3 questions about whether we’re spreading hope when we share

Think back to the moment we first walked into an OA meeting. We finally gave up outwitting or toughing out our disease. Our eating discouraged us. The shape of our body discouraged us. So did our emotional health. 

We come into OA on a losing streak. None of us thought that, gee, OA might be a fun place to meet friends and network. We came because our lives, as we were living them, were pretty lousy: chained to food like a slave to their master. None of us had the foggiest idea what to do, we just wanted a place that could help us where no one else could before. So when we went to our first meeting, what were we looking for? Why, hope of course! All we wanted was a tiny glimmer, a glinting of shining hope. Half a ray of hope, even an eighth of a ray, would have been infinitely more hope than we walked in with.

But how do newcomers (or current members) get that hope? In our first meeting, we were probably confused by all the terminology chucked around: abstinence, food plan, Higher Power, unmanageability. What’s it got to do with stopping the uncontrollable urge to eat? Then we hear someone describe their journey. We hear in them what’s familiar: the obsession, the physical need for our binge foods, the fear and self-doubt. We hear in another’s words the lonely secrets of our food behaviors.

But the problem isn’t the only thing we need to feel hopeful. If everyone shared only about the problem, then it’s just talking. What we felt and heard was that OA has a solution. We didn’t necessarily know what “Twelve Steps” means, but we hear people talking about how their compulsive eating has been arrested. We see that they have achieved some physical recovery. And we imagine ourselves in their place. “If they were like that before, and they are getting better, then I can too!”

If we heard hope, then we probably left our first meeting with some lightness in our hearts. Finally, we’ve stumbled into a path forward.

But what if we hadn’t heard hope? What if we didn’t hear that there was a solution? What if we mostly heard about the problem? Or sharing that’s mostly retellings of the difficult problems of the past week? Would we have stuck around?

Just as newcomers need to hear hope, current members, no matter where we are in our journey of recovery, need to hear hope too. Even more important we desperately need to share hope. Step 12 tells us that we are to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer. The Big Book tells us explicitly and implicitly that we must share what happened (the problem), what we did (the solution in OA), and what we’re like now (how we’ve been changed by OA). This isn’t optional, it’s foundational to maintaining our spiritual condition. It’s mirrored again in Tradition 5 that tells us that the primary purpose of any OA meeting is to carry the message to still-suffering compulsive eaters. It’s not about us, it’s about others. It’s about hope!

As practicing OAs, we can ask ourselves three important questions about our sharing:

  • What percentage of our sharing is about our problem with food? With non-food life problems? Or is a retelling of events of the past days or week?
  • What percentage is about how we are working toward the solution?
  • Are we remembering to describe how our lives have changed for the better through OA?

Or we can ask one big question: Do I consistently share so that I feel better or so that someone else in the room feels hope so they can get better?

These answers make all the difference to us as well as the newcomer. If we hear ourselves talking about the solution, we may be more likely to continue reaching for it, reminded of its daily importance to us. Just as the still-suffering compulsive eater may be more likely to stick around and reach for the solution they hear hope from us.

Hope is a diamond for the newcomer, each of our recoveries are its facets, and our Higher Power is the light that sparkles through it.

It works better if you don’t eat

There’s an AA story that goes like this:

An AA member had attended meetings for six months or more. He shared that he was miserable and couldn’t figure out why the program wasn’t working for him. Afterward, a couple old-timers took him aside. They kindly said to him, “It works better if you don’t drink.”

In OA, we can relate. When we’re eating, we’re miserable. We feel shame, guilt, anger, disappointment, and helplessness. There’s little worse than a head full of OA and a belly full of compulsively eaten food. OA works better when we aren’t eating compulsively.

Of course, that’s a pretty obvious statement. Who would dispute that putting down our binge foods and ceasing our compulsive behaviors is good for our OA program? Well, actually, our own brains would. We may be highly logical or intuitively insightful in every other aspect of our lives, but when it comes to food, we can’t tell truth from the lies our food-addled minds foist on us.

The little voice inside our head may tell us that we’re making too big a deal of all this. That it’s OK to have a bite here and there, because we can control it in small amounts. That we can’t possibly give up a favorite food. That tomorrow will be different, but food will take the edge off now. These are all big, fat lies. We in OA have watched both newcomers and old-timers return to misery because they clung to some bright, shining lie about food. We’re all susceptible to it, no matter how many years of abstinence we have because our disease is chronic. It gets worse while we get better.

