In my earliest years of recovery I had the blessing of discovering two recovery speakers who, I now know, significantly impacted how I would recover.
One was the AA speaker, Bob Earle, who told his story of progression through various addictions and an array of issues leading to deep emotional and spiritual change. In one of his earliest talks Bob told his audience, “When I am ten years sober I don’t want to go to five different Twelve Step groups for my alcoholism, food, family issues, codependence etc. I want to go to one meeting where I talk about all of me.”
The other person who influenced me was Judi Hollis, PhD an eating disorder therapist and the author of “Transferring Obsessions” published by Hazelden. That small pamphlet was part of my daily reading from my first year. I know that her ideas made early recovery really hard, but now in later recovery I thank her every day.
Hollis was writing to an audience of Overeaters Anonymous members. She talked about what happens when a woman or man in food recovery begins to let go of that addiction and how, if a Higher Power is not the replacement, we will move on to shopping, decorating, exercising, dating, sex, work and using alcohol or drugs. In those earlier days of OA there were members who still used alcohol, seeing the separation of substances but not seeing the singularity of addiction.
It was not unlike the way most professionals viewed drug addiction and alcoholism 25 years ago. At that time most hospital treatment programs for drug addiction allowed participants to drink alcohol. In some programs people completing their treatment for drug addiction were given a Beer Bash as the celebration of their 90 days of clean time. We are amazed by that today. Maybe someday we’ll be amazed by alcohol treatment that includes tobacco use or ice cream parties on Friday nights.
Now, to be clear the influence of Earle and Hollis did not stop me from swapping back and forth between alcohol, food, shopping, exercising and overwork. It just made it so much more painful because the denial was much more short-lived. When I left a department store with two shopping bags of clothes I knew it was the same as sneaking out of a grocery store with two bags of cake and cookies. And I knew that the married man that pumped up my heart rate was the same “drug” as the extra hour on the treadmill. A drug is a drug is a drug.
It’s been said that we give up our addictions in the order in which they are killing us. That was true for me. Mine went in this order: food, bulimic behavior, alcohol, drugs and then the ones that are ongoing: relationships and work. I take those tigers for a walk every day.
There are still some audiotapes of Bob Earle around. Ask the old-timers in your home group. And Judy Hollis’s “Transferring Obsessions” is still available from Hazelden.