⇒ Sharing My Experience, Strength and Hope (ESH)
I am John, grateful recovering Compulsive Eater. Today I practice the 12th step: Having had a spiritual awakening I will share what I used to be like, what happened and what I am like now! My story is not unique, I am just another bozo on the bus, just one of many compulsive eaters recovering in our fellowship of the spirit.
What I Was Like
Since joining recovery, I have realized that I helped create the bondage which imprisoned me. I choose the bars which became so strong and deep-seated in me that they depressed my life for 73 of my 76 years and at times drove me completely insane in my actions. I am so grateful for recovery, the abstinence it offers us and the release it provides from the bondage of self.
Early in my life I began to imitate who I thought my father was. I idolized him for his strong work ethic, physical strength and quiet manner. It took me years to understand that he deeply loved, talked freely with and expressed his emotions to my mother. From what I could see of him, though, I came to believe that real men worked hard, were silent towers of strength and kept their feelings to themselves. I realize now that that belief was the beginning of my isolation, fear and internalizing my feelings. My mother was a great match for Dad, hard-working, emotionally and spiritually strong like my father and they worked easily together to set an example, tempered by love and kindness. We were taught to love and serve God, to be kind and loving to others, and to work as hard and achieve as highly as we were capable. The 4 of us siblings eventually joined our mother as valedictorians of our respective classes and my sisters went on to achieve at the highest levels in University, sister Linda graduating as a Fulbright Scholar, receiving a PHD at London’s Queens College.
Unlike my sisters, who seemed to embrace life as it came to them, I wanted very badly to serve God. I believed that God expected me to be perfect as the Bible says and I thought that meant be perfect in all my actions. I did not understand that there are no mistakes but only outcomes. We learn many times by trial and error, experimenting and if the outcome is not what we want, we simply change and try something different. For me making a mistake was incomprehensible. I took on responsibilities that were not mine to bear and fell into a stinking thinking black hole believing I was doomed to repeat my misery with no means of changing the outcome for the better. When mother asked me to watch out for the girls, I wanted to be obedient and helpful but I over-reacted being overly watchful and started agonizing and worrying that the girls might be hurt. My parents saying do your best always translated into my feeling I had to be the best. Over-achieving and stressing about life soon caused me to be fearful of women, police and other authority figures. My failures to be perfect always came, and I reacted with anger toward myself, which caused depression with its associated guilt, feelings of unworthiness, and self-loathing.
The reading Just for Today recommends that "I will adjust myself to what is, and not try to adjust everything to my own desires. I will take my “luck” as it comes and fit myself to it." I was one who could not do these simple things. These were things that I was simply clueless about in my early life. I did not even understand that I had a choice. What I used to be like can be best summed up by an experience I had when I was 5 years old, which I call The Outhouse.
I was playing out behind the well house and was making mud pies in old tin pans and letting them cook in the sun. I got the idea that I could do it better if I had eggs to mix in like I had seen mother do. So, I went next door and told Aunt Stellie that my mother needed to borrow 2 eggs. She went and got them for me and I hurried behind the wellhouse and cracked them just like mother and mixed them in my now better mud pies. I might have gotten by with it but I was not satisfied with my two pies, and I went back and borrowed another 2 eggs. Aunt Stellie began wondering why my mother needed 4 eggs and so she knocked on our back door and asked. When I heard my mother call out “John Aldon” I knew I wasin real trouble and I got really afraid and ran and hid in the nearby outhouse. Mother and Aunt Stellie began searching for me and when my mother was heading toward the outhouse Aunt Stellie said No need as she had already checked there and so their cries became louder and they began running here and there with mounting concern …finally retracing their steps mother opened the door to the outhouse and stepped up and saw my brown curly head down in the right hole. Fear proved to be devastating for me. Living in an outhouse came to be a type and shadow for my life. As I grew older fear continued to grip my life, oft times overwhelming my thoughts, and stealing my peace of mind. I could not distinguish between the things I could not change and the things I could change, so I tried to be perfect in everything. I became the classic overachiever with straight A’s in elementary school and was valedictorian of my graduating class. Failures always came and they caused me to begin to hate myself. So much so that as a freshman I scored in the 100th % ile on self-abasement on a standardized test. I could never do anything well enough to stop the rush of negativity that riddled my thinking. I truly lived in the outhouse, my self-created hell hardened by fear.
The pressure of life was simply too much for me. I was one of those people That How It Works describes as suffering from grave emotional and mental disorders. By the time I was a freshman in college, I had come completely unglued, I simply could no longer compete academically let alone reach for excellence. Over the next 40 years I experienced 4 mental breakdowns, one which required me to be heavily medicated and locked in a mental hospital for 30 days and one which required 8 years of 30 hours a week group therapy along with weekly individual counseling, and a host of anti-depressant and anti-pyschotic drugs. At my lowest point I was taking 13 prescriptions and was self-medicating with food. I was clinically diagnosed with a spectrum of Affective Disorders, including Anxiety and Panic disorders, Binge Eating Disorder, Fibromyalgia, and Major Depressive Disorder with obsessions & ruminations. I was told by the staff psychiatrist and the psychologists in the mental health service where I was being treated that I simply would never recover and I believed them. My life such as it was was riddled and devastated by ISMs, character defects and negative stinking thinking; they dominated my thinking, and they fed and fueled my dysfunctional life and propped up my illusion of happiness!