We interviewed Charlie O. Edinburgh, a long-time recovering overeater. Charlie still struggles with recovery today, but attends Overeaters Anonymous and has much mutual support. To learn more, check out his blog, Diary of a Mad Overeater.
AllTreatment: How long do you feel you have had an eating disorder?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I'm almost 40 now, and I've been eating compulsively since I was a child. I was raised in a family of compulsive overeaters. I'm not sure why we all felt constantly deprived, but I think we did somehow. We were forever dividing up the food on the table to make sure we all got equal portions, even though there really was plenty for all. Looking back now, I think we ate to comfort ourselves, to cover up negative emotions, even to avoid conflict. Good times in my life were always associated with food. Family fun nights always revolved around my dad making popcorn. As a junior high student, I would come home after school and make an entire box of macaroni and cheese for myself. When my parents would go out and leave me in charge of my younger brother and sister, we would always have frozen pizza and popcorn, along with sweets and other things. Holidays were always about the food. We expressed our love for each other by cooking and baking for each other. Thanksgiving and Christmas were always opportunities to overindulge.
"Good times in my life were always associated with food."
I remember feeling "fat" as a child, even though I was really very normal in my weight. I started dieting (or trying to diet) in high school. In college, my eating began to take a turn for the worse. I had access to a cafeteria and a snack bar, and I could make my own choices, which never included healthy foods. I gained a lot of weight and began the cycle of trying to lose, gaining it back as soon as I would lose it.
AllTreatment: Do you feel you have an addictive personality?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: Definitely. I was a really obedient, compliant child and teenager growing up in a very conservative Christian home, so I never struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction. It just was not socially acceptable in my world to even dabble in substances like that. But if there was a way to overdo something "safe," I did it. So I spent tons of money on music… first records and tapes, then CDs, then downloads. With the explosion of the internet when I was in college, I got sucked into all kinds of online things. And even though most of it was "fine" – my mom could have walked in on me and not batted an eye – it was the sheer amount of time and attention I gave to it. I still battle an unhealthy obsession with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., even while trying to use social media in a positive way! (Who knows, maybe someday I'll have to join Social Media Anonymous.) Basically if I like something, I want more of it. Always.
AllTreatment: How was your personal life affected? How were the people close to you affected?
Charlie O. Ediburgh: Now that I'm in recovery, I realize how everything in my life revolved around food and eating. My moods were affected dramatically. I was always obsessively dieting or trying to work out. I tried and failed, and my mood was affected negatively. My self-esteem was built completely around whether I was gaining or losing weight. Some of the greatest accomplishments in my life were tarnished because I couldn't enjoy them or be grateful for them. Or I didn't think I really deserved them because I was overweight. I found that I was a harsh judge of other people's body size too. It's like I hated in others what I hated so much about myself.
I hurt myself and others in other ways too. I was dishonest with my wife and friends. I would like about whether or not I had already eaten. I would hoard cash (or just take it out my wife's – or kid's – wallet) so I could drive through fast food places without it showing up on the bank statement. I would take food off my kids' plate before they were done eating. I would "forget" my wife had asked me to save some food for her – maybe a piece of cake or something like that. Or finances suffered because I went out to eat so much – going to lunch when I couldn't afford it, for example.
AllTreatment: What was the factor that led you to realize you had a problem?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I wrote this after being in recovery for just a short time: "I am so tired of the insanity of overeating. I am tired of the ups and the downs in my weight, my self-esteem, my emotions. I am tired of the compusive and secretive behavior. I am tired of having no respect for myself because my resolve crumbles moments after deciding something. I am in OA because I can't do this by myself. I am in OA because I want my heart to stop racing when I move. I want my blood pressure to come to normal. I want my joints to work well in the coming decades. I want to fit into roller coasters and rides at Six Flags. I want to never again have acid reflux in the middle of the night, waking up in a panic coughing and gasping, thinking I'm dying. All because I can't stop overeating.
And yes, I want to be normal weight. But it's not the most important thing. I think as I continue to answer these questions and read and think and work the program, I'm understanding more and more. What do I want? I want peace. I want a deep, rich relationship with God. I want to live in healthy, life-giving relationships with my family and my friends. I want to be a man of integrity. I want to love and be loved. I want to live as a whole person."
AllTreatment: What was Overeaters Anonymous like?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I first went to an O.A. meeting in 2005 or 2006. I really related to the stories I heard, and I "bought in" quickly. I read literature, went to meetings and talked with other recovering compulsive overeaters. I was already familiar with the 12-Step format, so I wasn't weirded-out by the hand-holding or the hugs or the script or the introducing yourself as an addict every time you speak. (Although I think these are a barrier to a lot of newcomers.) I knew I was "home," as the readings say, from the moment I went to my first meeting.
AllTreatment: Are you coping with recovery well?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: Some days I think I will never make it, but most of the time, I feel a real sense of peace. I feel like, day by day, I'm turning my life and my will over to the care of the God of my understanding. I never thought I'd be able to find the time or energy to work a rigorous, structured program, but as I work it every day, I find that the structure is bringing recovery to me. I need this structure. It's bringing me life.
"I never thought I'd be able to find the time or energy to work a rigorous, structured program, but as I work it every day, I find that the structure is bringing recovery to me."
AllTreatment: Have you ever tried to quit before, how, how long did you last, what was it like, did you start again?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I have tried every diet and program, looking for every quick fix I could find. If I could have afforded it, I'm sure I would have tried surgery of some kind. I tried diets and accountability with friends, Weight Watchers, even relationships with trainers. Cabbage soup, Master Cleanse, stupid fasts and restrictive diets. Still couldn't make any headway.
Finding O.A. kind of "ruined" me for dieting from now on. I know that I'm powerless over food and compulsive overeating. Early on in the Program, I made some big mistakes. I didn't get a sponsor, I didn't work the steps. I basically treated the Program like another diet. Once I had lost all my weight (about 7 months), I started "loosening up" my program, with no help from a sponsor, no one outside of myself to help me see how insane I was getting. That began three years of ups and downs, trying and failing to regain any abstinence I had once had. I would have a good week or month and then turn around and binge like crazy. On top of that, during that whole time there was a lot of instability in my and my family's lives involving several cross-country moves and two periods of joblessness. It was hard, and it only contributed to my inability to find any lasting abstinence.
I'm grateful that I have finally found a great job and home, a wonderful O.A. fellowship, a good program of recovery and sponsor. It's working for me, one day at a time. I've been abstinent for almost two months on the O.A. -H.O.W. program (a much more structured approach with built-in accountability and stepwork that I write about in detail on my blog).
AllTreatment: What have you personally learned after the entire experience?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I can't even being to tell you all that I've learned, but I can try to sum it up in a few key thoughts: I realize that I am powerless over my compulsive overeating. There is a loving God who has the power to restore me to sanity. I turn my life and my will over to the care of that God. Those, of course, are the first three steps in any 12-step recovery program. They're so basic, but they're so essential and life-giving for me. I have to remember them every day. It's funny, because I am a very spiritual/religious person, and faith has never been a real hang-up for me, but I have still really had to wrestle over the past few months with my understanding of God and how God wants to be involved in my life and recovery. It's been really good for me.
One more thing I've learned: I used to think I was a really great guy who just had these one or two things "wrong" with me. Now I know that I was/am a flawed human being whose compulsive behaviors were a symptom of my character defects. When I work primarily on my spiritual connection to a Higher Power, the symptoms of compulsive overeating are removed on a day-to-day basis.
AllTreatment: Where do you think you'll be in a year?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: I don't know. I have to live one day at time. Future-tripping really screws me up. I always talk about how I worry about whether or not I'll be able to have cake on my daughter's wedding day… nevermind the fact that my daughter is nine years old! I trust that – as I continue to surrender to God – I will be exactly where I need to be. That's another thing I'm losing… fear of the future.
AllTreatment: What advice can you give to those currently facing a similar problem? Are you doing anything to personal help them?
Charlie O. Edinburgh: One of the most important things I can do in my own recovery is help those who are suffering with the same issues and addictions. I try, through my service in meetings, my Twitter account (http://www.twitter.com/OACharlie) and my blog (http://diaryofamadovereater.blogspot.com) to carry the message of recovery to whoever will listen. I am happy to talk on the phone with people, email support, whatever. If you're truly a compulsive overeater, I pray that you find support and recovery. The thing that brought me into this program in the first place was reading and honestly answering the questions that can be found at the Overeaters Anonymous official website: http://www.oa.org/new-to-oa/is-oa-for-you.php