Surfacing After Silence

Life. After.

Twelve steps? What? Me? No way.

So, my first couple of days at Rader were a bit, well, rocky.  There was confusion about my medications and I wasn’t getting my Effexor XR, and for anyone who has ever taken that, you go through immediate withdrawals if you skip a day.  And then I find out I landed myself smack dab in the middle of a Twelve Step program.

My first response to my therapist was, “I’m not a “stepper”.  Yes, I used the term “stepper.”  She handed me the folder of assignments anyway and just said, “think about it,” and headed out for the weekend.  My first assignment was to write my life story, and since I’ve written a memoir, my only problem with that assignment was to try to keep it within a reasonable length.  I left the three packets (steps one, two and three) neatly tucked in the right hand pocket of my folder.

That weekend was the weekend of the snowstorm that pretty much trapped everyone in tulsa in their homes.  I laughed at the five inches that fell.  But it did mean we had more free time, and without my iPod or computer, I finally got bored and looked at Step One.

Step One really pissed me off.  (Admitting your powerlessness and the unmanageabllity of your life.)  Absolutely not.  Yeah, things were starting to go downhill, but I took power into my hands by admitting I needed help and seeking help.  And I think a large part of me couldn’t, and still can’t, apply “powerlessness” to me.  That’s what I was between the ages of four and eight when I was being raped.  I have finally taken the power back into my own hands and claimed my life as my own.

But, there were questions to be answered, since we were using a workbook, and I like anything where you get to write answers, so I decided to just answer the questions and take what I could use and leave what I couldn’t.  By the end of the weekend, I had finished Step Two.

Did I learn what caused the eating disorder way back when?  Did I unearth any unresolved crises in my life?  Did I come to new realizations about behaviors and symptoms?  Nope.

Did I learn a hell of a lot about myself and how I interact with other people and why?  Absolutely.  Did I learn about some other areas of my life that may need improvement?  Yes.  Did I spend more time building my relationship with the Divine and seeing how I could strengthen that relationship?  Yes.

Did I come away from that whole experience a better person?  I’d like to think so.  If nothing else, I was able to turn from willfullness to willingness and allow some radical acceptance and wise mind to slip into my life again.

While I say that I am recovered, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for growth as a person.  (And let’s not forget the fact that I’m bipolar and have PTSD and am still working on those issues.)  There are stagnant people out there.  The ones who think they’ve learned it all, or changed as much as they can/need to.  And don’t you get the feeling that they’re the ones who sort of need to do a little more growing?

Think of stagnant pools of water.  They tend to stick and acquire muck and mud and debris.  Think of the things that flourish in life.  They are things that are moving and growing and forever changing.  They’re the things that survive.


March 13, 2010 - Posted by | Eating Disorders, recovery, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Thanks for this post. I have battled an eating disorder for about 10 years now and just recently starting working a 12 step program.

    I consider myself powerless over my eating disorder – my life is certainly unmanageable. After countless failed attempts to control my behavior, I decided to give the 12 steps a try. I seriously want and hope that my higher power will restore me to sanity. I admit that I am still skeptic, but I see some big improvements in my life and I just finished step 3.

    I am powerless over my eating disorder, but I am still in control of so much in my life. I make choices all day, everyday. I ask God for help now, just as I ask therapists, doctors, family, and friends. On the days where I don’t seek help, I find myself alone with my own thoughts and sinking into depression. My world will spiral downward at a very fast pace if I choose to (even briefly) stop reaching out for support.

    The steps are really helping me. It took living through many years of hell before I was willing to open myself up to an idea of a higher power. Though I had to admit powerlessness, I feel more in control than ever.

    Comment by Kristin | March 13, 2010 | Reply

  2. “If nothing else, I was able to turn from willfullness to willingness and allow some radical acceptance and wise mind to slip into my life again.”

    Don’t minimize that – those are huge accomplishments!

    I was wondering what your opinion of this is: I have started to accept the fact that I will probably have a distorted body image for a long time, and I’m working on being okay with that. For me, at least, I find that paradoxically, the more I try to challenge and change my negative thoughts around body image, the stronger they become. So I’m working on allowing those thoughts to come and go, like leaves floating down a stream (sorry if that’s a cheesy image), and instead of jumping in after them, I just observe, and move in a direction that is in accordance with my values and goals.

    Do you think accepting a negative body image is a step towards recovery, or just giving up? Although I recognize that different strategies work for different people.

