My name is Angela and I am a compulsive overeater and food addict. I recently shared this speech at the Overeaters Anonymous Unity Day Workshop. Overeaters Anonymous is a twelve-step program similar to AA or NA. The only difference is the substance we are addicted to is food. According to Tradition 3, OA welcomes anyone who has the desire to stop eating compulsively. No matter how different we may be in other ways, we all identify as compulsive overeaters. Whenever I hear someone share their story in OA, no matter who they are or what they look like, I can always relate.
As tradition 3 states, we welcome everyone. No matter your race or ethnicity. No matter your sexuality. No matter your gender; and no matter your ability (or disability). Now I personally cannot speak on the topic of race. I can only listen to people of color who share their story.
I can share on two other identities that I have. I identify as queer and I identify as disabled. Now, you may ask, what does that have to do with my compulsive overeating? I spent a lot of time wearing different masks in my life. I was this person at work, this person with my family, this person with strangers. I hid who I really was, and I couldn’t stop eating. It took many years in program, time in and out of relapse, to finally come to accept who I am and share who I am with the world.
Before program, I wore the mask of a heterosexual woman. I was actually a closeted bisexual. I was married to a man by the time I realized that I was bisexual and I was struggling because I was finding myself attracted to women. I carried a lot of shame around this. My husband and I went to couples counseling and I started individual counseling as well. We stayed married until he passed away about 20 years later. At an OA retreat 10 years ago, I was in a workshop on sexuality. At this retreat, I finally felt comfortable enough to “come out” and share who I was. This room full of OA’ers showed me love and acceptance. I want to continue to share that love with newcomers coming into program today.
Now even today, I appear as a cishet or straight woman and I recognize there is some privilege in that. I was biological born female and I identify as female. I am also in a relationship with a man. So, people will assume I am cishet and because of that, I am not bullied or harassed walking down the street because of my Queer identity as many other people are. Also, some people will assume that its ok to make anti-gay jokes or comments around me. Since I have come out and since I have found recovery, I am more likely to try to educate people that those comments are offensive rather than keeping silent. When I came out to my family, they didn’t quite understand my identity and some of them still don’t, but for me it was important that they saw this part of my identity and understand that just because I am with a male partner, doesn’t mean that I am no longer Queer. When I educate, I like to tell people not to make any assumptions about what someone’s gender or sexual orientation is, but instead to use gender neutral language and to ask someone what their pronouns are.
Even for me, it takes some time and practice using gender neutral terms. I am in my mid-40s, and I feel like people in their 20s and 30s are much more comfortable with some newer language and pronouns than I am. I have accidentally misgendered people out of 40 years of habit. But I am willing to listen and willing to learn. If I do make a mistake and misgender someone, I apologize, and I work on correcting my language.
Now, in terms of my disability, in the past I wore the mask of a sweet helpless little girl. The reality was, I was carrying a lot of anger. This was not anger about my disability. I was never angry at God because I couldn’t run or because I needed crutches. I was born with a disability, so this has always been my reality. Having a disability is just part of who I am. It is not a misfortune. It is my identity. For me, it is just like having brown hair or needing glasses.
What I was angry about was how people treated me differently because of my disability. My family and close friends never treated me different. It is usually strangers and acquaintances who don’t know me well. I recognize many people aren’t used to being around someone like me who using crutches, (or seeing someone using a wheelchair out and about), so they may feel uncomfortable. They often talk to me as if I am a child. I can’t tell you how many times I have been patted on the head or how many times I have been prayed for by strangers. Complete strangers who see me walking slowly with my crutches and praying for me has actually harmed my spiritual life. I always knew I had a disability that wasn’t ever going to go away, and I had symptoms that would get worse over time with age, and I have accepted that. I didn’t want to be around people who were going to be “praying for” me for some type of miracle. Those messages made me angry. I also don’t like hearing that I am “inspirational” or “so brave”, just for getting out of bed in the morning and living my life. Now, if you want to tell me I wrote a great article, go ahead. That would be awesome. But just for going outside? No. Saying things like that is very patronizing.
What did I do with that anger? I never showed people that I was angry. I kept a fake smile on my face while my blood was boiling, and then I went home to my refrigerator. I took that anger out on myself by eating compulsively. I couldn’t take it out on person who said it because they didn’t know any better. They didn’t know that their behavior was offensive. In the past, when people would overstep my boundaries, I would say to myself, “well, they mean well” and I let them overstep.
Today, I am in recovery. While I still will not outwardly express my angry at someone when they say something inappropriate, I am learning to be more assertive. I will ask for help when I need it. If someone offers to help me, and I don’t need the help. I will say “no thank you” and I will continue doing what I am doing independently. It is actually very important for me to continue to be as independent as possible.
I know that my OA recovery has saved my life. I also know that there are many more people like me who need OA. The opinions I express here are my own. I cannot speak for all LGBTQ+ folks, all people with disabilities, or all compulsive overeaters. I can only share my own perspective and share my personal truth. Thank you for reading and allowing me to share.