5 things to remember when the world disturbs us

Well, it’s happened again. The world has gone and spoiled our well-crafted serenity. Might be politics, might be calamity, might be the bottom dropping out of our most important relationships, might be a busted transmission, might be anything. But all that peacefulness and grace we’ve tried to cultivate has come to a screeching halt. Again.

The trouble for folks like us who lack the power to control our eating is that any old disruption to our serenity can trigger us to eat. That’s the baffling aspect of our disease! We know it’s a bad idea, but we do it anyway, even though we know our broken shoeless, our broken relationship, nor our broken leg can be mended by food.

When we write out and speak out our inventory in Steps Four and Five, we discover how we’ve reacted to the pressures the world puts on us. We the considerable help of our Higher Power, we discover that there’s little thought going on between “Ow!” and “Mmmm, yummy.” We decipher the patterns of our thoughts and behaviors, and we discover truths about ourselves hidden deep within us, surrounded by the fat, stupor, and shame of compulsive eating. Knowing these things, about ourselves, we can use what we learned to help us when life gets a little spicier than we’d like.

5.) We are not the world. We reside in this world, and we affect it and it us, but we are not the same as that which is around us. We know this because we can see that there are others out there. That there are rocks, trees, and birds. And that we are not them. We need not take on the guilt, shame, or anger that belong to other people. We needn’t eat compulsively on their behalf.

4.) We are not what others think we are. Just because Billy the Bully or Mean Mad Margaret tell us about faults they ascribe to us, doesn’t mean we should believe them. Ditto, and even more so, because they might have said so in middle school. Similarly, we are not what we think that they think that we are. The inside of our minds can feel like an Abbott and Costello routine: I think that they think that I think that they know that I think that I know what they think, etc…. Their opinions of us are none of our business, and when we let those opinions infect us, we have allowed them act like our Higher Power, telling us what to do or be. We are dismayed, angered, sorrowful over their opinions, and sure enough, we eat at these people.

3.) We are not what our emotions tell us we are. Feelings and emotions begin in the body as responses to situations that exist outside of our spiritual selves. These feelings helped prehistoric man avoid danger, have babies, and raise families in an unspeakably dangerous and harsh world. Few, if anyone, reading on the internet lives in a cave without choosing to do so. Our feelings, however, don’t recognize the difference between the threat of a saber-toothed tiger and the threats of a modern-day society. And anyway, our emotions have been compromised by our disease and turned against us. But, as we found out in our inventory, we assume that we are what our feelings tell us we are. Turns out that’s a dishonesty. How do we know? Because we can actually observe our feelings coursing through us. If we can observe them, the same way we can observe the physical sensation of digestion occurring inside us, our feelings cannot be an accurate reflection of our true spiritual selves.

2.) We are not what our thoughts tell us we are. The same goes for our thoughts. All those nasty things our minds tell us? All the awful memories they dredge up. All that negativity, the debate club inside us. Not a one part of that unmerry melody actually reflects our inner spiritual selves. Just as with feelings, we can observe our thoughts as they go flying through our minds. That’s why Steps 10 and 11 are crucial to living the spiritual program of action. Without God’s help in settling our thoughts and understanding when we’ve let our brain get the better of us, we would slide right back into our old behaviors. But once we experience the psychic change that comes from the spiritual experience of the Steps, we suddenly find that there’s a distance between the real us and our thoughts. All of our thoughts. When we write inventory, we document our thinking, we observe it. Therefore, the essence of our being cannot be what runs through our craniums at any given moment. If we can observe it, we are not it.

1.) We are spiritual beings who don’t need food to cope with life. And this is one of the great discoveries of the Twelve Steps. Far from mannequins whose actions are tethered to some external force or internal puppet master, we have something spiritual inside us. We can define that special thing or its connection to some greater spiritual essence in whatever way feels right to us, but in the end, it is that spiritual nature that defines us. We are spiritual beings leading a human life. Food will not solve our problems, because food cannot address the basic human need for spiritual growth. As the saying goes, we addicts try to fill a God-sized hole with our substance or behavior. All we need to cope with life is a simple spirituality that has been concisely summarized as, “Clean house, trust God, and help others.” It is by monitoring our spiritual health, growing our connection to a Higher Power, and doing spiritual work in this world that we discover that we have the answer for life’s ups and downs. We may always get what we want, but we will get what we need.

With a powerful solution like the one we find in OA, we’ll never need to trust and rely on food again.

