I’ve noticed something interesting in the halls of recovery: Some folks cling to their program so tightly that their addictive behavior latches on to the program itself. In my opinion, this can get unhealthy.
To find recovery in Overeater’s Anonymous (mine is a binge-eating addiction), the only requirement is to want to stop eating compulsively. It’s very simple. There is no “OA diet.” But there are a few different food plans people choose from. One is based on a “Dignity of Choice” pamphlet that outlines a few different plans. Then there’s the so-called “Grey Sheet” plan (included among the options in “Dignity of Choice”) a lot of recovering food addicts cling to like a passage from The Bible.
For them (not everyone, but quite a few people), there IS NO OTHER WAY. If you’re not following the food plan outlined there, you are not abstinent.
There’s also the mindset that you HAVE TO ABSTAIN FROM FLOUR AND SUGAR and have nothing in between meals to be abstinent. Eat an apple in between lunch and dinner and you break your abstinence and have to start over.
To me, this is an extreme that causes a lot of people to fail. In fairness, some people need the most rigid plan available to be well because their mental state demands the most brutal discipline to stay clean.
I get and respect that.
What I don’t get or respect is when someone following that plan tells someone they’re not being abstinent if they’re doing their own plan differently.
For the record, I don’t eat flour or sugar, and I don’t eat in between meals. I have to have it this way because the defect in my brain approaches anything in between as an invitation to binge. Flour and sugar, mixed together, had the same effect on me as heroin has on the more traditional junkie.
But not everyone can do it that way. There are many reasons for someone to do it differently. If you have diabetes, for example, following my exact food plan could be bad, maybe even lethal.
I also feel that if an apple between meals keeps you from binge eating, that’s what you do. If the more extreme among us tell you you’re not abstinent if you do that, they’re wrong.
In my view, folks who get that way become addicts of a different sort. The compulsive behavior centers around the program itself.
Don’t get me wrong. If doing it that way is what you have to do to stay away from the binges that made your life unmanageable, more power to you. It’s certainly better than the type of addictive behavior you displayed before finding the program.
What makes me uncomfortable is when that person tries to force their way onto everyone in the room.
There are also sponsors who insist you do your program exactly as they do, with no differences whatsoever. Even if another medical condition forbids you from eliminating all flour and sugar, these particular sponsors won’t work with you. That’s their choice, and they’re entitled to it. Some believe they’re not qualified to guide someone with a plan that’s different from their own. In some cases, that kind of sponsor comes off like someone on a power trip.
In some cases that’s true. In other cases, those folks are just afraid of breaking their own abstinence by letting a sponsee do something different. I understand that fear completely. Nobody wants to have a relapse. That’s the recovering addict’s biggest nightmare.
The problem is that when you give a sponsee no room to do it differently, you’re doing them more harm than good. Someone hungry for recovery gets turned off and walks away to resume their self-destructive behavior.
I sponsored four people at one point, and I eventually decided I had to take a break from it because I was worried that I wasn’t in the best position to tell these people what to do.
Call it the fear of making someone worse while trying to help them.
I decided to pull back and re-organize my own side of the street to prevent that sort of thing.
It just goes to show that addictive minds never heal completely. When you put down the addiction that made you into a monster, you tend to redirect your compulsive nature onto other things — including the recovery plan itself.
This isn’t a criticism of people who are like that.
It’s just an acknowledgement of how hard and complicated recovery can be.