People of Color Recovery Stories
reading these stories you may find one just like yours
Situations Can Change
In 2001, I attended my second OA meeting with much expectation. I was a
little anxious. Would other blacks be there? Would the people like me? I
had to do something about my situation. My eating and weight were out of
control. Although I am a counselor and psychologist, this time I was
focusing on my own needs. I had to learn and put into practice the
principles that could make me healthy.
man-and-wife team who had attended OA for years led the group. He was
the only sponsor present, so I asked him to be my sponsor. He gave me a
basic eating plan with the stipulation that I adhere to it for 30 days.
I was the only black person there, but the small group welcomed me. The
married couple befriended me; they loved me into the OA Fellowship. I
miss them now—they no longer attend OA—but I call them occasionally.
Within seven months of beginning OA, I had lost 93 pounds (42 kg). I was
constantly telling others about OA and how the Twelve Steps and belief
in God had radically changed my life. However, I grew discontent over
one issue. Other blacks would come to our meetings, but were not allowed
to share leadership responsibilities. I could not sponsor someone or
lead meetings for a long time.
One day we discussed these issues. I shared my feelings that many blacks
did not stay because they were not treated equally or allowed to
participate fully. It was a difficult discussion. My sponsor excused
himself and had a temper tantrum in the hall. His wife and the other
members looked frightened, confused and shocked. They were not
accustomed to dealing with racial issues. They looked at me as if to
say, “I can’t believe you said that.”
My sponsor loved power and did not handle criticism well. He would
belittle his wife if she disagreed with him. Eventually he returned to
the meeting, and things began to change. I became a sponsor and began to
lead group meetings. The blacks in our group outnumbered the other
members. The OA group was thriving, and I even attended the regional
I will probably attend OA meetings for the rest of my life. I like the
love, understanding, support and acceptance I receive there. The
meetings give me a sense of balance and sanity. Whenever someone judges
me, I remind myself how far I have come since I began OA. I am not
perfect and still have some weight to lose, but I’ve come a long way.
These days, I’m rarely the only black person in meetings. Things do
change. I discovered I could change—so can you!
— M.J. (female, US)
AFRICAN-AMERICAN MALE'S STORY
up in the northern inner city in the 1960's afforded me the unique
opportunity to experience the advances made by African-Americans in
this culture also had its unique culinary delights. Being raised by
southern mother, there were various tasty dishes prepared nightly, on
Sundays, and on holidays. With this in mind, I once recall my father
eating an extremely large amount of food for breakfast. This experience
stuck indelibly in my mind.
compulsive eating behaviors became manifested when I was attending high
school. I would overeat to pass the time away. Gradually eating became
a way to cope with life and the peer pressure of being a teenager.
Interestingly, my disease began to intensify in my 20s. Conversely, I
had become a vegetarian who ate one meal per day. Also, I tried
fasting. Although I lost weight, when I returned to my "normal" eating
behaviors the weight returned with extra pounds.
Nevertheless, in my 30s I began to turn more and more to the food when I
was nervous, anxious, upset, tense, stressed, or unhappy. I would also
overeat when I was tired or sleepy. At this time I became a big sweets
eater. Needless to say, this caused a considerable weight gain.
case, while living on the west coast, I was up late one night bingeing
and watching television, I saw a commercial for Overeaters Anonymous.
The commercial caught my attention and I decided to call the phone
number for information. The person who answered my phone call gave me
information on meeting in my area. It took another two months before I
went to a meeting. Subsequently, I got up the nerve to attend a
meeting. The first meeting I attended had three Black men in attendance
and no Black women. I didn't
out of place although I noticed that the people at the meeting were all
shapes and sizes. In addition, I attended this meeting once more and I
purchased literature to read. Consequently, I would not attend another
meeting for eight years, although I frequently read the literature.
this in mind, I moved to the east coast and attended my first meeting in
eight years. It was a good meeting attended by several other Black men,
but once again, with no Black women. I felt uncomfortable calling
myself a compulsive overeater. I attended this meeting two more times.