Resentments: People, institutions, and principles

We addicts have to get rid of resentment. It keeps us away from our Higher Power and from our fellows. The Big Book tells us it is “the ‘number one ‘offender. It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.” It also tells us that resentments fall into three groups: People, institution, and principles. Easy enough, right? But what exactly is resentment, and   if we’re going to be specific about it, how do we define people, institutions, and principles?

[In this post, we’re going to explore some real-life examples that can be found on many people’s Fourth Step lists. The mention of anything or anyone here is not intended as a judgement of anyone or anything nor an endorsement or a denunciation.]

The Big Book uses a couple words or phrases around resentment: anger, burned up, sore, grouch, and grudgeIt’s pretty clear that resentment begins with anger. But it’s equally clear that the anger remains potent and active over time. In fact, looking at the word resentment, we see the same thing. Re- is again. Sent- is related to sensing or feeling. Meant- denotes a state of mind or being. Put it all together, and we are in a state of feeling something again and again. Or as the dictionary might put it: “A persistent feeling of ill will.”

While that tells us what resentment is, and a little about how it functions, when we’re making our Fourth Step lists, how do we identify it? That’s not necessarily as simple. As addicts, we eat to cover up and subdue our feelings. We have spent so much time denying that those feelings still control us and telling anyone who will listen that we aren’t angry people. So we may have some difficulty admitting to resentment or locating it.

Sure there may be some instances where we have alarming clarity about a grudge we hold. But often we’ve used food to turn dangerous feelings of anger into disappointment, sadness, or just a numb and nebulous sense that something’s not right about the person or situation. We must be honest and thorough as we compose our lists, and members’ experiences suggest a few strategies for prying out names from our subconscious.

  • Contacts: Check the contact list on a cell phone, a rolodex, or an address book.
  • Yearbooks: Look at the pictures in your middle school, high school, and college yearbooks and don’t forget the teachers.
  • Directories: Church, business, or organizational directories are full of people we’ve had dealings with
  • Memory Lane: Imagine the streets in the neighborhoods you’ve lived in and look at the residents or workers in your mind’s eye.
  • Home Inspection: Consider the objects in your home, the people and businesses that sold them to you as well as any maintenance people associated with them

As we use these strategies, we can look for people, places, things, and ideas that pop out as uneasy for us. We might not even remember precisely why that unease lingers, but it will be revealed to us as we continue the Fourth Step. If we sense the unease in us, even in the case of grief, we can ask ourselves if there’s resentment associated with it and whether the feeling is anger that’s been transformed by us into something else more palatable.

So how do we differentiate between people, institutions, and principles anyway? And what about those things that seem like none of the above? Let’s start with people. Here are examples of what could go into the category of people:

  • Individuals we have met: Family, friends, coworkers, clients, people we do business with, the person who crashed into our car, antagonists/bullies, rivals, members of our church or its congregational leader, fellow students, teachers, our doctors, our lawyers, OA members, ourselves, God
  • Individuals we have never met: Celebrities, professional athletes, historical figures, world leaders, family members we never met, authors, business leaders, politicians
  • Non-human people: This may seem controversial to some, but we’ve got to put pets, plants, animals that have attacked us, and annoyances from the natural world somewhere (all that counts are thoroughness and honesty!)
  • Fictional people: Characters in film or literature, imaginary friends
  • Groups of people: School cliques, demographic segments (socioeconomics, nationality, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, location, citizenship status etc), professional groups (e.g. insurance salesmen, doctors, lawyers, politicians, CEOs), folks with certain beliefs (e.g. anarchists, liberals, white nationalists, tree huggers), people who engage in certain taboo practices of a greater sort (e.g. cannibals, pedophiles, murderers) or a lesser sort (e.g. jaywalkers, smokers, gluttons), and people who belong to organizations (political party members, members of social/fraternal organizations, and members of a specific religious membership).

That last item, the people who belong to organizations, leads us to institutions. It’s important to remember that the people who belong to an institution are people, but the institution is separate. Institutions has two important definitions to guide us:

  1. A society or organization founded for a specific purpose, including religious, governmental, societal, social, educational, and business reasons. Here we can list businesses, schools, universities, political parties, local benevolent groups (Rotary, Lions, etc), Boy Scouts, Congress, charity organizations, religions and their individual sects and their local places of worship, school boards, research organizations, professional associations, lobbying groups, support groups (yes, including OA), and the zillions of other contemporary, historical, or fictional organizations out there (the IRS, the Nazi Party, and the Legion of Doom respectively)
  2. An established law, practice, or custom. This one is a little trickier. It includes things like bills (the Mann Act), Supreme Court decisions (Roe v. Wade, Citizens United, or Plessy v. Ferguson) common law, marriage, the Constitution, one’s mortgage or lease agreement and similar contracts.

