Doing the Two-Step with the Twelve Steps

Are 12-step programs for eating disorders too punitive or just too rigid?

Posted Oct 18, 2012

In my October 15th post, “Antonyms,” I discussed my urgent need to return to my 12-Step sponsor and work on my Fourth Step inventory, with the twist of doing a positive inventory – of inspirations rather than resentments – first.

I’ve never stirred up so much reaction on Psychology Today. Some readers extended general encouragement toward my battle with the Black Dog of depression and others identified with my revolving door relationship with my 12-Step program. Still others thought about their own demons in correlation to food. I want to continue this discussion a little bit further and tell you about what I’ve realized in initiating the inspirational Fourth Step.

The first thing, as I noted, is that sponsor took me back and not only agreed to my twist on the Fourth Step but added a column to identify what quality in me appreciates each person. And we agreed to meet the next day.

I have a very hard time stepping out of my box. It takes every ounce of will to make the circuit of my box – walk the dogs, go to the grocery store, run the most basic of errands. The Internet was invented just so that I don’t have to leave my small, crowded apartment that I call the Bat Cave.

Beyond that, many self-care actions have fallen by the wayside because I am alone or with dogs. Having to meet – in public – my sponsor meant I bathed, put on clean clothes and considered earrings, perfume, shoes not made of plastic. In agreeing to meet, I’d already challenged my anxieties and the demons of the past that I keep company with.

(To be fair, I’ve made a small commitment to myself to accept any invitations to go out this autumn, even when it means exposing my big body to people I want to hide it from.)

It was a good meeting and an illuminating one. I’d gotten stuck on the notion of inspiration as an antonym of resentment and I’m glad I made that early miss-step because my first random example is someone who has been a continually successful writer. “I guess inspiration,” I noted to my sponsor, “doesn’t necessarily mean that person won’t go on my resentment list,” because I am also meanly jealous of Writer Person and feel that at one point in my life, WP stole my soul, much as a photographer of non-technological indigenous people is said to.

Hunh. This was not going to be a black and white exercise after all. Writer Person has persistence, talent, intelligence, humor and determination – qualities I admire. Sometimes I have them too.

We decided I should use a two-notebook system, turning from admiration to resentment as merited by each person on my list. Later I amended the word “inspired” to “inspired/supported by”.

It finally hit me yesterday as I was writing about one of best friends how this inspired/supported by thing worked. If admire X, Y and Z about someone, chances are that I either genuinely want those qualities for myself, have them sporadically, or have that quality in the shape of a puzzle piece that notches comfortably into that person’s social picture. In the case of that friend, I realize with a gulp, I feel accepted for who and what I am right now, which means – oh, dear God-that-I-don’t-always-believe-in – that I am acceptable. My friend loves me, therefore I am loveable. My friend likes me, which means I am likeable. My friend laughs with me and calls when things hit a rough patch so by extension I am funny and a good – maybe even wise – listener.

The very things I most fear about myself every day and every time I have to take part in the world are that I am unacceptable, unlovable, unlikable, unworthy.

I had just exploded my self-story.

Which doesn’t, of course, mean that I believe it or that it has cured me.

I also need to say that I’ve made no promises to my sponsor about abstaining from sugar and flower and sticking to a strict food plan. I want to do these things but I have a strange feeling, for the first time since I set food in a church basement in 1998, that abstinence is a reward as well as a path. Maybe because I know how hard it is and have so few expectations of what weight loss means, I need to develop some muscles before getting caught up in the whole rigamarole (counting days, calling other addicts, collecting day-count coins, speaking to groups, taking leadership positions, becoming a sponsor, etc., etc.).

Besides, as do some readers of my last post note, I have doubts. One line every 12-stepper can quote from The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous is “progress not perfection,” even while, when it comes to booze or candy or shopping, the 12-Step expectation is that we will be perfect in not picking up our addictive substance or behavior. The penalty for this is losing all one’s “days” of abstinence. There is no room for mistakes in this area of our progress and the shame, in my specific experience, is awful, from the sadness and forgiveness induced in my sponsor to the there-but-for the-grace-of-God-go-I sympathy of the group. It makes it hard to own up to screwing up and that’s one place where trouble accumulates.

Let’s take last night for an example.

My state of mind was a combination of tiredness, fragility, anger that a client wasn’t showing up on time and panic about where I had to be when. I was texting every movie I made as I walked other dogs so that he would know when I could meet him and in the meanwhile I couldn’t attend to my own dog as she needed. Forget Daisy – I couldn’t attend to me as I needed. I didn’t want to put together a proper dinner that would be interrupted and my brain was skimming the surfaces of things, unable to settle, while I waited and tried to do the bare minimum of responsibilities.

When he finally showed up, I took Daisy for her much-needed walk and just happened to buy a pumpkin pie and a can of whipped cream. I’d like to say I was not in possession of myself in doing this, but I was joking with the checker that I prefer real cream but how do you stop a dinner party to make it?

Please find that funny by relating to the things you’ve said in check-out lanes to deflect suspicion from what you’re buying. I was finding it funny even as I was being funny.

And yes, I ate it. The tinfoil plate is right in front of me as I write this.

I have several choices of what to do about that today. One choice I already made is that I told my sponsor. I didn’t break an abstinence but I told her because I want to be very, very real to myself. I also want to see that there was an alternative to the panic in that I should have taken Daisy out before time became an issue. I need to plan better to prevent panic-slash-chaos-slash-oh-f***-it eating. The onionskin of that pie keeps unraveling. I need to eat at a specific time so that I don’t find myself hungry, agitated and resentful at 8.30 at night. That means I need to have food in the house and, in my own instance, I need to do whatever it takes to get my kitchen sink draining, because I’m on a dishes strike (using them rather than doing them).

If I don’t own up to what I do – bad and good – I’m a lot less likely to see the whole picture, right down to a sluggish drain.  And if I don't admit it, my sponsor can't accept it -- and me for who and what I am right now.

“Just for today,” that means that my admitted actions thatdwon’t carry more penalties than those I wake up with are more educational than an abstinence for vanity’s sake.

I don’t want to be in this pie-is-OK position. I’m an addict. It’s no more OK to play around with pie than it is for an epileptic to play around with medication. But I refuse, once again, to find my way back to the church basement because I’m unacceptable. For today, being acceptable is the course to accepting the responsibilities – calling a plumber, walking dogs in late afternoon, steaming a potato – of abstinence. As to whether the church basements are the place for me to be – I’ll get back to you. After I work on my inventories.

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