I still was not working the program, but I was still reading the
Finally, six years later, I decided to attend meetings regularly. In
short, I had come to admit that I was powerless over food and that my
life had become unmanageable. Further, I attended a meeting located
close to my home. I have made this meeting my home group, although for
the past 20 months, I have been the only Black male to attend this
first I felt uncomfortable in this meeting because I was the only Black
person, but I kept coming back. I would notice how the members would
sit in every seat except next to me. They would sit next to me only
when it was the last seat available. They still even do this up to
today, however, I kept coming back.
working the steps and following the traditions I now feel excepted
within the group and we all share our strength, hope, experience, and
recovery. The OA Program has been invaluable in my battle with
compulsive overeating. This program has helped me to better understand
my religion and my relationship with my Higher Power.
sanity I have gained from using the tools of the program, one day at a
time, has helped me to arrest this cunning, powerful, and baffling
disease. Thank God and the fellowship of Overeaters Anonymous.
(Male USA )
February 13, 2002
I was born an overeater, my father, his parents and siblings were
overeaters. I lived in the South until I was 9 years old. I have no
memory of being teased. I only remember being called "fat and fine."
We moved to California, the jeering, taunting and teasing began. I
became self-conscious and fearful. I thought people were laughing at me
because I was fat more than the fact I was clumsy and fell a lot. Fear
of ridicule kept me from learning to ride a bicycle and learning to
skate. This fear has been with me through out my life.
I started dieting when I was a junior in High School. I didn't want to
be the only one in my class to wear a dress to senior outings. I
started taking diet pills prescribed by a doctor. I did lose weight but
not enough, my thighs still rubbed together, so I made myself culottes
Every important social event, my marriage and planned trips, I would
return to that doctor for more diet pills. Years later at a PTA
meeting, I learned I had been taking "uppers", the exact same pill
people were being hooked on. I never took another diet pill. I tried
just about everything else including shots and fasting. I never stopped
wanting to be a normal size.
In 1971, I lost 129 1/2 pounds. I went to a popular diet club, there
was no maintenance program, not suitable for a compulsive overeater, and
I started to regain the weight the day after reaching my goal. I still
had that diet mentality-lose the weight and get back to eating what I
had to give up for a year and a half. Until the year 2001, my weight
has been up and down, the yo-yo syndrome.
A friend called, a doctor had recommended that she go to OA, a 12-step
program, she invited me to go with her. I went to the meeting; I was
told it was a spiritual program. My Higher Power was going to be the
force behind my physical and mental recovery, along with the 12 steps,
traditions and the tools. I was willing to try anything by this time.
I was 63 years old and feeling I no longer had a life. I was isolating
and gaining weight steadily. I was convinced it was over for me, I told
myself "live with it, get use to being fat and give up that dream of
being a normal size."
After my first OA meeting, I realized this was an answer to my prayers.
God had sent me to OA. I had given up my will, this allowed God to come
in. God's will took over. I became abstinent the second week, started
going to three meetings a week. I gave up complex carbohydrates and
sugar. I ate three meals a day, nothing in between. I have been on
this program for 1 year and 10 months. I have lost 100 pounds, I am
very grateful for that but I have also learned many truths about my
behavior and myself. God is helping me stop the insanity around food
and my emotions. I am so grateful for the fellowship and friendliness
of OAers. There is always someone to talk with, a meeting to go to or a
tool to help through the bad times.
I have other family members who have the disease. It breaks my heart,
because I know that recovery is just a meeting away. I had talked about
the OA Program, they know how to find meetings and choose not to. I
know that nagging does not work, in fact, it can do more harm than good,
I know from experience I can only be an example by working the program
and praying to God that they will want what I have.
San Francisco, CA
February 25, 2002
The story of my disease is that I have come to realize it will never go
away. I have been a compulsive overeater for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in an upwardly mobile black middle class home, with two
parents who loved me and an adoring extended family. However, I can
remember eating left over food out of the garbage can at an early age; I
could never get enough.
My parents divorced when I was a teen-ager, and my outings with my
father flip-flopped between trips to a popular diet club or to a fast
food restaurant. As a young adult I continued to diet and still always
maintained a 180 to 210 pound body. I have always had a nice life. I
married a loving man, had a blossoming career, and started a family.