When the old-timer loses abstinence and bounces along the rocky path of a couple days on the wagon, a couple days off, they are baffled that abstinence that was once so easy to get previously is ridiculously hard to find again. The newbie, on the other hand, may also end up in that difficult up-and-down place, hearing about others’ joyful success and wondering how the heck they did it.

In either case, the 12 Steps of OA are the common solution to our troubles with compulsive eating. Refraining from compulsive eating is not about willpower. It’s not about a diet or food plan. It’s not about our moral character. It’s not even about us. Lasting abstinence occurs when we trust God to take care of our food needs. The 12 Steps allow us to build a relationship with a Higher Power that will guide us throughout our lives, if we allow it.

When the old-timer fell off the wagon, they did so by taking control of their food back from their HP. “Don’t worry, God, I got this.” In this case, something spiritually essential may have been either misplaced, forgotten, or ignored. Remember, our disease is progressive and always seeks to lure us back to compulsive eating. The newbie, by contrast, may not yet have a relationship with their Higher Power. They are not without spiritual resources, however. Part of OA’s spiritual aspect is attending meetings, tapping into the power of the fellowship, and developing relationships with other members whom we trust to help us on our journey. As newcomers, these may be the first spiritual tools we’ve ever used, and likely the first time we’ve applied spiritual principles toward our food problem.

No matter what the case may be, we must trust God in every situation, or we will eat. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or a broken shoelace, it’s God or food. So, we feel our feelings, reach out to other OAs for support, and give the outcome over to our Higher Power. Of course food is trustworthy too. We can trust that once we take that first bite, food, with its three-second high, its spiraling need for more and more, and its enslavement of our minds and bodies, will once again dominate our lives.

So it works better if we don’t eat compulsively. We learn to trust God and not food by…trusting God. We just have to do it. That means not eating compulsively no matter what. We put the plug in the jug, the lid on the jar, the top on the box, the cap on the container. We accept that we will face a detox period with some aches and pains and intense cravings. We trust that a week or two from now we’ll feel better. That we will then turn our attention to our spiritual growth so that we may never have to be on the bumpy road to abstinence again.

 

Tradition of the Month: A race to the bottom

6. “An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”

In a speech on November 13, 1969, then Vice President Spiro Agnew opined that “Bad news drives out good news.” His theory said that the news media prefer to cover salacious, scandalous, or confrontational news because the excitement it generates sells papers. And monotony doesn’t.

Agnew stated a “race to the bottom” argument. We observe this same line of reasoning used in many other fields. For example, when seemingly artistically principled musicians make an album designed for wide appeal, they are called sellouts. The same holds for filmmakers who appear to be trying to make a hit rather than a cinematic statement. Folks or organizations in any industry or endeavor that has important, mission-oriented goals or publicly places high value on quality is vulnerable to this kind of accusation.

What do people say about those accused of engaging in race-to-the-bottom tactics?

  • They are appealing to the least common denominator.
  • They lost their integrity.
  • It used to be about the music.
  • They put the bottom line ahead of quality.
  • I can’t trust them anymore.
  • I might as well buy anything in their market now.
  • I wish they’d go back to doing what they used to do.

If there’s a common theme underlying all of these complaints and others like them, it’s an adaptation of Agnew’s line: Bad money drives out good money.

What’s this got to do with us in OA? When it comes to Tradition 6, everything! Because when it comes to our primary purpose virtually any money is bad money.

 

Greed is one of the deadly sins, warned against in every culture. Like our inhuman compulsion toward food, greed can transform well-meaning people into money monsters by playing on our fears and our self-esteem. It is a defect of character, and it has the ability to tear people apart. Tradition 1 tells us that OA unity is crucial to our recoveries and our ability to carry the message. Money can disrupt that unity very, very quickly. Alarmist? Perhaps, but consider that in recent history, a high-ranking OA treasury official in our region made off with the funds under their control.

So we have a duty to keep money out of the fellowship except as a carefully guarded tool for reaching sufferers. That goes for the money we donate as well as money from outside enterprises. We don’t want to be engaged in competition or cooperation with diet programs, food rehabs, or any other kind of organization lest we get dragged into a race toward profitability. Once that happens people will start talking about us, too:

  • What’s the difference between OA and one of the diet companies that never worked for me anyway?
  • I remember when OA was about recovery.
  • Gee, whatever happened to OA, anyway?

