A habit is the most comfortable thing. Even our bad habits are comfortable, or certainly were at one time. Even when habits have become harmful to us or to others, changing them is not easy. When habits become addictive, or feed into an addiction, they become harder yet.
Character is, as we have said, the sum of our habits, particularly the habits of our hearts. Defects of character are bad habits, whether of omission or commission.
And addiction is not merely something we do as individuals. Addiction is a product of a dysfunctional social system of which we were and are a part. AA has suggested that for every alcoholic there are an average of three codependents. These are people who have some kind of investment, however sick, in the alcoholic continuing as is. For overeaters the situation is much the same.
As I read your postings, and I read them all, the one striking feature was that all of us started eating as a result of some kind of traumatic situation, most often in childhood. Frequently the situation was abusive, but always traumatic. The child sought a way to survive, and being a wise child, found that food, whether overeating, anorexia, or bulimia, produced results that eased the pain of whatever trauma, abuse or loss, was involved. Since these traumas were ongoing, or at least long term, we formed the habit of turning to (or away) from food to ease our pain long enough for our actions to become a habit. And eventually an addiction. What had started out as a survival mechanism had become first an ingrained habit, and finally an addiction.
Compulsive eating is always a family affair. The dynamics of the addiction are familial In origin and in continuation. And the family likes it that way. It has become a family habit, if not, in fact, an addition itself. Codependency often is seen as an addition in its own right. Now, we cannot change others or force them to change, we can only change ourselves. BUT… when we change ourselves, we are not in a vacuum. We are a part of some kind of social system, some family, where we functions as addicts in an addictive or codependent system. And that system does not want us to change, is not comfortable with our changing, and when we start to change, reacts to stop our changing. Everybody has some kind of payoff, however sick, from our remaining the designated addict in the family system. Regardless of what is said, this is always true. People may say that we should lose (gain) weight for our health, but when we start to do so, they may find us too fussy, to hard to live with, argue about things that punch our buttons, etc., all of which serves to subtly sabotage our efforts.
Many people, usually newer people to program, will ask whether this Step isn't sort of redundant. Surely we want God to remove the shortcomings we have just uncovered in our Fourth Step. But if we are to recover, and recovery is so much more than abstinence, we have to weigh all the consequences and meanings in our social/family systems that our decision will cause.
Alcoholics have the highest rate of divorce during the two years after sobriety has been achieved than in all the years of drinking previously. There are so many, codependents, who do not know what to do with a sober alcoholic! You will find the same thing to be true of compulsive eaters.
So if you really want to get rid of the habits, the character defects, that have held you enthralled to food, you are going to not only have to change yourself, but you are going to have to change your social/family system, or separate from it. AA suggests that recovering alcoholics not hang out in bars any more with their old drinking buddies. The newly sober person has to find new friends, because the old ones are toxic. What is the compulsive eaters' equivalent? You will have to realize the answer for yourself, according to your circumstances. It may include such things as not going home for the holidays, or finding new ways to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays without food being an issue. And in this process, parents, spouses, children, friends, and others may sometimes accuse of trying to tear the family apart, etc.
So we have to be entirely ready, and willing to deal with all these issues as well as our own internal ones before we begin to change, or we are not likely to have much success in the long run. This is one principal reason diets usually fail.
The other thing about this step is also significant. There is a clear understanding that alone, we cannot effect the changes we need to make. We have been urged to find our Higher Power, the God of our understanding. The first three Steps were all about that. Go back and reread them. The addictive habit of compulsive eating, over or under, is simply too cunning, baffling, and powerful for us to deal with alone. We will need a Higher Power to help us. The good news is that HP will do so if we do our footwork. Our footwork is to get ourselves entirely ready for the changes to take place, and to accept the consequences for ourselves not in isolation, but as members of a dysfunctional social/family system. Our getting well affects others, quite often in ways they find uncomfortable, and this usually translates into some kind of discomfort with us. Recovery is an heroic effort.
Be prepared for a bumpy ride. But also be prepared to see the Promises come true. I can vouch for both being true. I pray that you will come to realize that the Promises outweigh any cost we may incur. This is the point where our "going to any lengths" for recovery will have to come into play. The only thing more costly than recovery, emotionally, is the death of not doing so. The latter promises pain and death; recovery offers us a new life with much joy. Continuing in our addiction will cause more pain than the pain we originally were seeking to escape. Recovery offers us serenity, health, happiness, and a blessed life in which miracles are the commonplace.
