To be or not to be ANONYMOUS…that is the question…
I was introduced to Overeaters Anonymous by a therapist who believed that some of my behaviorsmight be conducive to looking into attending an OA meeting. In her words, “Ya know, just check it out. You might learn something. What’s an hour?” Amused by this ludicrous suggestion, I looked up the website www.oa.org and found a list of questions asking “Do you have issues with food?” Answering all but one of the questions with the answer with “yes” I figured stopping by a meeting for kicks would give me some great writing material.
Coincidentally I found a meeting only a few blocks from my house. It was held in a small church meeting room down the street. I was surprised by what a humble building it was and the fact that I had never noticed it before (funny what you miss while on a psychotic binge, racing to the grocery store.) Being prejudice I expected to walk into a room full of middle aged, divorced, overweight,depressed women. You can only imagine the look of shock on my face when I discovered healthy, trendy, hip, cultured, girls, my age (if not younger than me) joking amongst themselves as if they had been best friends since the days of sipping Mott's Juice boxes. Their confidence and bouncing jauntiness pissed me off and triggered involuntary eye rolls. It seemed like I had entered the set of a Woody Allen movie just blocks from my house. Here I am this neurotic, depressed girl with an eating disorder who thinks she is the ONLY person in the world with this disease who is suddenly transported to a “password only” club house full of girls just like her. Except these girls hold the magic potion that will heal her of this disease. She scans each and every girl looking for a hint of the coveted pill box protruding from the pocket of one of the girl’s jeans.
Then just as soon as she thinks she might have a lead on finding this magic pill box the sweet hussy of girls form a circle and start talking. Talking about the same ex-boy friend they all had, the one named, E.D. (This is when my pulse started to race and sweat started to drench the back of my tank top) they started talking about feelings! Good god! Yes, feelings! Sick right? They gave details in broad day light. Some said,
“I thought if I was just thin enough I would get the husband, suburban and job I always wanted.”
While other girl bluntly said,
“I’m sorry, but there is just something in me that wants to be better than all of you in every way.”
With each and every confession and revealing secret the girls in the room, nodded and laughed as if they were reminiscing on their childhood friendship by the sea. I found their serenity around these conversations to be increasingly uncomfortable. I sat their squirming in my metal fold up chair, trying to shelter my ears from the grotesque authenticity that made my stomach turn. I think I would have been less uncomfortable if the girls trashed the feeling and emotions talk and instead took turns taking off all of their clothes and parading around the room talking about why they love their vaginas. Up until that morning in that shabby little church, I thought I was the ONLY person in the world who thought the things I thought, who did the things I did with food, who lied, cheated, stole and tried to cover it up with being perfect. I thought I was the only person who was angry, financially f’d up and yet still trying to so hard to act “fine.” To learn that my life, was not unique and that there actually was a solution to this madness sounded almost too good to be true. At that moment, had someone pulled my arm and pointed out a place in the sky where the clouds parted and you could see God and Santa Claus drinking latte’s and playing X-Box I probably would have believed them in that moment. Because what was in front of me was something I thought was completely impossible. As the meeting continued I thought I was either a.) in some bizarre dream or b.) my system of picking out bottles of wine from Trader Joe’s based on the art on the label was not serving my brain cells very well.
Today, almost 4 years later and having attended countless recovery meetings I am coming up on 3 years of eating disorder abstinence. I too have joined the ranks of a happy girl from a Cover Girl ad who laughs and jokes with her friends while meeting in another random recovery meeting place out in yonder. I now welcome the girls who come in sobbing with the same perplexed and angry look on their faces that I used to have. Part of me is relieved to have them there finally getting recovery and the other part of me is rather angry. Angry that for some of them the at the age of 22, 30, 40 and yes even 50 years old women come in and say, “I had no idea this place existed.” In hindsight I wish I would have known about OA sooner. I wonder sometimes, is our anonymity getting in the way of people’s recovery?
Considering that question I looked up anonymity and why it is apart of our 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. Tradition 12 states:
Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions ever reminding us to place principals before personalities.
I read the stance that the 12 Steps hold on anonymity. I found that in the past some people have used their recovery for their own personal gain. Others bring the organization under public controversy. The belief is that if the strength of the organization relies on its anonymity, that if they build the program on “attraction rather than promotion” the program will stay honest and true to it’s number one purpose, helping others recover from their addictions.
However, our own preference to stay anonymous OA Members and eating disorder survivors is up to us. My personal stance is an uncomfortable one; I choose not to be anonymous. Though I was stunned, shocked and mortified by the stories of the women at the first OA Meeting I attended, I was also very relieved. Relived there was a place to go and get help and a group of woman who would support me. Recovery has given me so much more than I ever imagined when I first looked it up online. It’s my own personal mission to give others recovery too which for me means being authentic about my eating disorder on a very public level... When the subject of people with addictions, body image or diet come up amongst my friends and co-workers I make sure to educate them on what this disease is, what it looks like and yes, the healthy woman in front of them (myself) one day did suffer from this.
In the past I have worked at The Victorian as a support staff. Though, our website is quite serene and pleasant I will tell you that the clients of The Victorian are not. They are depressed, angry and lost women looking for a way out of their eating disorder. Besides my own eating disorder, there is nothing as painful as watching someone painfully go through their own. The clients of The Victorian are the reason I choose not to be an anonymous eating disorder survivor. I believe if I am brave, if I am strong and if I am honest about my eating disorder it will give someone else the opportunity to be brave, strong and honest about their own and maybe get help or (here’s a shocker) help someone else.