However, I realized that something was bothering me other than my body
image after giving birth to my daughter. I couldn't understand why I
hated myself so much after having such a beautiful healthy child.
Surely, God loved me enough to give her to me. Why didn't I love
myself? And so, began my journey to OA.
years ago I walked into the rooms and my spiritual and emotional life
has never been the same. For this I am eternally grateful to my Higher
Power. However, I still struggle with the food, with maintaining
long-term abstinence, and finding meetings that are more open to
embracing women of color. I know that it is my responsibility to give up
the carbohydrates and the sugar, but I think fear still has a hold of
me. I continue to pray, believe in the Program, and hold on to the fact
that I am totally powerless over this disease and I can not conquer it
without the help of OA.
Northern New Jersey
When I reflect on how I got to Overeaters Anonymous I recall how I lived
just twenty miles or more from Torrance, CA, the birthplace of the OA
fellowship forty-three years ago, but it took some twenty years later
for me to find OA and the relief from food obsession.
up in Long Beach, CA and in the year OA was formed, and I was not yet a
teenager but already manifesting the disease of overeating.
young child, I became accustomed to my family celebrating, coaxing,
soothing pain and discomfort with food and indeed if I behaved well, I
was rewarded with ice cream or some other type of sweet which worked
well to keep me in church for hours. “Church going” is like a rite of
passage for many African Americans and seems I spent most of my
childhood going to prayer meetings, bible studies, and other church
functions with quite some resistance on my part.
habits of eating to console and sooth discomfort were tools I employed
with impunity to deal with life’s difficulties. When weight finally
became a problem, I learned a new coping mechanism, running. I found if
I ever ate too much, I could easily burn off the excess weight by
running many miles at a time. Later by coming into OA and using the
tools of recovery and most importantly the Twelve Steps, I learned to
quell the fire of compulsion.
actually became good at long distance running and placed fifth in my
division in the Long Beach Marathon, thirtieth women over all, quite a
feat considering it was my first Marathon. These running skills proved
an advantage when I later entered the Army in 1984. I was actually
treated to special military assignments just to run, sleep, and eat.
In my second duty station in military service I was stationed at Fort
Huachuca in Sierra Vista, Arizona. In June of 1986 I saw an ad in the
paper for OA, so I made a commitment to go. Although I was a normal
body size and met the weight requirements for the military, I felt my
weight escalating and that I was out of control with the food.
I got a
sponsor and practiced the program to the best of my ability. However,
every time I had a field assignment or changed duty stations, I
struggled to keep my program going. However, with each move or
temporary duty assignment, I still looked up meetings and attended OA or
AA when I had the chance.
While stationed at Fort Polk, LA, I experienced my worst problems.
Eventually, I deployed with a hospital unit to the Gulf for Desert Storm
in January of 1991. Three weeks prior to leaving for the Gulf, I had
flown home on emergency leave to attend my mother’s funeral. She died
December 19, 1990, while I was preparing to go to the Gulf. I barely
had time to grieve her death and fight my fears of dying in what posed
to be a chemical war.
of these suppressed feelings of grief and fear, I self-medicated with
food and experienced weight gain. My weight and body size increased
enough to be placed in the Army’s weight control program for the first
time in my eight years of service.
the weight program for a medical reason at one hundred-sixty pounds. I
was able to leave the Army with an honorable discharge at that weight.
When I finished college about two years later I weighed one
hundred-eighty. Before going to therapy in 1994 I topped the scale at
two hundred eight pounds.
my session with the therapist, we discussed what work for me before and
that was OA. I found that when I practiced the program on the
emotional, physical and spiritual level, I could be abstinence. So I
used therapy sessions to deal with the emotional level of recovery. In
sessions, my therapist and I look at the underlying issues that created
by addictive behavior.
my obsession and compulsion to a raging oil fire like those that plagued
Kuwait during the first Gulf War. The most expedient means to
extinguish the flames is to simply find the fuel valve, find the source
of the fuel, and cut it off. The Twelve Steps of OA, in particular the
fourth Step, fearless moral inventory, helped me to discover the source
of my obsession, the fuel valve. Step six, being entirely ready for God
to remove defects of character; destructive habits I formed to deal with
life’s problems and Step seven, humbly asked God to remove my
shortcomings aided me in turning off the fuel.
