What’s a Turn-Around?

At our workshop earlier this month on steps 4 through 9, our speaker mentioned “turn-arounds” as being crucial to unlocking the power of step 4. She and others during meetings in our area have mentioned that this piece of the inventory has differed from other inventories they’ve done and ushered in a massive positive change for them. So what is this turn-around business? Why does it make such a big shift in our thinking? Let’s get some answers!

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous never mentions anything called a “turn-around,” but as our workshop leader explained, the concept is on page 67.

Referring to our list again [of resentments]. 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.

This paragraph comes after the famous three columns on page 65 where we list who we were resentful at, the cause of that resentment, and that which it affected in our psyches. Page 67 tells us that we should go back to what we’ve already written in those first three columns and write about our part in each situation where we felt resentment. Even if we don’t think it’s our fault!

Now if it’s not our fault, how can we possibly have a part in it? Here’s how. A trick our addict minds play on us is to continually re-feel pains from long ago. When we re-feel that pain, we are more vulnerable to the suggestion of our disease to eat again. After all, the other person involved in the resentment isn’t thinking about it for us. We’re eating the poison we intend for the other person. We’re the ones letting the situation fester inside of us, aren’t we? That’s why the Big Book tells us on page 62 that “Our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves.”

So what exactly do we write about? We can keep it simple by using the four questions in the middle of that paragraph from page 67. We ask ourselves:

  • Where was I selfish?: What did want in the situation?
  • Where was I dishonest?: What’s the lie I told myself about this situation?
  • Where was I self-seeking?: What did I do to get what I want or to feel better?
  • Where was I afraid?: What fear was driving my thinking and conduct in this situation?

This is where the rubber meets the road, and deepest honesty about our real motivations and actions makes all the difference.

Let’s take an example from one of our member’s own inventories, with the names and circumstances changed to protect the identities of all involved. First we see the three columns as described on page 65:

I'm resentful at:     The Cause:         Affects My:
----------------      ---------          ----------
Bobby                 Made fun of me     Self-Esteem
                      during childhood   Personal Relations

Now here are the four turn-around questions.

Where was I...?
Selfish: I wanted to be accepted as I was.
Dishonest: I told myself a lie that I wasn't good enough.
Self-Seeking: I resented Bobby; later I made fun of him; I ate.
Afraid: I was afraid he was right about me, and that I wasn't good enough.

We might ask ourselves whether wanting to be accepted by others is selfish, and oddly enough, it can be. When we turn to the last question, we see that the motivation underlying this impulse for acceptance is fear! If Bobby had only been accepting, then I would have been good enough. The fear of our not being good enough motivates us to seek acceptance and then we feel pain when we don’t get what we want. So the lie about being not good enough is perpetuated, and it, in turn, gives license to eat and also to make fun of Bobby later as a way to feel better about the situation.

That’s the kind of mind bender our disease pulls on us all the time. We’re just so used to it that we can’t see the lies for what they are. That’s the power of the turn-around. That’s why it makes a huge difference. Once we can combine the recognition of this broken thinking with a sincere attempt to do our HP’s will via the rest of the steps, we can make progress by leaps and bounds. We no longer have to react to our worst thinking with self-loathing and self-destructive action. We can instead pause and ask our God for help as well as trusted OA friends. We can finally see that we are OK just like we are, and that we always were.

Notice also how short these answers are. The Big Book asks us to stick to facts, to make an objective inventory. Anything more than the barest facts allows our addict mind to start justifying our actions, telling us again the old stories that have led us to the food for so long.

And this is just a single example. We will have many, many situations to examine and, therefore, many opportunities for aha moments like these to be revealed to us through the steps. That is an important part of how our minds become untangled and restored to sanity.

So if you’ve wondered what a turn-around is, now you know. It may be known as the “fourth column,” by other phrases, or by no name at all. No matter what, however, it’s just examining our conduct the way the Big Book recommends: attentively, without self-judgment, and with our HP’s help.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 6

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

To understand how OA’s sixth tradition operates, imagine yourself at an OA event such as a workshop, retreat, or convention. You see a sign for a raffle, and it says: Prize: Relaxation-themed gift basket. That’s nice, our program encourages us to relax and take it easy, and someone in the group has thoughtfully put together a gift that can help us do so.

But what if the sign on the same gift basket instead read this way? Prize: Ultimate Relaxation Suite, donated by Luxury Bath Products of the Seacoast. You might still think it’s a nice basket, but the questions start boiling up fast:

  • Why would a for-profit company donate to an anonymous fellowship that claims a no-promotion policy?
  • Can I rule out the absence of a profit motive? Or a marketing motive?
  • Why OA would accept this gift from one company but not from another?
  • Is there some relationship between OA and this company?
  • Does the presence of this basket mean that OA endorses the company?
  • If so, will the company be collecting my name, phone number, and email address from our phone lists in return?
  • Is someone in OA receiving some kind of personal benefit from this association?

