How I Survived Being 400 lbs And Abuse With 12 Step Programs

My troubling to triumphant tale began the summer I turned into a teenager.  I had lived outside the country while my father worked with the U. S. military.  As an only child, I had been very isolated and lonely living overseas. We returned to lower Michigan so that I could attend high school on more familiar ground.

I experienced something of a culture shock upon my return the US after having been gone those three years. Clothing styles, shoulder pads, and Madonna-inspired underwear on the outside of clothes made for an intimidating fashion statement.  I was overwhelmed and lonely.  My mother could see my struggles.  So she did the one thing mother’s can do: find a fix. Her intentions were pure in her mind. What grew from those intentions would be pure hell.

His name was Chris and he was a second cousin or cousin once removed or? But to me, his dreamy looks and seventeen year old smarts made for a winning combination.  He taught me to play tennis.  He snuck me into Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, when I was not quite old enough to see it in the theater. In my lonely teenage mind, the attention Chris gave me was tantamount to boyfriend material.  I was having a serious crush.

As you might imagine, I grew during the first six weeks to have my first real feelings about a man.  I trusted him.  The day he promised to take me to a local waterpark and amusement park, he broke me into tiny pieces.  We never made it to that waterpark.

Chris had been preparing.  Later I would learn the technical term, my therapist called it “grooming.”  We drove from my long term hotel to his house.  He brought me inside.  He just had to grab something he forgot.  In the basement.

I followed him downstairs.  I was surprised by the sight of his friend, an older man named Brian.  Brian was tugging on some ropes that were affixed to the wall.  My curiosity piqued, I went over and tried to start a conversation about the plastic painter’s sheets on the floor and those…wait…

The next 32 hours were unimaginable hell on my thirteen year old body and mind.  I was beaten, raped, hurt, spit on, tickled until I pissed myself…To detail the horror in this narrative would leave other readers to suck in their breath, vomit a little in their mouth, find a need to go and shower.  It was a wonder I really survived the encounter at all. 

The worst of it came when Chris returned with a small barrel style revolver.  He popped open the chamber and purposely showed me the one bullet he put inside.  I was thirteen.  He spun the barrel as though he were the lead character in a movie.  Then he put the end of that revolver into my thirteen year old body. 

And pulled the trigger. . .

When I woke up I was not sure if anything was real.  I was being taken down by someone in a uniform.  I woke up in a hospital.  A children’s hospital.

I took many things away from that weekend.  The strongest of them was his constant reminders of how soft and tiny and thin I was.  They violated me because I was beautiful and innocent.

My goal over the next year was to do anything and everything to make myself not the desirable girl I had been. That is when I began to eat my feelings. 

High school went the normal four years.  Minor successes, but many failures.  It was a time of healing but I never let anyone too far inside my private pain.  And when I felt my worst, I would eat.  It brought immense pleasure.  I began to hoard food.  I would use drive thru windows to order way too much food and park in empty lots and eat my feelings.

By age 21 I was teetering over three hundred pounds. . .

I had a rocky start my first few attempts at college.  I did sometimes date, but my heart was heavy with my pain.  I wore my pain in rolls of fat like an “I dare you” message.  Chris spent six months in a camp.  His friend was never brought up on charges.  When I got wind of his release, I felt certain that he would not desire me ever again.  I felt powerful in that.

So I ate more. . .

Somehow at age 21, I fell in love hard for the first time.  His name was Patrick.  We moved in the same social circles.  We both were in relationships with other people, but the clandestine love affair was fun.  Our secret trysts were magical.  He was as overweight also.  Honestly, being fat together is much more fun than being fat alone.  We made love.  We ate.  We watched movies.  We ate.  Our co-misery gave me home that maybe he really could love what was inside, because I knew that the outside of me was growing with every passing month.

Patrick and I had a conversation one night about children.  Patrick had been hurt by his own father when he was young, and Patrick was certain that he would not make a good parent. This really was the one thing I could not live with.  I wanted to be a mother.

So, we ended up marrying other people.  My first husband and I traveled with his job, however, when I came back to my home town I always met up with Patrick.  We sent letters, and eventually email, and often we would talk on the phone late into the night.  Each of us listening to the chewing and swallowing noises.  We loved each other from afar.  Still, we ate together.