1. Consider the origins of your eating. What was going on in your life, and in the life of your family? Many of us became fat in the hopes that it would keep people away from us, so that we would be safe. Did this work, or did it just add another problem to our situation?
2. How do the people around you today respond to you when you lose or gain weight? Do you think there could be dynamics that sabotage your efforts? What might they be?
3. Have you had the experience of holiday sabotage, where "going home for the holidays" seemed to break your resolve to lose/gain weight? What was going on here?
4. Can you think of some ways that you could celebrate without food being the centerpiece?
5. Besides the other people in your life, what is your payoff for being fat/thin? How does being the designated addict in your social/family system benefit you? I've heard it said so many times, "Mama was always so sweet when she was fat; when she lost weight, she would get so cranky." What do you think might have been going on here in reality?
6. We have to steel ourselves for change, and in this case, we have to permit our Higher Power to work a few miracles for us. Are you willing to make the changes? What would this look like, as you see it in your life? Can you let go and let God with these character defects? Really?
7. What would, or is, life like with miracles being the ordinary course of events?
1. When I began to overeat, my family was in the midst of turmoil and upheaval. My father's business collapsed, sending us from relative wealth into a degree of poverty. My mother lost much confidence in him, and I became her "confidant," even before my teens. Both parents had always been physically abusive. There had been alcoholism in their families of origin, and I suspect that at least one of my parents had a drinking problem before I was born (late in their lives, their only child.) Incest also happened, as I recall. Food was the drug of choice for my parents, so it was readily available. Being fat may have caused me all sorts of troubles at school, the teasing, bullying, etc., but it also kept adults from me, and adults were dangerous. Of course, in time, my disease began to destroy my health, affect my ability to get jobs, etc.
2. I remember going away to camp one summer in high school, and the counselor urged me to go on a diet, which the kitchen was pleased to prepare. I was there for several weeks, and during that time I lost a good bit of weight. When I came home, people were so happy that I had lost weight that they baked an entire three layer cake just for me. I have to say that in my own marriage, I found support when the time came. People had changed themselves in such ways that they were helpful to me, most of the time. This was an enormous blessing.
3. Holidays were always dangerous in terms of weight, and there were so many holidays! Everything was centered on food. The only times I became bulimic was during holiday feasts. There was so much to eat, so good, and so on. I would eat until I could hold no more, excuse myself for a few moments, go throw up, and come back to eat as much again.. Everyone always seemed pleased that I had such a fine appetite. Such events are no longer centered on food. There may be a meal – and it may be a good one. But there is always foood that I can manage, and I do so. And no one ever urges me to have more of this or that. It helps that I am the patriarch of my family now, so the celebrations take place on my home turf. But we stopped going home for the holidays for a time when parents were living.
4. My favorite was a birthday with a cabbage with candles on it. Later boiled the cabbage. Today, I can manage to have a cake around, since after 13 years I do not have much temptation. The others enjoy it, and they take the remains home with them.
5. I hate to say it, but control issues were always present when I was eating compulsively. I had a lot of rage, and I used it to intimidate. On the other hand, I was simpering all to often toward other outside the family. Insane, you bet. I had so much anger and did not know what to do with it that was creative. The thing about anger is to learn to express it without rage. Someone said that anger is like gasoline. You can burn the house down with it, or you can fuel your automobile. Anger is just energy. It can fuel recovery, or it can destroy relationships. One of my greatest success stories in recovery is that I have learned to deal with my anger.
6. Serenity came for me as a direct result of living as if there were a presence long enough to find one. Living as if, to me, is faith. Finding the presence is knowledge. When my Higher Power became manifest to me, I found that my craving for food could be done away with one prayer at the time. It was a miracle. And don't think I was any true believer. I was a virtual agnostic in the beginning.
7. Every day, there are so many blessings that I can't count them anymore. When I was into my food, the glass was half empty. As I began recovery, I eventually came to realize that it was half full. I can say that today, I understand the Twenty –Thirrd Psalm: "My cup runneth over." This is beyond mere optimism.