That bit about practice and custom verges closely on our final group, principles. These are fundamental truths and the codes of conduct or ideas that stem from them. The early bird gets the worm,” for example. But also the ideas behind it: industriousness, discipline, and responsibility. It’s easy to understand why this can get a little gray when compared to the practices or customs that we talk about in the institutions. Better ask God to let you know how to sort that one out.

So what about items such as food addiction, earthquakes, and racism? These fall into that gray area between institutions and principles. With a disease (addiction or cancer) or condition (such as poverty), we can probably safely put them into principles. Why? Because they are, ultimately, ideas and theories about the actions of our minds and bodies rather than prescribed practices or customs that we are “supposed to” follow. Earthquakes, similarly, are an idea about the behavior of our physical world but not societal prescriptions. They certainly aren’t codes of conduct, but for some people they do create a set of actions or behaviors that are crucial to staying alive. Then there’s racism. That’s a hard one because racism is often described as a system of oppression, which makes it a practice or a custom, especially in those areas of the world where it affects governmental or institutional policy. On the other hand, it is an idea as well that begets a system or set of behaviors. It could reasonably go in either list. We just have to ask God where to put it.

So that’s a crash course on the lists we make for the Fourth Step. The most important thing to remember about making this list is to pray before we pick up our pen, asking God to guide our thoughts and push our pen. That way, we can feel more confident that what’s coming out is accurate and that we don’t have to censor ourselves. We can’t leave out our basest resentments because we’re afraid someone else will judge us for them. The whole point of the Fourth Step is to get rid of the stuff inside our minds, hearts, and souls that distances us from one another. Besides which, our disease needs only one resentment to use as leverage against us in its fight to keep us enslaved by food.

 

What is self-seeking anyhow?

What the heck is this “self-seeking” thing we hear about in meetings? The term gets bandied about quite a bit, and we know it’s something to do with our behavior, but what’s the difference between self-seeking and selfishness? Or self-seeking and self-centeredness? And most important, why is it crucial that we recognize our self-seeking behaviors and tendencies?

The Big Book introduces the word self-seeking in its discussion of Step Three. In fact, it uses the a form of the word three times from page 61 to page 67. On page 61, in the example of the actor who wants to run the entire production instead of just doing their part, the Big Book describes how this person can be either gracious or cruel in trying to make things go their own way:

What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well?

Here the book tells us, by the actor analogy, that when we try to exert control over situations or manipulate them for our own purposes we are being a self-seeker. By extension, self-seeking has something to do with the actions we take as self-seekers.

Here it comes again on page 62:

Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate.

One of the four items in the series above is materially different than the others. Fear, self-delusion, and self-pity all occur in our minds and directed at ourselves. But self-seeking, as we discovered on page 61, connotes an action, and those actions affect others directly. Self-seeking is the stepping on other’s toes that we do, and even its urge is different than those other three things. As we are about to find out, it is a product of them.

On page 67, we learn that to be truly free from our resentments, we must recognize and admit to the part we play in them. We have our list of resentments and the effect they’ve had on us, and we now turn the lens of inquiry onto ourselves:

Referring to our list again. Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and frightened? Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame? The inventory was ours, not the other man’s. When we saw our faults we listed them in black and white.

Let’s look deeply for a moment at these instructions. At the topmost level, we are acknowledging our part in a situation that involved resentment. And from the looks of it, we will always have some part, minor or major.

Once again, we see that self-seeking is different than its mates selfish, dishonest, and frightened. Those are states of mind, but self-seeking indicates action. What if we asked these questions in a slightly different way?

  • Selfish: What did I want?
  • Dishonest: What lie did I tell myself?
  • Frightened: What was I afraid of?

Those three things all point inward toward us, ourselves, not outward toward the world. And then,

  • Self-seeking: What did I do to get what I wanted or feel better?

This time, we aim our will at the world around us, and we do something that affects others. Sometimes the actions and effects are big: cheating on a spouse, punching someone, cutting a person out of our life. Sometimes, however, the action and effect is subtle: judging someone harshly, staying home from school or work, pitying ourselves. These actions, which seem as though they are pointed at ourselves actually effect others. How? By separating us from them, be they family, friends, or the world. Through behaviors like these we lose effectiveness at work, presence in relationships, and even financial resources.

