Wanting, Wanting, Wanting

Nothing is ever enough. We always want more. We are always wanting, wanting, wanting.

The food is the most obvious example. We finish a meal and want dessert. We finish dessert and want a little something more. We finish that and wonder how it is that two hours later we want a little culinary nightcap.

On the way home from work, we stop because we want a little something, a treat for a hard day. Something sweet or salty or crunchy or all three. We eat as we drive, finish it fast and then stop again. And again. The only limit to our stops is the length of our commute.

Always wanting more. One isn’t enough. One thousand isn’t enough. Humiliation, heartburn, explosive gas, the runs, headaches, grogginess, morbid obesity, type-II diabetes, heart disease, hip replacement, and rotting teeth won’t keep up us from trying to get more. Nor will financial uncertainty, a doctor’s orders, and the concern of loved ones.

That’s just how we food addicts roll—when our disease is left untreated.

If we are fortunate enough to find OA, then start to unravel the mystery of all of this wanting. First we find out that our bodies don’t respond like that of a normal person’s to specific food substances: sugars, flours, salts, fats, whatever our trigger foods may be. Where a normal person can take it or leave it, we have no control. None whatsoever. What we want, we eat, and all of it. The more we eat it, the more we want it. It’s a physical, bone-deep need. We crave the substance.

Eventually we realize, however, that this craving is only related to the physical aspect of our disease. Maybe we abstain from our trigger foods for a couple weeks and discover that we no longer crave them after a few days. But we are still obsessed by them. Our bodies no longer need this food, but our minds do. We are still plagued by thoughts such as A little bit of this would be good; Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of that?; I bet just one would be OK. And worst of all I’m making a too big deal out of nothing. We are still wanting, wanting, wanting.

The obsession with food strongly suggests that the problem isn’t really physical in nature. It’s our thinking that gets us in trouble. After all, we know that our trigger foods lead us to danger, but we eat them anyway. If someone is allergic to shellfish, would that person spend a lot of time, money, and energy getting and eating shellfish? Of course not. But that’s just what we do with our trigger foods. So the initiating factor for our eating is our minds.

Our minds tell us that we want something. But what is it that we want so badly that we are willing to risk despair, sorrow, and, eventually, death? The answer, at least according to the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, is that we want “ease and comfort.” We are always trying to take the edge off of life. We want to feel OK about life, ourselves, everything, and food gives us this for mere moments. But the feeling is quickly gone, so we need more. As time goes on, we need more food to feel better, but the feeling goes away even more quickly as our bodies become accustomed to the substance.

So, here comes the spiritual part of the program. We have a defective mind that can’t discern what’s toxic to us and continually tells us to eat poison. That sick mind can’t heal itself, especially because it is seeking relief from itself in something that isn’t designed to provide relief. The relief we seek can only come from a Higher Power.

We need the spiritual part of the program because only something more powerful but just as intimate as our own thinking can fix us. We need a Higher Power personal to us that will restore us to sanity not only around food, but also around wanting. If we are to live honest, fulfilling lives, we must seek our ease and comfort from a Higher Power who can relieve our constant wanting. If we are willing, merely willing, to entertain the idea that this power exists and will help us, we are on our way to soothing the wanting that traps us in our disease.

Step 3, One Day at a Time

This week a long-time member guest posts about their experience with step 3.

As I became acquainted with the steps, the more I began to feel anxious about step 3. In some ways, step 3 is the first step to as a commitment from me. What does it mean to give myself and my life over to the care of God? To me, it didn’t really matter that it was a god of my understanding. The bottom line was I was pledging to leave the actions and decisions of my life to someone or something else. The lack of control—which as a child I experienced as painful and humiliating—was something I vowed never to endure again. Not in a job. Not in relationships. And so I went about my merry way—only it wasn’t too merry.

So, when I allowed myself to even contemplate the third step, the first image that came to me was of a mostly deflated balloon, with no direction. Without the helium of my personality, who would I be or become? I felt as if the third step was asking me to rid myself of everything I was or knew (as if that would even be possible!) and allow the program to brainwash me. Was it a cult, as I ‘d read online?

In time, I began to see that the third step was not the first step in becoming a humorless automaton but an invitation to become an active cocreator in my emotional and spiritual healing. What I was saying yes to was not deprivation and loss but real power to conduct the life I was meant to live—full of integrity, meaning, joy, sorrow, compassion, and love. I was agreeing to do the right thing, and I’d be given the necessary power if only I asked. My childish “wants,” which were mercurial and unending, were put aside until it was clear whether they were important or just distractions or illusions. Nothing I needed was kept from me, but lots of things I thought I needed were examined.

