Thanksgiving; Thanks for giving; Thanks, giving

Now that we’ve dispensed with the eating part of Thanksgiving—amateur day for the non-compulsive eaters—let’s have a closer look at the idea behind it.

While the circumstances of the first celebration of Thanksgiving Day in America are a matter of historical debate, we do know that the holiday has its roots in England and Europe as a day of prayer and celebration for an abundant harvest. An annual feast that shared the bounty of the year’s labor in a degree and manner that was otherwise special in the hardscrabble colonial world. Today, we can have a Thanksgiving dinner whenever we want, and as food addicts, we often do….

But that notion of giving thanks for abundance is powerful because it is really about giving thanks for life and the means to sustain it. As addicts, our life is as day-to-day as the colonists’ was. While a crop failure, a vicious summer or winter storm, or simple pestilence could destroy their lives on any given day, we need only take one bite or one swig of a trigger item and we’re on the road to perdition. Research recently written about in the New York Times suggests that adopting an attitude of gratitude, even when we’re not sure we mean it, leads us to a higher quality of mind and life. We addicts know this. Fake it til you make it! When we become full of thanks, of gratitude, we don’t need to eat because we now see abundance all around us: family, friends, jobs, material well being, physical well being, we can increase the list ad infinitum. We are filled with spiritual things instead of self-pity, self-recrimination, resentment, and any of a dozen other negative feelings in which we can only see ourselves. We forget everything good in our lives and seek relief in the one thing we know to do…eat. Giving thanks isn’t merely a good idea, it’s an essential way of life for people who are constitutionally predisposed to the centrality of their suffering.

But how about another way of looking at it? What if we insert a certain preposition in the word Thanksgiving? Thanks for giving. Here we can choose to observe our Higher Power at work in our life. We aren’t only grateful for something, we are grateful to Something. We can celebrate our relationship with the God of our understanding with thanks for being able to receive our blessings. What this means is that we have opened ourselves to help. We have torn down the walls between us and our Higher Power, however we may conceive of an HP. Without this turn of thought, we cannot see the abundance in front of our faces. Before program we not could truly receive from God; we thought we were providing our own blessings. In recovery our eyes are opened to the truth. Indeed, in many cases the family, friends, and circumstances that used to drive us to the fridge now delight us. Did they change? No, we changed by letting God into our lives.

Finally, what about thanks, giving. Here we might think about these two words sequentially. That is, in the way that step 12 guides us. If we are thankful, we must demonstrate it. To keep our attitude of gratitude, we must give it away. Good words signal a grateful mind, good deeds a grateful heart. If we are thankful for family and friends, are we telling them we love them and being of help and service to them? If we are thankful for OA, are we providing service? Or do we just attend meetings and let others do the work for us? Most important, if we are thankful for recovery, no matter where we are at in that journey, are we giving it away by helping newcomers? Do we greet them warmly? Do we call them? Do we tell them about our experiences so that they can identify with us and find a home in OA? We are told that if we do not carry this message, we will return to our old ways. We have to give it away if we want to keep it. And to return to our old ways means to die. First spiritually, then emotionally, and then physically.

We are never cured of the disease of compulsive eating. We have a daily reprieve. When we remember to tell God how grateful we are, we pave the road to ongoing recovery. When we tell other people how grateful we are, even those not in program and perhaps even strangers, we bring a little peace into someone else’s day. Thanksgiving is a day when “normals” take a moment to count their blessings and then feast. Just as we are significantly more experienced at feasting than they are, becoming similarly expert at counting our blessings will make our blessings count more and lives saner and happier.

Traveling in OA…food planning on the road

With Thanksgiving coming up, many of us will be traveling to friends or family for a day, two, maybe even a week of visiting. Others of us travel frequently for business…or pleasure. It reminds us of that eternal question: How do I use a food plan when I don’t necessarily know what will be served?

The answer, as it turns out, is different for every OA member. In part, of course, because we all have an individual food plan. But also, in part, because we all need different levels of structure.

