This winter, for a class, I was asked to attend an open 12-Step meeting of my choosing and observe the group dynamics. Instead of choosing something easier, I decided to find my local Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meeting and check it out. It was important to me to choose a group that I could participate in honestly, and offer myself the opportunity to dig deeper instead of just fulfilling the assignment. I had been to many Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings before to support friends or family, but I had always been curious about OA.
It started like this: Hi, My name is Mara, and I’m a Compulsive Eater.
It was not the first time that I had said those words out loud, but it was the first time that I had been in a room of women who mirrored my addictions back to me. In that second, it didn’t matter that I have worked on these issues for YEARS. It didn’t matter how healed or not healed I felt in regard to my eating and weight history.
All that mattered was feeling small and humble in the face of this enormous challenge.
The thing about addiction is that it is deep in your body. It has rooted itself in your abdomen, and snaked around and between your bones and organs. It is difficult to know where you end and the addiction begins. You feel like you are the addiction.
You feel like you will never escape from yourself, as if you are just choking yourself with every bite/sip/drag/shot you take.
When digging deep, and looking your addictions in the eye – you will feel like there is no way that you will EVER be strong enough to overcome them.
I was quiet for the majority of the meeting, listening to their stories, and considering the principles that they described.
Then came the moment for newcomers to speak. I knew that I didn’t have to, but I couldn’t stop myself:
I remember being a little kid, and waiting for my mother to get into the shower so that I could binge without being noticed. I remember holding the tortilla chips in my mouth, allowing my saliva to moisten them, so that I wouldn’t be betrayed by the telling echo the crunch of a chip in my mouth made across the apartment. To this day, I am a self-conscious chewer, absolutely convinced that I chew louder than anyone else, absolutely convinced that each bite is signaling my failure to those around me.
I remember the diets. I remember the prayers. I remember staying up all night long making plans.
I have never been free from the pain of my own doing. I have been unable to stop myself. I have been afraid that I would suffocate on all of the food that I ate.
I was sobbing by the time I got to tortilla chip. By the end, I was borderline hysterical, and they had to get me tissues. By the time I left, I could feel a physical shift in my body, where I was able to make room for considering how far I’ve come.
A lot of people search for this blog, because they are looking to find out how to help themselves, how to stop their binging, how to love their bodies – and to each and every one of them I would like to say: Hold on. Changes come slowly. You are strong enough to overcome your challenges. You are enough exactly as you are. You are still intuitive, you just have to learn how to listen to your body again. There are no secrets. You can’t buy the answers.
It isn’t always easy, but it is worth it.