Monthly Archives: January 2009

Writing Group topic: anonymity & confidentiality

Anonymity. I had never been in the rooms before I found Greysheet – I didn’t go the OA route. So I needed to learn the concept of anonymity. It probably helped, in my case, that I was “inducted” for just 18 days in NYC before I left Greysheet… I mean, I saw how things work in a face-to-face context but I didn’t get into deep relationships in such a short time. So I just saw the “formal” side of things and how anonymity is guarded, through the reading of Tradition 12 and posters and so on.

When I got abstinent for real, I was an outpost, and it was only through phone meetings and Greynet that I had contact with other GS’ers. So nobody could breach my anonymity, nor I theirs: I didn’t form strong relationships (must say I find it difficult to really form friendships with people I have never actually met…). I needed that level of anonymity for myself, because for the first six months (!) nobody ever knew I was doing this. I was way too ashamed to admit to civilian friends that I had a problem, much less that I was on a diet. I had never been on a diet that anybody knew of, although I always dieted. Way too much shame, as if people couldn’t see that I was fat – I had to pretend that I didn’t care.

So it wasn’t until after the first six months, once the weight was actually coming off, that I found the courage to admit I was doing this. Or bring the scale anywhere. I was as anonymous as you could get!

But of course, anonymity in the fellowship is different. I need to know some other people’s info, those that I am close to, such as their last name or where they live: otherwise, what kind of fellowship is this? What will happen if I go into hospital and no GS’er knows or is able to get to me because they know nothing about me? How can we help one another? There has to be a reality.

So anonymity, I think, is more something on the level of press, radio and film – as AA literature says. I wouldn’t go on a talkshow and be the “face” (or body? heh) of Greysheet.

Perhaps the issue most of us have is one of confidentiality. I wouldn’t tell a non-Greysheeter that someone else is in programme. I wouldn’t discuss with them who was in a meeting with me, much less what was said (although I would admit that I was there, which I wouldn’t have done in the first six months of my abstinence). But that is my stance towards civilians, in a way, not necessarily among GS’ers. When it comes to people within Greysheet, I don’t think I would mind telling a GS’er who asks me that another GS’er was in a meeting. For example, at the London meeting, if someone’s not around we’ll sometimes say, was she there the previous time? – I don’t consider that a breach of confidentiality.

Among GS’ers, I would no more gossip than I do among friends. So the issue of confidentiality among Greysheeters is really one of gossip, do I engage in it or not? If I discuss what another GS’er shared when she is not around, then I am gossiping and I don’t do that. I’m very sensitive to gossip, probably because of the way I grew up in my family. I can’t stand it and I don’t want to engage in it. If I’m not part of the problem or part of the solution, then I don’t need to know, and I apply the same to other people: if you’re not part of either the solution or the problem, there’s no need to discuss it.

Rocking the boat

Recently, I spoke to a friend in programme who pointed out, quite rightly, that I am not at all in touch with my emotions. She said that I may have anger, buried deep down, that I just don’t know about. Now, I don’t know about anger, but I have definitely become very aware recently of one emotion that I just don’t know what to do with. It’s a desire to “rock the boat” – make a change; whatever change.

To put this in context: I’m not talking about changing my food. I am GS abstinent and by the grace of God, as long as I have a mind to think with, I will stay abstinent. It’s pretty much everything else I itch to change!

The thing is, there is absolutely nothing wrong and in fact, any change I could make would be for the worse: and when I sit down to actually think it through, I honestly and genuinely do not want to change. I don’t want to change jobs… yet I’m surfing job sites. I don’t want to move (in fact I can’t, not until summer, because I’m housesitting)… yet I’m checking out the papers. I don’t want to move away from here… yet I’m looking at job sites in foreign countries. In the future I may well want to do some of this, especially to move abroad, but at the moment I need to stay at my own job because

  • I love it
  • I’m finally getting some continuity into my CV – I’d never before been at a job for more than 1.5 years, and I’ve been here for over 2 years now
  • I’m starting a Master’s study programme in May and the last thing I need is have a new job to come to grips with!

