The Tools of Recovery: Reading & Writing

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, when applied to the recovering anorexic, bulimic, or compulsive overeater, lead the addict out of addiction and into a new life of sanity and recovery. In themselves, the steps are a complete program and solution for food-related diseases and disorders. The "Tools of Recovery" build upon the steps, implementing practical approaches to a continued life of sobriety. They seek to give direction to the group as a whole and provide guidelines and suggestions for continuing to live and prosper together in recovery. Each group will put greater or lesser emphasis on particular tools and this is up the group, but each tool, when implemented wholeheartedly, ensures a more solid sobriety for the individual and greater growth for the group as a whole. While the tools are not specifically spelled out in a list, they are all alluded to throughout the writings of the AA founders, giving the sense that these practices were implicit to their understanding of life in recovery.

When you first stumbled into recovery another member likely shoved a copy of Alcoholics Anonymous, familiarly known as The Big Book into your hand with little instruction other than to take the book, read it, and apply the alcoholism references to your eating disorder. No matter what the nature of our disorder, we have all used and abused food in unhealthy, even life-threatening ways-no different than an alcoholic abusing alcohol.

We took the book home, opened it, and actually read it. And in doing so, something happened. We began to see a picture of the addict, the disease, and the craziness we knew all too well. Our inexplicable feelings, cravings, and desires suddenly found expression and for perhaps the first time, we felt real hope that there was a solution. There were other people who understood this disorder and who had written about it-not only to describe it, but to show how to get out of it.

The purpose of the Twelve Step literature is to identify the disease we all battle (though in various manifestations) and provide a hope-filled solution with a practical plan of action. Through the stories of other addicts and the wise words of the A.A. founders, we learn who we are, we remember where we have been, we see where we want to go, and we are given a plan that will get us there. The importance of the literature cannot be overlooked. It is a necessary fixture in the life of any successfully recovering food addict.

Though written more than half a century ago, these resources have proven timeless in their ability to articulate our core problem and a clear solution. Decade after decade the addiction problem stays the same. We have an obsession of the body and a compulsion of the mind-this is a timeless reality unaffected by modern developments or advanced technology. Thus the same solution still applies.

An individual’s reading plan will be unique to his or her needs or stage of recovery. Often sponsors will "assign" readings or topics for study, but consider this the bare minimum! One is always encouraged to fit as much reading into the day as is possible so that the benefits would abound.

The A.A. reading that we do is made even more powerful by combining it with the activity of writing. Putting the pen to paper taps into a layer of the self that we don’t immediately access by thinking and talking. Many compulsive eaters in recovery have taken up the daily habit of writing along with their reading. They are continually discovering new, previously unknown realms of their inner selves. The result is a deeper understanding of one’s personal roots of addiction, in turn fueling a more robust recovery.

For those who have never enjoyed writing nor felt comfortable with the activity, employing this practice will be a challenge at first. Start small and keep expectations in check. Some meetings have sheets of pre-written questions that can serve as helpful prompts for exploring your disease on paper. Likewise, your sponsor may have you read a passage from the literature and then write a personal reflection. Remember, writing is a tool for healing-there is no pressure in this activity. Your work will not be graded or edited. The only audience is you, and perhaps your sponsor if you choose to share your reflections.

Reading and writing are invaluable tools for helping the recovering addict know herself. The small amount of time invested in these activities each day pay remarkable dividends in advancing recovery and growth.

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