What the 12 Steps Mean To Me And what hasn’t worked either…

Binge Eating and Binge Eating Disorder/Bulimia are often thought of as addictions.  While that are very similar, they are not the same.

Binge eating disorder (BED) and addiction share some similar behaviours, like compulsive engagement in an activity despite negative consequences, but they are classified differently in medical and psychological contexts due to several reasons:

  1. Neurological differences: Addiction is primarily characterised by the brain’s dependence on substances (like drugs or alcohol) or behaviors (like gambling) that stimulate the brain’s reward system. While binge eating can activate pleasure centers in the brain, it doesn’t typically create the chemical dependency seen in substance addictions.
  2. Psychological and behavioural factors: BED is more closely related to a lack of control over eating behaviours rather than a physiological craving for a substance. It is often associated with psychological issues such as stress, anxiety, or depression, and it can be a way to cope with emotional distress. In contrast, addiction involves a persistent need to use substances or engage in behaviours that are perceived as rewarding.
  3. Diagnostic criteria: According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition), which is a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, BED is categorised under eating disorders. This classification is based on the patterns of eating behavior and the psychological aspects of the disorder. Addiction, on the other hand, is categorised under substance-related and addictive disorders, highlighting the dependency aspect.
  4. Treatment approaches: Treatments for BED typically involve psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), which addresses the emotional and behavioural aspects of the disorder. Medication may also be used but is generally aimed at controlling mood and anxiety symptoms that contribute to binge eating. Addiction treatment often includes detoxification, medication-assisted therapy to manage withdrawal and cravings, and behavioural therapies focused on managing addiction behaviours.

While both disorders can have profound effects on an individual’s life and may sometimes require overlapping treatment strategies, the underlying causes and manifestations are distinct, leading to different classifications and treatment approaches.

That said, a lot of the aspects of 12 Step programs have many useful tools that are helpful for overcoming binge-eating, and for managing life in general, addict or not.

Here’s my take on them:

Step 1: I admitted I was powerless over my problem and it had become unmanageable.

This was easy for me to understand. By the time I discovered the program, I was already fully aware of the powerlessness and how baffling it was. Powerlessness is key here. I tried everything to ‘control’ my problem and yet I was still completely unable to do anything about it.

This is in stark contrast to all other areas of my life where I seemed to be able to completely run things as expected. I knew I wasn’t stupid. Why couldn’t I “just do it”? Unmanageable life felt very cruel when I really thought about it. I had a hatred for myself and disdain for my own body and thoughts.

The more I thought about the strangeness of this problem the more I could see how it was not only impacting my own life but also the lives of those I loved and cared about. My low self-esteem also meant I attracted (and yearned for) unhealthy people which compounded the problem. I thought I had a hold of my life. I was wrong. It was all an act. Here I had a breakdown.

I discovered that traumatic experiences had taken my mental health beyond anything the 2 steps could help me with. I wrongly thought that the steps couldn’t help me and that I was alone. That’s when I discovered psychotherapy.

The 12 steps were giving me a blueprint for living my life going forward but I first needed to unpack the traumas of my past. I began learning to forgive myself, to recognise and accept my shadow side as a force that was trying to protect me. I started to unravel my childhood and question my memories in a healthy way. I started to heal. I forgave myself and reminded myself that I was beautiful, very much loved, and a human with flaws like everyone else.

When I came back to the steps I realised that my self-love was difficult at first ( and still sometimes is) and that it was good for me to ‘fake it till you make it’. I needed to start learning to love myself as I am – right now, in this body, in this mind. Then I could heal it. Therapy, self-attention and the 12 steps have provided me with the ability to unpack and heal from the past, the tools to live in the present and the ability to plan for the future.

Step 2 – I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to health.

This step demanded a belief that the then Atheist self could not fathom. It has taken me years of learning about faith and philosophy as the basis of every religion and spiritual belief. I wanted to know it all.

When I first did the steps I didn’t believe in anything so I had to, once again, fake it till I made it. I now have a religion all of my own. Faith and spirituality that I utterly believe in have helped me through some of my hardest decisions and my darkest times. I have seen things others do not believe and I am ok with that.

I have melded several philosophies and experiences into a higher power completely of my own understanding and that has been my shining light. I didn’t need doctrine. I needed teachings.

