For the past 7 months I have been “abstinent” in Overeaters Anonymous. I define that abstinence by not adding sugar to what I eat, not eating something in which one of the first three ingredients is sugar, and not bingeing on food. I have been nicotine free following a 12-Step program for some 18 years. In one week I will be sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for 32 years. What does all of this really mean? A few points:
- I am reasonably in awe of the fact that were I not in recovery, most of what I do today would not happen. As I write this, I am sitting in a colleague’s house in Lima, Peru. The colleague was a childhood friend of the daughter of my wife. I met my wife when I worked in Northeast Louisiana after receiving a graduate degree from the University of Illinois, where I had received a full scholarship after graduating with an MA from the University of Cincinnati where I had gone back to college in 1985 after waiting the recommended one year before making any major life decisions in sobriety. As my pre-recovery attempt at college produced a whopping 0.7 GPA, I can reasonably attribute sobriety to launching me on the path that led me to sitting in Lima, Peru, today, where I type this post.
- For alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, “sobriety” is unambiguous – I don’t put those substances in my body. Abstinence from compulsive overeating is not so universally defined. In OA the individual defines their own abstinence. To some, such a self-definition is the equivalent of deciding to drink only beer and not hard liquor, etc for a self-defined sobriety. I view abstinence as the same as sobriety in abstaining from those foods or eating behaviors that cause me problems. Sugar is one. Binge eating is another.
- In recovery from compulsive overeating, a rigid adherence to a set of rules or regulations would be akin to a diet – something that has never worked for me.
- I have learned in the past 30 years that recovery has little to do with actual substance to which I am addicted. Putting down the bottle, the pill, the cigarette, the food only allows me the clarity to begin living life on life’s terms and a path toward discovery of true self that I masked with my various drugs of choice.
- In this way, when I entered the University of Cincinnati in 1985 with one year of sobriety, being physically sober allowed me the clarity and the ability to take tests, write papers and perform the mechanics of going to school and being accountable. But the process of recovery, an attitude of gratitude, a belief in hope, and a desire to live life fully enables me to take those steps forward and to climb out of the bottle of addiction.
- In this way, recovery is marked less by the date I stopped using a specific substance to avoid living life, but rather the day I decided to move forward with living life fully on life’s terms and to begin the journey to discover my true self.