Working the steps on an eating disorder

I’ve wondered...and wondered...and wondered… about the extent to which recovery from alcoholism mirrors recovery from eating disorders. Until recently, I’d done none of the footwork to answer that question. I’d simply said that recovery from eating disorders must be more complex. “You can choose not to drink altogether, but you can’t choose not to eat.” As if recovery would be possible if I could only choose not to eat. As if my appetite for food was as much the impediment as my appetite for alcohol.

True, I suspect recovery from disordered eating and recovery from alcoholism do not perfectly parallel one another. The goal cannot be to cut out food, nor to work a program that curbs that pesky need for it. But perhaps I can afford to work a little harder than a perfect parallel. Eating disorders are, after all, a matter of life or death.

So too was alcohol. And I've been in remission from that disease for nearly as many years as I drank. Perhaps, in the process, I garnered some transferable skills. “You can’t choose not to eat” isn’t actually a reason to look elsewhere, to assume my tried-and-true twelve step program has nothing to offer when it comes to my relationship with food.

This was my thinking behind my most recent round of twelve step work. After moving to Oregon, my sponsor in Wisconsin encouraged me to work the steps with someone local. My local sponsor told me that I could work the steps around whatever issue I wanted; it didn’t have to be alcohol. I chose my relationship with food and body. And so, I’ve actually begun to do the work of answering that initial question: “To what extent can the principles of alcoholism recovery apply to recovery from disordered eating?”

To be clear, I don’t yet know. I’m only on Step 3, which is that we “made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” I do think, however, that by the time I was ready to give up my eating disorder on 9/19/19, I had to some extent already worked Steps 1, 2, and 3.

I had realized, for example, that I was powerless over my relationship with food and my body. That’s Step 1. I did believe that a power greater than me could restore me to sanity (Step 2). And, in making the decision to turn my will for my body over to God, I had worked Step 3.

Previously, when I tried to admit powerlessness over food and body, my eating disorder protested that I just hadn’t yet found the rules or routine that worked for me, the one that would obliterate hunger while keeping me thin. When I wondered if God could restore me to sanity, my eating disorder protested that full recovery isn’t possible. (It now strikes me that an all-powerful God could probably do a little better than partial remission.) And when I considered turning my will over - and, in so doing, giving up control of food and body - I balked. I suppose I was afraid that God’s will for me was that I would eat myself to death. No, that doesn’t fit with my conception of God, but what can I say? My eating disorder is a bit of a drama queen.

For the past week, I’ve found myself praying nearly every day. That, in itself, is a miracle. But more miraculous still is what I’ve been praying for. I’ve been saying things like, “Hi God, you can have my body. You can have my food. Take my eating disorder. Take my relationships. Oh, you can take work too. Take it all. You can have it. Show me what your will is. I'm tired of this."

My conception of God doesn't take a human form - not exactly. Human forms are distracting. I do know, however, that she is fun, irreverent, joyful, easily humored, warm, empathetic, and gentle. When I give her my will, she responds as if I’m a little girl handing her my very best artwork. It doesn’t matter that my artwork is human, that I spilled coffee on it, that the drawing could easily be confused with actual garbage. It is my best work, and God is grateful. It's going right on her fridge.

So that’s where we stand. I’m two months and three steps into recovery. My will hangs like an invitation on God's fridge. I’ve never felt more safe, more cared for, more alive. She likes my art.