“Live and let live.” If everyone in the world applied this 12-step slogan throughout their daily lives, we’d all be a lot better off, addicts or not. But we addicts use this slogan for a reason. We find it helps us to avoid eating compulsively.
We OA members seek comfort in food or food behaviors. We want to avoid the painful feelings of our day. Sometimes what we see in a situation is real. Sometimes it’s a product of our thinking. In either event, our diseased minds use these situations to kill us by eating compulsively.
In the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book we are told that the cycle of addiction begins with feelings of restlessness, irritability, or discontent. In other words, with a thought or a feeling. This activates the obsession of the mind before we take the first bite. This means that our thinking and emotions are the trigger for our compulsive behaviors.
Enter “live and let live.” It is telling us that we should abandon our attachment to the people and events (current, previous, or future) who are triggering us. No matter what they’ve done to us, we’re the ones eating the poison we intended for them. If we simply let go of the situation, we have a shot at not taking that next compulsive bite, and at maintaining our abstinence because we have interrupted the cycle of obsession and craving.
This is true even when it is ourselves that we are angry at. We have to let ourselves off the hook as well. Are we not also people, deeply flawed in the way that all people are?
In its description of the tenth step, the Big Book has some very interesting things to say about this. First it tells us that when faced with the kinds of thoughts and feelings that lead to compulsive fooding, we should turn our thoughts to others and how we can be helpful to them. By doing so, we give our minds a break from whatever loop of anger, pride, fear, or self-pity it’s running, while putting a little spiritual deposit in the bank by doing right action. Right action, estimable acts, lead to self-esteem and connection with God, both of which are important to our recovery.
“Love and tolerance of others is our code,” the book also tells us. If we live and let live, if we love people despite their flaws, tolerate the same kind of utterly human behaviors that we commit, and seek compassion for them, we will be the ones who get the benefit. We will gain some softness in our heart, some insight into how we can help others, and some more bankable spiritual moments.
We often eat because we haven’t developed yet the capacity for tolerance, compassion, and love. It’s been said that while alcoholics stop growing emotionally in their teens, food addicts stop growing around age five. Our substance is freely available at an early age. That means that we may need the emotional growth suggested by the Big Book in a deeper way than even it had considered. Many faith traditions place heavy emphasis on either or both of good works and compassion. Doing for others and trying to walk a mile in their shoes makes us better, deeper people. We can feel for others instead of always making it about ourselves inside our heads. We can grow emotionally as we were meant to do.
What an idea! But also what a journey.
We won’t get there overnight. This is a lifelong process of prayer, meditation, spiritual action, listening to others, helping others, and having our own limitations in mind at all times so that we can avoid repeating the patterns that got us here. Love and tolerance will make us feel better and eat better. It will calm the pounding urge inside to eat, and it will give us a pause in which we can ask our Higher Power to help us before we do our usual, death-wish thing.
After all, we find in our inventory that God has loved and tolerated us. If God can do that for us with our flaws, why shouldn’t do the same for others?