Former Nun Finds A Way of Life
My Story of Coming to GreySheet Abstinence
I was born into a good German Catholic family, the oldest of five children. I learned many good values from my family: the value of hard work and responsibility, the usefulness of organization, the value of education, the importance of my faith, and a positive attitude toward life. But I also learned many of my character defects and compulsive behaviors. From my most loving, hard-working, 6'3" father, I learned to LOVE food and to overeat. From my tiny, 5'1" mother, I learned the mental obsession with food and diet, the idea that if I work hard enough, I can make anything happen, that I should be in control, and that I should not make mistakes, or messes, or noise. I learned those subconscious messages that haunted me all my life: "Just push yourself away from table!" "Just eat moderately!" "Look at that fat person! You would think she would have more self-respect!" "It is such a shame that someone would let themselves go to pot that way!" "Every time I see a fat person, I say a prayer for them." My mother controlled everyone's eating in the family. Thanks to her vigilance, I was not an obese child; one could say that I was "plump". I learned to sneak food at home, to lift the top from the "X" jar ever so quietly, to eat from jars of spread while making sandwiches for my younger brothers and sister, and to clean my plate! Whenever I got to eat away from home, I ate as much as I could. My grandmother was a wonderful "South Texas" cook: lots of fried foods, with lots of sauces. She loved for me to eat her cooking. When I went to Girl Scout Camp, I always gained weight during the two weeks. I loved the "institutional" cooking, and the boxes of "X" left over from that year's Girl Scout "X" sale.
As was common in the 1950's, the nuns who taught in my high school came "recruiting" during my freshman year. I told my parents I wanted to go to the convent and they gave their consent. It was considered an honor to have a nun in the family. I entered the convent at the age of 14. Now as I look back on it, I see that my motivation was not so pure as only to want to serve God. I also wanted to get away from what I perceived as constant childcare and house cleaning. I wanted to get away from my mother's strict control. Of course, I went to a place where I was just as strictly controlled, but NOT by my mother! in my convent uniform with my little mother The order I entered had originated in Alsace Loraine, on the border of France and Germany. They were still dressing and eating as if they needed to keep warm, in Texas! We ate breakfast, dinner, lunch, and supper. We sat at tables of eight people. Our food was served in serving dishes that we passed around the table. We could not leave the table until all the serving dishes were empty! I was surprised to find that some people said they could not eat another bite! I said, "Just pass the dishes to me and I will finish them!" I never knew of a time that I could not eat another bite. Naturally, I gained weight in the convent.
At my highest weight of 183 pounds well hidden (I thought) by yards and yards of black, wool serge I also lost weight by my own will power while I was in the convent. The first time was when I was to receive the habit, to become a "bride of Christ". I did not want to wear a big, fat wedding gown. So I just quit eating so much. I refused to finish the serving dishes. I lost 50 pounds and was slim in my wedding gown. And I gained those pounds again. The next time I lost weight by counting calories. I was teaching at a boarding school at the time and asked the cook to order me cottage cheese from the truck that brought the milk because I knew it was low in calories. I ate so much cottage cheese that year that I am surprised that I still like it today! I lost 60 pounds and when I returned to the college in the summer, no one recognized me! It was such a wonderful feeling to get all that praise! And again, the year before I left the convent, I lost 50 pounds by counting calories. You see that I was a successful dieter by sheer will power. This kept me fighting this battle for many more years!
I left the convent at the end of May in 1969, met my husband at U.T. in June of 1969, began dating him in September of 1969, and married him in December of 1969! What an exciting time! I was so high on all my new experiences, on having my first paying job, on driving my own first car, and on dating and falling in love for the first time that I did not have any trouble keeping the weight off. It was the year of the mini-skirt and tight bell-bottom pants and I wore them as short and as tight as I could! I did not want anyone to look at me and think I had been a nun! summer of 1979 in size 20 jeans After we got married, though, I started gaining weight again. The only recipes that I knew were the ones I had learned in the convent that usually fed 10 to 14 people. So I would make a casserole that I thought was good, and my husband would eat a small (probably normal) portion. I got my feelings hurt! He didn't like my cooking! So I would eat the rest!
I joined Weight Watchers in 1971. In those days, it was a lot like GreySheet! I did well with WW, and worked for them until 1977. Weight Watchers helped me get through two pregnancies without excessive weight gain. When we made our Marriage Encounter Weekend in 1977, I learned that I needed to put my relationship with my God and with my husband first in my life! And what was keeping me from doing this? Weight Watchers! WW made me think of food all the time, I thought, and so I dropped out of Weight Watchers! I gained weight so fast that the good people in the Marriage Encounter groups were congratulating me on my (non-existent) pregnancy!