I am slowly (and I mean really slowly) becoming disciplined. I can see that discipline equals freedom. Discipline with food, discipline around not acting out my mercurial feelings, discipline around fulfilling obligations to others and myself.

Step 3 is necessary to work the steps that follow. But I also see that I have step 3 work to do when I bristle at doing something I don’t want to do or when I want to eat something I shouldn’t. Yes it is a step I take before I being making my moral inventory, but it’s also a step that I can take each and every day.

One Day at a Time in Everything

One day at a time is an awfully powerful concept. For us compulsive eaters, it means that we can only behave abstinently today, in this 24 hours. The past is done, tomorrow isn’t here yet. Which further means that we don’t need to worry about our abstinence in any moment but this one. And with our Higher Power’s help, we don’t worry, we just do.

But as we work this program of spiritual action, we come to find out that one day at a time works in every aspect of our lives. For example, if we have 100 pounds to lose, it won’t come off in one day, so today all we can do is eat abstinently and let the weight fall away in its due course. We may have fear of financial insecurity. But that next paycheck isn’t coming for two weeks, so if we can’t pay our bills until then, we ask God how to manage what we have today. Illness in our family? We can’t spend our time worrying about if someone will get better tomorrow when they need us today.

We must stay centered on today. Today, today, today!

Many of us worry about tomorrow because we’re afraid it will look like yesterday. We’re afraid of a rerun of prior events, so we skip right over today and project the past into the future. When we do this, we’re forgetting that our Higher Power is available to us, not only for soothing our fears but also for giving us strength and courage to do differently than we have before.

In some spiritual traditions, we are told explicitly that everything is always in motion, forever changing…sometimes rapidly, sometimes imperceptibly. In ourselves, we sometimes don’t see this. When we are out there eating, we might confuse hopelessness with unchangingness. In fact, we are changing into increasingly sick people. Our disease is always getting worse, never better. This is the progressive nature of our disease.

But when we enter the halls of OA, our hopelessness is eased and then removed. We see amazing personal transformations that show us how the steps and a relationship with a Higher Power upend our well worn idea that we can’t change toward the positive. Of course we can, but because of our disease, we can only do it with help from our fellows and the God of our understanding. This is where the idea of constant change, one day at a time, becomes our friendly companion. We progress each day that we practice the OA program, and when we understand this more fully, we get more and more hope. And eventually that hope itself changes into certainty. A certainty that there is a solution and that it works when we work it.

Sometimes we see the idea of one day at a time play out in less spiritual places in our world. For example, how many times do we hear a ballplayer say something like, “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and stay focused on today’s game.” We especially hear this when they are asked about whether their team will make the playoffs or what they think about their own hot or cold streak. Keeping focus on what’s important (today, doing the work that needs done to stay on top, letting go of what’s outside our control) are the hallmarks of smart athletes and of strong OA programs.

This idea even plays out in popular culture. A certain famous, small green space person once said two things that resonate with the idea of one day at a time:

  1. “The future always in motion is.”
  2. “All his life he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was…. What he was doing.”

While these are certainly not OA approved literature, they point out again that the world out there is also aware that we human beings have a tendency to forget that we change, others change, everything changes. That what we see one way this Saturday, we may see differently the next. That our enemy today may be our friend next month. That as we look toward the future in eagerness or fear, we forget ourselves and our Higher Powers now and become susceptible to the temptations that wreck us today because we’re trying to bring about happiness or avoid sorrow that may never come.

Maybe this all sounds a tad philosophical, but isn’t it actually life-and-death for us compulsive eaters? When we are eating our brains out, are we eating because something is happening to us RIGHT NOW? Of course not. We are eating because something happened a moment ago, a day ago, a lifetime ago. Or because we worry about something happening tomorrow, the next day, or the next decade from now. In this moment, the only trouble is with our thinking. And one day at a time, we’re working on that with the help of OA’s fellowship and steps and the Higher Power we are coming to know.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 8

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

While our small Intergroup has no particular need of special workers, that doesn’t mean that we don’t adhere to tradition eight. There are two halves to this sentence, two sides of a coin. On one side, we don’t hire out for any job that relates directly to carrying the message of OA to compulsive eaters. On the other hand, we might hire people for jobs that only indirectly relate to carrying the message, if it is necessary.