I really don’t understand myself, and that’s why I’m calling this an “emotion”. I’m not sure if it is one. But it simply makes no sense through reason. I have great people around me, friends, I have something to do almost every evening (unless I choose not to), my life is great and I’m happy. I look forward to the studies, to being able to complete them while working at a job I know well, and after those studies I know I can go wherever I like and do whatever I want. The irony is, I am doing what I want to do, right now! I’m not in the place I would choose to be, admittedly (don’t like the UK) but it’s not places but people that count, and those around me are wonderful. Besides, if I still feel the same way about the UK in two years’ time I can go wherever I like, with a good qualification!

Well, I don’t know. I really don’t. It may be that because the food is down, I recognise my pattern where before I just acted on it. But I thought that all this moving that I’ve done in the past, was certainly partly what AA’s call a “geographical” – trying to run away from my troubles. But I haven’t got any troubles now!

I just feel restless, locked in a routine, mediocre… however, I’m not eating.

Don’t quit before the miracle happens

Great topic, don’t quit before the miracle. My mind went not so much to the issue of quitting before it, but to the miracle itself – and the fact that I am abstinent today is indeed a miracle, and I’m not using that word lightly. By miracle I mean that something happened to me by a power greater than myself, that there is absolutely no way I could have ever achieved it by my own devices. No amount of willpower, discipline, wishing, hoping, chastising myself… would ever have relieved my obsession continuously.

I emphasise “continuously” because I’m like the alcoholic in the Big Book who quit for a few months – on self-knowledge, on motivation, whatever, and then gets caught out and without even thinking takes that first drink… and a few hours later hits himself over the head, baffled and defeated, not understanding what had happened. I had no continuous defense against the first bite. I would start to feel better, relax my iron grip on myself – because there is no way I can keep an iron grip on anything for the rest of my life – and there I went, baffled because the condition hadn’t gone away after all, and the phenomenon of craving hit again.

Two miracles happened to me, personally. I know it’s not the same for everyone. But for me, there were two distinct miracles once I completely and utterly admitted defeat and was ready to do anything whatsoever to be relieved of my condition:

  1. The craving was removed.
    At the end of my eating days, I was deadlocked in an absolutely rigid, inescapable pattern. I would be able to diet for two weeks, starting on a Monday. I would get through the first weekend. Sometime around the end of the second week, craving would develop. I would resist it, sometimes for days – and when I talk about craving here, I’m talking about an absolute obsession with one particular food (probably different each time) that would be on the forefront of my mind every waking minute, everywhere I went, in everything I did. I could not outrun it, and it would not go away. That particular food was there, and no matter how desperately I tried to make it go away or out-wait it… it never did go away, until I broke down. It literally wore me down.
    When I became Greysheet abstinent, I abandoned myself to the programme entirely but must admit that I didn’t hold much hope beyond two weeks. But the miracle was that this inescapable craving never happened again… there is absolutely nothing I did or could have done to make it go away, it was relieved by a power greater than myself.
  2. I was given a continuous defense.
    Before I entered the two-week wheel I was on for so long, there were sometimes periods of perceived sanity: not that I ever ate like a normal person, but that I didn’t binge, either because I was on a diet or was filling up my belly with “non-caloric” vegetables until I literally could stomach nothing more. There were long periods of low-carb dieting, which meant that I avoided the physical trigger; however, my mind is not normal and so I was overeating on allowed things. I am an overeater by nature, whether or not I have sugar. But what I’m saying is, whatever diet I was on or perceived sanity I achieved for a while, there came the inevitable downfall. Sometimes even unintentional, just a bite here or there because I could handle it. Like the man with whiskey in his milk. Then a second. And another. I was exactly the same! I may have had a defense within myself for periods of time (although the more my condition progressed the less I was able to hold on), but the defense always failed. Always. I’m only human, after all.
    But a power greater than myself has been keeping me safe for 2 years and and 3 months or so now, and I trust that this will continue. There is no way I could have accomplished this in my own power for this length of time.

Now, I believe that the first miracle was one that needed to happen to me because I was in this deadlock. But I have seen people recover who have had to white-knuckle their way through early abstinence, trusting that the craving would eventually go – and it always does. Sadly, I can’t give anybody what my higher power has given me. It’s just not up to me. I didn’t ask for it, I didn’t pray for it, I just received it. I was desperate. So I have no insider tips, ways to “get it”… just pray and believe that there is indeed a power greater than ourselves who could relieve our insanity, and would, if he were sought. (that’s a Big Book quote).

