The first time I heard the 12 steps, I was staring out the window of yet another eating disorder treatment center, watching the already-hot Alabama sun burn away the morning fog.
Across the room, a fellow client vaped emphatically, filling the room with sticky-sweet vanilla clouds. She cleared her throat and began: “One. We admitted we were powerless over food—that our lives had become unmanageable.”
I leaned back into the worn cushions and folded my arms tightly against my chest. She continued reading, but I had stopped listening. Powerless over food? I don’t think so.
My therapist at the time was big on mantras. During my first week of treatment, I had decided that mine would be “I am strong.” I believed I could do this recovery thing on my power and I did not need anyone’s help to get there. I obviously didn’t need these twelve steps. I wrote my mantra repeatedly on everything as if I could actualize my fantasy through repetition. I wrote it on journals and canvasses and the place mat set beneath my carefully measured meals. I wrote “I am strong” on my hand in big bold Sharpie the day I impulsively flicked my turn signal into the Publix parking lot and began yet another sharp descent into relapse.
Three years and countless relapses later, I lay staring up at the scuffed beige ceiling of my hospital room. The harsh unmanageability of my eating disorder had burned away every remaining vestige of false confidence. I had spent the past decade of my life trying every treatment modality under the sun, always trying desperately to believe in my own power to recover myself.
Despair lapped at my ankles, threatening to pull me under. I had utterly exhausted all options before me—all but one. Perhaps, as a final gambit, I could try beginning this recovery journey from a place of humility. Perhaps, here at the end of the road, I could finally admit that I was powerless to recover on my own.
I had nothing to lose and, as it turns out, all the promises in the world to gain.
In the months that followed, I slowly came to accept that it was only by relying on my Higher Power and the powerful community of women that surrounded and supported me, that I could finally take a full breath and emerge from my fog of food obsession. I am never promised tomorrow, but for today, I choose to believe that it is only by accepting my powerlessness that I can take my next steps towards a life of freedom.