I had three children over the next ten years.  Each pregnancy significantly more dangerous then the first.  My weight was well over three hundred.  This put pressure on my heart, and on each of my babies inside me.  Patrick never stopped his calls and visits when my husband was out of town. 

My third pregnancy was a game changer.  Patrick said he could not bear to see me die because I was pregnant again.  He cut off contact.  I was devastated.  Everything I ever wanted was caught up in my children and Patrick.  I went on bed rest at 28 weeks.  At thirty weeks I was admitted to the hospital.  At 32 weeks I had an emergency C-section.  Keegan was 3 pounds 2 ounces.  He went to the NICU and I ate McDonalds. 

The doctors threatened to call protective services on me if I did not agree to either have a tubal ligation or have an IUD installed.  I had the surgery.  While I was in the hospital, I saw coverage of the first war in Iraq.  It was called the “Shock and Awe” campaign.  Newscasts kept a ticker on the bottom left of the screen with a death count of American soldiers.  It was a message to me. 

Keegan made slow progress, but came home after nearly six weeks in the NICU.  He had some preemie problems, but was able to thrive.  My older two children were delighted with their tiny sibling.  But I was the fat mom.  I was 360 pounds.

Life that first month was hell.  I worked as a teacher by day, and a mom/nurse/housekeeper by night.  I knew my life had become unmanageable.  In this delicate time frame, I received a call that changed everything.

Let me backup for a moment.  When you are raped, a common desire afterwards is that God find it in his wisdom to let your rapist die a slow, painful death.  Many a night that would be on my mind.  When I snuck food into the bathroom or stopped at a taco bell for my “fourth meal,” I was really paying homage to the spirits.  I urged with my utmost intention to find and destroy him.

That phone call was his mother telling me that Chris had driven his truck into the woods.  Using the same gun he put into me, shot himself through the mouth.  He was dead instantly.

I had many complex feelings.  At first it was vindication, proof that there was a God afterall.  With a few hours of thought and doughnuts, I began to realize what I had done.  If you pray daily that someone dies, and they commit suicide…This brings a sense of responsibility.  It was as if I were in that truck pulling that trigger.  

Essentially, I had killed a man. . .

I ate, I cried.  I ate and worked.  I ate and woke up one morning in the emergency room.  I had ruptured something.  During that hospital stay, a woman came to visit me.  She said her name was Rebecca.  She was the chair of a meeting in the hospital basement of something called Overeaters Anonymous.

I was overweight, but had no clue about this OA had anything to do with me.  Still, my ex had the kids.  The hospital had chinty cable.  With nothing better to do, I went in a wheelchair to the basement of Munson Hospital to my first Overeaters’ Anonymous meeting.

I don’t remember much of that first meeting.  I sat in my double-wide wheelchair and listened to the flurry of voices.  The handed me a book.  I still keep that book in my bag.  I had no idea that such a group existed.  I simply was in awe that some of these skinny people were members of OA.

My second meeting was the next day.  I will never forget this quote:

“No matter what your problem with food — compulsive overeating, under-eating, food addiction, anorexia, bulimia, binge eating, or overexercising — we have a solution.”

Yep, I had a problem.  I was a binge eater.  I compulsively over-ate.  I had a food addiction. By the end of the first week, I knew this by heart:

“Overeaters Anonymous is a Fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength, and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating. We welcome everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively.

There are no dues or fees for members; we are self-supporting through our own contributions, neither soliciting nor accepting outside donations. OA is not affiliated with any public or private organization, political movement, ideology, or religious doctrine; we take no position on outside issues.

Our primary purpose is to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors and to carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of OA to those who still suffer.”

The next few months I began to heal.  I was now a single mom, a teacher, an overeater.  This program was my warm blanket.  The OA steps were my bible.  I bathed in the comfort that other people have the same weird habits I have.  It the overwhelming sense of relief.  When you suffer from a disease and the doctor cannot find a name, much less a way to cure it….I lived like that half my life.  OA showed me that my food addictions were a disease of my mind. 

