Tradition of the Month: #4 Autonomy

  1. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

What’s this mean in our meetings? Well for starters, Bill W. explains it this way in the AA 12 and 12:

Autonomy is a ten-dollar word. But in relation to us, it means very simply that every AA group can manage its affairs exactly as it pleases, except when AA as a whole is threatened.

So we can all do pretty much whatever we want, however we want, right? Well not quite. After all, the traditions, themselves, represent guidelines of conduct for meetings just as the steps do for individuals. The OA 12 and 12 says it pretty clearly:

Groups which ignore one or more of the twelve traditions bring discord to the fellowship.

But how can it be the business of one group what another does when we are autonomous? Think, for example, of the kind of heated discussion that what would happen at an intergroup meeting or just over the phone among friends if a local meeting started insisting its members use the diet regimen of an outside organization. This isn’t so hard to imagine for many of our program elders who witnessed the schism of OA over food plans. To this day, the wounds of that time affect how long-time members view their progress through OA.

How do we deal with groups that stray a little off the reservation? “An infraction of an OA tradition does not result in a group being summarily ejected from the Fellowship,” says the OA 12 and 12, ”we might not have any OA Fellowship at all if that were the case!” Groups that consistently ignore a tradition are usually, the 12 and 12 reminds us, not doing so out of hostility to the traditions, but more likely out of ignorance of them. Those well versed in the traditions have a responsibility to bring the matter to the group’s attention at a business meeting, lest the meeting lose its connections to the traditions and cease being effective at helping its members find recovery.

But what about the group that flaunts the traditions? The one that tells the traditions to stick it in their ear? Again, the OA 12 and 12:

In extreme cases…the group may be dropped from OA meeting lists which are published by intergroups and other OA service bodies. However, the service body taking such an action should do so only after much soul-searching. It is far too easy to use the power of the majority against groups in in the minority.

In other words, even service bodies need to recognize that their actions affect other groups and OA as a whole! The traditions and the steps counsel patience and dialog, not carrots and sticks. The offending meeting is likely to disappear if it doesn’t stick to OA principles because those principles are founded on the hard-won experience of twelve-step groups worldwide—they represent the collective wisdom of 75 years of helping addicts recover.

What about in our personal lives? How does tradition four help us live happy, joyous, and free? The slogan “live and let live” is embodied in this tradition. If someone doesn’t do things the way we think they should, we don’t have to resent them or release our anger on ourselves or others (through food or misbehavior). We don’t control anyone, and when we think the next right step is demanded, we might pause and talk the matter over with a trustworthy person and our Higher Power before taking any action.

Morning not mourning

One of our Unity Day speakers said OA is the difference between “Good morning, God,” and “Good God, it’s morning.” Many, perhaps all, of use can understand the sentiment.

We eat compulsively all day for what seems like the millionth time. We feel lousy about ourselves. We feel the hopelessness of our disease. We may feel we need to eat in order to get to sleep. We may cry ourselves to sleep. Our minds race as we lay, trying to still our thoughts—and finding we cannot.

Eventually we sleep, hoping the nightmare of our daytime lives as compulsive eaters will slip away for at least a few hours so we can have some peace. But many of us experience as much anxiety asleep as we do awake. We dream about our own shortcomings. We dream of impossible situations we can’t extricate ourselves from. The nightmare follows us in sleep, and some of us wake in the dark and find ourselves drawn to the kitchen or a secret stash to seek relief from our unconscious mind.

Then we wake up in the morning, and we start the whole cycle over again.

This is no way to live we tell ourselves. How long until this phase of our life stops? Or until we find the magic someone who has the cure for our mind? Or until we give up altogether. These awful mornings are symptomatic of the “black promises” or the “bedevilments” the Big Book describes on page 52:

“We were having trouble with personal relationships, we couldn’t control our emotional natures, we were a prey to misery and depression, we couldn’t make a living, we had a feeling of uselessness, we were full of fear, we were unhappy, we couldn’t seem to be of real help to other people….

So different from the promises we read at most meetings from page 83–84 of the Big Book. There we are promised all of these things if we only commit ourselves to the 12 Steps:

  • freedom
  • happiness
  • a lack of regret
  • serenity
  • peace
  • usefulness
  • the disappearance of self-pity
  • loss of selfishness
  • interest in others
  • transformation of our outlook and attitude
  • intuitive problem-solving ability.

Who wouldn’t want those? The lie we tell ourselves is that we have them or presently will if just stick it out and act of our own willpower. But why keep fighting when OA reminds us that calling BS on our minds will open us up to be saved from this awful disease? The program tells us that, in being simply open to the idea of a Power greater than ourselves, honestly examining our thinking and our actions, and being willing to clean up the past and give service, we will realize that we are not what we think we are—we are actually spiritual deep down inside, and we are capable of being saved from this disease.

