamed by others, stared at, rejected for jobs and dates, spent thousands trying to buy decent clothing, and felt myself shrink away from mirrors and others. By sharing my experience, strength and hope I am fulfilling my higher power’s will for me and helping others see that there is hope.
That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. What was my life about before recovery? Sometimes I don’t even know. I imagine it kind of like a caveman’s life – solely focused on finding food and surviving to see another day. I couldn’t even appreciate that new day or the promise it held. I was useless to myself and therefore useless to others and certainly useless to my higher power. I could barely accomplish things like showering and dressing. Now I see my purpose: to seek to understand and carry out my higher power’s will for me and those around me.
We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Before recovery, I dabble in various forms of art and had started oil painting. Doing art was the only time I felt any kind of peace or relief from anxiety, depression, and food obsession. Now I see my art as a way to do my higher power’s will for me: to use the talent he has given me. I use this talent to reach others and enrich their lives. Art is a form of self-care for me which allows me to be mindful to care for others. My desire to promote my art has faded into a love and enjoyment of the activity.
Our whole attitude and outlook on life will change, fear of people and economic insecurity will leave us. How much money did I spend on excess food, food I didn’t need, food that was killing me? I can’t even calculate it but I’m certain it measures in the thousands of dollars, possibly tens of thousands. Even though my financial situation hasn’t changed much in the past 18 months of recovery, I am a lot less stressed by my debt, my job and my future. I used to worry over everything! I couldn’t think about the future without risking a panic attack. I know some changes are coming up within two years - a big move to another state, which means a new place to live and a new job, having to make new friends, etc. – but I am at peace with this knowledge. My higher power has got me. He will provide everything I need in the moment when I need it and my fear of being too fat to find a job or too poor to afford decent housing is diminished to almost nothing because I trust my higher power and he has done so much for me already! What is a new job or a new house to him? Inconsequential, trivial, easy. So if I leave it in his hands, that’s what it will be for me too.
We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. Pre-recovery, life itself was baffling for me. I thought I understood people, and myself, very well but I had trouble navigating basic situations like relationships, work and how to live. Self-awareness was not a powerful enough god for me. Food wasn’t even a relief anymore, just a painful necessity. In recovery, I know what foods will harm me. I have a greater connection to people because my higher power is connected to every person I interact with and I use him as an intermediary. I can uncover truths about myself and continue to peel the onion, as it were, of my truest self without having a meltdown. I strive to “hear” my higher power’s will for me and I do, more and more the longer I am in recovery.
We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves. My abstinence is basic: I don’t eat gluten or sugar. This is trickier than you’d think. Soy sauce has gluten. Most prepared/packaged foods have some sugar because it’s used as a preservative as well as a flavoring. There are over 50 names for sugar on nutrition labels. I’m convinced that gluten is what makes foods taste good so when it’s removed…well, they are not so good. The point is my meal plan is sometimes difficult and in my 40 years of living I tried a hundred different things to lose weight but was never able to do it successfully until now. Why? Because for all my praying for relief from my food addiction and compulsive eating, I didn’t have a relationship with a higher power that was bigger than me. Food was my god but now god is keeping me out of the food and I am trusting him to do it.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them. The hard part of this is the “sometimes slowly” part. My max weight was 475 lbs and I started gaining weight when I was 15 years old. 24 years later I was so physically sick I hurt all day, every day, couldn’t stand up for more than a minute or two at a time, couldn’t walk any distance without being winded, and I kept turning to food for relief from a disease that was killing me slowly and painfully. I’m now 27 months into recovery and I’m wearing the same size clothes, though I’ve lost weight; I still take medications to keep my health in check, though I am no longer diabetic, my blood pressure is normal and my cholesterol levels are all in healthy ranges; I still can’t walk very far, though I don’t have the same level of pain in my back and legs and I CAN walk a little ways. My higher power keeps affirming to me that I am doing the right things and I just need to keep doing it. This is the greatest test of patience I’ve ever endured because I am in recovery now and I just want to be fit and active and have this fabulous (non-fat, pain-free) life. Yet slowly, I am seeing all these promises fulfilled in my life.
