My OA Story – Ken H., Newton, Massachusetts

My first food memory involves a typical kid favorite sweet treat that sat out on the kitchen table with a glass of milk waiting for my arrival home from kindergarten. The package contained maybe eight of these “treats”. I knew I was supposed to eat one or two and finish my drink. After eating two I realized I really liked what I had eaten and decided to eat another and then another. Over and over again I ate one more until the package was empty. A compulsive overeater was well on his way. This experience taught me a couple of things: food is love and it’s OK to overeat.

Despite these messages my weight stayed normal until we moved from a tenement to our own house when I was about to enter third grade. That’s when I became the overweight kid who was picked on for being fat and soft. From elementary school through high school being overweight ruled my world. I was picked last when choosing sides for a sports game because I couldn’t run and was not athletic. Girls showed no interest in me. Some of my male friends teased for having stretch marks on my sides and breasts bigger than most of the girls. I hated being fat and out of shape but had no clue what to do about it.

During my senior year in high school, I became determined to slim down and, since I didn’t know anything about healthy eating, I decided to simply restrict my eating as much as possible. And it worked! By the end of senior year, I looked great in my tuxedo at graduation. The next year at college, I discovered the joys of having a girlfriend. But this honeymoon didn’t last. I went back to the pleasures I found in the foods I enjoyed and gained back the weight.

After graduation I met the person who would change my life forever. It took her three years to convince me that we should get married. (I can be a very slow learner.) But she finally helped me make that decision which turned out to be the best decision she has ever made for me. She’s stayed with me for 52 years so far.

So much has changed since we married. Together we learned what healthy eating looks like. Weight Watchers taught portion sizes and the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables. This knowledge was good, but not enough for me. I could lose weight fast as I did when I restricted. My obsessive compulsive and stubborn nature could keep me on a plan for extended periods of time. I would also compulsively exercise to help keep my weight down. But these periods of “willing” myself to eat “healthy” and exercise were always followed by relapsing to some level of eating what I wanted, when I wanted, and how much I wanted. During that time, I went from “willing” myself down to 165 pounds to gaining up to 260.

Then our teenage son, who shares my compulsion with overeating, decided to use drugs and become the pusher on his high school campus. Mortified at this turn of events my wife and I chose the only avenue we could find: a drug rehab for teens and their families.

While participating in that program, I heard about AA and the Twelve Steps for the first time. Then at one of the parent meetings I shared about not being able to control my eating and my weight. I was directed to get my own recovery by going to a group called Overeaters Anonymous.

Wanting my son to recover and the drug rehab experience to work I dutifully showed up at my first OA meeting in 1991. OA worked for me even better than Weight Watchers had. I got a sponsor. He asked if I wanted to lose weight quickly or slowly. Of course, I wanted a quick fix. He gave me what he called the Grey Sheet food plan, and I was off.

I spent the next eleven years practicing an OA program that kept me at or below my goal weight and feeling good about myself in many ways, but I now know that I was doing a version of OA that was focused on my weight and my food and not on the rest of the OA program. I hadn’t “truly” taken all the Steps and so I was not working on my emotional and spiritual growth.

Then in 2002 I retired from my profession. My willful, ego-centered brain decided that I now could also “retire” from OA. I told myself that I could ease many of the restrictions I had followed on my food choices and amounts and that I could surely get right back to them if I started to gain the pounds back. I also decided I didn’t need a sponsor or meetings. I still read some of the OA literature and prayed for the willingness to be abstinent most days, but I wasn’t doing the footwork and so I didn’t get the gift.

Despite reaching 260 pounds and often feeling embarrassed to be back in my “fat” clothes again I could not bring myself to get back toprogram. Once again, my son became the catalyst for my return.

Now an adult living in Los Angeles, Jake had stayed sober and drug free, but his compulsive eating was out of control. In December of 2017 my wife and I visited him and found him morbidly obese. At a very emotional family meeting about his situation, I told him I couldn’t stand to watch him destroy his health and maybe kill himself by overeating. He made promises to do better. I knew I was a fraud for telling him to do what I was unwilling to do for myself.

I attended a couple of OA meetings in LA. When we returned home to Massachusetts, I went back to the same meeting I had attended back in 1991. I wanted to get back to program slowly, but my HP had other ideas. A fellow member at that first meeting approached me and asked if I would like him to be my sponsor. Saying yes was the second-best decision I’ve made in my life, and he has been my sponsor ever since.

I’ve now worked the Steps with this sponsor much more honestly and thoroughly than before.He taught me that I must work the program for myself and not for anyone else. I learned that if I focus on program I will lose the weight, but if I focus on the weight, I will lose my program. Today I’ve been imperfectly abstinent one day at a time for over four and a half years. I do service, attend meetings, make phone calls, and try to use all the other Tools every day. I’ve stayed at or below my goal weight for four years, but better than that, I have been making the behavioral changes that come from working all the Steps and focusing on the program and not the weight. My relationships with my wife and kids are better and stronger than they have ever been. And I am working on improving my relationship with my HP every day.

Having experienced relapse and returning, I especially like the OA book “A New Beginning: Stories of Recovery and Relapse.”So, I will end with a quote from that book that fits where I’m at today to a “T”:

“Today I realize that this is a three-fold disease–emotional, physical, and spiritual–and I have to take care of all three areas to recover. It isn’t enough to be willing; I have to do my part to see recovery happen. My Higher Power will help me, but I have to work the Steps and use the tools. This is how I take care of myself. I take care of myself emotionally by not getting too angry or lonely and by letting others know how I feel in an honest, caring way. I take care of myself physically by not getting too hungry or tired. I eat well-balanced meals; drink plenty of water and exercise. This takes time, but I realize this is the only way to recovery. Spiritually, I spend time with my Higher Power and read literature that will help me to work my program as though my life depended on it –For it does.”

A New Beginning: Stories of Recovery and Relapse p. 13