Friday, August 26, 2011

What Does Abstinence Mean To You?

My name is Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

I am in the fascinating and challenging process of re-defining my abstinence.

For the past year, my abstinence has been very clearly defined for me by the group with which I've been working the program, OA-HOW. I've written about that abstinence many times here on the blog, so I won't spell it out again tonight.

Before I found OA-HOW, my abstinence definition was unbelievably wishy-washy. It changed from day to day. I changed it without telling anyone. There was never anything... solid about it, so I never knew if I was abstinent or not. It was all about doing well or not doing so well.

I remember deciding that my abstinence would be simply this: Three meals a day with nothing in between. Even three huge binges would be fine. Believe it or not, I couldn't do it. That was my bottom. So far.

I think that's why I was so grateful to finally let go and let someone else tell me what I needed to do to stay abstinent. And I did it. For over a year. And my life changed dramatically for the better.

But now it's time to change again. I'm taking control back... or rather, giving control to God in a different way. I'm trusting God to help me define my own abstinence rather than simply submitting to someone else's definition.

I know it's time to do this, but I can't deny that it's a little scary for me. My addict mind is already plotting and planning... How could I eat some cake? What about McDonald's? Oh, how I would love a big Mexican dinner with chips and salsa. I can't go back there. I just can't.

What is your experience with/understanding of abstinence? OA's definition simply states: "Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight." What's that mean for you? How's that working for you?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Without My Training Wheels

My name is Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

I feel a lot like that boy today. Thrilled and terrified all at the same time.

But like that little boy, I have a loving Father too... Check out what I read in "For Today" this morning:

Today, I open my mind to everything that could be - possibilities that are far from the idle wishing of the old days, but rather a loosening of restrictions, a broadening of the imagination. I leave my life up to my Higher Power, remove my hindering ways and let my spirit soar. I seek to be more honest, more aware, to have closer relationships, a better ability to carry the message, more time to serve. I have received, and now pass on to others, what was once impossible: the hope of spiritual awakening, of recovery from compulsive overeating. For today: I keep an open mind to having an open mind; the possibilities are endless.

So. I talked with my sponsor this morning about my plans to leave OA-HOW. I have to confess that I was terrified. I couldn't sleep last night. I got out of bed several times. I read and wrote in my journal. I prayed. I chatted online for a minute with my rabbi,  G. Rabanon. (It's not every Evangelical pastor who has a rabbi friend on Facebook!)

Here's some of what I wrote in my journal late last night:

"I'm ready to be done with HOW, but I have no idea how to quit. I'm afraid to bring it up with [my sponsor], but I will have to in the morning. I can't keep these feelings and thoughts bottled up anymore. So why do I want to stop? Why now?

"I know I am a compulsive overeater. I want to continue working the steps I want to stay abstinent and use the tools of recovery. I am convinced that I do not have these things mandated to me by my program. WIrh every passing day I am less willing to abide by the requirements of the HOW format. I want to work with [my sponsor] on the steps, but I'm pretty sure she will no longer sponsor me at all. I am very concerned that she know how grateful I am...

"I want to see if I can do this. OA-HOW says I can't, but I don't believe it. Deep down, that's the bottom line, the problem I cannot seem to get around. I simply do not believe that this method of working OA is my only hope.

"I want to transition well. I want to remain abstinent. I do not want to binge; not even once."

I finally fell asleep around 12:30, and then this morning at 6:00 I talked with my sponsor. We did the normal routine... my food plan for the day and my writing assignment. Then we talked about the possibility of changing my call time for the semester. So that brought up the perfect opportunity to talk about this.

I was afraid. I was afraid that she would be hurt. I was afraid that she would be angry or worried or disappointed in me. That she might lecture or scold me. That she would somehow reject me and dump me on the spot. In reality, I had nothing to fear... and I think I knew that deep down all along. She was remarkably gracious. Cautious, yes, but gracious. Always. And she said that even if we don't work together as sponsor and sponsee, she and I could still be friends and walk in recovery together. I was really touched by that. We spoke words of encouragement and affirmation, and we left it open.

For now, she's sponsoring me (as long as I continue to work OA-HOW day-to-day) until I come up with some sort of transition plan. I'll need to find another sponsor and clearly define my new abstinence.

So for today, I'm OA-HOW abstinent. I have talked with four program friends today. I have followed my plan. I have used the tools. God, give me what I need today to be abstinent and to move forward... without my training wheels.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Body Image Redux: Fantasy vs. Reality

My name is Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

I'm also at my "maintenance weight." But guess what? I don't look like Brad Pitt.