What is the number one most popular self-seeking behavior in OA? Eating, of course! It’s our primary coping tool. If we can’t get what we want in a situation (and sometimes even if we do), we eat away our feelings. It’s how we feel better in the moment. Turns out it’s a lousy coping mechanism. While we eat at the person we’re angry with, our resentments inside of us remain very much alive and wriggling, so we need more and more food to keep them at bay.

Here’s two more visual ways to think about it.

First, imagine that you’re writing your Step 4 inventory, and at the same time your father is too. You each make a list of people you resent, and guess what, you’re each on one another’s lists! Shocker!!! You both have resentment around the time that dad wouldn’t let you borrow the car. You each follow the three-column format on page 65. On your resentment you list dad’s name in column one. In column two, you note that you resent his not letting you borrow the car. In column three, you write down that it affects your personal relations and fear. Then when you ask yourself Where was I self-seeking?, you answer I took the car without permission. Here’s the kicker: Dad wrote your name in column one, and in column two he wrote Took the car without permission. In other words, the answers we give to the question of Where was I self-seeking? produce resentments for other people.

Second, and simpler. Imagine you are pointing your finger at someone else in anger. The finger you point at them represents your self-seeking actions. But the other three fingers on your hand are all pointed back at yourself. They represent selfishness, dishonest, and fear, the things we do to ourselves that drive us to act out.

So what is self-seeking? It’s the acting out we do when we don’t like how life is treating us. It’s what we do when we are unable to be our best selves. Its how we’ve done most of the instances of damage that litter our lives. And ultimately, it is what we’ve done instead of trusting and relying on God.

The importance of cheering for others

The July 1st reading in OA’s For Today quotes an English proverb:

“When a proud man hears another praised, he thinks himself injured.”

This entry in our little white book reminds us that inside we have a hole that cannot be filled. We tried with food. We may have tried with alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Eventually we get so desperate, we try to fill it with self-recrimination, and that only exacerbates our problem. If we’re honest, we’ve also tried to plug the hole with affirmation and validation from others as well as its opposite.

How many times in school were we disappointed when our English teacher cited someone else’s paper as an exemplar? How many times have we gritted our teeth when the boss holds someone else’s work up for praise? How many times did we cop a resentment when our family lauded our sibling(s) and forgot about us? When we didn’t get the award, the honor, the mention we should have?

As much as we’d hear people talk about internal motivation, about following our passion, about how the journey was worth more than the destination, we never believed really them. We wanted someone to tell us how good we were. That we were right about something. That we were, contrary to all internal indications, okay.

We couldn’t trust ourselves to fill the hole, so we looked for someone else to do it, and because the hole cannot be filled, the things that were “given” to us (graduation, honor roll, employee of the month, marriage, positions of prestige and wealth) never relieved our self-doubt. In fact, they made things worse because every time we got something big and it failed to ease our discomfort, we grew more panicked that anything to foot the bill.

Our pride could lead us to arrogance, entitlement, and resentment. For some of us (quickly or slowly), the process turned viciously inward. At a certain point we began to root against ourselves. We didn’t want to feel the hollowness of another unfulfilling milestone. Too painful, so let’s hope against it. This easily led to thoughts like I’m not worth noticing anyway or I’m not good enough, so why should I expect anything. Our sense of self-esteem flowed out of us and was replaced by dread of recognition. By being found out.

At least compulsive eating could numb those feelings. For a few moments at least.

In recovery, we discover that we had simply been chasing the wrong solution all along. Our minds, sickened by addiction, led us to extreme self-centeredness. We thought that because we couldn’t make ourselves feel worthy, it must be available from others. It’s not. Our sense of self comes from a spiritual communing with our Higher Power.

As we progress through the Twelve Steps, we uncover some interesting truths. For example, that we were OK all along. That our lives have as much inherent meaning as any others. That our thoughts deceived us. In Step Seven, we ask God to change us, including and, perhaps, especially our thinking. We learn that we must accept what’s given us with gratitude and place no extra meaning upon it. Our achievements do not signify our worth, but they give us much to be thankful for.

Furthermore, we learn that giving away our solution enhances our own sense of self. Therefore, when others receive what we hoped for, we embrace their good fortune as well. We celebrate their success not at our expense but to our enrichment. We have come to recognize that self-esteem comes from estimable acts, not from external validation.

Is it easy to see another’s success does not signify our loss? Not always, but the more we do it, the more we reduce our sense of self and break the spell that our addict brains have over us.

 

 

Why spirituality requires a sponsor

In OA, when we hear about sponsors, we often hear primarily about food:

  • I give my food to my sponsor every day.
  • My sponsor helped me develop a food plan.
  • I’m honest with my sponsor about my food.
  • My sponsor helped me get back on track food-wise.
  • I was having cravings, so I called my sponsor.