And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone – even [food]. For by this time sanity will have returned. I’m still working on these ceasing to fight. My alpha personality wants to be right all the time and this character defect keeps coming up for me. Fighting is also in our society’s language for any challenging situation. You hear it in obituaries about a person’s valiant fight with cancer. Or we’re told to not give up, to keep fighting for X, Y and Z fitness or other goal. How can I stop fighting when I want to beat the disease of compulsive eating? We are taught that the opposite of fighting is giving up but it isn’t. The opposite of fighting is SURRENDER. Surrender to a higher power who wants to free us from addiction and fulfill all these promises in our lives. One powerful moment of surrender came while I was in the treatment center. I was told my disease was out in the parking lot doing pushups, just waiting for me to let my guard down. I was guided to ask my higher power for help, to take the disease away and keep it far away from me. The words that came out of me were unrehearsed: “I surrender. I can’t do this on my own. I’m too weak. Take this disease far from me so I can be with you.” My higher power has restored my sanity around food and continues to restore sanity in other aspects of my life as my relationship with him continues to grow.
We will seldom be interested in [overeating]. If tempted, we recoil from it if as from a hot flame. When I hear the siren call of sugar (and honestly, gluten too) I know something is amiss in my spiritual condition. It happens that at times I think about a food that is no longer on my meal plan. Before recovery, thinking meant action. I couldn’t get that food out of my head until I consumed it. Now when a food comes to mind, I remind myself what that food did TO me not FOR me. What it did TO me was make me foggy headed, overweight and physically ill. My addiction to food robbed me of initiative and usefulness and purpose. Now I stay away from the sugar and gluten because I know they would surely burn me if I didn’t.
We react sanely and normally, and we will find that this has happened automatically. We will see that our new attitude toward [food] has given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we have been placed in a position of neutrality – safe and protected. Neutral with food? Not craving or resisting? Free from obsession? YES! YES!! YES!!! That’s the purest miracle of this program, that food becomes like medicine – we take it as prescribed to keep from being crazy, instead of it making us crazy. Whereas before I was grasping, sneaking, doing everything I could to get as much as I wanted and more than I needed; now I take in what I need and leave the rest. All the schemes, diets, get-thin-quick, magazine promises and advertisements that turned out to be hollow, or at best temporarily effective, hold no appeal for me now. I live in god’s world of rationality where a few simple behaviors have dramatically changed my life and he gives me the strength and ability to do those things.
We have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us. I have heard people in meetings share that they were offered this or that food that they used to binge on and they didn’t want it. I’ve heard people say “I simply didn’t want it”. Before my own recovery began I thought “Well that’s bulls#@! They are just lying to themselves, just saying they don’t want it.” I couldn’t believe it was possible to be faced with even a slightly appealing food and NOT WANT it. But it happened. It happens to me all the time now. Early in recovery, I stayed away from places and situations where I might be tempted, taking special care to keep things I shouldn’t be eating out of my own house. My husband was, fortunately, supportive of this and kept his own “treats” out of my sight. About six months into my recovery, he’d had something for lunch that I love and I smelled it, even though he’d hidden the evidence (in the garage) and I, miraculously, felt nothing – no pull or desire or regret. It had the same impact as if he’d eaten an apple, like ‘who cares’.
We are neither cocky nor afraid. That is our experience. My husband still can’t bake in our house when I’m home because I don’t want to fight the food thoughts that the smells will bring to my mind. However, I am able to tolerate seeing him eat all kinds of things I don’t eat and when I’m right with my higher power, there’s no disturbance for me. I cut the cake at my brother-in-law’s retirement ceremony, and I didn’t even feel a flicker of craving or the need to restrain myself from eating it. I know it’s necessary for me to continue my spiritual growth to continue to have that kind of freedom from obsession.
That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition. This one sentence is the key and crux of all the promises. Maintaining a strong relationship with a higher power is absolutely crucial to my abstinence and all other aspects of my life. We must “practice these principles in all our affairs” as the Big Book of AA says. Each person’s relationship with and definition of their higher power will be individualistic, but the simplest fact of this program is that you MUST have one in order to recover. Maintaining a fit spiritual condition requires a relationship with this higher power that is current, active and honest. Your higher power is ready to give you all these promises, are you ready to receive them?
Bethany B- Mountain Home, Idaho
Montana Overeaters Anonymous