- What's your history with eating disorders and when did you know you needed help?
My eating was always sneak eating, and I think it started at age 4. At age 4, I was really connected to my Dad and he started traveling for work. He would leave on Monday and come back on Friday. When I started expressing feelings to my mom that I was sad she would say either, “Oh honey, don't be sad he'll bring you a present”, or, “Have a cookie and you won't be sad.” So I think I started using food and at very young age to find comfort.
I didn't even know I had a problem with weight until I was 8 or 10. There was a picture that I took with my friend where we were both sitting in a chair, and when my parents saw that picture, I think it was my Dad that said, “Oh look at Sharron, look at her cute shape.” And when I looked and saw the difference I thought, “Oh my God! Look at the size of my thighs!” I wasn't conscious about it until that age.
At around 11 or 12 my parents started taking me to a diet doctor, and I don't know what he gave me, but I started getting a shot once a week. I remember my Grandmother saying, “She's too young!” And my parents saying “No, we have to help her! Just look at the family, she doesn't fit in (physically).” I would lose weight with all these different things, but I'd never keep it off.
The sneak eating continued to the point where when I was 16 and had a car I would drive myself to the mall, go in to the candy store and buy white chocolate, put it my purse and then look around to see if anyone was watching me. If no one was watching me I would eat a piece of chocolate. My husband travels for work, I would go to the grocery store bakery counter and say, “My husband likes this and that.” Of course, he was out of town and I would go home and eat it all. But I had to make sure that if I was carrying extra weight people had to at least think I was on a diet, so I had to always appear to be the good girl.
- Did your husband suspect your eating habits at all?
No, I don't think so. I wouldn't eat anything fattening in front of anybody, I was the perfect dieter. When we were dating and would go to a restaurant I would have a little salad, but ahead of time I would eat something and when I got home I would eat something. I was the perfect dieter in public.
When I got into a 12-step program when I was 29, one of the things I decided early on is that I would do three meals a day, nothing in between, one day at a time, which meant to me that I could eat anything in a meal. I knew that it would be a real giant step to eat something fattening in front of somebody. The first time I did it I remember where I was sitting, what restaurant I was at, I don't know who I was with, and I ordered a sundae after my meal. As I started to eat it I was so uncomfortable, I couldn't enjoy it at all. It felt like I was masturbating in public. It was such a private, secret activity, and doing in front of somebody took all the joy out of it.
- What made you go to a 12-step meeting?
When I was in 5th grade I saw a show on TV that was about an alcoholic that was in desperate shape and found a 12-step. At that time, in my mind I thought, “I wish there was a place like that for me, because once I start eating I can't stop.” Fast forward to when I am 29 and I am thinking of going back to Diet Workshop or Weight Watchers for the umpteenth time and a friend of mine says to me, “I went to this meeting last night...” I was like, “Ah! There really is a place like that!”
- What was your first meeting like?
It was terrible, terrible! I was raised Jewish and walk into a church… Not only was I raised Jewish, but (raised) that other people are trying to convert me. So my first meeting I went with a friend, we walked into this church with pictures of Jesus on the walls, and crosses, and I am really closed in. People were very friendly and welcoming. I hated when they said God, because I didn't believe in God, or at least I didn't want to, which is another whole story... I was afraid of God. Any time they said God I either rolled my eyes or snickered. They were talking about feeling and I thought, “Oh my God I can't believe they're talking about this stuff.” I judged them. (For example someone would say) “I was so mad I wanted to smack my kid.” So I would judge them for being a horrible parent. In my family we didn’t have many feelings, we were either happy or we were sad. If we were sad it better be for a real good reason, not because you lost a contest but that someone had died or for some real tragic reason. So I was totally devoid of feelings, in fact I used food to keep the feelings down. If feelings started coming up, I would have shame that I had a feeling so I would eat even more food. In these meetings when they would talk about feelings I thought, “Oh my God! What's wrong with these people?” Totally judgmental.
Two things kept me coming back. The first was an honorable reason, which was I saw people who had lost weight and were keeping it off, and I didn't see that anywhere else. The second reason was that I am a Soap Opera junkie, going to these meetings felt like I was going to my own personal Soap Opera every week. The following week I had to go back to see if Angie told her mother she was a lesbian? Did John ever go out with Jenna? I had to find out what was happening! (laughing) But at least it was something that kept me coming back!
- You had mentioned God, and a lot people are put off by that aspect in 12-step meetings. What made you change your mind?
