Dear Mr. SponsorPants,
I'm writing to you because I don't want to talk to anyone in my meetings about this. I told myself I would do what you said if you answer this. I really like what you say about AA.
I am [close to five years] sober in AA. I like meetings, my sponsor, everything. I did the steps with my first sponsor and now I am on my second but we are not going through the steps right now. I have 2 service commitments and I go to 4 meetings a week.
Mostly I drank but sometimes I did other drugs too. I have no problem admitting I am an alcoholic. But I have a problem admitting I am anything else. I've always been a big eater. I like my comfort food on the sofa watching TV. I also have a really big sweet tooth, so comfort food can be pizza or it can be candy. Or ice cream. How much I eat has slowly gotten bigger since I stopped drinking, and so I am slowly getting bigger too. Or maybe not so slowly.
On and off all my life I have dieted. Mostly whatever diet book is in. Now I am trying to cut back on how much I eat like half way through I will stop and throw the rest in the trash. But then later I will go back and get it out. I know that is gross and that is partly why I do not want to talk to anyone I see about this. So now after I throw it in the trash I spray Windex on it so I can't go back and get it. But the other night I saw my face in the kitchen window after I sprayed Windex on half a pizza and I just thought that this is not right. This is no way to live.
BUT I cannot even begin to think about going to another 12 Step Program. It feels overwhelming and too much. But I also am starting to hate myself (I already hate the way I look and I don't have anything I can wear anymore and I am staying home more because of it). I guess I am a food addict but what I want to do is just use my AA on my food and deal with it on my own.
What do you think?
Thank you anything you can say would help.
Windex Is For Windows
You'll do what I say? Really?
Okay, then this is what I want you to do:
Get up from the computer (or put down the phone, or however you're reading this) and go to the bathroom mirror and look yourself in the eye and just say "I love you. I forgive you. I love you. I forgive you." Slowly for three minutes (I went easy on you right there. I originally typed five). Really look yourself in the eye and really say it out loud. Maybe put one hand on your face and give yourself a loving pat, too. Then come back here and we'll go on.
If you really did it I suspect that maybe first you felt silly and then you felt irritated and then you started to feel... something else. While we talk a lot about an alcoholic's problem regarding self loathing is far more the "self" part than the "loathing" part, I don't think that means we can't (or shouldn't) address that inward-facing toxicity, too.
Your email is very moving -- your struggle and frustration come through clearly -- and I want to offer some thoughts which I hope will be helpful, but we've concluded with the "what I think you should do" part of the blog today. All I want to do, in an effort to help you find some insights and willingness on your own, is offer you some things to chew on.
(Too soon? Poor taste? Sorry, sorry -- I thought we needed some salt to balance the sugar.)
WIFW, let me ask you to consider something.
Do you think you could have gotten sober by going to Gambler's Anonymous?
I mean, it's the same 12 Steps and all, right? Addiction is addiction and you just swap out that one word in Step 1 and it's all the same thing, right?
But you and I both know that probably wouldn't have worked when you were brand new. Part of how meetings save lives, and the miracle of recovery is transferred from one to another, is through the process of identification. So, rather than looking at going to an OA meeting as one more thing -- and yes, you knew that's where this was going when you sat down to write me, right? -- try to look at it as a place where you may find, through identification, some people who understand intimately how you feel and have walked through what is happening to you. There is such comfort in that experience -- you know that from what happened to you in AA -- that I urge you to consider going to a meeting or two. Whether or not you fully identify, you may hear something(s) which will help. The 12 Steps are the same, but sometimes the specific tools can be different. (Just like if one person is missing a foot and the other a hand, they are both amputees but they each need to become fluent in using different tools and develop different habits and skills to navigate their day. A food addict and a drug addict are both addicts, and the 12 Steps can help them both, but they will face different triggers and challenges along the way.)
Addiction, whatever its stripe, wants to get us alone. It is a disease which makes you believe that it is safer, more comfortable, more fun, to say "no" to life rather than say yes. But right now -- RIGHT NOW -- in your life, every single night you isolate with the food -- you are experiencing what a lie addictive thinking truly is, because, dear WIFW, I'm sorry but the email you sent me was not written by a happy person.
