I wrote about how I feel about groups in my first memoir-”From Agoraphobia to Zen” “It’s not that I don’t like groups, it’s that group’s don’t like me.Well, I decided all these years later to join a group I had tried before with negative results. But this would be different. It’s a phone group. I wouldn’t have to go out or have anyone comment on my appearance, personality or how I used to say “you know’ and like before I spoke. How progressive, how efficient, how cool?
This particular step group is for people with eating problems and it’s based on the principles of A.A. I’m not an alcoholic but I am told it doesn’t matter. The principles work well with any addiction. My addiction is food. I chose this particular group because they proclaim that I don’t have to give up bread and flour and for me, life without bread and pasta is not really worth living. Most of all they proclaim they can cure me of my addiction to food if I follow the “rules.’ I know I’m in trouble here because rules and I don’t agree. However, I like the idea of being cured and not having to give up white flour, Oh, I said that already.
I listen in on a few groups and am strongly encouraged to leave my number so a sponsor can call me back. In fact most of the meetings focus on service and giving back what you have been given. I’m not sure what I’ve been given yet but hey, I can understand giving back. I gave away most of my possessions to a local charity; mostly because I have trouble taking care of stuff that doesn’t breathe; like dogs. I keep my dogs. There is also a lot of talk of prayer and the Lord even though they say you only have to believe in a higher power which I do. At first everything goes well. I like all the calls I am getting asking to sponsor me. I have never been the popular girl and now it seems I’m most wanted. One caller candidate tells me she is a medical student and has been with the program for three months but assures me she has already brought two people through the steps and is cured. I don’t pick her because she is young and I would have to tell her stuff no eighteen year old should hear, medical student or not. I pick a woman who lives on the West Coast and whose voice has a hippy mellow feel. I revert to childhood when I call her and shyly say “I choose you.” She is pleased and then tells me she is a Wiccan and I don’t have to worry about her telling me to believe in one creator. She is into goddesses (not that there’s anything wrong with that) I once met a Wiccan princess on a breakup online group and she helped me cast a spell against an evil man who was messing with my head so bad, having a witch in my life seemed like a good idea. I ask my new sponsor if she has any problem with the religious feel of the program that we both agree are ingrained in the foundation of A.A. “I was so desperate for relief from my disorder; I would have followed anything at my lowest point. This program will work if you work it” Good answer, but where have I heard that before? I am impressed; well until she tells me I have to complete multiple forms and have a three-hour session with her early in the morning after which I will be cured. It does sound magical but I’m not a morning person. But I’m docile so I fill out the papers thinking what my mother said about that note on my fifth grade report card. My mother told me the word “docile’ was an insult. “Horses are docile,” she had yelled. The night before my session I become anxious. I had been feeling good for a long time. I had fought a lot of trauma and came out on the other side reasonably functional. I had to fill out forms that asked who I resented and what part of my flaws caused that resentment and “was it sexual” (ok, that was another form but still). My first thought was that I don’t resent anyone; well anyone except this person who was making me anxious about both waking up at the crack of dawn and having to search for people or things I resented.
I used to be full of anger and resentment but after I read my mother’s diary and other books like the “four agreements” I began to understand where my panic attacks and other anxieties had originated. In 2000, I had an epiphany and no longer had the compulsion to stay home literally in my closet and eat everything in the house.
In the first chapter of my memoir I had written about being raped and almost killed on my 19th birthday by a stranger. Yet the last chapter of the book has this quote “I almost wished I could blame the panic attacks and agoraphobia that plagued my life on the obscenity of that night but the truth is much darker and started long before that small death” The epiphany was that my anxiety had originated from living with a bi-polar mom and being mentally and physically abused. I later had lived a double life; half the time locked in my closet, the other half roaming around the world escaping my fears by living on the edge. I was obsessed with food, whether eating it or planning to eat it or beating myself up for eating it. I was fat, then thin, then afraid of gaining weight, then fat again, and then finally writing the book and letting go of most of the pounds of pain. Three recent deaths in my family and a gain of 15 scary pounds had brought me to this 12 step meeting.
I filled out the papers and discovered I did have small resentments at various people and things in my life but I still didn’t see how I was at fault for the neighbor who constantly parades his shirtless body in front of my house to make my dogs bark. But maybe I resented him because he was invading my boundary lines which I fiercely protect. As I child I didn’t have that power. Can this resentment be my flaw? Ok, I’ll accept that, I thought. It’s my fear of being taken advantage of. Usually, I say the wrong things, ask too many questions or my appearance bothers people in general and in groups it’s much worse. I tell myself I would be silent. I would not let anyone’s remarks about anything make me do something stupid, like speak my mind. I promised to be good. Where had I said that before? This group would accept me and I would be cured I told myself as I filled out paper after paper admitting my sins, I mean faults and promising to make amends. But there was one problem. I had to tell one person something I had never before told another person. Now, I am the author of a no holds back memoir telling everything from the most terrible insults, rape and even a botched abortion I had regretted and forgiven myself for. What secret did I have left? Oh, I had a secret all right but how could I tell this woman I had never met? We went over the sheets of resentments and fears that were still deep inside bleeding out on the paper and I told her my deep dark secret with horror and sorrow in my voice.
