Many, many years ago when Overeaters Anonymous was in its infancy in Los Angeles, many members of AA with years of sobriety were invited to speak at OA meetings. They brought experience, strength and hope to a group struggling to get on its feet. Among the AA helpers was a wonderful woman named Dottie who was an inspiring speaker. Dottie was welcomed at the burgeoning OA meetings and became a friend and supporter of those wanting to be free of compulsive eating.
As the years went by and OA grew, other anonymous meetings sprang up for drug addicts and later spenders and sex addicts. Then word went around that Dottie was starting another new meeting that was different from all the rest. It was a meeting open to any and all people suffering from addictive or compulsive behaviors. No problem was considered more serious than another. It was a meeting where all attendees were practicing the 12 steps.
Soon after this meeting got underway I moved away from Los Angeles so I never found out what happened to that group, but I never forgot it. We desperately need a new support system today that is like Dottie’s since we have become a society riddled with compulsions of all sorts. People switch from one to another but are never free of the cravings to feel good at all costs.
As I look back over my life as a therapist I recall the very first client I treated after I was licensed. I’ll call her Betty. Betty was an overeating, drug-addicted alcoholic. She wanted to stop her compulsive overeating. Then she met her husband, who was a drug dealer, and she dropped out of therapy. She eventually returned, having divorced her husband. She was not using drugs and was trying to stay off booze, but food was a constant battle.
I worked with Betty for quite a while as she tried to kick all three of her compulsions. She never managed to get rid of all three at the same time. Finally she relocated to another city but kept in touch. I remember one of her letters in which she said that she went to an alcoholism counselor who told her, “I don’t care what you do, just DON”T DRINK!” She wrote that she stopped drinking and immediately gained 35 pounds!
I remember feeling angry when she wrote about what her new therapist told her since she was just “changing deck chairs on the Titanic.” It is common for people with addictions to go from one to another, never achieving total freedom from addictive cravings. That is the key. It is not about alcohol, food, drugs, or shopping, it is about the intense cravings to feel good when you are feeling bad, no matter how you do it.
Today we have ever-newer feel good activities: Internet gambling, porn, cell phones, texting, Facebook, email, IPods, and video games. These obsessive behaviors are not just affecting those practicing them. There are news reports every day of people killed by a driver who is on a cell phone or texting. I see people ambling across the street while talking on their cell phones, oblivious of the traffic.
The scary thing is that what we think of as harmless activities are actually dangerous actions that are turning us into a mindless culture of addicts. Can we put down our phones while we are wheeling the shopping cart at the market? Can we shut down the computer, take out the ear buds, and stop the chatter? If the answer is no it is time to create a new organization: Cravings Anonymous.