When we work the Steps and seek the solution, we will be freed from the compulsion to eat, from the walking nightmare of our life. When we wake in the morning, we will be able to say “Good morning, God” and mean it. We will see morning, not mourning, in our minds.

What Are the 12 Steps of Overeaters Anonymous?

OA is a “12 Step program” that saves our lives from the insidious danger of compulsive eating. But what exactly does that mean? What are the Steps? Why are they important? What happens if we do them? Or don’t do them?

“Our Invitation to You” from the book Overeaters Anonymous (aka: The Brown Book), tells us that OA is “not a diet and calories club.” While many of us come into OA wanting a solution to the physical issues that our eating has caused us, our program literature tells us that our cravings for food are “but a symptom.” A diet-and-calories club won’t address the underlying emotional and spiritual issues that allow the disease of food addiction to prey so easily on us. But that’s exactly what the 12 Steps are designed to do. That’s why our primary purpose is “to abstain from compulsive overeating and to carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of OA to those who still suffer.”

And so, what are those Twelve Steps? To put it as succinctly as possible, the Twelve Steps ARE the OA program of recovery. The Steps are simple but not easy. They require commitment, which we addicts often find in short supply, and they require facing the facts about how we’ve run our lives so far. Sometimes we’d rather duck the Steps altogether because we think the process of opening our hearts and hurts for healing will be more than we can stand. Probably every OA member has tried to get around the Steps at one time or another, and there are many tried-and-true ways to avoid them. Many of us have told ourselves that we don’t need the Steps to recover, we’ve gone to a different meeting where the Steps aren’t emphasized, fired the sponsor who recommended we start or finish them, told ourselves that the problem is our food plan and put all our attention on it, or we simply dropped out of OA and ate. But the pain of our disease brings us back to the Steps because we can’t live long or happily with the emotional and spiritual baggage that our disease uses to keep us enslaved to food and chained to our problems and our negative thinking. Once we know, there’s no not knowing.

So what happens if we do the 12 Steps? For one thing, we arrest our compulsive eating one day at a time. But that’s not even close to everything we get from the program. All of our program literature is filled with wonderful promises. We read a mere sampling at most meetings. Rather than repeat “The Promises,” which most meeting read, here’s some promises from the OA Twelve and Twelve:

From the isolation of food obsession we have emerged into a new world. Walking hand in hand with our friends and our Higher Power, we are now exploring this world, using the great spiritual principles embodied in the Twelve Steps as the map to guide our way…. (106)

We will be shown a way of life that is happy, joyous, and free, and in which we can finally be of true help to others. A definition of recovery is “to return to usefulness,” and that is another of the many benefits of the Steps.

We always have the option of not doing the Steps. They are a suggested program of recovery. But haven’t we already put ourselves through enough pain? If we don’t do them, we stay with the devil we know—our cravings, our bodies, our emotional pain, and the pain of being detached from anything spiritual. If we do them, and with an open mind and heart, we may find that the devil we don’t know is actually the Higher Power we didn’t realize we’d always wanted contact with. At the worst, we’ll have done some good work toward understanding who we are and what makes us tick.

Ultimately, a 12-Step program without the Steps is like a car without an engine. We might be on the road, but we’ll be stuck just where we are.

Announcing two exciting Seacoast OA events!

Seacoast OA is excited to announce events in May and June that can help us all make progress with our programs. Everyone is welcome!

Sponsor training

First on Saturday, May 16th, we’ll be offering our first ever sponsor training workshop. This one-hour session will cover the basics of sponsoring. You’ll hear from two local members with experience sponsoring, receive official OA literature on sponsoring, get time time for  questions and answers, and more. The session is free and does not require advanced registration.

Who should attend:

  • People who want to start sponsoring
  • People whose sponsors have suggested they begin sponsoring
  • Sponsors and their sponsees
  • Anyone who wants to sharpen their sponsoring skills

Saturday, May 16th
10:30 to 11:30 AM, immediately following the 9:00 York meeting
York Hospital Medical Office Building, 16 Hospital Drive
Basement conference room
Please share this flyer with your groups

Workshop on Steps 4 through 9

Following up on our popular March workshop on Steps 1 through 3, this afternoon workshop takes us through the “action Steps.” Learn about what the 4th Step inventory is and how to give it away in Step 5; why the 6th and 7th Step are crucial to our recovery; and how to make amends to repair the relationships in your life. Bring a pen, a notebook, and your copy of The Big Book because we’ll be doing this important work together!

This workshop is free, but we ask that you register ahead of time so that we have a headcount for the room and any materials.

Saturday, June 13th
1:00 to 4:00 PM
Portsmouth Community Campus
100 Campus Drive, Portsmouth, NH
Directions are on this flyer, which we encourage you to share with your groups
Register by email

We’ll see you in May and June!!!