But I do believe that the second miracle is the one available to every single recovering compulsive overeater. After all, that’s why we are told to throw outselves onto a higher power of our own understanding – the programme doesn’t work without that, because no power of my own could relieve my condition. I have no question about that in my mind.

So, for today, I don’t eat no matter what… may the miracle continue! – and I trust it will as long as I don’t take my own will, my own power, back.

Writing Group Topic: Wisdom to know the difference

The wisdom to know the difference… between the things I can do something about, and those I can’t. It occurs to me that this is about things that are wrong in my life – not necessarily about things that I just want to change because I fancy a change. In other words, what I have been struggling with almost all my life has been the desire to change, to reinvent myself, to get away, to be someone else or live someplace else. In a way, my challenge is to learn how not to change.

What I mean is that right now I have a wonderful job; I live in a wonderful place; I have great people around me. I am comfortable in every way, and there is nothing outside of myself that I need to apply the Serenity Prayer to at the moment (well… I can’t change my co-worker Coral, so I am working daily to accept her ways). My problem is the internal restlessness. What am I running away from? The answer to that is, sadly, nothing at all: it’s a habit more than anything, an ingrained way of thinking. I’m not even trying to run away from myself, as popular psychology would sometimes have it… I am happy with myself, I like myself, I don’t see anything radical that needs changing and if I did, I would happily change it.

So, in a way, the restlessness probably falls into the “things I can change”: God, give me the wisdom to know if this is the truth. I believe it is. Not necessarily that I can change my own thought patterns, but that I can pray for a change of heart to be given to me. The fact is, there are almost two opposed sides within me, one that loves this place and wants to stay, and another that loves this place and still wants to go – where? To the greener grass on the other side, wherever that may be. Perhaps I have become too used to being “new”: exploring the new place, establishing new friendships, the upheaval of it all (although I don’t even like that!). Or, as I said, there may be no good reason for it at all but simply a habit of thought that I grew up with from the time of my mother’s death when I began to live in the future – in which I would get away.

It’s commitment-phobia, of course. I don’t like to commit, to be bound to something or someplace or someone. No wonder I’m single, heh. This – singleness – falls firmly under “accept the things I cannot change” because I absolutely refuse to “hunt”… but my avoidance of commitment of the kind I can’t get out of (if there’s a back door, I have no problem committing), is something I can and ought to change.

A life to be lived

I just returned from a week’s vacation in southern Spain.

This is the first time I have ever taken a vacation in that sense… normally when I travel it is to visit friends or family, or to attend events (conferences etc.) – but I have never before gone somewhere with no plan, nothing to do at all, away from everybody I know and completely cut off – all by myself.

I found it an incredibly liberating experience.  The “logistics” weren’t a problem – I have travelled a lot in abstinence, and was staying at a self-catering place anyway where I prepared my own food.  But there I was… no plan, no agenda, no schedule… no TV or Internet, either… and life became so simple.

In the morning I would get up, have breakfast, spend time with God and meditate.  I wrote letters.  A few mornings I sat in the sun, in the garden, with a book.  I didn’t even keep to any discipline with my reading material: within a morning, I would switch from a history book (yes, I’m interested in that sort of thing) to fiction, to AA literature, to guide books about the area.  Or I would do a puzzle – it must have been years since I have done that.

I would make lunch, then head out – just down to the beach, or into town to window-shop (I found I’m too stingy to buy things I don’t need, especially on vacation when it means that I’ll have to cram them into my suitcase!) and walk around.  I spent a lot of time just walking around aimlessly.  Looking at things, people-watching.  I walked along the beach.  A few days, I lay at the beach (with a jacket on – it’s winter there, too!) with a book.

I did go sight-seeing to Malaga, wandered around a lot there too – didn’t go into any of the attractions because they cost money.  I do not like being a tourist, walking the trodden tourist path.  But I walked around, and up a hill where I could survey they entire city.  Up on that hill, on a lookout point where I could see the city and the sea and all, I had a beautiful lunch that I had taken with me.  Abstinence is beautiful.