We can’t get abstinent without a lot of help, so it’s no wonder that these common themes emerge about sponsors!

In OA, although we sponsor up to our level of experience, a sponsor is ultimately someone who guides us through the Twelve Steps. That’s because the OA program is the Steps. Without them, we are supporting one another on a diet. With the Steps, we each can have the spiritual experience that leads to lasting recovery.

The writers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous included an appendix called “The Spiritual Experience.” In its one-and-a-half pages, they make sure we’re really clear what this experience means. They use a form of the word change five times, upheavals once, transformations once, and alterations once. That’s about once in each paragraph in this brief appendix.

This repeated usage of these carefully chosen should make clear to us the idea that change and spiritual experience are inextricably related. They may even be synonymous in the context of recovery.

So what’s that got to do with sponsors? Plenty as it turns out. If we could have changed ourselves to end compulsive eating, then what are we doing in church basements, hospital rooms, and community centers on a weeknight or weekend morning? We’ve tried and tried and tried to make the changes necessary to bring about normalcy around food and to solve our lives. No dice.

The Big Book goes to great, gentle lengths to show us why we can’t do it ourselves. In a nutshell, our brain has been compromised by the disease of addiction, and we are defenseless against it. Many of us even tried using religious means to beat our compulsion without success. What we didn’t know, and what the founders of AA want us desperately to know is this: We are powerless and cannot change ourselves by any act of willpower on our part.

Here’s where we stand: We have to change, but we can’t do it for ourselves. We’ve tried asking others to change us. Doctors, counselors, family members, food clinics, diet professionals, celebrity physicians, or just plain celebrities. We know from these experiences that no human power can save us from compulsive eating. So, we can’t do it. Another person can’t do it for us. That means it must come from a Higher Power. And that is why we must have a spiritual experience to change.

But what do we know about spiritual experiences? Not much, really. So if we can’t do it ourselves, that means we’re going to need someone to show us the way. We must find someone with experience doing and living the Steps. If it’s worked for them, then they can pass on their experience, and we can enjoy the fruits of the spiritual experience as well. A sponsor cannot change us, but they can show us the path they took and give us suggestions for how to pick our way along that path. They can also provide us with encouragement if our spirits flag.

The change in our food is merely one of many changes that must be made for us to outlive our disease, but it’s just the first one. For the full effect, we’ve got to get spiritualized too, and for that, we’re going to need our sponsor very, very much.

Updates Available

Sometimes it feels as though we get a notification every day for our desktop, laptop, or device that says “Updates available.” So many, in fact, that for some people these notifications can feel paralyzing:

  • Didn’t I just update?
  • Is this real or some scam?
  • Why do I have to “fix” something I already like?
  • What happens if I don’t do the update?
  • What am I updating anyway?

Yet others may view it more positively:

  • What new features will be available?
  • Will my device run better now?
  •  I bet this will fix some of the buggier features.

But we can find ourselves on both sides of this question. We may not, for example, want to learn a new user interface, but at the same time we may want our operating system to drain the battery less often.

Our OA program can feel much the same. Anytime we go to a meeting, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the equivalent of “Updates available.” Not an explicit request to change, but the implicit suggestion that “this helps me, and I’m sharing in case it helps you.” In fact, it’s part of why meetings help us make progress. We may hear about:

  • an interpretation of OA literature that we’ve never heard before that challenges us spiritually or attracts us
  • a food plan that sounds too loose, too tight, or absolutely amazing
  • a speaker that hits us upside the head with their experience or that gently leads us to a new understanding.

The same is true of our sponsor. They might offer us a radical suggestion or a subtle prompt for reflection that gets under our skin. (Sponsors are good that way!)

Like with our update notifications, we can hear or read so much that we feel as though we have to throw our program away and start over. Or that we have to hold onto it ruthlessly. One of the foundations of how we work OA may suddenly feel ready to buckle. Or we might feel energized and look forward to jumpstarting our journey.

No matter what, we have to evaluate what we hear and be ready to make change if it’s called for. We needn’t take hasty action either. In the past, we’ve often acted impulsively. We’ve made hasty decisions because we wanted to feel better, or at least different, fast. Many times, those decisions came back to bite us in the backside. So we should well consider the things we hear about. We can ask our sponsor and trusted OA friends whether what we’ve heard seems like a good idea. We can, and should, ask our Higher Power for direction. But we probably shouldn’t just go barging ahead with a new idea without careful consideration.