There are two things that happened... I am a really good rule follower. I realize now I wasn't so diligent, but I was doing the best of my ability at the time. I made time in my own calendar to go the library and work on step four and I open up the step four guide that I have and it says to list your positive aspects as well as the negative, and I closed the book because I knew damn well that I didn't have positives.
I had a large moment of introspection and I took out a yellow highlighter and on top of a piece of paper I wrote “minus” “plus”. In the minus column I wrote, and wrote, and wrote. I was so blinded to anything good about me, all I could see was big nasty faults. What the guide said at the end is, “If you are having trouble with this step it is the previous step you need to work on.” I thought, “Oh my goodness, how am I going to turn my world and life over to God, as I understood God, because I am agnostic?”
After two years in the program, I go to an LA Intensive Retreat, and a speaker gets up and says, “I was born Jewish.” I thought, “Ah ha, I am going to listen to this guy, because he is not going to try and convert me.” He said, “God loves me no matter what, I don't have to do anything to win God's love.” I thought, “Ah, I don't have to be good all the time!”
This is why I said I was agnostic, because my concept of God was the punishing God, you know like Santa Claus, he knows when you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. God was keeping track of all these little bad's. My huge fear and biggest anxiety is that since I had all these bad's, one day I would get my punishment. Everyday I would wake up thinking today is the day. I lived with such terrible torment.
It was a huge relief when this man said, “I am Jewish and God loves me no matter what.” It started to change my belief in what the possibility of God could be. I did not have the lightening bolt experience, it was more like the soaker hose you put in your garden over night, it just drips and by morning it's saturated. That's what happened for me. Once I became open it started coming in little by little. I would go back to the meetings and talk about higher power, and after a long time I’d say - God.
- Is God your higher power?
Yes, God is my higher power. My God is a loving God (even if I'm not perfect.) I would not have been able to say that in the beginning years of those meetings. I'm not perfect, but I know that.
- What would you tell someone you know has a problem, but is skeptical of going to a meeting?
- How would you say the 12-steps and the group setting is a great form of healing for your disease?
One of the things I loved about the meetings right from the beginning was that there was no fee, they just passed the basket. When I did go to therapy as result of being in the program, very often I thought to my self, “The only reason I'm coming here is that there is someone here who will listen to me.” It would have been a burden on my 12-step friends if I had spent the whole 50 minutes talking about myself, but I could do that in therapy. When person goes into treatment it gives them a fast start on their process, but to continue on I really recommend meetings. Go to 12-step meetings if it resonates with you.
- Do you think the program is a forever thing or do you think you can recover and be done with it?
I started going to meetings in 1975. In 1977 was my turning point when I could allow God into my life. (After that,) I started leading meetings, and starting meetings, and sharing (at) meetings. I became pretty much a big shot, speaking a regional conventions and everything.
When I moved in 1995 I never felt connected to the meetings I went to, so I'll go to a meeting once in a while now. I continue to live it, everyday. I do the 3rd step prayer over and over again. It's my favorite - get me out of the way, let me do your will. I review my day at the end of every day. I continue using the steps, an adaptation of the steps in my own life, but I don't go back to meetings.
- How important is sponsorship?
Very important, because I don't think anybody can do this alone. What we did alone is what got us in the mess we were in when we walked through those doors. A lot of times the first person you pick may not be the person that is right for you. The first person I picked, both of us were new, we didn't know about not picking someone a different gender than you. I picked a man because I thought he would be a tough policeman for me, and it didn't work for very long.
It's a way of evolving a relationship so that you have someone who is there as your support person, and to share their own experience, strength, and hope. Sometimes what would happen for me is that I would surpass them, and we could continue being friends, but the sponsoring part wouldn't work anymore.
I think sponsoring is a beautiful thing, because it's peer counseling. The challenge is... I was a terrible sponsor at first, terrible... the challenge is, “You want to do it, okay then this is how you do it. Follow A, B, and C.” They wouldn't listen to me and I'd tell them they should probably find another sponsor. When I evolved I'd tell them, “This is what worked and I would recommend it A, B, and C.” If they didn't do it then I'd say, “ If that didn't work, let's take a look at what didn't work and how we can change it for you.” I was so controlling at first, and that’s why not all sponsorship relationships are perfect. They need to evolve, and grow. Get rid of the person that's not working for you as your sponsor.
When I got to the second step and the prayer says, “God takes all of me the good and the bad”, I went, “Do you really mean this?” The other thing that was really important were the promises, which don't happened until you've finished working step nine. You'll know how the path is useful, and you'll know serenity and peace. I loved the promises. Those kept me going on hard days.
- Do you think the 12-steps are applicable to all struggles outside of the ones they are usually associated with?