I got a sponsor, started working the steps.  Started managing my weight.  After losing close to 40 pounds, Patrick showed back up in my life.   It had been nearly two years of separation.  I was still in my pink cloud and I felt his return was my higher power’s way of showing me that I was on the right path.

Life happened.  Patrick had divorced his wife.  We knew that twenty years of loving each other had brought us to this moment.  I moved two hours south.  He bought us a house.  He and I planned to marry.  I continued OA as much as I could. 

However, Patrick and I had a history that was riddled with triggers.  We were Overeaters together.  Just like a junkie has a relationship with his dealer, my addiction began to roar inside me.  Old habits. 

We began once again to eat our feelings.  He somehow made it okay to dismiss my OA principles.  Our codependency was beginning to kill us.  My doctor put me on diabetes medication.  I had to shoot insulin  I swelled up to 390 within the first six months.

In a fugue, I made a life-altering decision to get a Roux-en Y done laparoscopically.  This is also called Bariatric Surgery.  My teacher’s insurance covered everything and required no counseling or referrals.  I decided on a Thursday, and by the next Tuesday I was three hours away having my stomach cut off and re-routed.  This decision would change my life forever.

And not everything was sunshine and butterflies. . .

The next week opened a door that I nearly died trying to close.

Part of the surgery re-routes food and water to a small pouch which is accessed by an artificial stoma.  As a result of the surgery, my first six weeks of recovery required eating only a liquid diet.  Anything that was consumed had to be see through.  The doctor introduced me to my new love, liquid Vicodin and Valium.

It was a gradual process.  I healed.  I hurt.  I took liquid pain medicine at every ache or pain in my body.  Remarkably there seemed no end to refills. 

Every request of mine was met without question or thought.  I used a larger and larger amount.  Sometimes hiding my consumption by replacing what I took with water. 

I began to get very creative about how I snuck extra refills.  Looking back, I had little understanding of addiction.  I am not really sure that I thought what I was going through was addiction.  I knew I felt better.  I knew the larger the amount I swallowed, the more able I became.

There came an end to the liquid vicodin.  Somehow I managed to move through that phase.  I remarried, took a new teaching job, and found a new way without the drug. 

Until my partner decided to have the same surgery that I had.  I already had lost nearly 150 pounds.  I felt really comfortable most of the time, but missed the warm feelings that I got from the Vicodin.  I missed the warm feeling that I got from the food.  My surgery made eating impossible, but I needed to fill that empty part of me.

After my then-husband had the exact same surgery, I saw an opening.  Patrick had been teetering near three hundred pounds himself. I was at his side during the healing, but was careful to notice that he rarely took his liquid Vicodin

I watched him take it from the bathroom cabinet, and I began to think about that bottle.  It started to consume my mind.  Days when he was around, I would always bring him a dose and then help myself to two doses.  I refilled the bottle with water and karo syrup.

I moved quickly to refilling Patrick’s prescription, even when he had long ended his need for pain medicine.  I found that what used to bathe me in the warm fuzzies no longer was as effective.  I doubled, then tripled the amount I consumed.  When those options ran out, I found reasons to see the doctor.  I had horrible cramps, difficult migraines, or whatever reason I could think of to justify getting prescriptions. 

My mania resulted in pushing for “knee surgery” on a meniscus that was more sore than needing surgery.  I had carpal tunnel surgery on one hand and eventually the other. I started having painful teeth pulled instead of repaired.  I was chasing the opiate with everything I had.

When my brain and body ran out of ideas to get prescriptions, I looked out into the world.  I still felt that I had no problem.  I just had more pain than most did.  At a Christmas party of a friend, I used the restroom. 

For the first time, the idea came to me to steal.  I went through drawers in that bathroom and was rewarded with a bottle of Vicodin in a higher dose than I knew existed.  I took half that bottle and tucked them gently into my purse.  I took just one of those pills and I floated on a special cloud for the rest of the night.

Things came to a head when my cousin reached out to her mother.  I had been asking her husband to try and get opiates for me.  My cousin’s husband was the only shady  person I knew.   Much to my frustration, he was trying to become a better person and finding drugs for me was not the direction he wanted to be heading. 

My father called at ten at night.  There was a hard an fast rule that my parents did not use telephones after eight p.m. This phone called scared me from his first “Hello.”  He told me that my cousin had turned to my family to get me some help. 