On the other hand, if we’ve asked our Higher Power for a direction or an intuition, we might well be on the right track. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should act with abandon. We should still proceed with care before making adjustments to our OA action plan.

For example, someone else’s food plan may sound amazing. But it’s their food plan, not ours. Their enthusiasm at how well it works for them may feel irresistible, but it might not be right for our particular needs. Or it might be! But updating our food plan is not a small matter because it keeps us in balance with food. If our food plan works for us, we might think through changes very carefully.

Of course, the opposite may be true. The new food-plan idea may elicit a repellent response from us. If our hackles go up merely upon hearing about it, we might ask why we respond so strongly to what’s not our business. Is there something we fear? Do we have an axe grinding away in the background of our brains?

If we hear something powerful in a meeting that’s unorthodox or unusual, does that mean it’s problematic? Of course not. It only means that we haven’t experienced it. But we might also want to consider how the substance of what we’ve heard matches up with OA’s literature and the experience of those around us. If we hear about a miracle new way to write our Fourth Step that only takes ten minutes, we should surely be skeptical. Don’t we read in the Big Book and hear from OAs with strong recovery that the Steps require diligent and thorough work? But if we see that it has worked for the speaker, there’s likely no harm in trying it, and yet, why would we toss aside what’s worked for so many for the experience of many fewer? This stuff gets complicated fast, and that’s why sponsors and our Higher Power are so important for helping us know whether something is right for us.

Doesn’t it come down to honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness?In our meetings and all our OA interactions, we are listening for our Higher Power’s will. Simultaneously, we have a disease that uses our own minds to harm us. We listen, we evaluate, we reflect and question ourselves. But we also have to seek other’s feedback. We can ask our HP if what we heard is “right” for us. We can talk it over with our sponsor and our trusted OA friends. Because in the end, if we choose to update our OA program, we have to remember one key question: Will this help me to grow spiritually? If we can honestly say yes, then we are probably on the right track.

War with food is not the answer

Today is Memorial Day when we remember those who lost their lives in battle. Military personnel are taught to never run from a fight. In the midst of the chaos of battle, they press toward the enemy’s position, pursuing their mission objective. They fight; they don’t run.

For compulsive eaters, it’s nearly the opposite. Our battle rages day and night inside our minds and our bodies. There is no place to run. But the more we fight, the worse it gets. No matter how close we get to our mission’s objective, it remains out of reach. As it turns out, we’re on the wrong battleground, and we’re using the wrong weaponry.

As food addicts, many of us spend much of our life wondering why the weapon of self-will isn’t effective against this intractable enemy. No matter how much will we summon, we can’t defeat the food. So we call in our air support: books, diet plans, nutrition classes, anything outside ourselves that we thought might soften up the enemy’s will to fight another day. Instead, it is we who lose morale as we see the food continuing to advance on us, seemingly unstoppable despite all we throw at it.

Next we call in the heavy guns: People such as our physician, celebrity doctors, counselors, hypnotists, psychologists, diet mavens, knowledgable friends and family, even charlatans and mountebanks if they promise us results. We recognize that we can’t win out by ourselves, so we must get reinforcements. We’d seen others get better with the help of people, but our hearts sink when we see that our experts’ heavy weaponry did little more good than our own.

Desperate, we dig a trench around our position. We’d throw away our favorite foods, swear off, and isolate from the outside world. But that doesn’t stop the food either. The fortunate may finally recognized at this point that they are about to be overwhelmed by the enemy.

Some fall to the food forever, but a few lucky ones—bloodied, wounded, out of ammo—stumble into OA. That’s where we discover that the enemy wasn’t ever the food. The enemy was inside of the lines all along.

We fought, fought, and fought on the physical, and maybe emotional, plane. But OA shows us that recovery occurs on the spiritual plane. As the Big Book tells us, “When the spiritual malady is overcome, we straighten out mentally and physically.”

We might decide to keep fighting the losing battle, but if we accept that compulsive eating has a spiritual solution, then the truth comes to us. At first it seems to us that we have gone to this food-war with slingshots instead of guns. But eventually we realize that war, itself, is not the answer. Surrender is.

The battle over our spirits cannot by won through opposition and combat. It can only be won by giving up the idea that we can win at all. Once we do so, we realize that our generalship has led us from one humiliating defeat to another. We need a better leader, which is our Higher Power, however we choose to define a Higher Power.

Once we give control over to God and let go of the idea that we must fix our problem alone, we suddenly find that our enemy has begun a retreat. But we have a cunning opponent, and we cannot let it lure us into complacency. As we do each of the Twelve Steps, the enemy’s retreat continues, and as we attempt to expand our spiritual selves over time, it remains at bay.

