I learned about Overeaters Anonymous from ObesityHelp and went to the OA website to check out meeting times. I found one in my area on Fridays at 4pm, and left work a half hour early to attend.

However, I didn’t realize that the meeting was held at a women’s-only rehab center for alcohol and drug addiction.

When I arrived at the… uh… compound, I was at a loss. There were no signs anywhere. No directions, no markings on the 3 buildings, no doors that opened from the outside. I saw random women walking around, but they were in a hurry to get somewhere and didn’t glance in my direction, so I didn’t stop them for help.

Finally, I went through the only door with a handle opening to the outside. It was labeled as a restroom, but I doubted that this restroom had windows and blinds, so I went inside. The bathroom sign was, as I expected, a ruse. I had stumbled upon their administrative offices, but there was nobody in sight. I heard a voice coming from down the hall, so I cleared my voice. She finished her phone call. I cleared my throat again, hoping she’d come out to greet me. She didn’t, so I walked down the hall.

I explained that I was looking for the Overeaters Anonymous meeting, and the woman explained that I could go down the mulch trail to building three where the meeting was held.

I walked down the trail, and noticed how serene this place was. A still pond. Lush foliage. No noise. Cats milling around. Women only. Benches placed strategically along the path, where I envisioned women sitting and having those serious, tear-filled, emotional conversations that only women know. I sensed the purpose of this place was to nurture, heal, and protect women. Women who needed help.

I quickly came to building 3. Nothing had been visible from the parking lot, but from the direction of the mulch path, I could see that this building had a front porch (facing the pond, not the road). There sat a dark-skinned woman and her young baby with a stroller and diaper bag. At picnic table sat two young women (late 20’s? early 30’s?) who had a world of hardship in their eyes. These women looked, as my mom would say, “rode hard and hung up wet.” They looked thin but bloated, “normal” but undernourished somehow. They had those tell-tale wrinkles around the eyes that evidenced long days out in the sun and unhappy nights.

They were friendly. I said, “hi.” One woman asked, “are you here for the OA meeting?” I said yes and she informed me that I was too late, they were almost finished. I was unsure of what to do. Couldn’t I just walk in late? I couldn’t possibly be the only late one. The girls read my face. The one with the baby said, “you can go ahead inside. Just don’t disrupt the meeting. They might be sharing right now.”

I opened the door. I was in a large, open, living-room type area. It had high ceilings and linoleum floors, but couches and reclining chairs. Twenty or so women sat in a group, all facing Laura, the leader, who was talking about serenity and asking everyone to form a circle holding hands. I sat in a folding chair off to the side as the women got up and formed a circle. They recited the Serenity Prayer and then passed “energy” to one another. I noticed none of them were fat. Not a single one. Nobody over 150 pounds. They all had that same bedraggled look. I guessed some were at the meeting not because they were Overeaters, but because they enjoy support groups. Besides, there was nothing else to do at the compound.

After the Serenity Prayer, the meeting dismissed. People started rushing around. I thought the leader, Laura, might want to talk with me, but she headed for the door at warp speed. I headed out to my car. Suddenly, bursting through one of the building’s unmarked perimeter doors, Laura rushed to me as I buckled my seatbelt. I got out, and she introduced herself. It was hot, so we headed to a picnic bench in the shade.

Laura and I talked for probably 30 minutes about OA. She explained that I was at a residential drug and alcohol treatment center for women, and that I’d probably be comfortable at one of the more traditional meeting sites. She pointed out one in particular, this Saturday at 9:30, that has a lot of new members. As we talked, a young woman walked by several times, rushing from one place and then back again, like she forgot something. She could hear our conversation, but I didn’t mind. She smiled, we did too, and she hovered around a while. I finished up with Laura. She would see me at the other meeting tomorrow morning. I could call her anytime.

I drove away with a strange sense. I felt out of place at the treatment facility, what with my clean, pressed clothes, neat hair, and makeup’d face. I didn’t look like the other women, who seemed nice enough, but had clearly struggled and suffered in their lives. I felt naive compared to them, and I know they sensed I was not “one of them.” But I’m glad I stumbled upon their secret haven to see the peacefulness and woman-ness of that place. I felt like I had walked into Toni Morrison’s Paradise.

I always believed counseling was hogwash, that I can fix my problems myself. I never really did think overeating is an addictive, compulsive behavior. I saw no relation between the physical symptoms of my overeating (my 347-pound frame) and their skinniness, sullenness, and haggardness from alcohol and drug addiction. I never considered myself in need of treatment.

Being in that place for 40 minutes changed my mind. It’s ok to need a place with a still pond and a picnic bench. It’s ok to need support groups and weirdo-energy-passing. It’s ok to find healing there. I’m doing the right thing in seeking out support.

I didn’t go to this morning’s OA meeting with Laura. My husband is home and he wanted to spend time together. I’m giving myself the freedom to not be compulsive about meeting attendance, but to go when I want and need to. I’m grateful for the experience I had yesterday, and I don’t want to quickly replace it. I just want to stew in this feeling for a minute, to reflect on what I felt and what I witnessed. To savor it. To save it.


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