“I’m not here to judge you”, she said.
But I’m perceptive and I noticed something in her voice. I realized I was telling my secret to someone who had more problems and less healing than I, no matter what group she belonged to. I was triggering her in some way and her voice betrayed her fragile mental state. “What was the exact nature of the defect within me that allowed the fear to surface and block me off from God’s will”? She read.
I don’t answer and she said, “You are recovered and restored to sanity. Restored to Sanity? Heck, I’m now writing a book where I proudly wear the title of insanity which to me means capable of rational judgment and behavior and reasoning and having good sense in the best meaning of that phrase.
I never had traditional good sense but my own path has led me to survival. If I had sense I wouldn’t have made half the mistakes I’ve made but I also wouldn’t have had the experiences and self-awareness I have now. Yet, when it comes to food and life I was not functional for a long time. In my opinion being sane means being functional and “the same” which is not what I usually aim for.
I have not followed the path my parents would have wanted for me. And that’s a good thing.
I would have been miserable being a secretary living in Brooklyn in an apartment with a man my mother approved of which would have been impossible because she wouldn’t have approved of anyone; not even a Jewish doctor. She would have said that he couldn’t be trusted because why in heaven would a doctor want someone like me?
I am a survivor and I figured out how to be a functional insane person. I also figured out how not to eat myself into an early grave and I did it without any step program. I do not want to be restored to sanity. I want to lose 15 pounds. I want friendship or “fellowship” as they call it. I’m a writer. I don’t get out much. I still have more than a touch of the agoraphobia that has plagued me my whole life. But I am functional and reasonably happy
Yet, old habits are hard to break and I am still a bit docile so I told my sponsor my big secret I’ve never been able to tell anyone and be free from my my addiction. I also agree to go along with all the rules of the Big Book.
After finishing all the work, I was emotionally exhausted. I forget to read the part that was called an 11th step review. She was going so fast and I was so stressed I did not follow the rule which requires me to email her about my day and where I had done wrong and pray and ask forgiveness.
I am supposed to ask myself, “where were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid” Do we owe anyone an apology and have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once.
The last part stopped me in my tracks. It reeked of confession, mind control and of the book 1984 where Big Brother is watching you. It also talked around religion and prayers indirectly. Now I’m a spiritual person with my own beliefs and I am not about to give up my life to this person I’ve never met even if she knows my deep dark secret. I don’t really know her and the more I know of her the less I like.
She got testy with me when I told her I didn’t know if I can email her every night to focus on my faults and pray with her. It didn’t even sound rational as she is a Wiccan anyway. Who would we pray to? Is she so indoctrinated that she will give up her goddesses and pray to the Almighty? And if she is, do I want to be brainwashed as well? She was also very adamant that I go to the phone meetings her sponsor and her sponsor’s sponsor goes to and always to offer my service to newcomers. This was going so fast, too fast. I told her it stresses me and I hate when she was stern and strict with me. When I told her this, she said adhering to the rules would make me sane and that is how her sponsor taught her and what she needed to heal.
Well, I don’t need strictness and meanness. I’ve had that my entire life. I want my life to be one of beauty and freedom and creativity, all which would be compromised by joining such a full time program. I’m not even going to debate if A.A is applicable or works for food addiction. There is a saying in this program: In A.A you can lock up the tiger and throw away the key, in this program you have to take out the tiger three times a day.” An eating addiction becomes part of who you are if you regard food as a dangerous animal. It just perpetuates the self- hate and puts a label of life long food addict on the sufferer.
To be fair, this group did not tell me anything about food at all. To me, this group felt more like a religion to me than a self- help group. I would become a better person, pray, read the literature, confess and recruit other sufferers. It seemed cult- like to me.
Freedom is one of my main values. I will not give up my freedom to recruit members to something I don’t even believe in. I did pray and mediate and my decision is based on my opinion about groups. This group, like every other group I’ve ever been rejected or have rejected are run by people; people who make and follow rules and are fallible. I call it self- hypnosis. If a person believes something is working and healing, they will not listen to other ideas. It’s their way or the highway.
I will say, the abracadabra, you are recovered worked in one way. I didn’t have the urge to overeat after the three hour “indoctrination”. The magic worked. I also don’t have any urges to be associated with them. I do respect their right to exist and if it helps someone, I’m fine with that.
My secret was much less drastic that many I shared in my first memoir. “From Agoraphobia to Zen”. It was about something mean and petty I did to a friend. But somehow I was more ashamed of that incident than others I could share with the world. When I came clean to my ex sponsor, I felt cheated and dirty because she didn’t understand how such a little thing could be my deep, dark secret and when I started crying she seemed flustered and read from her book with phrases that didn’t mean anything to me. I realized that my higher power and I will figure out how I can live group free. I have friends, a partner and a beautiful mind; quite enough to thrive in this beautiful terrible world.