Because our lives depend on it

Have you heard something like this at a meeting? “I work this program like my life depends on it.” Does it seem a little overwrought? I used to think so. But I only need to look at my own struggles with food to see that there’s more than one way this disease will kill me.

 

Our program is threefold: physical, emotional, and spiritual. That means we are trying to reverse our ultimately fatal diagnosis on three fronts.

 

The obvious is the physical. Whether we overeat or starve, we wear this disease. On the inside of our bodies, our compulsive eating makes a wreck of our health. Type II diabetes, heart disease, and COPD are three of the familiar physical complications of our disease. They are aided and abetted by a host of other symptoms that amplify our physical problem: degenerative joints, breathing issues, sleep apnea, high blood pressure, neuropathy, and many more. Compulsive eating kills us physically, sometimes quickly but most often slowly and painfully.

 

But we die a thousand emotional deaths before our bodies give out. The Big Book tells us that compulsive behavior is cyclical. Over and over again, we eat for ease and comfort, to numb our feelings. Life is too painful, or so our disease tells us. It tells us any number of lies: that life is too hard; that we aren’t worth it; that we must deny our feelings and medicate ourselves lest the feelings destroy us. We are no longer living but rather merely being. We kill our feelings every day until the bitter end, whenever it may come, because we hate ourselves too much or simply no longer care.

 

But at root of everything is spiritual death. Being disconnected from the spiritual, for whatever the reason, we cannot see anything but ourselves. We perceive the world only through our feelings, namely, our fear and our pain. We lose the ability to connect with others. We fight an increasingly desperate battle for control against ourselves, others, the world, and our disease. Deep down we know we can’t win. We know we don’t have the power. But because we have experienced a spiritual death, we have no other solution. We must slog on. Without a Higher Power, we have no sense of purpose beyond trying to stay ahead of our fears and our pain.

 

The loss of spirituality causes us to collapse into our pain. Once we collapse into our pain, it is simply a matter of time before we die physically.

 

But there is a solution.

 

OA allows us to arrest compulsive eating through the nine tools that support strong abstinence. We reverse our emotional zombie-like state by admitting that we can’t manage our lives, which wakes us up to the reality of what we’re doing. The remainder of OA’s twelve steps take us on a path of spiritual discovery that, when worked consistently and honestly, will ensure physical and emotional recovery one day at a time.

 

We can give ourselves the gift of life by simply working the program like our life depends on it. Because it does.

Reflections from Unity Day #3

In two previous posts, we’ve dug into things our Unity Day speakers shared. Here’s another, this time a big hunk of hope.

“I don’t have to diet anymore,” one of our speakers said. “My clothes fit from one year to the next.” This was next to impossible to imagine when we were in the throes of our disease—when we ate compulsively, swore we wouldn’t again, and then found ourselves once more at the bottom of a bag, box, or bin of food. We couldn’t envision ourselves at a normal weight, let alone for a year or more.

But OA has allowed this miracle to happen. When we became abstinent, we began to release our excess weight. We saw progress. Sometimes this progress felt awkward because we weren’t used to being thinner. This feeling intensified when others, with the best of intentions, commented on how much better we looked. Buying clothes that fit our newly smaller bodies felt odd too. How many times in our pre-OA lives had we lost some weight and bought new clothing, only to find ourselves unable to wear it when we went back to the food?

Obviously, the idea of being able to wear our clothes one year to the next speaks powerfully about the physical aspect of our recovery. But when considered just a moment longer, and in light of our previous attempts to be rid of the weight, there’s something deeper going on. How does someone who could never lose weight or keep it off, who is addicted to food, now have the power to stay at a normal weight?

Part of the answer is that OA helps us with our emotions. The first bite never occurred in isolation. It could always be traced back to some feeling, some emotion, some discomfort that we had to get relief from. OA’s fellowship and meetings give us safe ways to speak about the highs and lows so that we don’t have to eat when we are, as the slogan goes, happy, mad, sad, or glad.

But our program stresses that this isn’t enough to keep us safe from our own addictive minds. Our literature reminds us that no human power can save us from the first bite. Without something more powerful than us in our lives, we are doomed to eat again. Why? Because people are people, and at some time human beings will fail us. In other words, we can’t trust ourselves or others with our recovery. None of us has the needed power to keep ourselves or others food-sober. If we did, we would have done it a long time ago!

Staying in our clothes year after year is a reflection of our ability to be open-minded about allowing a Higher Power into our lives. A Higher Power is the only thing that can keep us from that first awful bite. Our own willpower is not enough, but our Higher Power will augment our willpower so that we can avoid eating compulsively. If we ask for the help, that is. OA’s Twelve Steps are a proven method for going from the spiraling hopelessness of compulsive eating to the sureness that God will keep us in the same clothes year after year if we only step aside and let God run the show.

Once we invite God into our lives, the fellowship takes on new meaning. We look for ways to help other OA members, and we share the hope of our recovery. We demonstrate to others, by wearing the same clothes year after year, the power of our program.