the OA Workbook and wrote on all Twelve Steps read every step to my
sponsor. I went to back to church for spiritual recovery to connect on
a different level with God. I never new I could rely completely and
totally on God for something as simple as overeating.
for physical recovery, I ate moderately, balanced my meals and exercised
moderately by walking on a treadmill. So that by June of 1995 my
physical recovery came together with emotional and spiritual levels to
create a release of eighty-three pounds. Today, I am at a healthy
size. I still rely on the tools and the steps to maintain my
abstinence. So that’s my story.
My name is La Verna. I have been in program since February 1998, got
abstinence in June of 1998 and have just celebrated my 5th year of
abstinence. Being a black woman and discovering OA has been a traumatic
life style change.
story begins in January of 1998. I found myself in the parking lot of
my latest and last diet program club, crying. I had been very
successful on this “liquid diet” plan. I had about gone broke trying
to lose these 50 lbs. I called the counselor from the parking lot,
told a lie and did not attend the weekly meeting. Now I had to live
with the guilt of lying. After a few days of thinking about the lie I
told, I went in to see the diet counselor. I simply told her could not
afford this diet plan any longer. I wasn’t getting any support from
home and there just had to be another way to lose the weight and
maintain good health. I felt like I was losing my mind. I had tried
every diet invented, over the last 30 years. The diet counselor told me
I was very disciplined and had done very well on the program. She did
not want me to leave and gain all my weight back. She recommended I go
join OA. She said OA is recommended to the clients once they reach
maintenance. I thanked her and left. A few days later, I thought about
what she said. If she had the real answer why hadn’t she told the whole
group that attended the sessions. Now I felt guilty, that I had been
saved and angry because I left all my suffering friends in that room,
with no knowledge of OA.
called OA. I had just missed the big Saturday meeting in San Rafael.
My cousin had mentioned OA to me last year but I got busy and never
called OA. I called my cousin in Detroit, and explained my dilemma. We
had a meeting on the phone. She explained the program to me. And
became my temporary sponsor. I got a Marin meeting list and began to go
to meetings in January 1998. It was hard to find a sponsor, it seemed a
lot of the meeting participants weren’t abstinent or not available to
sponsor. I did not see a lot of physical recovery in the meetings I
attended, even though I was beginning to recover emotionally and
spiritually. At one of the OA meetings, a woman shared about the H.O.W.
of OA. I tried a few of those meetings. I found a more disciplined
structure in the H.O.W. program. I found a sponsor and got abstinent.
I did a step up and became a basic food sponsor.
a rich background in soul food cooking, I have learned how to cook my
soul food low fat, using spices and herbs replacing the flavor of other
fatty substances. No one in the program could help me with that. I am
usually the only person of color at the meetings I attend. I feel OK
about that and feel accepted as another person with a food addiction,
struggling to be free. I have been giving my children healthy cooking
ideas, hoping that my 27 grandchildren will be turned on to healthy
eating and perhaps escape some of the medical conditions that goes along
with being an African-American. We have Sunday dinners, most Sundays
and I introduce a new vegetable to the feast. And, as a result, my
grandchildren look for at least three different vegetables at the Sunday
dinners. My theory is that meat and bread will show up, but it is the
vegetables you have to invite to the table. It is a good time for my
family to catch up and socialize and talk about nutritional food plans
for the family.
cousin and I made a date to meet at the World Service Conventions in
Dallas in 2000 and New Orleans in 2003. We did meet and I brought my
sister from Texas. The Ebony OA group was enlightening and that
confirmed my own recovery. I have released 80 pounds since Dallas and
my health has improved.
spreading the message in my neighborhood and family. Living in a
community with some overweight people of color, you do not see a lot of
reaching out for help in physical, emotional or spiritual recovery. I
am so grateful for OA. It has brought sanity to my life. I have
embraced recovery. I wish I had found OA in my 20’s I could have saved
myself a lot of physical and emotional pain. OA is a way of life, one
day at a time.
of Color Recovery Stories
Asian OA Story
My name is Shirley and I am a real recovering compulsive overeater. I
will qualify by telling you that I am also a third generation
Japanese-American who was born in Cleveland, a bi-polar since the late
70’s and also served in the United States Air Force in the late 60’s.
