Stephanie Z.’s Story and the significance of Step 10 for long-term Recovery

I have been a food addict since my earliest memories.  I can remember being about 2 years old and waking up very early while everyone else was sleeping.  I would go into the kitchen and get a glass of water.  I would sit on top of the kitchen table in front of the sugar bowl and begin by licking my finger and dipping it in the sugar bowl.  When I would tire of eating the sugar that way, I would dump teaspoons of it into my glass of water and stir.  I would drink the water, but the best was the syrup that formed at the bottom of the glass that I would then eat with my spoon.  If this wasn’t a little food addict at work, I don’t know what is.

I grew up the eldest child of 2 girls with an alcoholic father and enabling, codependent, yet very loving mother.  I won’t go into the verbal and mental abuse from my raging father, nor the dysfunction of growing up in an alcoholic home: many of us know this story.  He was a very angry alcoholic.  Suffice it to say that he left when I was 15 years old, a blessing to us, and we had no contact with him until December of 2000.  He shot himself in the head, so I know where my addiction will take me.  Both of my grandfathers were alcoholic as well as a host of uncles, aunts and cousins.  Those that aren’t alcoholic are food addicts.  So this goes to show I’ve got the genetics!

I was a big girl all of my life.  By fifth grade, I was 5’7” and weighed about 185lbs.  My life revolved around food.  I ate anytime I wanted and any amount I wanted.  My mother hid food, but I would always find it.  My sister hated me for eating her cereal and goodies all of the time, and I had such shame over it all.  Every family gathering was a feast, and with many of us being food addicts, no one ever told me to stop.  I would always come home from these gatherings with a terrible stomachache.  I couldn’t ride a bike or climb trees like the other neighborhood kids and I was always getting hurt from being so big and clumsy, stitches here, broken bones there, always bruised or scabbed.

I was always popular in my school, outgoing and friendly and of course quite the people pleaser.  I was active in music, theater, and sports.  I played basketball until 9th grade when I just couldn’t keep up any more with all of the running due to my weight.  I was in track participating in the field events of shot put, discus and javelin until my senior year when again I just couldn’t keep up any more.  My weight began to bother me when boys and girls started dating because I realized boys just don’t like fat girls.  Or I should say, fat girls who have low self-esteem and hate themselves and their bodies.  I know now its not appearance, its how you feel inside.  Anyway, by my senior year of high school I was 5’101/2” (still that height today) and weighed 240lbs.  I wore a size 24.  I was miserable!

One day, a very good friend said to me “Stephanie, you’re always complaining about your weight, why don’t you try to lose some of it?”  I had never even tried losing weight before that suggestion.  I just ate when I wanted to, second and third helpings, basically a grazer.  I had never actually “binged”.  So, a girlfriend of mine had the weight watcher books, I made copies of them and began following the “exchange” program they had then.  Within about 4 to 5 months I went from 240 lbs. to 180 lbs.  I was a size 14-16 and felt great at my high school graduation.  Still no boyfriend, but I had hope.

Off to college I went, I had put on a little weight over the summer but still felt good.  I was; however, completely obsessed with food.  I began using exercise as a way to combat the times I overate.  I still wasn’t really bingeing, just overeating.  I discovered boys and alcohol in college.  I would not eat all day so that I could binge drink at night, then we’d come home drunk and binge on food.  I put weight on rapidly and gained it all back, then lost some, gained, lost, you get the idea.  I did this until I was back to 240lbs at the beginning of my junior year of college.

By this time I was bingeing, but a binge consisted of a stromboli and 3 or 4 candy bars from a candy machine in the office where I worked.  The summer between my junior and senior year of college, I only ate a slim fast shake a container of yogurt and an apple each day.  I did this for 3 months.  I also ran 3 miles, swam 1 mile, and rode the stationary bike for one mile every day.  I lost 80lbs. in 3 months.  I was an anorexic exercise bulimic and I was completely nuts mentally.  I did nothing with anyone, would not go out, isolated and about once/month I would basically empty out the candy machine at work.  Bingeing was growing.  I was stealing money from people’s desks to buy the candy when I would run out of change.  I worked night shift sometimes and had keys to all the offices.  One day my boss asked if anyone was walking around at night because money was missing.  I feel this is when Higher Power took over as I admitted it was me.  I hadn’t intended on admitting to anything.  I was the straight A perfect good girl, no one would think it was me, but it was my cry for help.  I was very lucky to not be kicked out of college over this.  I did pay all of the money back, but this is a perfect example of the depths of my disease.

Part of the deal to stay in school was to go to counseling.  Here is where I first learned of OA and I began going to meetings immediately.  What a relief to know I wasn’t alone.  I began OA in 11/89 and attended regularly until 9/96.  During those 7 years, I continued to gain and lose those same 60 to 80 lbs. over and over again.  I actually had one full year of “pseudo” abstinence, 3 meals a day, nothing in between one day at a time.  I basically followed that original weight watchers plan that worked for me the first time.  I graduated college, got a good job that I hated with the government.  My life was basically work, OA, and bingeing when I wasn’t abstinent.  It was a crazy cycle.  I met a man, we got engaged, it was a terrible relationship and thank God after 4 years I finally ended it and no we never got married- whew.