Step of the Month: Are you sure?

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Are you sure you want to experience a spiritual and emotional rebirth? Are you certain that you want to return to a healthy life and arrest this chronic illness one day at a time? Do you  really want to think about something else besides food and your own inadequacies? Do you really want to be freed from the personal baggage that’s owned you since you were a kid?

That’s what’s going on in Step Six. We’ve finished the long and courageous task of taking a moral inventory. We’ve told it to a sympathetic listener, hearing the mental soundtrack of our lives played back to us. When would be more ready to ditch our old ways of thinking for God- and others-centered ways of thinking?

At this point, even the skeptics among our ranks must feel some level of willingness to let go of all the mental and spiritual junk inside us that’s kept our disease in bloom and our lives in turmoil or existential peril.

Still, what are we supposed to be ready for? The removal of our defects clears the deck for our new way of life, but then what? We already know the most obvious change we will undergo: The obsession with food will be removed on a daily basis. That’s a big deal! And then what? If we hearken back to the Third Step Prayer, we’ll get a pretty good idea of where God will take us.

God, I offer myself to thee
to do with me
and to build with me
as Thou wilt.

 

Relieve me of the bondage of self
that I may better do Thy will

 

Take away my difficulties
that victory over them
may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy power
Thy love
and Thy way of life

 

May I do Thy will always.

We’re entering into an agreement with God. We give it all over to our Higher Power to run the show, and in so doing we will be restored to sanity and health so that we can help HP an others. So as we contemplate whether we are entirely ready, we can ask ourselves:

  • Am I entirely ready to let God run my life?
  • Do I want to be relieved of the bondage of self (that is, the emotional burdens that activate our eating and weigh us down)?
  • Do I want to better do God’s will?
  • Do I want my difficulties taken away?
  • Do I want to help others with the same difficulties I have and be a living representation of the transformative power of the Steps?
  • Do I want to be connected to my Higher Power always?

It’s OK if we aren’t willing. We just need to understand that we will not receive the gifts of this program until we are. We have to go all-in with God, or we go nowhere and stay stuck. This is the crucial turning point in the Steps. If we say yes, and proceed through Step Seven, amends are not optional. Prayer is not optional. Sponsoring is not optional. Compulsive eating is not an option. OA is not optional.

After this turning point, we will commit to living a life that we’ve never lived before. The great news is that we will not eat compulsively so long as we keep at it. As Step 10 promises, we won’t even have to do anything about that compulsion because God will lift it from us. Our Higher Power will also guide us through our amends. Those can feel scary to some folks, but we will receive all the courage and dignity and grace we need from our Spiritual Source. We will develop a spiritual sixth sense that will help our lives run smoothly despite our tendency to make them complicated and our need for control. We will still experience pain, but we will not cause ourselves to suffer needlessly and continuously. We will not be cured of fear, but we will be given courage.

Step Six is not like The Matrix. We don’t take the blue pill, have our illusions stripped away, and then suddenly wake up in a horrific world we would never have chosen to know about. Instead, we are waking up from a horrific lifestyle into a wonderful world we never knew we could choose. It’s good to be entirely ready.

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, the US remembers the sacrifice of lives that freedom requires. In order to be free of tyranny, slavery, and oppression, men and women have fought and died.

As OA members, we go to the front lines and fight for freedom each day. We don’t use guns and bombs, but we fight a pitched battle nonetheless. We seek freedom from the tyranny of our illness, the slavery to the obsession with compulsive eating, and the oppression of our very souls by the ravages of food addiction.

Those of us still actively engaged with OA and the spiritual solution are the lucky ones. Even if we struggle with our food, we know that the war is winnable. We know it because we see other OA members in normal sized or shrinking bodies day after day, week after week, year after year. We hear in their stories that OA is not just some crash diet nor that they suddenly developed will power. We know that spirituality is real and it does for them what they could never do for themselves.

But we also see that many, many members come and go. We wonder what happened to them. Are they still alive? Or has our disease destroyed them fully. We can let every day be Memorial Day in OA, and turn our reflection into action. When someone has disappeared from our midst, we can call them. We can email them. We can text them. They need our loving support, and we need them just as badly. Helping others is what keeps us on the spiritual straight and narrow.