It’s amazing how quickly our focus can be diverted from gratitude for some help with relaxation (in accordance with our program) to wondering about money, power, and influence.

And this was just a small example.

Relationships are always a two-way street, and if OA or any of its groups enters one with an outside organization or enterprise, it will be transformed, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, into something that no longer makes carrying the message of the twelve steps to compulsive eaters its primary purpose.

This is even true of other twelve-step groups. As The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous points out:

Members who put too much emphasis on other fellowships in OA meetings leave compulsive eaters with the impression that these programs and the problems they address are more serious or more important to the compulsive overeater, than OA” (157).

As individual OA members, keeping tradition six could take many forms. We can refrain from mentioning outside organizations, including religious and spiritual ones, by name. We can avoid mentioning the titles of books or materials from non-OA-approved sources (including other fellowships and spiritual organizations as well as for-profit publishers). We can avoid sharing that digresses at length about the principles, practices, or influence of outside groups. If we, ourselves, have created such materials or are in the business of supplying them, we can leave our business affairs outside the program.

If we hear ourselves prefacing our comments with “not to talk about outside enterprises…” then we can pause, even in mid-share, and assess whether what we are about to say can be phrased without mentioning or elaborating on an outside organization.

And lastly, if we hear sharing that obviously does not comport with this tradition, especially if it is repeated over time, we can calmly and gently ask that member to observe the tradition. Remember, they may not even know they haven’t been keeping tradition six!

As ever, the point of the traditions is not to control members but to create boundaries so that simple, everyday actions that are often done with fine intention don’t lead to foreseeable problems that experience has painfully demonstrated can splinter OA groups. That way, we have the freedom to keep on getting better and keep on carrying this life-saving message of hope and recovery. After all, it’s our primary purpose!

Step of the Month: Step 6

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

The leader of our workshop this past weekend helped us understand the action steps, 4–9. Step 6 doesn’t seem like an action. After all, it’s not even phrased as an action verb: “were entirely ready…”.

So what action are we taking, and why? Well, it’s this simple: We are approaching what might be the most important decision we will make in recovery, the decision to finally stop living our lives on self-will and to start living by God’s will.

As our workshop leader told us, there’s a blurry line between steps 5 and 6. The Big Book tells us, just before step six, that once we’ve read off our inventory we spend an hour with our higher power. Reading that inventory is like watching a slow-motion movie of our life. If we’ve been completely honest and thorough, we will be ready to have all that’s objectionable removed from us. But will we be willing?

On page 76, the Big Book asks, “Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all—every one?” In other words, do we want to keep holding on to a few things? A resentment against someone who wronged us deeply? Justified anger? A comfortable old way of looking at the world that we think keeps us safe from its ups and downs? The way we talk to others? The way we listen, or don’t? Aggressive driving? The need to be right? The need to control? The idea that we can rely on ourselves? Eating compulsively to quash our feelings?

These and a hundred-hundred worn out ideas and ways of conducting ourselves in the world have to go. Otherwise we will eat again. Think of our lives like a damaged ship. We wouldn’t go back to sea having repaired the boat save for one little hole in hull. Even if the hole measured just a few inches across, eventually enough water would stream in that we would sink. It is the same with our recovery. We are about the business of giving ourselves to our higher power so that we can be fully repaired—by God—and sent back into the world to help others. If we deceive ourselves into hanging onto just a couple little things, then, like the ocean filling the ship, our ego will find that weak point and fill our souls back up with the very kind of junk we’d just read about during step 5. The stuff that makes us want to eat.

Yet, despite the fact that we didn’t come into OA on a winning streak, we have this uncanny knack for hanging onto behaviors that have proven again and again to cause us pain and suffering. Step 6 is about getting honest on this account. About finally getting ourselves fully and unquestionably ready to abandon the stuff that doesn’t work in our lives. And because we are probably the worst judges of what does and doesn’t work in our lives, we have to give it all away to God, the good and the bad. That’s how we avoid even the potential for hanging onto to something objectionable that can lead us back to eating again.

Steps 6 and 7 get very little airtime in the Big Book, but they are the turning point in our recovery. Up until then, we’ve been dealing with our problems. Once we get through step 7, we restart our lives in the solution. But for step six, the good news is that we are only becoming perfectly willing, not perfectly able. It turns out that giving away our character defects is a lifelong process, and one that brings us closer and closer to God. So in step 6, we have simply to tell ourselves, that, yes, this is something I’m signing up for. From here on out, I’m going to get out of God’s way by not trying to do it my way.

Venue change for this Saturday’s 8:00 AM York meeting

Due to a schedule conflict this weekend, the 8:00 AM York Hospital meeting will gather in the Mulville Room next door to the cafeteria.

A competing event, a road race, will also take up parking spaces in the Hospital lot, so they recommend parking near their Hancock Building (entrance off Village Drive) or at the York library (about a block away).

This will not affect the 9:00 AM meeting or the Intergroup meeting, which will meet in the usual location. The 8:00 AM meeting will resume its normal venue next week.