When I came into the program, I was 43 years old on my second marriage,
gave birth to a daughter for the first time and am also an adopted mom.
And by the way, my husband is 14 years younger.
my way to Overeaters Anonymous (OA) after having giving birth to my
daughter as my husband and his mother felt I needed to go where the rest
of the family was receiving their medical care in Palo Alto, CA. My new
internist felt I needed a commercial diet to learn what is an
appropriate amount of food to eat and I needed OA for emotional support
to help me deal with why a woman has over a hundred pounds of excess
weight on her body. In the San Jose area, there was a number to call
and I left all of my pertinent mailing information and a few days later
I received an envelope filled with a listing of suggested meetings for a
newcomer plus pamphlets describing the OA philosophy.
walked into the Big Saturday meeting on July 18, 1992. When I gave
birth to my daughter, I tipped the scales at 240 pounds and in 1969 it
represented twice my normal body weight. Since I am barely over 5’ 2”
you can understand why a weight over 200 pounds was devastating.
first marriage, my husband told me if I ever hit 200 pounds he would be
gone. However when I did hit that weight he was still there and
eventually he did find the door. He told me that I would be a fat
lonely woman and when he was done with me that no one would ever want me.
During the 21 years we were married, I believed everything he said to me
and I shut down. He felt that chocolate chip cookies should be fat and
women should be thin. He did not want to be seen with me because I
could no longer maintain his weight criteria of 140 pounds and therefore
the last 11 years of our marriage were celibate. I decided food was
more comforting as he wasn’t very good sexually.
young child, food was an important of my family’s life. An incident
happened when I was eight years old, where my mother beat me until she
heard the lie that she believed was the truth. At that moment, I felt I
could not trust my mother with the truth. Shortly thereafter, a black
male teenager played what he thought was a joke by trying to molest me
behind some bushes. I prayed and ran for help and realized I could not
trust the first person that I asked for help who was a black female
teenager and a friend of the guy who was chasing me. That became my
first secret. When I was 28, there were two other sexual molestations
where a white hippie was trying to break into the house and attack me.
I called the police and later my husband talked to our neighbors, but
once again no one believed me. Later, a black jock came up to me in an
empty college classroom and exposed himself in front of me. I yelled at
him and ran out of the room. I was a mess, but somehow pulled myself
together for my exam. That was my second and third secret. I did not
share these secrets with my mother or husband until 1985. The first
secret was about 28 years old.
might wonder what do these so-called sexual attempts have to do with
food. It was shortly after my first attempt that my body kept
developing and I kept eating. By the time I was nine years old, my
parents felt that they needed to start controlling the quantities of
what I was taking in. They were embarrassed over my size as I towered
in both height and weight over all the other Japanese girls who were
very petite. My weight became a constant battle every year, as my
school clothes were a different size. I dieted to keep the weight off
and was in competition with a cousin who was six months older than me.
The one thing I was better at was keeping a smaller body size.
by the grace of my Higher Power, a sponsor and a nutritionist, I am
currently maintaining about half my body size. When I came into OA, I
wore an elastic pair of Women’s pants size 18/20 and today I wear a
Petite 6. After having released this weight, both my internist and
psychiatrist have been able to take me off of high blood pressure, high
cholesterol and antidepressant medications. In order to maintain my new
body, it requires that I be willing to surrender the food, to
weigh-and-measure my food everyday, to let go of certain foods and food
groups, to move my body everyday and to weigh my body every week. In
OA, we are given tools to help us work the program. The steps and
traditions are based on spiritual principles adapted from Alcoholics
Anonymous. If it can work for me, it can work for you. You have
nothing to lose, try it and if you don’t like it your misery will be
refunded. My life and relationships have all changed and improved
because I was willing to work the program of Overeaters Anonymous.