But it is always lurking over the next rise, sending scouts out to probe the weakness in our defenses. So long as our defense is our HP, we’ll be OK.

If we keep fighting the way we have been, then we’re heading to a food addict’s Memorial Day. But if we work toward the spiritual solution, we’ll instead be around to celebrate Veterans Day.

Member Experience #7: Food: As Vivid, yet as Elusive, as My Dreams

This morning, after eating my fabulously satisfying, abstinent, and now “usual” breakfast, I found myself looking back at some of my relapses and how they happened. I wondered, almost aloud, “Why this is now so easy?”

Abstinence hasn’t always been like this? So how is it that I am feeling at peace with my relationship with food almost as though by accident? What is different this time?

I’ve long known that my four trouble foods are sugar, starch, salt, and grease…preferably in combination! I would announce this at meetings, laughing at myself, and people who could identify chuckled with me. But I knew it wasn’t funny because even after surgery those foods called my name as clearly as the voice of my mom when I was a child. Come to think of it, my Mom’s voice and my memories of her seem permanently blended into my relationship with food. I couldn’t remove them any more than I can remove the caffeine from a fresh pot of coffee. Anyone with food memories knows that they evoke feelings, seemingly out of nowhere, and they need not make sense.

With OA’s help, though, we don’t have to eat over them anymore.

Someone who knows me and at least part of my history might read this and say “but she had weight loss surgery, shouldn’t her relationship with food been changed by it?” A valid question. I had sleeve surgery where ¾ of my stomach was removed, I can no longer eat a lot of food at once. My surgery was in 2013, and I lost a great deal of weight. Yet by 2016 I had regained all but a few pounds. For me, food addiction and compulsive eating are about more, next, and else. My surgery removed the MORE component of any particular meal…and yet I found I could eat compulsively in smaller quantities. The NEXT and ELSE aspects of my lifelong relationship with food were still alive and thriving inside my mind. If I waited 20 minutes or so after eating my small meal, I was hungry again, and hungry or not, I would find myself grazing again.  And, sadly, gaining weight AGAIN.

I hated being 280 pounds. I hated being 250 pounds. Nonetheless I found myself having weight loss surgery at nearly 70 years old, going from 280 pounds to 139 then back up to 246. I suffered with daily pain in my knees, hips, and feet. I had shattered my right ankle in a fall in 2008, and still have screws and a plate in it. As I gained and gained, the pain in that ankle grew and grew. All this after bariatric surgery! Was I hopeless?

I was hopeless without OA, but I returned and found the hope I’d lost.

I’ve shed 92 pounds since the summer of 2016, this time in program. It seems impossible that I was once 279.75 pounds—that I was once bulging out of size 3X clothing but now wearing clothing in single-digit sizes. I know I don’t want to relapse again, but I didn’t want to relapse in the year 2000 either. So as I reflected after my abstinent breakfast, it seemed like a good idea to look for the common denominator, the thing that seems to block me from understanding of the concept that my choices have consequences.

It turns out that I have been the personification of the Jaywalker in the Big Book. I have repeatedly tried the same, desperate, fatal action of compulsive eating, hoping that this time it would work and solve all my problems. Now, after relapse, surgery, and a lifetime of experience with compulsive eating, I know that I must replace compulsive eating with a relationship with a Higher Power if I’m going to be happy, joyous, and free in OA.

5 OA disciplines that make us free

Discipline is one of those words that folks love or hate. Sometime the same person can bristle at the very sound of the word yet enjoy the fruits of a focused, structured application of will that seems an awful lot like discipline.

In fact, we all find ourselves wandering in and out of disciplined thinking and behavior throughout the day. Arriving to work on time is a discipline, and so is the way in which we carefully, even laboriously go about the detailed practice of hobby or favorite area of study.

In other words discipline can get a bad rap. It’s often associated with the phrase military discipline. The military has a very high level of discipline, and many people thrive under it. But that’s a fairly extreme degree of discipline, and there’s a very broad continuum of degrees of discipline between being able to bounce a quarter off your newly made bed and never getting out of bed in the first place.

In OA, we are encouraged to adopt some daily disciplines. We can also think of them as structures or supports that focus our attention on recovery from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. Here are five areas of discipline in OA that make a big difference in our recoveries:

1. Taking care of our food

The most obvious area of discipline for us is how we deal with food. Everyone walks in the door wanting to know what they can/can’t eat. That’s just part of managing our food. We may also need to measure or weigh our food. Many also favor sharing our daily intake with an accountability partner or sponsor. These disciplines are somewhat mechanical in nature, and they help us to develop a sense of rhythm and safety around food as we change and sustain a new, often unfamiliar way of eating.