I have gone through many different iterations of ‘God as I understand him’ over the years. I now use parts of all of them to create my own “Team ‘God”, if you will. Here are the rough versions I have been through:
– Atheist – believing there is only myself and nothing and no one else can help me. There is no God, there is no life after death. I have myself to be responsible for and myself to blame.
– Idols. Trying to use other human beings as the higher power I was searching for. The problem here is they are just as fallible as me.
– I pretended to believe in God and looked for meaning in various other religions.
– Exploring and learning about Buddhism.
– Exploring and learning about Spiritualism.
I decided that prayer wasn’t for me and tried out and learned about meditation instead.
– Learning about the unseen world and the collective unconsciousness, morphic resonance and quantum theory.
– Creating my own ‘God’ out of the things I have learned through philosophy, religion and science.

My higher power is now my own brain.  Something over which I have exacted control at last

My higher power changes as I learn and practise more. It is flexible, like a well-oiled team that is always on my side. Its current form is a mixture of:
– Nature and her cycles, including the cycles of my body. Listening to nature, the clues, the whispers, the coincidences.
– The collective energy. An understanding that we are a part of a whole and being able to send back the difficulties to me ‘diluted’ into the collective. Thus, in return, being able to receive concentrated love from my ancestors and those who are still earth-bound.
– Deciding to be of loving and compassionate service to the people I recognise as being truly always there for me. Learning not to give my energy to ‘the vampires’.
– Understanding what I perceive to be fate and the law of attraction.

Step 3. Made a decision to turn my will and my life over to this higher power that I have come to understand.

When I first learned about the steps this felt ridiculous. I didn’t even believe in God. How could I know what God wanted? How could I trust this with my life decisions? Alongside my awakening to what I now hold dear to me, this one has been a slow step to come to terms with. It’s been a HUGE learning process.

For me, this step is about intuition. It is about learning to find my own ‘red flags’, my own ‘hints’, my own understanding of how others behave towards me and my part to play in that.

This is now a massive part of my life. I ‘listen’.
– Through meditation. I listen to the world, to nature, to my breath. I observe.
– I observe completely without judgement. Judgement is a reflection of my own insecurities and has nothing to do with the person I am judging. This is a red flag that my mind is not healthy.
– Opening my mind to other people’s views even if they are radically different to my own. I listen. I do not have to agree. But I do have to listen.
– I look for repetition. History repeating, mistakes repeating. There is a lesson within them and they will repeat it until they are heard.
– Accepting ‘Dharma’ (Buddhist term). There are three marks of existence.
1. Impermanence. Everything changes. Everything is unstable.
2. Suffering is inevitable and creates resilience. Accepting human suffering is the path to happiness. (for example, have you ever heard someone say something like “they had nothing at all, not even two pennies to rub together, yet they were so happy and so generous”)
3. Material possession is always dissatisfying.
If we understand these concepts we learn that we too will (and can) change. That the bad times and suffering will also change. That joy is always just around the corner. Compassion, service and understanding are where happiness lives.

I have had to come to accept that I do not always know what’s best. Trauma has humbled me. Recovery has made me resilient. I know that I will not always have what I want but I can always adapt to find what I need and share it with others.

I can only do this if I let go and accept the path before me and trust in the power that put me there.

Step 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of myself.

This is one of the steps that people fear the most. I did. I hated it at first and it took me ages. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did this step and how I continue to do it regularly (and will for the rest of my life).

Inventorying myself has taught me the following about my own:
– Stubbornness
– Anger
– Belligerence
– Selfishness
– Short-Sightedness

Doing this step and having therapy in combination has literally saved my life.

I now do this (or a version of it in my head) every day. It has become second nature. A split-second reaction.

It has taught me so much about my anger and resentments, and how to recognise my behaviours (even the baffling ones that happened without me realising them at the time). It taught me why I did (and do) them, where they came from and why I felt hurt. It has taught me how to forgive myself and others.

Step four has been a pivotal base for all my behaviour changes, socially and familiarly.

Step 5 – Admitted to myself, to my God and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.

This step demands that you begin to recognise and accept your shadow self. The ‘bad side/bad thoughts’ that we all have but never talk about.