Bay Area, CA
Every Waking Moment (Native American Story)
When I walked back into the rooms of OA in March of 2003, I knew that,
as a nearly 350-pound (159-kg), Native American, non-Christian woman, I
was different from the roomful of people who greeted me. I was the
largest and only brown person in the room. I certainly looked and felt
different. A program person who knew me from one of my previous dates (I
call them dates because I wasn’t willing to commit to the program) stood
and gave me a hug to welcome me. I knew in my heart that I was home, and
it was a relief.
I had learned many things during my “research” or relapse phase. My
compulsion will not go away if I try not to think about it. It steals
the life I want little by little. It nibbles away at my sanity. It robs
me of a healthy body. It mistakenly leads me to believe I am alone and
misunderstood. Most importantly, it forces me to believe my Higher Power
has abandoned me. This disease is not selective. It cuts across racial,
social, and economic barriers. No one group of people is immune to its
effects. Compulsive eating is so powerful it is able to travel to all
countries. It grabs hold of all types of people. Why would I think I am
so unique as to be immune from its grasp? As powerful as this compulsion
can be, I have experienced something stronger: my Higher Power and the
Fellowship of Overeaters Anonymous.
I have found my home with people who do not look like me or have a
Higher Power just like mine. The most important thing we share is a
weight and food compulsion that will kill each of us if we don’t take
our daily medicine. My medicine consists of going to meetings where I
have yet to see another person of color. I also call program people, and
I can’t see the physical differences over the telephone. I can only hear
what we have in common: our desire to work a program that is focused on
living today. I could focus on the differences among the people I meet
and how I am not like others, which leaves me feeling lonely, sad and
misunderstood, but I choose to focus on the element that binds us. Then
I can gain understanding of my disease, others and myself.
In understanding myself, I had to choose a new concept of God, not the
one I had as a child. When I was fortunate enough to go to a treatment
center for my initial exposure to the Twelve-Step program, they gave me
the life-altering information that I could choose a Higher Power of my
liking. Wow! That is when I had my first spiritual awakening. I knew God
was with me every step of my new way of living. God was always near me
and wanted only the best in life for me. I believe my Higher Power is a
flowing, light-filled force that knows no boundaries and can be in every
place, person or thing. I do not refer to my God as he or she. Gender
has nothing to do with the love and energy my Higher Power gives me. I
believe God loves to hear God’s name on my tongue; therefore, I try hard
not to use a pronoun.
I have had the rare experience since coming back to OA of being the only
female at a meeting. I have had issues with trusting men, and yet I knew
it was a special experience. I saw those men as compulsive overeaters
first, and my initial uneasiness melted away. These guys were speaking
my language. They understood me, which was the most important thing. I
have since been careful to watch my generalizations regarding men and
myself at meetings and elsewhere. In meetings, I have cringed at some of
the statements regarding men female members have made to male members.
It would be like someone making broad, sweeping statements about Native
Americans or people of color to me—not very welcoming or understanding.
It would convey to me that they saw my color foremost. If we put that
which binds us first—our eating compulsion—we can look beyond gender,
color, size and religion. We are then able to help one another transcend
active compulsion and experience the magic and miracle of recovery.
I find it difficult to put into words how much my life has changed in
the short time I’ve been living one day at a time. God has removed 80
pounds (36 kg) from my body. I like to move my body and am living a
lifelong dream of taking dance lessons. I used to become winded from
walking to my car. I can shop in stores and have clothes fit. Before OA,
I had to order my clothes by mail because I didn’t fit in clothes off
the rack at the plus-size shops. I have relief from the mental obsession
that plagued me every waking moment. Food is no longer my first thought
when I wake up and my last thought when I go to bed, and I no longer
binge constantly in between. I no longer take daily naps because I’ve
overdosed on food. I no longer take pills for depression or acid reflux
or to menstruate, and I am down to one water pill to treat my high blood
The thing I am most grateful for is the relationship I have with my
Higher Power. After years of isolating, I know that God is near and
within me. I see God in these people who look nothing like me and are
not my same gender. Each day the choices I make are allowing me to honor
the life that has been given to me, and I feel God rejoicing in my heart
as I live each day as the person my Higher Power intended me to be. I am
living and loving in recovery.
— W.O-R. (female, US)