I ate mint Oreos and Pringles for dinner last night. I had forgotten to pack a lunch and hadn't brought my scale with me in my car. So when I got home at about 5:30 p.m. I was starving. I had a headache. The half-eaten package of mint Oreos was just sitting there on the counter. Nobody was around. Dinner.
To most people that doesn't sound like a horrible activity. It isn't as though I killed someone. It isn't as if I took heroin or drank myself into a wild frenzy. Heck, I didn't even drive anywhere! I was going to go out but there were tornado warnings and lightening. So, I just stayed in and ate half a package of mint Oreos and a canister of Pringles potato chips. I like Pringles. I have a food scientist friend who did an internship with a guy who was on the team of ten people who spent several years of their lives figuring out how to put potato chips into a can. So I have a remote and somewhat nifty tie to Pringles.
As a compulsive overeater, I can probably think of a fun and zany and remote connection with any food to be honest with you. Food facts and diet facts are somewhat of a specialty of mine. I was never really overweight by more than ten or fifteen pounds until I was in my middle twenties. But to keep my figure, I started dieting in kindergarten, imitating the diets of my teenage sisters -- drinking diet sodas and eating diet jello and making Weight Watcher's pizzas -- a slice of bread with katchsup and a slice of cheese toasted in the oven. It doesn't sound healthy today but in the 1970s it was considered to be diet food. By Junior High School I was on diet pills on and off. But my favorite method of keeping my weight down was starvation. I had anorexic friends who became so skinny they had to go into the hospital and I envied their willpower. I could never go that far. I could starve myself for several days in a row but it always ended in a binge. Often I would pass out before the binge.
In 2001 I finally realized I had an eating disorder. I was a classic "food addict." I was addicted to eating and to dieting. None of it worked for me. I needed help. I found help with a 12-step food recovery program. Since then I have found much serenity in 12-step food recovery programs. But I've never found complete recovery. I've never been able to go year after year after year without eating compulsively -- without making crazy eating decisions like I made last night. Actually, the 12-step philosophy maintains that food addicts don't actually recover completely. We find a daily reprieve from our problem by working the tools and traditions of our program.
It is said to be simple but not easy. But to be honest with you, I don't think it's all that simple, either. I think it's hard. I don't envy the people who I know who are recovering drug addicts or alcoholics, don't get me wrong. I wouldn't want to trade problems with them -- not ever. But I do envy the simplicity of their programs. It's simple. If you are an alcoholic, you don't drink. If you are a food addict, you must eat. Typically you must eat three to four times per day. Many of us weigh and measure our food according to food plans that are designed uniquely for us by nutritionists. But not all food addicts do that. Some don't weigh and measure at all. Some follow a one-size-fits all food plan. There are a few different 12-steps food programs that each have different one-size-fits all plans. I know of three different 12-step programs with three different one-size-fits all plans. I have tried all three of them. I know people who have long-term recovery in each of the three programs -- people who have not eaten or dieted compulsively for ten and twenty years. And the people who belong to each of these fellowships think their fellowship is superior. Many think their way is the only effective way to overcome the food and dieting problems.
Nowadays there is a new movement afoot in the 12-step food recovery community. I think it's called "Primary Purpose." From what I understand, these people don't weigh and measure their food -- at least most of them don't. They work the steps very rigorously and focus more intently on taking a daily inventory. I guess they e-mail a 10th step inventory to their sponsors every night. I know food addicts who are working this program and they like it. I thought about trying it out myself.
But my sense is, it isn't a new version of the 12-step eating program that I need. But what I need is to really commit myself to working the program that has worked best for me in the past.
So I called for help today. I took out a phone list of people who work their 12-step eating recovery programs with the method that has worked for me in the past. This fellowship has a number of bulimics and anorexics as well as garden-variety compulsive eaters such as me (people who can't eat just one and not want more and more and more and more and more and more...)
I prayed before I started dialing. I said God, please hook me up with someone who isn't too crazy and give me the willingness to work with this person. The first person who picked up with the phone (her name began with a B.. I just started at the top of the page with the A's) said she wasn't available. But she said she knew of two people who are available and they work strong programs.
I thanked her and took their numbers.
Within a few minutes I was in touch with the first person who she suggested. The woman was attending a parade in rural Michigan. It was loud. She took my call anyway. She said yes, she would sponsor me. So, as of this moment, I have a new sponsor. I am looking forward to it but I also feel nervous. She doesn't do it the way I have done it in the past. My first sponsor in this particular branch of the 12-step eating disorder community was so particular that she would be upset if I didn't call her on the dot. I mean she would express frustration if I phoned two minutes early. I could never seem to get my clock to match up perfectly with her clock. Despite this extremely particular attention to detail, I got a lot out of the relationship. She was a good sponsor. I learned a lot from her. But it only lasted for ten months. Then I decided to eat some cookies or something. Once you have three "slips" you can't continue to work with the same sponsor anymore. It's just a rule. The idea is that there is some kind of breakdown in the relationship and it just isn't working. I think this is actually a very good premise.
I don't really know much at all about my new sponsor except that she is available and that she apparently likes rural parades. She works things quite differently than some sponsors that I have had in the past, though. She wants me to call her during a range of time. We selected 4:30 to 5 p.m. She doesn't work in the summer and wouldn't be available until after 9 a.m. I am very busy by 9 a.m. in the morning. We will just talk for fifteen minutes on the phone each day but I have to say I am a little bit nervous about the phone call range instead of having a specific time to call.
But I am turning that over for today. I want to work this program. It really helps me in every area of my life.
What does this have to do with my Poor Journalist Getting Down to Business series? What does this have to do with my new career as a saleswoman? Absolutely everything. It's like when you get in an airplane and the stewardess tells you that you have to put on your mask first before you can help the person next to you -- even if that person is a little child.
My eating recovery program is like my air mask. I need it. If I don't have it, things in my life go awry quite quickly. Carrying extra weight around just doesn't feel good. It's uncomfortable. But even worse than the discomfort of carrying around extra weight are the emotional and mental highs and lows that are associated with not eating correctly.
I'm ready to abstain from compulsive overeating one day at a time with the support of my new sponsor and my 12-step community. I'm really grateful to have this program to turn to, actually. So many people have serious medical problems that don't have a solution. There's no cure for compulsive overeating. But there are solutions in the 12-step community. I am happy today to be living in the solution.
No yummy cookies or cupcakes or treats in the world taste as good as the solution feels.
People who do not have this problem and who have not spent time living in the solution sometimes think that those of us who follow twelve-step eating programs are exaggerators. They think we should just get over it. Even some of my close family members who have watched my struggles and experienced my recovery think I can be extreme. It bothers one of my sisters to death that I weigh my milk on a kitchen scale. She insists it is not the correct way to measure milk. It doesn't matter, though. It's how I was instructed to do it, so it's how I do it.
With all 12-step programs, the key is surrender.