It’s about seeing when we have let the shadow rule us and, in turn, may then have let it hurt others.

It’s about owning your mistakes and forgiving yourself.

It has ZERO judgment. It is simply an acceptance that you have made errors in the past that may have had a negative effect on someone else. Just like everybody does sometimes.

It’s about not keeping that a secret anymore as that causes damage to your own self-esteem. It is surprisingly cathartic to ‘admit all’ and get it off your chest.

Step 6. I was entirely ready to let my higher power remove the parts of me that have the capability to harm others.

This, for me, is about letting go and forgiving.

I know that nowadays I have fewer bad thoughts and bad deeds. I’m not completely free of them and I never will be. But that’s why we repeat these steps as we go through our life.

By doing this step I no longer have a build-up of guilt following me around like a bad smell.

This is about practising abstinence in a way that I had planned it. It’s about having realistic expectations and developing compassion and understanding towards yourself and all other people.

It’s about trusting your intuition and being willing to now always do and say what I know deep down is ‘the right thing’. This includes how I treat myself as well as all other people, beings and material possessions.

Even when I really, really don’t want to!

As I wind through life’s maze of paths and choices that fate has laid before me my Higher Power will give me opportunities to practice this step by presenting me with things that are a challenge to me – sometimes physically but usually emotionally. This strengthens my resilience and creates the opportunity for me to grow and heal further than before. There is no end to our healing. Change is a fact.

Step 7 – Humbly asked for these shortcomings to be removed.

Utilising these tools that I have been given so far my HP and I can work together to remove these shortcomings whenever they rear their heads.

By meditating and keeping an open connection with my spiritual beliefs I can meditate and listen. Like a continuous feedback loop of self-improvement, practising these techniques helps me to face the challenges with trust that my HP and I can overcome anything in a positive way.

I remember always that it is now my wish and personal vow to be a better person at all times.

Step 8 – Made a list of all persons I had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

This is another of the biggest steps and it can feel very daunting when you first hear about it. Take a deep breath, it’s not as bad as you might think!

To complete this step we utilise our step 4 inventory to see if we were at fault in any way when other people had made us angry.

This step is about removing shame. It takes a level of bravery but is VERY WORTH IT!

I made the list of everybody I could think of that I might have harmed and made the decision that I would follow this through.

Step 9 – Made direct amends to these people, except when doing so would injure themselves or others.

This step is a follow-on to the last one. It is about repairing the past.

Where I could (and where it would not cause further harm) I discussed face-to-face the harm I did to that person and I apologised for it. I explained that they did not have to respond if they did not want to but that if they wanted to I would listen.

It is not about wanting or needing a response or forgiveness from them. You are ‘sweeping your side of the street’ but with a willingness to accept that they may have a response and that you will accept it without repose or judgement.

For those that had passed away or for whom to apologise would cause further harm I wrote letters that I shared with my sponsor and burned or buried. For others, I meditated and had the conversation in my head.

For some, I had to arrange to pay back the money, return borrowed items, and make right in every way I could.

It released my past from me. The stuff that I was ashamed of that had haunted me for years lifted. My debts were cleared.

I was left feeling very happy. Many people had forgotten, were surprised or hadn’t thought as badly about it as I had. I was so relieved. Most of my shame had been mine alone. Most of the people I apologised to forgave me. No one was angry.

I felt light, happy and a bit tired after I completed the step. It was one of the scariest but BEST exercises I have ever done.

It’s not one I want to have to repeat in this big way again which is why we have step 10…

Step 10 Continued to take personal inventory and when I am wrong promptly admit it.

Seeing my part to play in how I made other people feel was a massive wake-up call for me. I had no idea before. Now I find apology much less stressful than before and I do not let it build up for long. As soon as I realise. I have done harm I deal with it. No more scary step 9 for me! lol

Step 11 – Seek through meditation and learning to improve my contact with my HP and understand the path I wish to follow.

This is about practising what I have learned, learning more and continuing to grow as a compassionate and humble human.

Step 12 – Carry this message to other addicts and practice these principles in everything I do.

This one for me is about service. It’s about offering my support to another person that wants to try and do these steps and also serve and be loving towards everyone else around me – whether they are in the steps or not.

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