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.