Both the AA and OA Twelve and Twelves tell us the same thing. That we cannot expect to function long and effectively in this world if we don’t pay our bills, review our correspondence, and do the other niggling tasks required to keep OA going. In our area, those tasks are manageable by us because we are small. It is not necessary to hire professionals. We can handle both the administrative tasks and carrying the message. Not so in many places with significantly larger intergroups or within the broader service structure.

On the flip side, however, we can never, ever hire someone to do our twelfth step work for us. We do not pay workshop or retreat presenters for their time (though we do, rightly, reimburse their legitimate expenses). We do not pay our sponsors for their help. We don’t earn chits at the OA store for speaking up at meetings. There is no quid pro quo in carrying the message. That includes our time spent organizing events that carry the message.

Our payment is much greater than mere cash: staying in recovery, connecting more deeply to our fellowship, and seeing the newcomer change into the kind of person their HP wants them to be.

Monetary rewards would cheapen what we do. God does not appear to do business in dollars and cents, but rather in hearts and minds. Everyone who has ever paid for a diet system can understand why the lack of profit motive is vital to our ability to help others.

Tradition eight ties together with tradition seven to give us a working philosophy we might describe as DIO: Do it ourselves. We pay our own way no matter what. Similarly, we do all the work ourselves until it affects our ability to carry the message. Then we pay someone to help us, so that we can continue our twelfth step work unabated.

Like with so many things in life, tradition eight may not seem like much on the outside, but its spiritual significance lies just beneath its somewhat mechanical phrasing.

Step of the Month: Step 8

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step nine, the making of amends, gets a lot of air time, but in some ways, it is step eight where the truly hard work of amends gets done. Think of it like exercising. The hard part isn’t the actual exercise! The hard part is walking out the door to go to the gym. The big roadblock is not in the action itself but in our minds. In step eight, we are stepping out this proverbial door en route to the spiritual gym known to us as…our lives.

In the first seven steps we have spent our time on a solitary path toward recovery. We are supported by OA and our sponsors, perhaps even by family and friends, but no one can go on our spiritual journey for us; it is ours alone. But once step nine rolls around, we return to the world having undergone a massive psychic change. Our amends will demonstrate to those in our lives, most of whom we’ve probably not told much about our move toward spirituality, that we have changed and that a Higher Power can make change in us. But we have to know who to make this demonstration to, and sometimes when we recognize the who, we find ourselves wanting for willingness to walk out that door.

We have to be specific to make any progress. As we did in step four, we make a list in step eight. But this time, that list is who we harmed, not who harmed us. To review step four for just a moment: Page 65 of the Big Book shows us three columns to write out: who we were resentful at, the cause of the resentment, and what it affected inside us (how it harmed us). In that second column, we described what burned us up about another person. Then on page 67 we are asked to write a fourth column of inventory for each resentment: where were we selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? Now in step eight, we are again asked to look at our inventory from the other person’s point of view. The self-seeking we wrote about in the fourth column of our own inventory is what we did to other people to get our way. We might imagine them writing inventory that includes us, and it turns out that our self-seeking behaviors are their second-column resentments! So we can start right there at making our list, and then we can ask God to show us other folks we may have harmed who were not in our inventory.

A question worth asking is what exactly is harm? Harm is usually defined as injury whether physical, emotional, or financial. In step eight we needn’t get overly specific about what harm we did to another, only that we caused it. For now, we are simply making a list of those we harmed. If we can answer yes, then their name goes on the list. If we aren’t sure, we pray for the truth from our Higher Power.

We need to be careful at this point that we don’t tell ourselves that we didn’t harm someone only because we know step nine is coming. Just because we don’t want to face someone doesn’t mean we didn’t do them harm. We might recognize that they did us a terrible harm, far worse than we did them. So what? That doesn’t negate the harm we did. And isn’t a willingness to proceed with an amends to that person a reasonable exchange for our abstinence, our happiness, and our freedom from the horrors of compulsive eating? Here our minds may place our pride and fear ahead of our recovery. If we listen to them, we will be troubled again. If we ask God to help us with them, we will make gains spiritually.

Step eight is not an overnight step. We may make a list of those we have harmed and find ourselves requiring time and prayer to achieve willingness for all the names on it. That’s OK. We become willing. If pride and fear put a wall up between us and willingness, we use the tool of prayer to chip it away. We will know when we are ready not because the fear and pride are gone, but rather because the way through them will seem passable, if not easy. In the meantime, we have made our list and are willing to be willing. We can move on to step nine and make the amends we are willing to make as we continue to pray about those we are unwilling to make. In other words, progress not perfection.