OA Getting Started Guide

Just a quick note that our latest meeting list now includes an OA Getting Started Guide. This one-pager is designed to help newcomers start making their way into recovery. It’s also potentially valuable for anyone in the program as a quick reminder for themselves, a handy reference for working with newcomers, or something to share with sponsees.

Remember that if you make copies or print out the meeting lists for your group that this is now a double-sided document.

Reflections from Unity Day #2: Surrender

In our previous post, we started to look back on what we heard at Unity Day. Here’s another gem from our speakers.

Compliance, they said, is not the same as surrender. Before we came to the program, many of us would comply with a diet program, lose the weight, then gain it all back…with “interest.” Why? Because we were just obeying. We didn’t surrender.

Surrender to what? To a lot of things. Surrender is a process that begins even before we walk in the door. “Step Zero” is surrendering to the idea that we’re in so much pain we have to do something about it. So we go to a meeting. That’s as far as some of us get because we may not yet be ready to surrender the idea that we can control our eating. Or our life. That’s the surrender of Step One, to the hopelessness of our disease and the damage it does to us.

As we hear others talk about their recovery in spiritual terms, however, we come upon another place to surrender. For many of us, Step Two feels like game over. We won’t go down the spiritual path because we’ve had negative experiences with religion, and we don’t want to admit we are insane. We might be able to surrender to the idea that God exists and has the power to help us, but we may not be convinced God cares about our food. We may believe that a Higher Power cares about others but not about ourselves. We might be able to surrender to the idea that we are bonkers about food, but at least that insanity is our own. Admitting to all of Step Two can be a lot to swallow, and we may need time, perhaps a lot of it, to fully surrender ourselves to it. Some of us require more “research” into the pain of compulsive eating before we reach a place of surrender. But that surrender must be ours.

Then comes Step Three with what feels like a monumental surrender. “We turned our will and our lives over to the care of God….” Even if we can surrender to Steps One and Two, we’re in a tough spot. Will we still be ourselves? Can I really trust a Higher Power? With my very life? Here’s the catch, though, we’ve trusted ourselves, and it’s gotten us misery. We turned our will over to food and let it drag us around to the fridge, to minimarts, to restaurants, to garbage cans, to other people’s plates, and worse. This was the best we could do with what we had, but now it’s time to try something else or, more accurately, Someone Else. We decide to surrender our will and our lives because it’s our last, best chance to live a life worth living. We didn’t come to OA on a winning streak. We didn’t sit through meetings to stay sick with this disease while others got better. We surrender to Step Three because the alternative is continued pain. It’s not until later, after we’ve tried it for a while, that we learn how joyful and how much easier life can be when we aren’t trying to run the show.

Merely complying with the Steps because a sponsor says we need a Higher Power just prolongs the issue. Pretending to turn our will and lives over to God doesn’t allow the solution to fully take hold. Even if we must “fake it ’til we make it” and “act as if,” we find at some point that we’ve stopped struggling and that even more surprisingly we’ve started accepting, if not downright believing, that this solution will work for us.

Reflections from Unity Day

Unity Day 2015 was filled with helpful ideas about working the program and living in the solution one day at a time. Over the next few weeks, we’ll reflect on some of the most powerful ideas shared so that those who attended can hear them again, and those unable to attend can consider them as well. Today, weight “loss.”

One of our speakers said that they don’t like to talk about weight “loss.” That’s because when we lose things, it means we have a desire to find them again. But who among us wants to find the pounds we’ve shed in OA, whether it’s one or one hundred? Many of us have heard the funny but deadly accurate statement in the rooms: “I didn’t lose the weight—I know just where to find it.” We all know where to find it; it’s in the first bite.

Many members instead talk about releasing weight. When we cling to the weight it means we are clinging to our old, ineffective solution to life’s troubles, overeating. When we release the weight, it means we are on a journey toward trusting our Higher Power more effectively. Trusting a Higher Power and pursuing a food-based coping strategy are mutually exclusive. This is why one of our speakers today told us how spiritually painful it was during relapse to have a belly full of food and a mind full of program.

We might also hear members talk about “taking off” the weight. This can also be a powerful metaphor for us in recovery. Our bodies may be projections of our inner feelings, and those around us can tell that we are trying to protect ourselves from psychic pain through compulsive eating. We wear our disease in a way no other addiction does. Everyone can see that we are blocked from what the Big Book calls “the sunlight of the spirit,” except, perhaps, for us. But imagine us stepping out of our oversized bodies as if they were simply garments. It would be much easier for that spiritual light to shine on us and be reflected back out to the world.

Lastly, there are things in program we would never want to lose. Our abstinence, the fellowship of our OA friends, the feeling of usefulness that comes with service, the joy of living with a mind not clouded by our substance. When we do lose them, we search desperately because we are in pain without them. The great news is that we will never lose OA itself. It is always here for us. It will always help us stop eating, relate with others who share our problem, find a spiritual solution to anything that comes along, and pass it along to others as it was freely given to us. We never need to be at a loss again.