Being a male compulsive overeater carries enormous social shame. Unlike the stampede to other rehab programs, male celebrities don’t rush to announce they’re in rehab for compulsive eating. Having a “beer gut” is not only socially acceptable, but expected for many men. Guys are supposed to eat and drink too much when they hang out with male friends. I feel awkward and inferior when men give me looks because I say I don’t drink, or eat sweets or bread. I tell them, “I’m on the ‘3Bs’ diet: no bread, no booze, no bonbons,” or I say I have a food allergy (true in every sense) to cover up being a compulsive overeater.
When I attend Twelve-Step meetings for other predominantly “male” addictions, members are shocked when I say I’m a compulsive overeater and OA is my primary program. Many of them don’t get it and think I’m weird. Many have tried to recover from compulsive overeating without OA and failed; many have died from our serious illness.
Am I different than a woman in OA? Yes!
My body is different and my reaction to binge foods is different. Testosterone makes me react to stress and upset with anger and rage, rather than depression and withdrawal. And, at age 59, just like at 29, I still need and want sex more than many women do.
I form relationships in a different way—I make friends by doing things together, not sitting around talking.
I do need to “fix it.” I hate listening, because I want to do something about whatever is wrong. I want to be the hunter and be respected and rewarded for my role as provider for my family. I have a difficult time adjusting to the economic and social changes that have altered the roles of men and women during my lifetime.
Physical differences and shame aside, I also have a difficult time with my “one-down” dependency on women, as a result of dysfunctional relationships with my parents. My parents suffered from multiple addictions, including overeating. I turned to my martyr mother and older sisters to find comfort from my father’s abandonment.
Since I joined OA in January 1976, I’ve latched onto strong OA women as sponsors and close friends. These dependent relationships have been necessary for my survival and recovery. Their “mothering and smothering” helped me lose and maintain a 60-pound (27-kg) weight loss, but have not been healthy for my two failed marriages or my development as a strong, independent man.
I have twice been married to women who were not in Twelve-Step programs. After my first marriage ended, I turned more closely to OA women for support. Unfortunately, I repeated the pattern in my recently ended second marriage. I used my always-platonic dependency on OA women for my emotional and spiritual intimacy, instead of growing intimate relationships with my wives. I never trusted my wives because of their lack of interest in my programs and our mutual inability to be intimate.
My dependent relationships with women have clashed with my urge to “be a man,” in the best sense of being a healthy male. Women cannot teach me that. I need men in OA recovery and other healthy male role models to show me the way.
Today, I am blessed because Northern Virginia has a strong men’s OA meeting with a core group of 15 men, most with years of recovery from multiple addictions. We meet every Sunday and share in ways we wouldn’t in a meeting dominated by women. We kid around, cuss, make jokes at each other’s expense and engage in gutbusting laughter. We complain about some of the women in our lives and talk about sex, sports and politics. And we talk about our struggle with food—how hard it is to get and stay abstinent; how often we slip and binge; how much shame we feel about our powerlessness over food; and how we gain experience, strength and hope from each other to continue to recover.
We have a place to be who we are and be honest with other men in a meaningful and often unspoken way. For the first time in OA, I feel “fathered” and nurtured in ways I never have been. One day at a time, with the help of men from Mars, I am becoming a stronger, healthier, more independent man.
I encourage men in OA “wherever two or three are gathered together,” as the Big Book says, to start and sustain a men’s OA meeting. It can make a huge difference in your recovery to know other men experience what you experience. Share who you are and how you feel with men who really understand.
— Robert P., Northern Virginia
Reprinted from Lifeline, November, 2009