"Recovered?" "Recovering?" Or just plain insane?

If you're a newcomer to Overeaters Anonymous, you may not get an awful lot out of this page. If, however, you've been around a while, you may have encountered a certain argument. We think it's a rather senseless argument, heard within our Fellowship, as to whether a person is a "recovered" or a "recovering" compulsive eater. Ironically, that argument is usually initiated by a person who is neither.

First of all, let’s read how Bill W. (the primary author of the Big Book) introduced the book Alcoholics Anonymous to the world. He wrote:

We, of Alcoholics Anonymous, are more than one hundred men and women who have recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. To show other alcoholics precisely how we have recovered is the main purpose of this book.

(Editors' note: all italics within quotations are reproduced as in the Big Book. We use emboldening for further emphasis.) 

Recovered alcoholics authored the Basic Text for the Fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.

What do they mean by recovered? Dr. Silkworth, who wrote the chapter "The Doctor's Opinion", said he believed that alcoholics had an allergy of the body that produced a craving once we took the first few drinks. The result of this craving is that alcoholics always drink more than they want to, passing through the well known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful with a firm resolution to never drink again. There is no known solution for that problem. People are not cured of alcoholism. So that problem is solved only by entire abstinence. If alcoholics don’t drink, they can’t get drunk. What an insultingly simple truth! But it is the truth.

So what’s the real problem? 

Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body. (BB p23) 

And the problem is:

The fact is that most alcoholics, for reasons yet obscure, have lost the power of choice in drink. Our so-called will power becomes practically nonexistent. We are unable, at certain times, to bring into our consciousness with sufficient force the memory of the suffering and humiliation of even a week or a month ago. We are without defense against the first drink.” (BB p24)

How does that problem of the mind manifest itself in the chronic alcoholic? 

The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. (BB p30)
He had much knowledge about himself as an alcoholic. Yet all reasons for not drinking were easily pushed aside in favor of the foolish idea that he could take whiskey if only he mixed it with milk! (BB p37)
Whatever the precise definition of the word may be, we call this plain insanity. (BB p37)

How should “insanity” be defined for our situation? Insanity, according to Webster's Dictionary, is: State of being insane; unsoundness of mind or without recognition of one’s illness. Does that sound like our compulsive eating?

Dr Silkworth said that we cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. Now, that's all very well for alcoholics, but surely compulsive eating is different! Not really.

The real problem of the chronic compulsive eater, then, is the insane thinking when it comes to eating. We may be abstinent (or between binges), having lost many things and created numerous problems because of our compulsive eating. Yet we go into a store and buy a load of the stuff that has robbed us of everything decent in life. We start compulsively eating again because we love the sense of ease and comfort that comes at once by eating compulsively. 

But then the craving for the next bite kicks in and every bite convinces us that we need another bite. Then the spree. Then the guilt and remorse. Then the pledge, the vow, the promise, to never do it again. Then we feel restless, irritable and discontented. So the eating. Then the binge. Then the humiliation. Then the pledge, the vow, the promise. Then restless, irritable and discontented. Then the eating. Then the binge. It is all repeated over and over and over.

The insanity of our disease is the source of the unmanageability of our lives. If we could manage that decision, pledge, vow, promise, to never compulsively eat again, we would not need the power of the program of recovery laid out in the Big Book. There may be other areas of our lives with degrees of unmanageability but the killer -- literally -- is our inability to manage the decision to stay stopped. 


Eating is not the problem. Nor is stopping the problem. Compulsive eaters have a variety of ways to stop compulsively eating (or eating altogether). Staying stopped is the problem. If we had the power to stop starting the process of compulsively eating, we would have no problem with eating. Lack of power, that was our dilemma. 

Now we have identified the real problem of the hopeless compulsive eater.

However intelligent we may have been in other respects, where alcohol has been involved, we have been strangely insane. Strong language -- but isn’t it true? (BB p38)

We are real fruitcakes (pardon the expression) because we lack the power to manage a decision to not take the first compulsive bite. We must therefore find a Higher Power if our power is insufficient to act sanely where eating is concerned.

So, if we carefully follow the clear-cut directions (BB p29) up to and including pages 84 & 85, we will receive one of the many promises of the Twelve Steps: “For by this time sanity will have returned.” (BB p84) Now, we have recovered. Read the Tenth Step promises from the bottom of page 84 to the bottom of page 85. If that leaves any doubt in your mind, carefully read pages 17, 20, 29, 91, 97, 113, 132 & 133. You will find the word recovered on each page. 

It seems to us that the most powerful statement of those listed above is this one on page 132: 

We have recovered and have been given the Power to help others.

We have clearly identified who the recovered compulsive eater is. What about the recovering compulsive eater? The recovering compulsive eater is one who is somewhere between Steps Three and Eleven. That person is in the process of coming to believe but has yet to have a spiritual awakening or experience. Bill W. was a recovering alcoholic for 2-3 days in Townes Hospital when he was detoxing. Most of the alcoholics who participated in the writing of the Big Book took the Steps during the first 7-10 days after their last drink. Many had recovered before they ever attended a meeting.

If a person comes to Overeaters Anonymous for help, having been unable to find a way to stop starting to eat compulsively, and the person is not taking or has not taken the Steps, that person is neither recovering nor recovered. This is not our opinion. This is our experience. A person such as this, in our experience, has untreated compulsive eating and, if the person has developed a compulsive eater's mind, he or she will eat compulsively again and again. There may be periods of time between binges, but without recovery the person will return to the behavior of compulsive eating. Often, people such as these are the ones who choose to declare that there is no such thing as a recovered compulsive eater. How would they know? How could they?

Nowhere in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous does it suggest that if an alcoholic goes to enough meetings, they will recover. The recovered alcoholics who authored this Basic Text Book said they recovered as the result of taking the Steps, not going to meetings.

We paid a hell of a price to get here. Let’s pay the price to stay here by having a spiritual awakening as the result of taking the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous.