I call them the Stepford Wives, the 12-step program members who abide by whatever food plans they have adopted to recover from compulsive overeating. I call them the Stepfords because 12-step programs ask their members to remain anonymous, either by last name or by affiliation. No one is the poster child of recovery – and no one is the face of failure of the program.
I fit both of these categories.
Two months ago, I moved back to my hometown. As I work to set up a new life, I know I need to go back to the Rooms where I lost 188 pounds and where I failed to regain the abstinence of weighing and measuring my food while eschewing sugar, flour and wheat. As the Christmas cookies dwindle, I’m not sure I can live without those substances.
Intellectually, of course, I know that I cannot live with them either.
I know with the certainty of gravity that I can’t do it without the help of other food addicts.
The barrier I’ve built up against the Stepfords is formidable. I blame the program for regaining so much weight.
Is this the addict in me looking frantically for reasons to folly about in Christmas cookies and pizza? I leave it to you to decide.
I was a normal size, bordering on thin, when I left one difficult boss for a better-paying and enthusiastic boss in a small company. It was exhilarating, this loss of more than half my weight that coincided with a job that doubled my salary. I had an office of my own, 27 floors above Central Park. I had spanking new clothes. I had ambitions for my new position. My family and Stepford friends were thrilled for me.
What I couldn’t know was that I had signed an agreement with someone who would turn on me in an increasingly similar pattern. We would go to a work function with our office staff and, sometimes, a client. She would have a drink or two and then physically – attack me? That’s not quite right. She would stamp on my feet, force me to dance with her, muss my hair. We were once politely asked to leave a function because of this noisy insistence. Then, within 48 hours of such an incident – a spectacle, really – she would call me into her office and rattle off a long and organized list of my failures and give me a deadline in which to rectify myself or I would be fired.
She was many inches shorter than me and my height resonated with what it was like to be fat, awkward, perpetually out of place. I felt I had to put up with this because my size demanded I put up with anything to buy tolerance. This was a fat hangover to match what must have been her hangovers after – what is the verb I want? – messing with me. As an alcoholic, she made her behavior my fault.
I used to laugh, mirthlessly, that had we worked at a large corporation, she would have been fired for her behavior to me. In my fat hangover, it didn’t occur to me I still had rights.
How did I survive as this pattern became more frequent? I went to meetings. I said the serenity prayer, which told me to change the things I could and let the rest go. I couldn’t change her so I worked to change my attitude toward her behavior. Once, a Stepford friend commented that, given the situation, I should save my money. My therapist once mentioned suing her for harassment. I heard these things but didn’t absorb them in my effort to survive and accept. Neither the Stepfords nor my therapist pushed me to push back. I was frozen in fear, knowing the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says fear is an addict’s worst sin: I was guilty of being a bad employee and of being a bad Stepford.
Finally, I was fired.
At first I was relieved as well as humiliated but then I found myself walking down the street eating cookies, a thing no one looked twice at because I was a size 8. The food, a new life as a writer and the black cloud of FIRED snowballed. Everyone seemed as happy that I’d gotten away from her craziness as they had been when I got the job. Later, my therapist and psychiatrist apologized for not seeing how destroyed I was.
I didn’t tell them how destroyed I was because I was trying to accept the things I couldn’t change, change my anger into serenity, not eat for a day or binge all morning or take half a box of laxatives and survive this mayhem.
Along with my fat hangover of deserving nothing, the 12 Steps told me I was powerless, my life was unmanageable, God was somehow going to take care of it and that my character defects needed a fine-toothed comb
I went into the Rooms as weak as a newborn, and, as regards Real Life, I stayed that way. The Stepfords (and for a long time, I had very good Stepfords) didn’t teach real life. “God removed my excess weight.” “My will got me to 300 pounds.” We were responsible neither for having gotten fat nor for getting thin. Instead, we were occupied with admitting the nature of our wrongs, accepting life on life’s terms and weighing Romaine. I wanted to feel better and food does that.
I need the Stepfords. But I also need a program that teaches me to fight back appropriately, to get past 50 years of fattitude that I should never have succumbed to in the first place. I need 12 steps to accepting my dignity and my power and my humanity.
I am afraid of the weight of my anger and what it will do to a meeting if I open my mouth about it.
And I desperately need to open my mouth for something besides ice cream.