Now I’ve come back incredibly, mentally refreshed.  A little over a week ago I was hurried, disorganised, unable to concentrate – running ragged.  Today I have an inner calm that comes from being in a place where I was able to listen to God and to myself again.  Get acquainted again.

The point is: I took care of myself in abstinence.  Going on vacation like this was an act of self-care, sorely needed at this point.  Eating beautiful abstinent food that I prepared myself, while there, was another act of self-care.  Every day that I do this – take care of myself by choosing recovery – I am loving my body and my life in a very practical way… but that is only the beginning!  Life unfolds.

In Spain, one book I kept referring to was Living Sober (AA conference approved literature – if you don’t have it, I recommend it highly!).  One message of that book hit home for me: and that is, there is a life to be lived in sobriety!

Today I have a life, and I’m making it the best it can be – only because it rests on a foundation of recovery.  Today I don’t eat, NMW.

Writing Group Topic: a recent NMW

Recent NMW’s, well, I had to think about that. I normally have a very settled routine and even when I’m travelling, I have learned to prepare, plan and protect to the point that I haven’t had any logistical troubles with food in a long time. Sometimes that’s just luck… such as today when I had my dinner in my suitcase, so I could eat it on the train journey home (if the suitcase didn’t arrive, I would have had the inconvenience of having to eat an hour later than I wanted to, but no problem) – technically it is not allowed to take fresh food from the EU into the UK, and could cost a fine. It was a risk I’m willing to take, though… they never check.

So any recent NMW’s I have faced have been internal, within myself. Two things come to mind… when two members of my family were here to visit me, I experienced for the first time (that I could identify) the strong urge to eat “at” them, to spite them, just because I let myself have “the dubious luxury of resentments” – they are who they are, but my reaction and attitude is mine to choose and I didn’t make a conscious choice until that desire, that urge to eat “at” them, came to the fore: and that shook me. Not because I might have been close to picking up, I really don’t think I was, but because I’d never experienced that before.

The second one that came to mind was and is my continuing frustration and my weight, which has jumped 5 lbs. this month – UP. I am frustrated, disappointed, angry… all of them are emotions that may make me want to eat… but at the end of the day I know I have nowhere else to run, it’s either this way or UP UP UP without stopping, and into misery. I don’t want to go there.

Well these NMW’s are why I need the fellowship… I’ve recently been connecting really well at my Sunday night AA group, which has been so helpful. Face-to-face meetings, there’s really no substitute.

Writing Group topic: Topic: Dealing with Frustration and/or Emotions that are Triggers

Well, so the topic… dealing with triggering emotions or frustrations… well how do I deal with them? There’s a whole list of things that frustrate me, or trigger negativity.

  • physical hunger. I am an absolute nightmare to be around when I’m physically hungry. I have no patience for anything then.
  • rushing. I hate to be rushed, I normally plan better than to be rushing, but of course it does happen occasionally. I cannot stand being late (case in point: when I lived in New York, I remember arriving late for a meeting with a friend ONCE – and he still won’t let me live it down, knowing how atypical that is for me!)
  • Family. That is to say, my father’s side of it. They frustrate me with their low-level hatred of one another, their passive aggression that flies under the radar just enough so you’re not able to call them on it. I don’t know how to deal with it, and it frustrates me. This is probably why I had absolutely NOTHING to share the week they were here, when we were talking about “Fun in abstinence” – what an irony.
  • Disorganisation. I tend towards being organised, I plan ahead. Others don’t always. There are some people I work with whose perpetual state of disorganisation, and the constant emergencies that arise out of that (as they keep going from one fire to the next), frustrate me a lot.

This list just makes me sound like a perpetually frustrated person. But I really don’t think I am. The question is really, how do I deal with it?

I think withdrawal is probably it. Most of the time, when I’m frustrated with something or someone, I just withdraw – take my hands off, walk away. If I can. If I can’t, I withdraw in other ways – speaking only when spoken to, and then only the most necessary. These are my coping mechanisms when things are beyond my control, if there’s nothing I can do about those frustrations. Some things I can do something about – hunger, for example – but I can’t fix someone else’s disorganisation (or its impact on my workload) or my family.

I suppose I should work on “healthy” outlets or ways of dealing with it, but I don’t know, this seems to me a pretty civilised way of dealing with frustration: withdraw until it goes away. Works for me, most of the time…