My cousin wanted me to stop asking her husband to get me pills.  I wasn’t addicted.  I explained that my medication was out.  I explained, and no one noticed the fear in my face.  No one mentioned the word addiction. 

In retrospect, I find irony in the fact I attended Overeaters Anonymous throughout my opiate addiction period.  I was unable to translate the principle and literature from one group to the idea of drug addiction.  I kept voicing my overeating problem while never considering the consumption of pills could also be something that was spiralling my life out  of control.

My life progressed into addictions to sleep medicine, adderall, and opiates when I could get my hands on them.  I made horrible choices, stole from everyone I knew, and even dipped into my children’s medications.  One day, there was a card tucked into my front door.  It was from the Department of Human Services.  Somehow, while I thought I was cunning and careful, my using behavior had become noticed from my children’s school.

My sleep was horrible.  I got few hours of sleep when pills were around, so I found a need to use a new drug, Ambien, to sleep. My craziness in full bloom, I took a pill at nine p.m. and went to bed.  My last memory was getting my beds and going to bed.

I woke up in a hospital, in a town three hours away.  It was two months later.  I have put together a semi-memory of the events that brought me from my bed to that hospital bed.  I had gotten up in my sleep and taken another Ambien about three a.m.  At six, I showered and dressed, got my youngest son ready for preschool, and got in my car.  I drove most of the way.

What I managed to do correctly was install my child into his car seat.  They found us in the car, which rolled several times and deposited us into the Muskegon River.  It was mid February in Michigan.  My son was completely safe, even joyful when the ambulance and police arrived.  I had suffered a head injury that left me in a coma for six weeks.  I woke to find that I had lost speech, mobility, and memory.

It took almost a year to regain some of those skills.  Today I live with memory and processing issues.  I have balance problems, depth perception loss, and many other issues. 

I live today as a person with a head injury.  I am unable to work full time, ride a bike or drive a car, and more importantly- memory and speech loss.  The one thing that the doctors did not know was that I loved the pain meds they gave me in large quantities.

From there, I gradually gained some independence and moved into teaching adjunct at the local community college.  Since I was easily fatigued, this was the only sort of teaching that I was in any way capable to manage.  My marriage to Patrick fell apart.  I was on my own with the three kids, head injury, and loss of ability to effectively regulate my own body.  I struggled to sleep, and struggled to stay awake.

After my second rehab, I began to take NA seriously.  I was blessed after rehab to have three weeks of NA and OA meetings and time with my children.  I sat on the coach, with a full room of my friends and kids,  when my daughter snuggled up next to me.  She handed me a notebook full of writing.  Wordlessly, she gestured for me to read what she had written.

I was stunned.  Furious.  Frightened.  Disgusted. Scared. Homicidal.

What follows here was my narrative of the next events, written a while ago.

I will only refer to him as 850871.  That is the number that they gave him when he entered the penal system.  He ceased being the man of my dreams.  He ceased being the whirlwind romance.  He ceased being my best friend and stepdad to three amazing children.  

When my daughter curled up on the sofa next to me and shoved a notebook into my hands, she  pleaded with her eyes to open it.  She could barely speak.  I think my daughter held her breath the entire time I was reading her description of how her Daddy, in her life since age four, went from being a daddy to being 850871.

My little girl was very smart, having skipped kindergarten, she was also the youngest in her classroom.  At home, she was big sister to a brother with special needs, and a baby brother who seemed to be allergic to everything.

My little girl, I  gave her the nickname “Bop” the first time I saw her in the hospital.  We shared a special bond.  I was born in Oakland, California while my father served in the military. 

Bop was born in a Yuba City, California hospital while her dad, my first husband, served in the Air Force.  Bop and I were “California Girls.”  Little did we know that one day we would have something much darker in common.

Bop was a promising and bright child.  She was the classic first-born child.  Eventually she would have two younger brothers, Mick (18 months younger) and Keith (three years younger). Bop read early, wrote early, demonstrated promise in gymnastics, sports, and theater.  She was a busy girl and threw her soul into her every activity.

Life happened. . .

The was a period of adjustment, as I relearned how to live, parent, and survive with this permanent disability.  As a result, my marriage to 850571 came to an end.