So after 1 year of “pseudo” abstinence, I started to lose it again in 6/96.  I had just started dating my current husband and was about 180lbs.  I thought, the hell with this OA and 12 steps, its just not working for me.  The reality is I was never given the information I needed to recover in that program.  But I am forever grateful for its teaching of the 12 steps and realizing I wasn’t alone in my disease.  So I left and thus began the fall into an abyss I never want to return to.  Within 2 years I had put on 200 lbs. and was at 350lbs, a weight so much higher than I’d never known.  I actually married Bill at my top weight of 370lbs, I can’t believe he stayed with me through it all.  I continued to binge, by this time my day consisted of maybe going to work, a lot of the time calling in sick, getting all my binge foods and then bingeing all night long until I passed out.  A binge now consisted of 2 McDonalds meals or a large pizza, a bag of cookies, a bag of chips, a dozen doughnuts, a pint of ice cream, a bag of M&Ms (the big bag) etc.  It basically filled a whole shopping cart and I would eat it all in one night.  Once Bill and I were married, I did a lot of bingeing in the car and hiding stuff in drawers around the house.  By the summer of 2000, I was ready to die; I just did not have the guts to kill myself.  I even thought of committing a crime with a fake gun and pointing it at a cop so that they would have to shoot me and do the killing for me.  I tell you, I was totally insane at this point.  If I didn’t take my own life, a heart attack was right around the corner anyway.  My legs and feet were always swollen.  I became short of breath at the slightest exertions.  I couldn’t walk far and steps were hell.  All this at age 30!

A friend from OA days and some bands I sang in stayed in touch with me now and then, although I didn’t return most of her phone calls.  She was in RFA and I thought what she did was nuts.  One time she called to ask if I wanted to join a band she was in, I said at this size it was too humiliating to be on a stage, but maybe I’d try this RFA thing and see.  So I went in with the diet mentality as always.  I went to one meeting and basically walked out saying there was no f-in way I was doing that crazy plan.  But a week later I came back, got a sponsor that night, and for whatever reason, quit the debating society.  I saw people who had what I wanted; they had a sparkle in their eye I had never seen before.  And these were dear friends of mine who were chronic relapsers like me in OA.  This had to mean this plan contained something!  So I just followed directions.  No matter what my sick head said, I did what I was told.  I surrendered to God and my disease.  This began on 8/20/00.

Within one week of following Kay’s plan, all of my cravings were removed.  The few times I have had any physical cravings since was due to an addictive substance sneaking into my plan without my knowledge.  I could always trace the source.  I started an RFA meeting after 1 month of abstinence because I needed more than one meeting a week.  I attend 2 RFA meetings and 6 AA meetings every week.  I fit the requirement for AA membership in that I have a desire not to drink by following Kay’s plan.  I need meetings to keep out of my head and stay in recovery thinking.

Getting the correct information about food addiction has saved and completely changed my life.  My life is so full now I don’t even have time to watch TV, which is where I did all of my bingeing.  I love the food plan and have a lot of variety.  Yes, there is a learning curve to it, but its so worth the work.  I have a relationship with God beyond my wildest dreams.  I’ve returned to the faith of my childhood and attend church regularly.  I sing in a Praise and Worship band, which just fills my heart with joy.  My marriage is so much better.  I started my dream job after 4 months of abstinence.  I rarely call in sick because I want to be there and enjoy what I do.  The gifts just continue and I stand in amazement daily.  I’ve worked through all of the steps twice now and am left with some names on my step 9.

Which brings me to what I feel is a very important factor to my continued unconditional abstinence: Step 10.  I do a Spot Check 10th step inventory every night.  On a spreadsheet, I have listed all of my relapse warning signs.  They include the following:

Warning Signs

Awfulize Abstinence
Skip Meals
Change Meal Times
Eat too fast
Eat with TV, Phone, Books
Sloppy Measurements
Fail to Plan
Don’t call in food changes
Euphoric Recall
Skip Meetings
Don’t Pray or Meditate/Contact w/ HP
Skip Gratitude List
Painful Circumstances
No Step Work
No From the First Bite
No Big Book
No or Over Exercise
Hostility towards people/circumstances
Feeling Insecure
Intolerance/Putting others down
Jealousy over others’ (looks)
Worthlessness/Inappropriate Guilt
Reducing Portion Size
Neglecting to check labels
Bingeing on Abstinent Food
Returning to obsession about food & weight
Unrealistic/Unchecked Anger
Anxious/Nameless Fears
Thinking of eating regular food
Making Phone Calls
Worrying about what others’ think
Incessant talking of food plan
Looking for Pity
Exercise Obsession

Each night I place a check mark next to all of the ones I experienced that day and I go over it with my sponsor as well as reporting my food plan for the next day.  I can’t tell you how vital this step is for continued recovery.  When I see too many signs piling up, its time to dig in and rev up my program.  I must stay out of these behaviors for continued abstinence.  I’m human, I do return to old ways, but only temporarily and I’m so aware of it when I’m in it thanks to abstinence.  I encourage anyone who hasn’t made out a list like this to do so right away and use it daily.  It is saving my life.  It’s not a punishment; it’s a system of checks and balances.  Recovery is all about being somewhere in the relapse area, either very close to recovery or close to picking up the first bite.  The closer we are to that bite, the closer we are to the disease.  I don’t want to be close to that so I surrender to God each and every day.  I ask Him to help me to be abstinent no matter what.

By the grace of God, I now have 3 years of unconditional abstinence.  I have weighed and measured everything from day one.  I have called my sponsor every day.  I call others for help and to give help.  I sponsor, a huge gift of recovery.  The mental peace and serenity is the greatest gift, but the physical benefits are also wonderful.  I have been relieved of 220 lbs. and am now at maintenance (around 150lbs).  I have gone from a size 32 to a size 6/8.  It’s an unreal feeling and my brain has to catch up to being a thin person.  There are no limits anymore, with God’s help I can do whatever I set my mind to do.  I am forever grateful to this food plan, Kay Sheppard, RFA and the loving support of the loop.  I wish this blessing for all food addicts!!

God Bless and much love,

Stephanie Z.