People leave OA for numerous reasons. If they return, they often find in retrospect that the reasons for their departure were trivial excuses that their illness used to keep them away from getting better. When people stay away from OA one day at a time, they suffer. If they’ve been to just a couple meetings, they may know that a solution is out there but resent the idea that they need a Higher Power to recover. If they’ve done a lot of work in OA, they may feel guilt or shame about returning after a long absence. They may also have experienced the terrible sensation of having a belly full of food and a head full of OA.

Sometimes an OA may leave the program and die. Our disease claims lives every day (whether the sufferer was an OA member or not). If we go back to compulsively eating, we can be in grave danger. Type 2 diabetes is a killing disease that is triggered by obesity and excessive weight gain. It’s end stages are not pretty: Losing toes or legs, exploding blood vessels in the eyes and potential blindness, dependence on insulin, and the frustration of a food addicted mind grappling with the need for careful dietary management. Heart disease isn’t sexy either. Difficulty breathing, inability to conduct basic activities without shortness of breath or dizzy spells, the fear that at any minute the big one could hit. Obesity increases the risk of stroke, which often results in loss of speech, movement, sight, or brain function. COPD and emphysema can also be caused by obesity, and a life of irreversible constant coughing and shortness of breath won’t make anyone’s top-ten list.

Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD/emphysema, and those are just the tip of the deathblow iceberg. People with our disease die in the trenches all the time. They are fighting the food and are losing or already lost. Yet, we know that fighting the food isn’t the same as abstaining. We know a spiritual solution that works and the power of fellowship to help.

If our battle is fought on the emotional and spiritual planes, then we have the ability to bring people back from that kind of death. We do it by reaching out to those who have left OA and whose emotions and spirit have often flatlined. We let them know that they are still loved and that the solution is still out there for them. We let our Higher Power act through us so that others may have their lives saved as ours have been so saved.

7 ways that compulsive eaters are not like normal people

The Big Book is filled with all sorts of lists, language, description, and stories whose purpose is to smash the idea that we are normal with respect to our food behaviors. Bill W, Dr. Bob, and the other early AAs knew full well that the illness of addiction was no respecter of facts. It lies, deceives, warps, obscures, and bends whatever information and memories it needs to so that it can perpetuate our compulsion. Our brains are trying to kill us.

So an important aspect of the Big Book’s message is to get our head out of the metaphorical sand. Dr. Silkworth writes in “The Doctor’s Opinion” that alcoholics think “their life is the only normal one,” which frustrates and boggles them because they see others drinking without harrowing consequences. They think they are normal so they should be able to drink like everyone else. But they can’t.

Swap food for drink, and it fits compulsive eaters to a tee. We OAs who have thought that maybe we were “making too big a deal” of compulsive eating have compared ourselves to normal eaters. Even once we hear the truth in OA about our compulsion, our mind continues to deny that we are materially different than anyone else. We “should” be able to eat normally and exercise willpower. We “should” be able to lose the weight. We “should” be able to live happy, healthy lives. Our disease is so tricky that many people leave OA because the idea that we have control is so persistently trotted out by our stinking thinker that it seems like truth.

This fallacy of normalcy will kill us if left unchecked. So we’ve got to examine our behaviors carefully. Not just at a surface level either. Nearly all of us in OA can admit to doing warped things with food: eating from the garbage, eating burnt/freezerburnt food, binging in vast quantities, hiding food, stealing food, excessively exercising or dieting out of shame, purging or starving out of desperation. You name it.

But those are the outward manifestations of our disease. They explode out of our motivations, our attitudes, our beliefs about ourselves and others. Not surprisingly, in meetings we hear a great deal of commonality about those underlying thoughts. The following are a few that we hear most often. If we struggle with the question of whether or not we really are compulsive eaters, these might remind us, because they are thoughts that normal eaters don’t have about food.