I've been pondering that this morning. I think somewhere in my subconscious mind, I was living with the fantasy that once I hit my "magic number," I would somehow look like a sex symbol. As if somehow shedding the excess weight would change the basic shape of my bones, the structure of my chest or the size of my muscles... or, for that matter, the amount of money I have in the bank, the amount of debt I carry, the amount of "success" I have in writing and performing music, or the happiness of my marriage and family.

I've lost 80 pounds in the last 18 months or so, and I have some excess jiggly flesh around my belly. It's very, very slowly going away, but I don't know if it ever will completely. Am I OK with that? I don't know. I guess for today I have to be.

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes." - AA Big Book, p. 417

Thursday, August 18, 2011


My name is Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

Now what?

I mean, seriously? Do I do this the rest of my life? I've been thinking and praying and talking and writing about this for a few months now.

For Today, I'm committed to abstinence according to the OA-HOW concept. This means that today, as I have every day since August 10, 2010, I do the following things:

  1. Do my step work, my reading/writing assignment.
  2. Plan my three meals and one snack, following my food plan. Literally plan it out, down to the serving size and what kinds of protein, vegetables, etc. I will eat.
  3. Call my sponsor at the pre-arranged time, read my writing to her and commit my food for the day.
  4. Receive my sponsee's phone call, his food and his writing.
  5. Talk to at least three other OAs on the phone. About recovery.
  6. Eat my food according to plan and schedule. Weigh and measure my food. All of it. No exceptions. Even in restaurants. Even if I have to pack a cooler and take it with me.
  7. If I have to make a food change for some reason... spoiled food, my kids eat something I had planned to eat... I have to get a sponsor on the phone and commit the change before I eat it.
This is all very involved, but it's been do-able. I'd even say it's been life-changing. I've worked hard on the steps, I've learned how to live in a structured and disciplined way, I've lost 77 pounds and kept it off for a few months now. And I've been so, so grateful.

Until recently.

In the last few months, things have been "percolating" for me. Some questions and thoughts:

I wonder sometimes if OA-HOW can be compared to training wheels. It was right for a time in my life. I could not gotten abstinent without it. But now, I'm starting to think I can ride this bike without the training wheels.

If I decide to leave the HOW concept, I will not simply relapse. I will remain abstinent, one day at a time. I will get a sponsor, follow a food plan, use the tools, go to meetings, give service. I cannot do this alone.

I've met members who were HOW abstinent and then quit abruptly. It's not pretty. Most of them put most if not all of their weight back on, wallow in shame and avoid program. I don't want that for anyone, and I certainly don't want it for myself.

How much of this is my disease, and how much is God? How much is me?

Where are the OA-HOWers who have stayed abstinent after leaving HOW? Why can't I find any online?

These feelings and thoughts have been building up, and I have been doing my very best to surrender and simply make it each day, one day at a time. That doesn't seem to be working for me. I'm not getting over the hump. I'm believing more and more that I'm supposed to make this change.

I am miserable thinking about bringing this up with my sponsor. I appreciate and respect her so much, and I'm so grateful for all she's done for me. I wish I could keep doing step work with her, but I know her and her program well enough to believe that she will not work with me unless I'm doing the plan as she herself worked it.

I would make this change tomorrow if I weren't so afraid of people. My sponsor's reaction. My OA-HOW friends' reactions. My sponsee's reaction. I don't want to hurt or disappoint anyone. Funny, one of my biggest character defects is people-pleasing. Huh.

Here are some of the things I want:
  1. The freedom to drink alcohol within my food plan. I've never had a problem with alcohol, and I enjoy it sometimes.
  2. The freedom to eat abstinent food in restaurants without weighing and measuring.
  3. The freedom to go to bed without having to make three OA outreach calls every day. This has become a real struggle for me. I love talking to people. I need and want the support. I love to be of service and encourage and support others! But I don't want it to be mandated to me anymore. I don't want my abstinence riding on it. Honestly, there are days when I feel frenzied and hassled trying to "get in my calls." It is quickly becoming crazy-making rather than serenity-building.
  4. The freedom to eat on-plan without having to commit each individual food item before I eat it.
As I read this, it sure sounds like my mind is made up. What are your thoughts? Help me distinguish between my addict and my true self working in conscious contact with God.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011


My name's Charlie, and I'm a compulsive overeater.

::Hi, Charlie!::

Today's my OA birthday. I've been abstinent for a year. I'm grateful. So, for today anyway, I'll keep this up.

Thanks to all of you who have encouraged me and helped me along the way.

To life and recovery!