    Again, I really admire your willingness to gain some important things from this program, despite the fact that you disagreed with a lot of elements of their philosophy. That takes a lot of strength, and shows just how recovered you are – like you said – you may be recovered, but you are still willing to grow.

    Comment by anon | March 14, 2010 | Reply

    • I still have a distorted body image. And distorted doesn’t have to mean negative. It just means that for how long we viewed our bodies through one really awful lens and now we are learning to see it differently. And I believe that takes time. I know a lot of people who are recovered, but I can’t remember any one of them waking up one day and saying, “oh. I see my body the way it actually is now.” They got there, but it took time.

      I don’t stand in front of a mirror and convince myself that what I see is inaccurate. I fact check (size of clothes or weight) to counteract my distorted thoughts. And when I go on my walks in the park, I’ll keep returning to a mantra: “My body is strong, capable, and healthy,” and to me all of those things feel true and it takes the focus of any type of IMAGE.

      I think accepting where you are at is a sign of knowing that if you try to work on certain things, it could get worse. Maybe rephrase it by, “I’m putting it on hold for now.” It’s not giving up.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 14, 2010 | Reply

  3. What made you not want to do a 12 step program in the first place? Had you heard something you didn’t like about it? Had you tried it before?

    Also, did you finish the steps? I don’t know how someone would go through all 12 steps in a hospital environment.

    I’ve been through the 12 steps, and now I take other women through the steps. I would never have the life and freedom I have today without them. I didn’t know how to live without my eating disorder or some substitute addiction. Did you know that each step has a spiritual principal? (Surrender, Hope, Commitment, Honesty, Truth, Willingness, Humility, Reflection, Amendment, Vigilance, Attunement, Service) While, I knew and believed that it was important to live with these values in my life, by taking the actions of the steps I learned how to live by the principals. I was given tools for life.

    The best thing about the 12 steps is that results are promised if they are done to the best of the individual’s ability.
    The ninth step promises –
    “We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.

    We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.

    We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.

    No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.

    That feeling of uselessness and self pity will disappear.

    We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.

    Self-seeking will slip away.

    Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.

    Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.

    We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.

    We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

    Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.”

    These gifts are promised to me, how cool is that? I get to sit down with a newcomer and tell them that if they take the steps and follow suggestions with honesty and willingness they never have to feel the way they feel ever again. That’s amazing.

    Comment by Amanda G-M | March 14, 2010 | Reply

    • I had heard about the Twelve Steps program, and no I had not tried it before. What unsettled me is how much it refers to your higher power. My faith is very important to me, and has been an important part of my recovery. But here’s how I look at it: I am the one doing the work. I don’t give up my problems to someone else. I can call on the Divine to give me strength and peace, but admitting powerlessness of the disease is also saying there’s a degree of powerlessness in recovery. And I am fully aware of what choices I made to land me where I was, and they were just that–conscious choices.

      Yes, I knew each step has a spiritual principle. And I’m aware of the philosophy behind the program and, as I said, I’ve seen it work for a lot of people. It’s just not the tool for me. I am learning a lot about myself through the workbook questions. But I’m always one who likes writing responses and really thinking about things.

      No, we didn’t work through all twelve steps. I finished step four while I was there. I honestly don’t know if I’m going to go further or not. I’m not being pulled in that direction. But I might. Right now, I’m using the tools that have always been the most effective for me and focusing on a new devotional practice.

      Comment by surfacingaftersilence | March 15, 2010 | Reply

      • I can definitely respect that opinion.

        It’s hard for me not to wax poetic about the 12 steps because they have changed my life so completely. And, I know that your blog gets a lot of traffic and so I wanted to share with other people with eating disorders/addictions that it can work for some people. I hope you don’t mind.

        The Higher Power part of the program does turn some people off from it. And, I understand that. Spirituality is a very personal thing and it should be.

        For me, I felt that turning my life over to something bigger than me was a comfort and a relief. I had been desperately trying to run the show for a long time, and doing a very poor job of it. Although I do make my own choices and influence the patterns of my life (the details of which were revealed to me in doing my 5th step), I believe in a God that will do for me what I can’t do myself – and I couldn’t get myself into a place that was free enough of the ED to choose a different life.

        It works for me, but of course, not for everyone. I really appreciate you writing back and allowing me to comment on your post. This is your blog and your personal space, so I am grateful you allow my presence here, even when it is giving a perspective you don’t subscribe to. As always, enjoying your blog. 🙂

        Comment by Amanda G-M | March 15, 2010

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