  1. Getting my food is more important than the needs of the people around me.
    Do we have to have something in our mouths before we can see to the needs of our children? Do we become irritated or angry if our spouse asks us to do something before we get can get at our food?
  2. Once one meal has ended, the countdown begins to the next.
    Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. After we finish breakfast, do we start looking at our phone, our computer, our car’s clock well before we are due to eat lunch? If it’s 11:55, are we capable of waiting patiently for the next five minutes? Or do we typically say “close enough,” grab it, and wolf it down.
  3. If I don’t have access to food, I am not OK.
    Does our sense of moment-to-moment security rely on our proximity to food? Do we feel edgy until we nail down where we can get our next bite from? Must we have our food fix to simply get through the day?
  4. I’d rather die than be without my favorite foods!
    Would we rather eat compulsively or stop so that we can see our children or grandchildren graduate, get married, or have children? We may say “of course, the latter,” but do our actions suggest we’d rather eat? Do we heed our doctors’ advice and lay off our binge foods if we get a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease? Can we imagine a life worth living without our favorite binge foods?
  5. Is food fuel?
    Can we differentiate between food as fuel and food as fun? Is food a material object that we need to live? Or do we imbue it with magic, mystique, and fond memories despite what it always does to us?
  6. Being alone with my thoughts is too difficult without food.
    Can we sit by ourselves without eating? Can we reflect on the happy or sad aspects of our day or our lives without resorting to food. Are there repetitive flashbulb moments, deeply disturbing memories, or thought loops that we can’t bear without the effect food has on us?
  7. I’m not worth saving anyway, so what difference does it make how much I eat?
    Do we believe that no one will care much if we’re gone? Do we feel as though our own lives are worth less than the brief feeling of relief that comes from eating compulsively?

What makes us different than normal people isn’t only that we think like this, it’s that we think like this all the time! Food is the axis our lives spin on, and our addictive thinking propels us around and around that axis until we find the solution or die from our disease.

Fortunately, there is an answer. With OA we can arrest our illness one day at a time. With the help of our fellow OAs and our program of recovery from food addiction, we not only can put down the food, but we can undergo a metamorphosis into the kind of person we’d always hoped we could be. A person whose thoughts don’t constantly consist of food and whose underlying motives don’t resemble a death wish. It’s a much better way to live than we have ever had before.

Tradition of the Month: Serving our primary purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

Here’s an OA slogan that is often understood incorrectly: “Service is slimming.” It is not slimming for us. Only an abstinence supported by the Steps and Traditions is slimming for us. But you know who it might be slimming for? Everyone else in OA.

This sounds paradoxical, but like many OA slogans, it requires us to shift our perspective to see a simple truth. Tradition Five tells us that our job as a meeting is to carry the message. Service in OA provides the people power for carrying that message. When we each do our part to help our meetings carry the message, more food addicts can hear it and begin their journey toward recovery. Therefore, by doing service, we are helping everyone else get slim by finding the solution we’ve found.

Carrying the message is also part of Step 12, which is vital to maintaining our recovery. But if it comes at the end of the Steps, what good is it for those who haven’t gotten there yet? Plenty good! The Steps are there to change our perspective. Our self-centered impulses rule us. Even if we show codependence, we can recognize that as a kind of self-centeredness. But service doesn’t come with guilt, compulsion, or as an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. Service in OA is freely given with the knowledge that it will help someone, somewhere, sometime. It is also given freely out of gratitude for what has been given us: a path to recovery. If we aren’t yet at Step 12, giving service helps open our hearts and minds to the idea of being others-centered.

When we do service, we may be pleasantly surprised by the subtle change in attitude we feel. Whether working alone or with our fellow OAs, we find that we want to do a good job not because we’ll look good or get accolades or win friends. Instead we may, in some cases for the first time in a very long time, do something because we can feel in our spirits that our actions are helping others in some small way. Our Higher Power can use that little spark to crack open long closed-off reservoirs of sympathy, empathy, and joy, which each nurture our recovery and make us useful and purposeful in ways we may never have known before.

In most cases, service is easier than we think it will be. At the meeting level, we may raise our hands for a position such as treasurer or speaker-seeker. These turn out to be far less time-consuming or complicated than we thought they would be. A phone call here or there, adding up the money and giving the rent check to our host location aren’t going to suck us dry of time. Though our sickened minds might tell us otherwise. Tasks such as setting up chairs, carrying the meeting’s bag, or being the key carrier give us the chance to support carrying the message in nuts and bolts ways. If our meeting doesn’t require many service positions, we can even make one up! Does the meeting have a greeter? If not, we might ask to be one and then greet members as they come in.

Our local Intergroup is EXCLUSIVELY about providing service for carrying the message. An Intergroup’s function is to help meetings join at a broader level what they cannot do themselves. Creating special events, informational campaigns, and strategic plans for getting the message out to the community all require service by many individuals. Anyone can provide service at the Intergroup level. Even if we don’t currently meet the requirements for an Intergroup office holder, we have many talents and experiences that can be helpful. Special events may need someone with design talent to create flyers. An initiative aimed at educating the medical community might benefit from those in the fellowship who have worked in the field. Project-management skills are always helpful for executing on any kind of long-range plan.