2. Taking care of our minds and spirits

Since our brains are the source of many of our problems, we have to manage our thinking and feelings very closely, not to mention the actions that follow. So OA encourages us in Steps 10 and 11 to adopt three disciplines:

  1. Self-reflection: That’s Step 10 where we watch out for self-centered thoughts and actions and clean up our messes quickly
  2. Prayer: Here we let God know our intentions and our needs
  3. Meditation: Now we listen up for our HP’s response and his/her/its/their will for our day.

Needless to say, these are revolutionary ideas for us. We rarely engaged in self-reflection before OA. Self-recrimination, self-judgment, self-loathing, self-shaming, and self-blaming are not the same as the balanced and objective notion of self-reflection suggested in Step 10.

Similarly, since we wanted to control everything, we didn’t pray, or at least not effectively. Nor did we listen if we every meditated. We were doing it our way, after all.

3. Helping, not taking care of, others

Prior to OA, we tended to manage relationships in two opposite and unhealthy ways. Either we took care of others out of unhealthy codependence, or we did nothing for others without an expectation of receiving something in return. No wonder we ate: When we did something for others they either resented it or didn’t do for us what we’d wanted!

Now in OA, we help others instead of “taking care” of them or ignoring them. This kind of helping is a discipline. It requires us to actively consider what we can do for someone else. It could as simple as putting the toilet seat down or letting someone merge into traffic in front of us. It could be another step up such as bringing our spouse home an unexpected cup of coffee or flowers. It could be a big thing such as volunteering our time and donating money. Or it could be helping our fellow sufferers find recovery through sponsorship.

But it’s disciplined action of anticipating how we can be helpful and following through on it that makes the difference.

4. Communicating with others

You know, OA’s tools include the telephone for a reason. When we’re suffering, we tell ourselves we don’t want to bother them even though we need their help and support desperately. But when we’re cruising, we’re on to other things and forget to think about those in OA who might benefit from a text or a call or an email.

But there’s more to it than that. OA teaches us that respect for others is crucial to our long-term survival in this world. Our HP is changing us to be of service to those around us, and communicating respectfully and effectively is part of that.

That means we must learn the disciplined restraint of pen and tongue. In short, we gotta listen more, talk less, and talk less about us. In conversation we often assumed a defensive posture immediately upon detection of anything that might be a criticism. Instead of listening to the other person, we picked apart everything they said, ready to spit it back at them in our own defense. Or we readied our list of resentments to throw in their face. Or maybe we instead called up our deep reservoir of self-pity as a soft defense to turn the tide of conversation and turn a supposed tongue lashing into a warm bath of “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize…”.

Now we take the bit, and we express ourselves wholly, honestly, and appropriately, but not until we’ve listened well to the other person and truly considered, objectively, what they say. We don’t start from a place of personalization anymore, we start from a place of wanting to understand. We also eschew throwing advice at others, and instead we give suggestions when asked. We stay calm, even in the face of negativity, and we let our HP work through us. We’re the only Big Book someone might read.

5. Actively engaging in fellowship

Last but not at all least, is fellowship. We desperately need one another to survive this disease. Addiction is a past master at divide-and-conquer techniques. It hammers a wedge in between us and the rest of mankind. Without fellowship, we have a lot of trouble remembering who we are, what we are like, and where the solution is. We also can’t help others find that solution without meeting some addicts.

So we must engage actively in the fellowship of OA. That can take on many forms, but the two most important are the OA Tools of Meetings and Service. We must go to meetings if we are to find others who want recovery from food addiction, no two ways about it. Without their warmth and support, we’ve got no shot. We must also take care to bring the message not the mess, to talk about the solution not the problem. We don’t attend meetings to check in about the events of the week. We don’t attend meetings to dump our psychological stuff on others. We don’t attend meetings as psycho therapy. We must bring the solution as best we are able.

But in order for meetings to survive, we must also perform OA service! That may mean simply being your home group’s treasurer, raising a hand to sponsor, or speaking when asked. Better yet, we volunteer to provide support for our intergroup by being a group rep or taking part in its initiatives on an informal basis.

Like with other things, we must make a discipline of regularly attending meetings and of  performing regular service at some OA level.

With these five disciplines our recovery can make leaps to a level of serenity and usefulness we didn’t think possible. We need always remember, it’s not about getting disciplined, it’s about acting in a disciplined way.