Personal Stories

Arizona Spotlight Podcast: “When We Are in Our Addiction, We Are Not Living” featuring two local OA members.

Local Newspaper Article  about eating disorders, for which a Tucson OA member was interviewed

Sound Bites from Overeaters Anonymous: A series of interviews with OA members who share their experience, strength and hope. They are a terrific way to find out about OA if you are new, starting with Episode 1: Introducing Overeaters Anonymous. NOTE: Naomi Lippel mentioned on the marquee is a non-OA member employed by our OA World Service Office (WSO).

The following four stories are about compulsive eaters that found recovery in the rooms of Overeaters Anonymous.

Not perfect but human.
Bulimic for 22 years.
Overweight her Whole Life: 90 Pound Loser.
Lost and Found.

Not perfect but human.

I opened my eyes and was very disappointed to find myself still alive. I didn’t think I was suicidal, but I wouldn’t have minded if I had died in my sleep. I was so lonely, fat, and disgusted with my inability to use food appropriately. I was tired all the time. I was angry a lot of the time but I couldn’t really figure out why. My self-talk, well let’s just say it was anything but positive.

Trying to distract myself that Sat. morning, I found myself browsing through a library book sale and I bought a book called Fat is a Family Affair. In that book it talked about an organization called Overeaters Anonymous.  By the grace of God, I soon found myself in a meeting.  I had brought a book along to my first meeting because I certainly didn’t want to engage in conversation with anyone.  I sat, I listened, and I found other people like me…they understood my disease. Well, that was the beginning of my journey with OA.

Today I am maintaining a 30 lb. weight loss. I have found a sane way eating and living though working the 12 steps. I have better health. I don’t berate myself all the time.  Most importantly, I have found a closer connection to my High Power. In addition, I have dear and understanding friends, including a wonderful sponsor who shares her recovery with me. I can call them when life’s problems are tempting me to misuse food, (an old habit that distracted me from facing life as it comes). I have OA’s tools to use. Now I can live and contribute instead of simply exist.

I’m not perfect. Oops, I’m human. But I love myself now. I have lost the despair and depression, and have found, through active participation in OA, a healthy, sane way to live. I’m still growing and learning, aren’t we all, and happy to be recovering in Overeaters Anonymous. I’m here for the long haul. There is help. You don’t have to be unhappy all the time. Life is calling you to live more fully. OA can work for you too. God bless you on
your journey.

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Bulimic for 22 Years

I have been obsessed with food and sweets since I had my first taste of M&M’s at Grandmas when I was eight. My food addiction took flight in my teens when I alternately binged, then starved and exercised, and even experimented with laxative use. When I went away to college, I felt scared and lonely and turned to food in earnest. I heard about bulimia and was convinced- this was the tool for me. No more starving and exercising for hours on end to counter my binges, I would binge and then purge! I became an expert at throwing up my food. I hid while I ate and I stole food- who wants to go to the checkout with so many sweets? I focused on nothing but eating and getting rid of the food for hours and days on end.

Later in my 20’s, 30’s and until I was 40, I would rotate to different fast food drive-throughs, making up stories about who else was going to eat the food, and did I have their orders right? Between times, I hit the grocery stores for candy bars, large bags of sweets and numerous pastry items. This obsession consumed me. After I was married and had my daughter food took time and energy away from my family. I was irritable and sometimes started fights just to get out of the house so I could binge. Other nights I snuck food and secretly went to the bathroom to purge.

At 40 years of age and after 22 years of binging and purging I was hopeless. I had not wanted to purge for years but could not stop. I would weigh 300 pounds if I stopped purging! November 14 of 2000 I hit bottom and purged for the last time. I had tried paid weight loss programs, pills, laxatives, fad diets, exercise and everything in between: except Overeaters Anonymous. OA was my last hope and I went there to save my life. In OA I found love and understanding. I learned that I was in the clutches of the disease of compulsive eating. I got a sponsor who told me that I needed to find a power greater than myself to solve my problem, and we started on the twelve steps of OA.