The kids and I struggled, but found a nice duplex to rent..  Things were difficult, but the kids were seeing counselors.  And then one day Bop crawls into my lap like she did when she was young.

The first thing I did was call her father (first marriage) and told him about the descriptions and scenarios that Bop had written in her notebook.  It was as if she were to say them aloud, she would disappear into the chaos of her life. 

I found it telling that this little girl with her Hello Kitty picture on the cover could hold such sickening grown up activities and memories. The next step was to call the local police.  It was nine p.m. on a Wednesday  Two officers arrived, They were eager and I was terrified.

The police first asked us to talk without Bop in the room.  We gave as much information as we knew.  850571 had. over the course of three years, repeatedly engaged in sexual behaviors with my little girl. 

Over the next few days, we were inundated with interviews.  Bop was given something called a “Forensic Interview.”  This was taped, but they took Bop in the room with a female officer.  Her father and I were made to stay in another room.  That was the longest four hours of my life.  I have not one clue to this day exactly what Bop told them in full.

Bop, so tiny in her chair, told those women all the secrets in her heart,  while her father and I paced the waiting area, mentally straining to gather fragments of memories.  We tried to figure out how we could have missed cues, signs.  Bop had told us this had been going on for three years.

According to the “State of XXX  Forensic Interviewing Protocol, “The goal of a forensic interview is to obtain a statement from a child, in a developmentally-sensitive, unbiased, and truth-seeking manner, that will support accurate and fair decision-making in the criminal justice and child welfare systems.” Strangers asked my child to relay intimate detail of her relationship with 850871. As parents, the protocols said we were not allowed to be in the room while she was being examined.  We were not privy to details. 

The silence was deafening.  But for three, maybe four hours my little Bop spilled three years worth of secrets to these women police officers.  She was so sincere and specific, that little room was left for any kind of doubt in the law officer’s minds. 

It was quiet for a few weeks after that day.  We practiced at this “new normal” life. The kids and I stayed indoors.  I would try to probe Bop to open up and share more details.  I felt like I should know it all.  But it hung in the house like a heavy wet blanket.  It was like we were wading in fog and dragging our memories behind us.

In the end, the biggest gift those police gave me was not knowing the very specific details.  Protocols were written that way, I later learned, to prevent the parent seeking a personal sort of justice.  My lawyer, the Chief Prosecutor who personally decided to take on the case, explained that seeking vengeance to satisfy a personal anger would in the end only serve to hurt my child further.  I possibly could be charged with a crime.  This made sense to me, but only sometimes.

The day of the arrest was the end of any normalcy would could expect to have for years.  It was not a quiet affair.  850871 was arrested at his job, where he was the editor of a medium sized city paper.  Within hours, the phone started ringing.  My email folder swelled with requests from family, the press, and friends.  Everyone was supportive, but we just were not ready for the spectacle that our lives became.

My little Bop sat next to me while we watched 850871’s mug shot on the local news.  He was charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) -1st degree, CSC 2nd degree, CSC 3rd degree, and CSC 4th degree.  Bail was set at 400,000 dollars.  

Here is how the State of XXX Defines Those CSC Crimes :

“750.520 Criminal sexual conduct in the first degree; felony. Sec. 520b. (1) A person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree if he or she engages in sexual penetration with another person and if any of the following circumstances exists: (a) That other person is under 13 years of age.

“750.520c Criminal sexual conduct in the second degree; felony. (1) A person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the second degree if the person engages in sexual contact with another person and if any of the following circumstances exists: (a) That other person is under 13 years of age.

“(1) A person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the third degree if the person engages in sexual penetration with another person and if any of the following circumstances exist: (a) That other person is at least 13 years of age and under 16 years of age.

“The XXX Penal Code (750.520e) outlines that a person is guilty of criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree if sexual contact with another person occurs accompanying any of the following: The other person is at least 13 but under 16 years of age, and the accused is at least 5 years older than that other person.”

Penal Code citations were from ‘During the days after the arrest, Bop stayed next to me for the entire weekend.  I sat back and went through my mental pictures of signs that I overlooked.  I internalized a deep sense of guilt and still carry that heavy bag along with a fresh supply of shame.  Even now, talking about this for me, as the mom, is difficult.