Now, it's very likely that your involvement in AA (and good for you and congrats on your sobriety, btw!) brings some comfort and healing, but that is addressing the symptom of the other issue you are going through, not the problem. And once again, we know first hand from our sobriety that ultimately that won't work. Can you "use your AA on it?" Well, sure, you can try I guess. But you're already active in AA, and you still find yourself standing in your kitchen, in probably old sweats or a bathrobe, not feeling so good about yourself and reaching for the window cleaner. Ask yourself, truly what, exactly, is "using your AA on this" going to look like? I am sorry, WIFW but I smell an evasion.
You know you don't have to admit anything, or tell anyone anything, or eat anything different or shop for groceries different(ly) to go to a meeting. Just go. If you want to say "I'm visiting" when or if you are asked to identify, that's fine. You know the 12 Step world now, you know people will want to make you feel welcome (and may sometimes be enthusiastic in that regard) but you're safe there, and no one can make you do or say anything. You're not making a commitment to add another five 12 Step meetings to your week, you're just going to a meeting. Go, and listen and see how you feel. Grab a brochure or two. Google OA and poke around the site. (Okay fine HERE, okay?)
As the old addage goes, take what you like and leave the rest. Treat it like a buffet, if you will. (oh my God I can't stop!)
WIFW, you know I am only silly sometimes because one thing that happens when we isolate is that we take ourselves very seriously. Our disease is serious, yes, but our recovery need not be all widows weeds and ashes. You've been sober for [close to five years]! You are a living, breathing miracle! Checking out another 12 Step Program won't be overwhelming, it will be a piece of cake!
(Okay, that was the last one. I swear.)
But lean in, because I'm going to whisper something very important right now. And I am going to whisper it not because it's a secret, but because it's important you remember it:
The trick, when you have been sober in AA for a while, and you go to another 12 Step Program, is to not just work on your willingness, but on your humility as well. You aren't some Inspector General, sent from AAHQ to see how they do recovery in the hinterlands. Dont' hide behind your time in AA. Don't hide behind the lingo you know. If you go, and if you identify, and if you decide to do the deal and heal this addiction (since, dear WIFW, while I don't know you and I do not like to "diagnose" over the internet, what you describe does sound a teensy little bit like addictive behavior) don't just give yourself permission to be a newcomer - actually BE a newcomer. Or, to put it more succinctly: 12 Step credits do not transfer.
Finally, if I was right, and after feeling silly and irritated you felt... something else... when you were looking in the mirror and giving yourself love and forgiveness, then maybe you should lean into that and incorporate some real, regular, demonstrative (in that you say them out loud) affirmations into your life. While affirmations are a potent psychological and spiritual tool, I find that many of us secretly look down on them as more suited to the Stuart Smalley's of the world; vapid, slightly insipid and a little sad. My experience is that if you do them as a routine you can engender a sincere and profound healing over time. (And while, strictly speaking, affirmations are not exactly an AA thing, per se, I will be happy to, in some other essay, postulate a brief but elegant theorem demonstrating that affirmations are a type of formal meditation, and we can slide them in under that heading to comfort the dogmatic, difficult or purists among us.)
But if you do go to OA, and you work a program and celebrate a year anniversary, don't get too excited about having some birthday cake when you pick up your chip.
All they give you is a pineapple.
But from those who have struggled and made it, the reports are that it was one of the most satisfying meals they ever had. In fact one dear friend in particular, who had a very hard path with much relapse, but who eventually achieved (one day at a time) a year of abstinence, reported that tears and pineapple juice mix just fine running down your chin.
Good luck, my prayers are with you, and please let me know how it goes.
You are worth saving, and you deserve a joyful life.
There are more Questions and Answers like this one in "Mr. SponsorPants: Adventures in Sobriety and The 12 Steps for AA's and Others." Available as an eBook on Kindle via Amazon. Download a Kindle reader for free on any device or platform, from PC to Smartphone, and enjoy eBooks anywhere you have time to read.