So if we want service to be slimming, we might need to think of someone else’s waistline besides ours. We might need to consider the idea that raising our hand for service is

  • changing our mindset to be less self-centered, which supports our Step work
  • taking out insurance on our own recoveries (Step 12)
  • giving back freely to the the fellowship that so freely gave us recovery
  • ensuring that OA is around in perpetuity for folks like us.

Let’s carry the message!

Step of the Month: Honesty

Honesty, it turns out, doesn’t have to be a lonely word. In OA, we need to get honest about our food and our lives as quickly as possible. It’s imperative that we can stop killing ourselves with food, of course, but that longer life will be much happier and free if we can be honest with ourselves and those around us. Step Five takes us a long way toward our new ideal of complete honesty.

The moment that we cross the line into addiction, we became liars. Our diseased minds may tell us that we are honest people, but we’re not. We have lied to ourselves daily about food. “This time I’ll get control.” “I can eat this without repercussions.” “Screw it. I’m going to eat because I’m not worth saving anyway, and food is my only proven source of comfort.”

Meanwhile, we’ve told half-truths, dissembled, obfuscated, omitted, prevaricated, stolen, stashed, and out-and-out told baldfaced lies to ourselves and others about our food, our feelings, and our life. With the best intentions, we’ve said to spouses and children that we’ll stop eating so unhealthfully. Maybe we even lose a few pounds. Then we pick up that disastrous first bite again. All along, we ignore our history of continually failing to control our food. We ignore the lingering feeling that it won’t work anyway. We do it for them instead of doing it for ourselves.

Another common source of dishonest around food is stealing. We put our hand into someone else’s candy stash at work. We eat a roommate’s food and hide the evidence. We may even shoplift, including eating out of bulk food bins without paying first for the “sample” we’ve taken.

Perhaps the very worst lie our illness perpetrates on us is the one that says “I am not good enough.” That little sentence is food addiction pulling the trigger on the eating gun that’s destroying us. We who have experienced this disease and found recovery know now that this is, indeed, a huge lie. All of us are worth being saved from the oblivion of food addiction. But try to tell anyone who’s in its grips.

In fact, they have to tell themselves. That is what Step Five is all about. In Step Four, we wrote a fearless and searching moral inventory. But what good is the inventory if we don’t do something with it? A business that takes inventory doesn’t just file it away. It then decides what to keep, throw away, or order. In our inventory we have learned much about our dishonesty. We’ve also learned how to be more honest with ourselves. Now in Step Five, we’re going to use that inventory and the connection with made with our Higher Power to reach a new level of honesty by sharing it out loud, omitting nothing.

At this point, some members feel awkward or frightened. Of course we do. We are always thinking of ourselves, so we fear how will the person who is hearing our inventory judge us. But we go ahead anyway. We have to or else.

We read our inventory aloud to our Higher Power and another (carefully chosen) person (who is likely our sponsor). As we read, we discover a few things. First that holding all this crap inside of us has been exhausting. We’re relieved to just get it out. Second that if our listener is an OA member or familiar with the Twelve Steps, they completely understand. They nod their heads and remind us that they and many others have done the very same things we have. Third that when we are done, we have just done the most honest thing we’ve ever done. We can meet anyone’s eye without blinking because we have told the whole truth, and it made us stronger and didn’t kill us.

Some of us may experience the aftermath of Step Five as a refreshing breeze that blows across us. Others may simply feel quiet and grateful. Still others report that it took them a few days or weeks to notice a difference in themselves. But inevitably, they eventually feel a remarkable difference in their feeling about themselves and in their ability to be honest.

Thanks to our Higher Powers’ willingness to help us recover, we come face to face with our dishonest past, and we sweep it away by being utterly honest about it and by then following Step 5 with more action in the middle Steps. And we learn the big truth: That we are OK on the inside. We move from hope for a better life toward a certainty we will find it with God’s help. Honesty in OA isn’t lonely. We find it by working with our Higher Power, our sponsor, and the fellowship. In fact, as we discover that honesty really is the best and simplest policy, we find that we feel closer to others in lives because, finally, we can be real with them.

What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.