It was demoralizing. So I stopped.
I no longer make New Year’s resolutions to abstain from my addictive behaviors. But that doesn’t mean I’ve given up on a healthier and happier life.
A little more than ten years ago, I found myself overwhelmed by my inability to stop compulsively overeating. I would make a pot of pasta and eat the entire pot-full (feeling sick afterwards). I pulled cold pizza slices I’d hidden in the garbage back out for a snack. I didn’t want to lose weight to please others. I wanted to halt addictive behaviors that were literally killing me.
Then, at age thirty-six, I was one of the younger patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer. There is evidence that one of the reasons that people (such as me) develop this cancer at an unusually early age is from being overweight. All of those late-night binges had caught up with me.
I wanted to be healthier, but I discovered that no matter how much I wished for it, I couldn’t stop overeating. I went to nutritionists, but none of them could help me. Despite how motivated I was, I always turned to the food to try to fill up a hole that I felt deep inside of me. Finally, I was fed up.
I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I walked into an Overeaters Anonymous (OA) meeting. Based on the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, OA offers support for anyone struggling with compulsive food behavior—whether we are anorexic, bulimic, or compulsive overeaters. The only thing required for membership is having “the desire to stop eating compulsively.”
In sometimes small and sometimes large meetings with other OA members, I learned that talking openly with others who shared my compulsion was a huge relief. I didn’t feel so alone anymore. I followed the group’s simple steps and tools. I went to a nutritionist for yet another food plan, but this time I was able to follow it.
Each morning, I told someone else in the group what I would eat that day. Because of my commitment to them, and not just to myself, I was able to eat healthily. I found that the solution to my problem was in the “we” and not the “I.” I was not able to stop my overeating, but with the help of others who suffered from the same addiction that I did, I found a path out. In the group, I learned to apologize when I had hurt someone, let go of trying to control everything (and everyone) in my life, and to have faith that if I took the right actions—and let go of the results—that everything would be OK.
It wasn’t a diet program, it was a spiritual plan. “I came for the vanity, and stayed for the sanity,” is a slogan I often hear in those meetings. I walked into an OA meeting for the first time more than a decade ago, and I still go to them (though with Covid, we are now meeting in Zoom rooms instead of church basements).
The same goes for my credit card debt. It took me much longer to admit that my overspending was a problem. However, I finally realized that my many purchases of clothing and shoes meant that other things in my life were not being tended to. Just like with the food, I hit a point where I knew my life was headed for disaster. I’d had enough. I found Debtors Anonymous (DA), too.
It was hard to admit that the unsecured credit cards were a problem, but when I did, the solution opened up in front of me. Just like with the food, finding a community of people who had the same problems with overspending was what I needed to get better. I learned to stop debting, no matter what. Someone else in the program suggested to me that I not go to certain websites, or into stores I often shopped in, without a “chaperone” (a friend who could hold me to what I intended to spend). When I felt stressed out about a financial situation in my life, I met with other people in DA who talked me through my next steps. I learned that I was not alone.
In January, it is always tempting to put my foot down and say, “Today is the day.”Wouldn’t it be nice to draw a line in the sand and be done with addictive behaviors for good? But it’s never worked that way for me. Occasionally I may stumble across a person who was able to make a long-term change for the better without help, but it is unusual. For me, it has only been with the help of a community of others who share my challenges that I am able to get better.
I was not cured in a day. I still stumble, and sometimes fall. When I do, I pick myself up, dust myself off, and start all over again. It is always a one step at a time process.