A Story of Recovery:
Journey to Recovery
“This program is portable, and you don’t have to stay home to stay abstinent.” I heard those words early on in FA, and took them to heart. Travel brought me into recovery and has been a constant part of my story. My food addiction set in when I was six years old. I was a shy, introverted, highly sensitive girl. I was afraid of my teacher and of being different from the other students. I remember coming home from school to my mother’s cooking and experiencing a feeling of warmth, refuge, and love. Those food associations became deeply ingrained in me.
A boy called me “fatso” for the first time at age six, and I immediately replied, “I’m not fat – I’m big boned.” It was not until I came into FA that my family and I learned that I was not big boned after all. My real body was hidden for so long that we had no way to know.
I gained weight steadily, reaching a top weight of around 235 pounds when I was 19 years old at a height of 5’ 8”. In college, I used food to cope with stress, insecurity, and exhaustion. I would binge to numb the fear I felt before starting any big assignment. It was like throwing a drugged steak to a guard dog to get it out of the way so the rest of me could get to work. I was still being called “fatso” in front of my friends at age 21, when I was an exchange student in Paris and London.
After college, I moved to Washington, DC and joined a popular commercial diet program. Spending thousands of dollars over eight years, I yo-yoed between 180 pounds and 200 pounds. Once I figured out that I could use flour, sugar, and unlimited vegetables, that program stopped working for me entirely. After a difficult break-up triggered another fast weight gain up to 205 pounds, I hit upon a new solution: training for the Marine Corps Marathon. I switched my focus from food to fitness and trained heavily for five months. It was a wonderful experience and I raised money for cancer research, but I did not lose any weight. I felt like a freak of nature. What was wrong with me?
A new door opened on my thirty-first birthday, when I attended a one-day business meeting just outside of Boston. It was on September 11, 2001. The television news station reported that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center just before I entered the conference center. I could not get home to Washington, and my work friend took me in. She had lost a large amount of weight, and I asked her what she was doing. As soon as she said the words “food addict,” I identified with her. I went to a meeting with her and heard a woman say something incredible: “My entire life has just been turned upside down, and thank you God, I do not have to eat over it today.” At that moment, my life felt completely out of control and I wanted what she had. It was not just that she was thin; I could see she had something powerful supporting her. Someone at the meeting asked me if I thought I could have no flour or sugar for one day. I thought that might be possible. After I finished the marathon, I found a sponsor and proceeded to lose 60 pounds, reaching a healthy goal weight for the first time since I was five years old.
My first trip in recovery was to New York City. The hotel security guard was highly suspicious of the woman in sweats calling her sponsor in the hallway at 5:45 a.m. On the way home, we stopped at a famous delicatessen. When I looked at the enormous display of flour and sugar products, I realized that even if I bought and ate all of them, it would never be enough. However, if I did not start eating them, I would not have to figure out how to stop. Something profound changed in me at that moment.
My first international business trip was in Germany. I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, when the grocery stores and hotel restaurant were closed. I wandered the streets looking for an abstinent lunch and started to panic as I looked at bar menus I could not understand. I prayed for help, and I turned the corner to find an open restaurant with photos of abstinent food on the menu and an English-speaking waitress. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I could get what I needed.
At a three-day conference in London, the hotel caterers had no idea what a REAL salad looked like. I complained to my sponsor that I was only getting a few sprigs at my meals. She replied, “Every surrender takes us further from addiction and closer to God.” Those wonderful words hit home. I went back to my fellowship and announced, “I am now three salads closer to God.” Now I rely on those words whenever I have to give something up in a restaurant.
I traveled to Cancun with my sister and stayed at a fancy resort. I had to keep saying “No sauce, no sauce” in my limited Spanish, and I started to resent it. As long as my meal had no flour, sugar, or cornstarch, what was wrong with sauce? Then it hit me that I was sitting in beach paradise, and I could not see it because I was obsessing about sauce. I was going to have the same day, whether I had sauce or not. I surrendered the sauce, and I stayed abstinent. On that trip, I went snorkeling for the first time wearing a bikini, and I felt like a mermaid. I was reminded of the gifts of recovery.
After one-and-a-half years in recovery, I was offered an opportunity to take a new job in New Zealand. There were no FA meetings there at that time, but I was welcomed in open AA meetings, and I was able to stay abstinent one day at a time using the tools of FA. We now have an FA meeting in Wellington with a fellowship that is growing stronger.
Friends and family have said to me, “You have been in a thin body for over twelve years. Why are you still doing this?” I am still doing this because I still have the mind and body of a food addict. By practicing certain disciplines every day, I do not have to take that first addictive bite and my life keeps getting better.
I have been blessed to have traveled around the world in abstinence. However, my more important journey has been one of internal transformation, and that journey of a thousand miles began with the First Step.