OA’s program is based on the twelve steps as adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous. My life today is sane and useful. I am maintaining a 35 pound weight loss and am not overweight today- by the grace of my higher power and the program of OA. My story is just one of many who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Our stories vary, but we have one thing in common, a desire to stop compulsive behavior around food.

Unlike other organizations, OA is not just about weight loss, obesity or diets; it addresses physical, emotional and spiritual well being. Many of our members are maintaining weight losses of 70 to 100 pounds through working the steps of OA, following a food plan and using the tools of the program. Other members of OA, although never overweight or just slightly overweight, come to recover from their mental obsession and addictive behavior around food. Still others (like me) come with classic eating disorder symptoms like anorexia and bulimia. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.  OA is self-supporting and accepts voluntary contributions only from members. There are no dues or fees. OA is not allied with any religion or outside organization, and its members practice anonymity at the level of radio, television and other public media of communication. To address weight loss, OA encourages members to develop a food plan with a health care professional and a sponsor. If you want to stop your compulsive eating, welcome to Overeaters Anonymous.

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Overweight her Whole Life: 90 Pound Loser

I’m one of those people that was born a compulsive overeater. I was a chubby baby, a chubby kid, a chubby teen. I actually wore clothes called Chubettes for young girls. Most everyone in my family was overweight, and we ate whatever we wanted in whatever quantities we wanted. Everyone hid food. We didn’t like thin people; they thought they were better than we were. That was my start to life.

My family also drank a lot of alcohol. I had done quite a bit of drinking in high school; in college I started smoking pot. I found a crowd who liked to party the way I did. I didn’t gain more weight for many years as my addiction to compulsive overeating took a back seat to drinking and drugs.

I married an alcoholic who physically abused me. We moved across the country and I stayed with him until one night he slashed my clothes. I needed those clothes to look OK, so I finally left that husband and went out on my own.  Today I know that I cared more about the clothes (and the illusion they provided) than I did for myself. I thought for a long time that my husband was the problem; I soon found out that I was the problem. I made my first attempt at a weight loss program, dieted and did aerobics, looked the best I had ever looked. But it was getting harder and harder to pass for ok. I was falling apart. I was drinking and doing cocaine every day.

In May of 1989 I checked myself into a detox program. At 5 feet tall and 200 pounds I was not the average cocaine addict! I got sober and dieted again. My sponsor suggested I try OA; I went to my first meeting in November 1989. I don’t remember anything except that someone gave me the grey sheet during the break and that I planned the binge I’d have after the meeting. I dieted up and down for a few years, losing 30 pounds on a crash diet and gaining 40 back. In 1994 my current husband proposed marriage. I was so happy; I met the love of my life. He’s a good man who treats me like gold! I didn’t want to be a 2X bride, so I tried one of the pay programs, tried OA again, I couldn’t stay abstinent for one day. That’s when I knew I was powerless, but I still would not surrender. My wedding dress was a 3X.

After the wedding and honeymoon I decided to try an outpatient treatment program. I never once got abstinent, lied about it and sounded really good because I knew program-speak, but I still hadn’t surrendered. During this time I asked someone to sponsor me. She told me to call my food in to her every day and I never called her again. I couldn’t do that!  I had practiced secrecy since I was a little girl, and I was terrified to come out of the closet.

I bounced in and out of OA and stayed sugar-free (and fat) for many years. In January 1999 I was on a committee of people I didn’t know well. They brought a cake for my birthday and I decided a piece of cake wouldn’t hurt. I was too full of pride to tell the truth and I didn’t have a program, so falling was easy. I went on a 6-month binge in which I ate bags of candy every day. I was physically sick, depressed, thought about suicide and thought seriously about homicide more than once. I hated myself. I would get up in the morning and ask god for help and then go to the store and buy the stuff. I wanted the pain to stop but I didn’t really want to stop overeating.

I was so powerless. I believed I would never get abstinent again. I began to ask god to help me accept myself just the way I was. I also made up a prayer, based on a reading on the For Today: “God, please help me surrender compulsive overeating and everything it means to me.  I trust you to replace it with something incomparably better.” That’s how my recovery began.