What struck and amazed me, was that the process of getting all of that information out of her head, allowed Bop to have a new freedom that she hadn’t experienced for years.  She was not holding onto secrets and shame.  Bop was done with her solitary misery.  She didn’t realize until she was older, that discussing her assault was the first step of a longer therapeutic process. 

I had no idea how strong my little girl could be. . .

During the trial, the Chief Prosecutor asked the job for an option to have my daughter be able to testify with a support person next by her side.  Our state allows a  child under sixteen to testify in a protected manner. Bop had the mother of her best friend sitting with her. She also asked about having a screen between her and 850871.  He could not see her and she had the comfort of not having to look at him while describing the three years of molestation and rape he perpetrated on her. 

Our state does not allow any parent to be in the physical courtroom while a child is testifying about a step parent. Your state may have different rules about this ban.  Our Chief Prosecutor again stated that it was a benefit to the parent to not hear every detail. 

The risk of a parent enacting their own consequences on the offender was too great.  When I heard that news, my first reaction was anger and indignation.  After a time, it was a relief.  I was able to focus on being present emotionally for my daughter without the background noise of the violation  she experienced. 

My daughter described (as I have been told) three years of sexual abuse.  She detailed the early grooming at age nine, to the regular rape at ages 11 and 12.  Even now,  writing that word sparks a cold fury in my being.  I am blessed that I can sleep at night without visions of her hell in my head

After one day of the trial, 850871 saw the futility of continuing the proceedings as asked for a plea.  My Bop had spent two hours that first day of the trial under cross examination by 850871’s lawyer.  The Chief Prosecutor said that she did not crack one time.  She did not vary or a miss a detail no matter how many ways the defense lawyer asked the same question. 

Bop was 12 years old. . .

The next morning, Bop announced she was going to school even though I begged her to stay home.  I had taken off work and I wanted, or maybe I needed, her to be with me.  Bop told me, “Mom, you are going to be just fine.”

As the children ate breakfast, I grabbed the paper from the porch.  850871’s face was plastered on the front page; the story written above the fold.  Bop couldn’t help but see the panic in my face.  Then not three minutes later, the morning news program began a story about 850871 taking a plea deal and ending the trial.

My name and my daughter’s name were never mentioned in the media.  Most states have a statute that prohibits minors that are victims of this type of crime that protects their identity and their family’s identity.

Everyone in the city knows who we are.  Everyone knows who Bop is.

She grabbed her coat.  At the front of her middle school, she got out of the car and shouted that she loved me.  I knew I stayed home “sick” from work because of  my shame and fear and wanting to avoid the spectacle of my coworkers.   Bop felt that she was not going to let 850871’s actions define her. 

She refused to be anyone’s victim. . .

Bop redefined herself at 12 years old.  She was a Survivor.

How did I cope with this?  I was not going to continue drug addiction.  I drank instead.

It started with drinking to sleep.  I didn’t have a drinking problem.  I was a pill popper and an over eater.  Drinking was a way to deal with my child’s trauma.

And when drinking became a problem, I flushed the rest of my life away.  My children had to go live with their father.  I was unable to return to work.  I sat quietly in my home drinking and feeling sorry for myself. 

I headed off to rehab for the fourth time by the social worker who had taken my children away. I was successfully learning to live life after that stint in rehab.  I hit the holy trifecta of OA, NA, and AA every day of every week since. 

I have managed to cobble together 11 years of one day at a time.  I went to SMART when I could not find a nearby meeting.  I managed to slowly gain my self esteem, my brain would never be the same, but I was able to find employment that was compatible with my  physical and mental disabilities.  I survived Kidney Cancer, a complete removal of my teeth for dentures, and the brutal reality of losing my children.

What I found was I had strength nobody ever thought possible. I know that things can be horrible, but I do not have to drink or drug or overeat to deal with my problems.  Everyone asks me how I have survived to this point, and I answer the same every single time.

Just for today, I will not overeat, drink, or drug.

I have no idea what tomorrow has in store, and I refuse to worry about it. 

For today, I am clean, clear, and in control.

Thank you for listening to my story and remember that you can do anything you set your mind to!