Desperation Leads to Step 1
I tried counting calories again. I lost weight and gained it back immediately. I tried to "eat moderately" by imitating what my husband put on his plate. I always felt deprived by that amount, so I'd try to persuade him to eat more! Of course, the weight that looks good on a 5'11" man did not look good on me! I tried putting bran in all my food so it would come out fast without sticking to me! This did not work either. (I had never heard of bulimia). I tried reading the Bible before every meal, but I was not inspired to eat less. At every retreat I made, I prayed and prayed to be made thin! Sometimes I spent the whole weekend retreat praying for this one intention. I got a "bite-counter". This little machine sat on the table in front of me. When I took a bite, I pushed the button, and a little red light began blinking. When it stopped blinking, I could take another bite and push the button again. This was supposed to slow down my eating so I could hear my appestat. I remember exactly the meal I was eating, when I thought I heard my appestat. And I said to my appestat, "Shut up!" And I got some more food! I believe my appestat is genetically impaired! Once, my husband and I decided we needed to eat a healthier diet. We went through all the cabinets and the refrigerator throwing out foods that contained sugar! Our little girls loved this game. "It has sugar! Ugh! Throw it out!" They stood on the counters grabbing the foods and throwing them in a garbage bag. Of course, I then turned to health food that was high in carbohydrates! Whole wheat, all-natural carbohydrates! Sweetened with natural substances, not sugar! qual3_3.jpg These were the years of my most desperate memories. I stood in front of the refrigerator eating the leftovers out of the serving dishes. I ate what my children had left on their plates, cleaning up the kitchen. I ate out of cartons, bags and boxes. I again fixed large casserole recipes, and ate most of it myself. I bought "family size" TV dinners and ate most of them myself. On one of our vacations, I remember eating so much crunchy food that the roof of my mouth was raw, but I couldn't stop. In my job as a teacher, I left my students unsupervised in the classroom so I could go into the teachers' lounge to get whatever "X" was there. It didn't matter what it was or how long it had been there. As long as there was food there, it called to me. Sometimes, I went back to get the last of it just so it would be gone and I couldn't hear its voice. Even if the kindergarten children with their little grubby hands had made it, I had to eat it. One year, I had been videotaped teaching a group of children (after one of my diets). The next year, the children wanted to see themselves in the videotape. When it was shown (I had gained about 40 pounds in the year that had passed), one of the children looked at me, then looked at the videotape, then looked at me, and said, "You used to be taller!" I wanted to eat at "all you can eat" restaurants so I could eat "my money's worth". My husband once said, "How many of these 'last meals' are we going to have?" I don't know how many we had, but I remember my favorite restaurant for the "last meal"! And I remember that he never ate "our money's worth"! At church potluck suppers and at parties, I was not satisfied until I had tasted every dish that was there. I went back for seconds, thirds, fourths, and more. I offered to help "clean up" so I could have even more.
I thought about food constantly. If I was on a diet, I thought of the food I could not eat. I gritted my teeth, clenched my fists, and said, "I WILL NOT have it!" Or I thought of the food I WOULD have on the diet, mentally planning my meal according to the diet, then changing it again and again in my mind. I took great pleasure in this kind of mental planning. Then I would gradually get off the diet. I would rationalize that this food had milk in it, so I could have it. This casserole is just these two "legal" foods mixed together with a little sauce. What could that matter? As I gradually moved away from the diet, I ate fewer and fewer salads and vegetables, and more and more carbohydrates. It didn't matter that I had a very successful life. I had a loving husband, two beautiful little girls, an active role in my church, and a career in teaching that I loved. I hated myself. I told myself I was stupid, that the smallest child could regulate what she eats, and I can't. I avoided mirrors and plate glass windows. I refused to buy clothes that were any larger. I wore the same stretchy sundresses all year, with long sleeve blouses under them in the winter. I had one "dressy" outfit, a brown skirt with leaves on it with elastic in the waist that just kept stretching and stretching. I wore my size 20 jeans unsnapped with large shirts to cover my bulging out of them. When I was forced to buy a dress because of a special occasion, I cried when I came home from the store. None of the dresses could make me look thin! I finally had to choose one, but I hated it. I refused to wear shorts when I worked at Girl Scout Day Camp--I sweated through those two weeks in a Texas summer in those size 20 jeans, my thighs rubbing together as I trudged up the dusty trails in the blazing sun!
