A Story of Recovery:

Recovery by Degrees 

Two years before I came to Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) I had taught myself to quilt. Prior to FA quilting was probably the only activity I did without eating. I didn’t want messy hands when working on my projects, but I took plenty of breaks, meaning trips to the kitchen for food.

I’ve been a professional quilter since 2012. Customers piece quilt tops together and then pay me to finish them by putting together all the layers with decorative stitches on my industrial machine. I wanted to have this kind of business soon after I started quilting. Many years later abstinence made it possible.

I have piles of quilt tops I’ve made but, because quilting for others is my job now, I get very little time to finish my own projects. I recently had a chance to do one of my own, so I chose a very cool, modern look. I couldn’t decide on the designs to stitch but got started, sure that some inspiration would come, as is my method with challenging customer projects. It was not working for my own, however.

I’d had high expectations from the start: The quilt would be amazing, and it would be a treat to finish something of mine. However, as I worked, I found the experience was very different: I was annoyed and got into some self-pity too: I get so little time to do my own work. Why does it ALWAYS go this way? Why am I wasting my time? I started to hate the project and figured I would call it a loss. I’d throw it in a closet, unfinished, and never think about it again. Before that though I laid it out on my table for one last look. I still hated it…until I took just one step to the right and saw it from a different angle. By turning the quilt 90-degrees, the look totally changed, as did my perspective. Now, I actually liked it…really liked it…a lot!

This experience was surprising and entertaining, but it was also immediately obvious that it served as an analogy for my life in recovery from food addiction. I’ve experienced an unending series of small adjustments, or 90-degree turns, in attitude and/or circumstances that have changed my perspective about my recovery, relationships, and parenting, and even myself.

As a newly abstinent person, I was frequently given suggestions about food that made absolutely no sense to me. It became less troubling when I made the decision to trust that someone else might know more about how I should eat, especially since I’d never been able to apply my vast nutritional knowledge to my own eating. Later, I better understood my sponsor’s suggestions and even found myself passing them on.

Changing how I explained my new food plan to other people made a huge difference in how I viewed it myself. When I stopped saying, I can’t eat that, and started saying, I’m choosing to not eat that, I felt less deprived and became grateful for the food that kept me healthy.

The way I tell my story today is quite different from my early years in program. The story of my life has not changed, but how I look at my life has. It seems that I had a tendency to see myself as a victim of other people’s deficiencies, bad decisions, and ill intent. I’d spent decades not wanting to be accountable for my choices and actions. Learning to be responsible for my past helps me to be more responsible in my present life.

I’ve also been blessed to have other people involved in some of my 90-degree turns, though I didn’t always appreciate it at the time. When our son was in his second year of hockey, I worked as Youth Ministry Director at my church. I worked most Saturdays, so I missed a lot of games. If I didn’t have to work on a Saturday, I saw it as a chance to sleep in, so I still missed his games. I figured that I needed the sleep and, at five years old, he’d soon be interested in another activity that I knew I’d be able to watch.

My husband confronted me about missing the games, which was embarrassing at the time, but this led to another adjustment in my attitude. Actually, it led to two adjustments. I started to want to show up for the games, which I enjoyed, and I started showing up more in my marriage because I listened to what my husband said and how he felt; I changed my actions so I could be more of a partner.

Letting go of my Doctoral program was a 90-degree turn that happened one fairly painful degree at a time, and with the help of many FA fellows. I had already finished my master’s in Sociology when I found the FA program. I’d actually had no plans for graduate school, but an undergrad advisor suggested I apply because my grades were good, which was all I needed to hear. Somebody thinks I’m smart and should do this thing, so I did it.

To say graduate school was a struggle is an understatement, though the struggle was primarily of my own making. I made countless FA calls, saying I was unhappy, but the prospect of walking away was impossible and undesirable. I’ve invested so much time and accrued so much debt, how could I just walk away? One fellow said it was like investing more money into a car that wouldn’t run. I didn’t appreciate the wording, but it was the same general message I was getting from other fellows. Ultimately, I knew it to be true, as well.

One call, one quiet time, one AWOL, one degree at a time, I started seeing how remaining in my Doctoral program was threatening my recovery; my past financial and time investments were hard to let go of, but hanging on and hoping for the same behavior to produce different results would most likely lead to me breaking my abstinence. So, I walked away in 2003.

The last straw was a new advisor who repeatedly requested revisions to my dissertation proposal, then repeatedly refused to approve it. I saw her as a brick wall blocking my path. I still see her as that brick wall I kept running into, but I am beyond grateful for that brick wall, which I believe God put in my path because I needed to take a different one.

I felt some relief immediately but, because of my pride, it took a long time to fully accept my decision. Sixteen years later, I have no regrets, nor do I have any doubts about whether it was the right decision.

I have many more examples, but the lesson is basically the same every time. I’m shown what I need when I remain open to change, and my life gets better. The ability to make these adjustments, as well as the resulting changes in perspective, are gifts from my Higher Power. I want to keep showing up for these spiritual lessons and gifts, and the best way to do that is to pray, weigh and measure my food, and work all my FA tools.

By the way, my son went on to play travel and high school hockey and is now playing in college at the age of 19, so it wasn’t just a fleeting interest. He had a game just last night, which my husband and I attended. I’m so grateful that I’ve shown up along the way.


This story was originally published in the connection Magazine. Subscribe to the connection Magazine for more stories of recovery. Or submit your own story of recovery.