Since that time I have attended OA meetings on a regular basis and I have a program. I have had times of slipping, but I have admitted it and got back on track. I am 90 pounds lighter than that day in 1999. That’s a big deal, but I got a lot more. I got a real faith in a higher power. I got a group of friends who share my compulsion and we share our lives. I finally got it that I would never be perfect and that expecting perfection gave me a built-in excuse to be a failure. Today I am just another compulsive overeater, willing to work the program of OA and stay abstinent one day at a time.

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Lost and Found

I lived most of my life within a few miles of where I was born, in the heartland of the Midwest. I am the oldest of 10 children. My mother was a very religious woman. Her God was a very stern, exacting taskmaster. Although we had very little money she saw to it that we all went to a private religious school. We went to church, we went to school, and we worked hard at home. We had a roof over our heads, food on the table and second hand clothes on our backs. We were considered a model family of high moral standards. But our home was a scary place. My mother was a very angry, bitter woman. She would fly off the handle easily and without warning. She would grab a broom, a mop, anything and start swinging, while out of her mouth would pour the cruelest words. My role in the family was second mother. I was to take care of my brothers and sisters and do housework. Although I tried very hard I felt I could never do anything well enough to please my mother. I did not believe I was good enough or capable enough to be loved. I have always felt like that little kid having to succeed in areas beyond my capabilities. I had no time to play, have friends or even do homework. I loved school but did not feel like I belonged. I saw myself as being so different from the other kids.

Eating did not become a problem for me until I was age 10. That was when my father began sexually abusing me. My mother found out when my father told her that I might be pregnant at age 12. She chose to believe him when he told her it would never happen again. Then she turned a cold shoulder and an even colder heart to me. Fortunately, I was not pregnant, but unfortunately, the abuse continued until I was 17 and dating the boy I married at 18.

My pattern of eating was to shovel in as much food as I could at family mealtimes. I stole food when I babysat. I would save out nickels, dimes and quarters from my earnings to buy myself treats at the corner store. I became obsessed with getting enough food. The obsession occupied my thoughts. Eating and dieting became ways I could have control over my own body. I shoved food in and shoved the feelings down. I let the obsession remove me from my life. Food helped me live in a fantasy world of the future. And the extra pounds protected me from the world which surely must be a terrible place. We were warned against strangers, outsiders were not to be trusted. We were very isolated. Family was all there was.

While I was dating, I lost interest in food. We went out almost every night and I was not home very much. I did not feel hungry and I lost about 50 pounds of the protection that I had plastered on my body. Ah-Ha, I had found the answer to my overeating, having someone to love me. I recently celebrated the 46th anniversary of marriage to that boy who I had looked to for rescue from my family and from life in the cold, cruel world. I believed that with him it was possible to create a haven, a real home where our children would be cherished and no one would ever suffer or come to harm. And if we could do that then I could at last be safe and we would all live happily ever after.

By age 22 I had had 3 babies, a miscarriage, 3 major surgeries and I was helping my husband build a house for us. During this time I was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, was suicidal, and admitted myself to a psychiatric facility. Obviously my plan to live happily ever after was not working. Love being the answer to my weight and eating problem was not working either. I had packed on between 50 and 60 pounds. I was still trying to block the harshness of life out by stuffing food in.

Life began to change for me when my friend’s husband started going to AA and I learned about addiction. I came to believe that my problem with food was like alcoholism. We talked for hours about the AA program. We met other recovering alcoholics and even went to open meetings. The more I learned the more I related and wished I could have what they had. My girlfriend heard that some Al Anon women were starting up a new program called Overeaters Anonymous. My prayers had been answered. I had a glimmer of hope that maybe I too could recover.

I walked into my first OA meeting in 1972. I was 30 years old, terrified, desperate, defeated by my own attempts to maintain a stable weight. I weighed 180. I had gained and lost hundreds of pounds over the years. But the weight loss never lasted. I felt too exposed and vulnerable. Eating put me into a semi-conscious state where I could walk through life but I was not really a part of it. Food suppressed my anger but let the sadness through; it quelled the fears but made fantasy preferable to reality. I lived in the past and the future but rarely in the present. My best thinking and all the self-help books I had read had not changed my life one little bit.