Finally, I Reach Step 1
Marriage Encounter had taught us to communicate our feelings. I tried to tell my husband how desperate I felt. I said to him, "You'll just have to accept that you have a fat wife!" He had never rejected me and he never said a hurtful word about my fat. I said plenty about it. I didn't want to have sex because I felt so fat and ugly. I tried to accept myself fat. I said, "I'll just go to Lady Yarings and buy some decent looking fat clothes!" I was 40 years old. I was, in the words of a novelist, "Forty, fat, and flatulent!" I was finally ready to take Step 1 and admit that I was powerless over food. In April, 1981, my husband and I helped to give a Marriage Encounter Weekend. During the course of the weekend, we wrote letters and shared with one another. In answer to the question, "How do I think people see me and what are my deepest feelings about this?" I wrote,
I feel that people see me as overweight and many wonder why I'm not trying to lose--why I don't go back to Weight Watchers or find a diet to suit me and get the ugly weight off. I feel they wonder what good I think the walking is going to do if I don't also try to lose weight by eating less. I think they say it's too bad--I could look so much better and they pity me. I'm afraid the girls are ashamed of me and scared of looking like me some day. I think my husband accepts me and loves me and wants me to lose it only if I want to--he's willing for me to be fat if that's what I want. He won't reject me, though he fears for my health and he pushes back any wishes he might have for a slender wife. My deepest feelings right now are about my weight. I have lots of fears about it. I fear becoming fatter. I fear lack of control. I fear over-control. I fear being taken over totally by concern for food and diet. I wish I never had to think about it. I wish I could lose weight effortlessly and never have to think about it again. I know I'm on the right track by walking. I know I should eat slowly. I know I should stop when I am satisfied. I know I should eat only when hungry. I know I should avoid junk and refined food. I feel helpless to do any of this except the walking. I feel the need to pray and turn it completely over to the Lord. I beg of You, Lord, to decrease my desire for food, to regulate my appetite. I want to find "the last diet" so to speak, which is a way of life. I don't want any temporary measures. I don't want to lose and then gain it again. I am in Your hands--I cannot seem to help myself! Please, help me, Lord!
On May 29th, 1981, I walked across the street to my neighbor's house where my little girl was playing. She had a friend there--a very slender, attractive woman. Of course, I had to bring up the subject of overweight. I said, "You have never had a problem with weight, have you?" She said, "Have you ever heard of Overeaters Anonymous?" I had not. She proceeded to explain the GreySheet to me. I had my first day of GreySheet Abstinence on May 30, 1981. By God's grace I have been abstinent since that day! It took me 5 months to lose 40 pounds. My youngest daughter at that time weighed 40 pounds. picture of me and daughter in my size 20 jeans
What was the turning point in my recovery?
There were many turning points and there will be many more. The first came when food brought me to my knees and I said, "I can't do this (dieting) any more. I will just buy some fat clothes and give up this fight." The second came when I realized that I had more to learn than how to follow the GreySheet. I heard someone say in a meeting, "I am trying to give up control." I could not understand this. I thought I was supposed to be in control of my life and almost everyone else's! The slogans, "Let go and let God," and "One day at a time" had a lot to teach me. The Serenity Prayer showed me a new way of life - a life in which I was not in charge!
Another turning point was when our teenagers rebelled and I felt my world fall apart. Again, I was brought to my knees, finding that I was powerless not only over food, but over other people as well. When my husband's 95 year old grandmother came to stay in a nursing home near us, I experienced another turning point. It became so clear to me that I was not going to be able to live forever. That sounds silly. Everyone knows this. But I had not made it a part of my life. I was working and living at such a fast pace. I was not appreciating the beautiful, simple things in life. I began to slow down, to pray more and to work less. I decided to retire from working full time. Life is too short! I realized more and more the health benefits of abstinence. I came into GreySheet to be thin. I stay abstinent because it gives me so much more. In March of 1999, I broke my right femur attempting to ski. This was a turning point in changing my self sufficiency.
I am a person who found it difficult to ask for help. I was the helper. I was the one who took all the responsibility. I was the one that others asked to help them. When I came home from the hospital, my sponsor and one of my sponsees met me at the airport and stayed with me until my husband could drive home. Someone from my church or from my GreySheet group came to see me, brought me food, or called me every day. GreySheet members drove me to and from meetings twice a week. Life brings turning points. When I find that, again, I am powerless, another turning point has begun.