Joy of Recovery
Ed: Who introduced you to OA and what got you here?
Ken: My wife introduced me to OA. I was a fat kid at age 15. I weighed 276 pounds (125 kg). I crossed over 300 pounds (136 kg) in my early 30s. I came into program on May 19, 1981, when I was 42 and desperate. I weighed about 350 pounds (159 kg), and my blood pressure was 210/150 (stroke level).
Ed: You are a double winner in terms of being a minority in OA, being both male and of African American heritage. Have these posed any problems for you in program?
Ken: My first meeting was in San Bernardino, California, and I remember feeling uncomfortable being male. But over the years things changed. Many times at meetings I am the only man, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. The program, as my wife says, “fits all who want it desperately.” My experience tells me I don’t need a separate program because I am black. I know a loving, caring Higher Power cares about our souls and hearts, and our packaging comes in dead last, if at all. My ancestors came from Africa, England, Germany, and the Cherokee Nation. I don’t give a hoot what I happen to look like. We are all children of a loving and caring God. I love that the Third Step says we turn our lives over to the care of our Higher Power. I have never been treated differently than anybody else, and I have gone to meetings over much of the US. We can continue to love and embrace everybody who comes through that door; make everyone welcome no matter who they are; show them all the love we can.
Ed: What happened after you came through the doors of OA?
Ken: I accepted abstinence quickly. I was desperate. I’m a longtimer, and I use the term abstinence to include my food plan. I threw away my abstinence after about fifteen years. I did not lose it; I threw it away. It was a conscious choice of mine to eat. It was Christmas 1996. My wife had just recovered from a serious bout with cancer. Interestingly, while she was combating the disease, I didn’t have the slightest desire to eat compulsively. After she got well, six months after her last treatment, I relapsed. I got too tired emotionally and mentally. I liken it to a triangle with the spiritual aspect being the base and the emotional and physical aspects the sides. When the emotional side came down, there was nothing to hold up the physical. They fell on my spiritual base. I didn’t do my Tenth Step, and I didn’t help others. I was too much into myself: I, I, I.
Over my fourteen months of relapse, I gained back about 40 pounds (18 kg) of the weight I had kept off during my fifteen years of abstinence. When we retired, an OA friend was diagnosed with cancer. She had started her treatments, and some friends had brought her special foods to help with the discomfort. She told me she was not willing to eat those foods because she didn’t want to break her abstinence. It jarred me that she put such a priority on her abstinence. From that afternoon on I have abstained (seven years and four months). I lost that 40 pounds (18 kg) plus a few more. I am usually around 200 pounds (91 kg). I also do a lot of sponsoring. If I had been doing this in 1996, things might have been different. One of the things I learned from that relapse was that I needed to get out of myself, sponsor others, and carry the message. I am, gratefully, a Big Book thumper, and I believe the greatest defense against relapse is working with another compulsive eater.
Another thing I learned from that relapse was to live one day at a time. My abstinence and food plan are imperfect and have always been imperfect.
Ed: How do you sponsor?
Ken: I sponsor mainly out of the Big Book, as well as the OA and AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions and the Twelve-Step Workbook of Overeaters Anonymous. I ask my sponsees to answer all of the questions for the first three Steps in the OA workbook. With Step Four, I bring out the forms developed from the Big Book, and we start doing the columns. I believe all my resentments will fall into one of the four categories: fear, selfishness, self-seeking or dishonesty. All my problems come from basic instincts that are out of balance. When those instincts make me eat, it shows me something is wrong. When my sponsees have completed the first eight Steps and made their first amends, I tell them to raise their hands at meetings and start sponsoring someone else. I have them go through the Steps quickly and tell them we are not going to waste time. People I sponsor are usually desperate, want what I have, and are ready to move right along. We have differences in abstinence, how we work our programs, and how we sponsor. It is a joy to have various styles because people respond differently to different methods of sponsoring.
Ed: What are the pluses and minuses of having a mate who is also in program?
Ken: The pluses: you reinforce your own recovery. Your whole household is an environment of recovery. We have different food plans and behaviors around food, but we still share the attitudes of recovery. For seventeen of our twenty-six years of marriage we have abstained together. We sponsor differently, yet we cosponsor several people. It works well for some.
The minuses: we have had times when one person was in relapse and the other was not. When that happened, the unanimity and wonderful atmosphere didn’t exist. You have to let the other person do his or her own thing.
Ed: Have you any thoughts to share on Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve?
Ken: If I had been doing Step Ten all along I wouldn’t have relapsed. Keeping my house clean every single day is as vital as prayer and meditation. These things make me a better vehicle for service for my fellow sufferers and others. I use the workbook forms often when I review my day. Where was I selfish, dishonest, frightened, or self-seeking? It is vital that I do a quick daily inventory of Steps Four through Nine: Four, Five, Six and Seven for sure and Eight and Nine if I need them. If something isn’t bugging me much, I do it in my head. If something is really bothering me, I need to sit down with a pencil and paper and fill out the columns. Resentments will kill me! The prayers in the Big Book always say something about being of benefit to others. I ask for God’s will for me and for the power to carry it out. I wouldn’t be here without my loving Higher Power. I have a joyful responsibility to practice the principles in all my affairs and carry the message—imperfectly, but as well as I can, one day at a time.
Service takes many forms, and some of us are more comfortable and more capable than others. My favorite service activity is sharing my story, the Steps, and my joy in where I am today. Living in Montana means we have to travel a long way, but whenever someone invites us to speak, we try to go. I fill my car with others when we go to retreats. I do a lot of setting up of chairs, opening the door—the basics. Without this Fellowship I wouldn’t even be here; I would have had a heart attack or stroke long ago. The Steps and Big Book have shown me how to deal with life without eating, one day at a time.
Ed: How about some suggestions for newcomers?
Ken: The most obvious one is to keep coming back. Find somebody who has what you want, and ask then how they did it (very important). I don’t give newcomers a long list of to-dos. Just keep coming to meetings, and don’t overeat no matter what. I show them the joys of recovery by the way I live without the food being my god. I have the Steps to help keep me sane and out of myself. For many of us, food was the coping mechanism for life, and if we take it away, we need to replace it. The Twelve Steps, a loving Higher Power, and the Fellowship are the replacements. They fill that hole a lot better than food ever did. I show newcomers a lot of love, attention, and caring. I invite them to coffee. Rather than tell them, I show them we care, and share my joy of recovery.
— Reprinted from Lifeline magazine