In those days, abstinence was defined as a very restrictive food plan. Eventually I surrendered myself to it and took my fist 3 steps. Instead of food, I now devoured the Big Book and the program. OA in our town was 3 of us meeting in our homes. I worked the steps with the help of my two OA sisters. I stayed abstinent for almost 8 years, maintaining a 60-pound weight loss. During that time I grew emotionally and spiritually by leaps and bounds. Then I walked away. I can tell you all kinds of reasons why I left but none of them makes any sense in light of what I lost.

For several months I managed to hang on to my food plan. But without the support of other recovering compulsive overeaters and continued practice of the program I eventually returned to eating compulsively and the insanity came back. Of course the weight did too, almost one hundred pounds of it. I had put my superwoman disguise back on as quickly as I could. Over the years I tried several times to go back to OA but just going back wasn’t enough and eventually I would leave again. Critical and dissatisfied that it just didn’t offer what I needed anymore.

Shortly after I turned 50 a series of events completely altered my life. My husband’s company started downsizing and he was let go. Within a few months he had a triple cardiac bypass. I was terrified. Thoughts of economic insecurity and fear of my husband dying overwhelmed me. Then he told me he wanted us to move 1700 miles away. We had lived in the same place forever. Most of our brothers and sisters lived there. And most importantly to me my children and grandchildren were nearby. This was the final blow. My heart just broke because I knew I would let go of what I treasured so dearly. As a people pleaser, I had no other choice. I was devastated.

In January 1995, 6 months after moving, I went looking for OA again. Not for help with my food problem but because it was the only place I could think of where I could talk and safely share my feelings. Those feelings were so overwhelming that I was afraid to talk to ordinary people for fear my insanity would jump right out. So I went to OA and I cried and I talked and I did everything except deal with my food problems. I really didn’t want anyone to help with that. I was very angry at God and my husband for taking everything away from me and leaving me with only food, loneliness and insecurity. I used OA for a while but never really gave myself to it. For the next 12 years I tried to manage my unmanageable life and control my compulsive overeating. I succeeded at neither. I became increasingly aware of my powerlessness. I was obsessed daily with how to lose weight; what I ate or didn’t eat; how much I had gained or lost; how awful I looked; what clothes I could or couldn’t fit into; what I would look like on our next visit to the kids; and so many other crazy thoughts. I weighed myself in January 2007 and saw that I weighed exactly the same weight as I did in January 1995. 12 years of daily attention to this problem, 12 years of giving it my best thoughts and the best thoughts of lots of weight loss gurus, continuous daily struggle with food, hundreds of pounds lost and regained and what I had to show for those 12 years of effort the same 205 pounds.

I finally surrendered to the truth and came back to OA ready to turn my life, my will and my food over to a Higher Power. I became willing to listen, learn and obey because I knew this was very likely my last opportunity for freedom. I ask Him each morning to give me the willingness and ability to abstain. With that simple act I unleash the control of my life from the power of addiction and entrust myself to the power and love of God. By His grace, I have remained abstinent since the day that I truly returned.

As a 65 year old woman, I cannot help but wonder, at times, what life for my family and for myself might have been if I hadn’t walked out of these doors in 1980. But as the promises on page 83 and 84 in the Big Book say: Today I know a new freedom and a new happiness. I do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it. I comprehend the word serenity and I know peace. No matter how far down the scale I have gone I see how my experience can benefit others. My old feeling of uselessness and self pity has disappeared. I have lost interest in selfish things and am now interested in others. Self seeking is slipping away. My whole attitude and outlook on life has changed. Fear of people and economic insecurity has left me. I intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle me. I realize that God is doing for me what I cannot do for myself.

I can’t begin to tell you how blessed I feel that God has brought me back after all these years to be with you today. My prayer for each of you is that you do not lose any more days or years of your life to this disease.

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