For some of us, eating away from home can be an open invitation to the higher quantities our disease desires. Or to eating some of our “yellow-light” foods: ones we don’t eat frequently because they call to us sometimes, but that we don’t react to as insanely as our “red-light” foods. For others the lack of structure can feel frightening by itself. Doing things a little loosy-goosey threatens the firm boundaries we rely on.

So we each have to work out with our Higher Power and our sponsor what will work for us. There are, however, a variety of strategies that we hear in meetings that we may able to adopt or adapt for our own situations. Here’s a few:

Strategize with a sponsor before leaving.
Failure to plan is planning to fail. Talking to our sponsor before we depart and developing a strategy for the trip is a great way to bring a sense of structure to the journey.

Call ahead, when possible, to see what the menu will be.
Especially when visiting loved ones and friends, we can easily call to see what will be on the menu. If we’re concerned little or nothing will meet our needs, we can not attend, or we can ask if we can bring something we can eat.

Check out eateries along the way in advance.
We can plan where we want to stop if we are driving. The internet allows us to search out and check the menus of eateries before we leave. If we are going on an extended vacation, we can look into restaurants around our hotel or the area we are visiting to ensure we have someplace to get the food we need.

Bring food in the car/plane/train just in case.
Having a small snack item might be a saving grace if we are caught in awful traffic, sitting on a runway, or what have you and unable to eat our scheduled meal. Whatever that small item is, we tell our sponsor about it and keep it in reserve for an emergency.

Don’t always eat out.
If we are renting a house or have a hotel room with a fridge or a small galley, we may be able to buy the food we usually eat and keep it handy. That reduces our eating out and increases the structure we’ll have.

Use a 3-0-1 plan and don’t touch binge foods.
This is the first plan listed in the “Dignity of Choice” pamphlet. If we truly don’t know what our food choices will be, we can keep things simple by committing to three moderate meals a day, nothing in between, one day at a time, and no binge foods.

Stay in touch with a sponsor.
Just because we leave town doesn’t mean we leave our sponsors behind. We may need them more than ever while traveling. Even if we can’t call them without risking our anonymity, we can certainly text or email, both of which are silent. Also, if something is bugging us that may lead us to eat, staying in touch with a sponsor will help us avoid eating over feelings.

Be sure to do a 10th Step inventory at night.
The rationale here is to ensure that we check in our eating. Did we respond to anything in our day by making excuses based on our circumstances while traveling to eat compulsively? Is there anything that occurred during the day that we need to deal with before we might eat compulsively tomorrow?

Most important of all, however, is that we trust and rely on our Higher Power. Many times traveling brings with it stressors such as traffic, lost luggage, or simply the strangeness of being away from home. If visiting family and friends, we may feel ill-at-ease being a houseguest or longstanding conflicts may rear up. In many cases, we may be visiting our eating buddies. Our old way of dealing with these things was to eat for ease and comfort. Now we are in the business of trusting and relying on God. We replace food with God. We sit with difficult feelings and situations, knowing that by not reacting to them with extreme actions or with compulsive eating, we will be OK. We accept a little discomfort now in exchange for keeping the abstinence that allows us to be sane in this world.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 11

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television, and other public media of communication.

What does Tradition 11 mean today, when the world is interconnected in ways that, when AA and OA were created, only science-fiction writers could imagine? Consider for a moment how distant Bill and Bob and Rosanne were from today’s world:

The Beginnings of AA (the mid-1930s)

  • Bill’s story includes reference to a pay phone. When was the last time you saw one of those?
  • In the 1930s, TVs rarely appeared in anyone’s home, and they weren’t in color.
  • Films had only a few years before added sound and weren’t yet in color.
  • Computers had been theorized but never built and wouldn’t be until World War II.

The Beginnings of OA (1960)

  • The postal service and rotary phones were still the main means of long-distance one-to-one communication. Toll-free calling wasn’t yet available.
  • Televisions doubled as furniture and stores didn’t stop selling black-and-white models for more than 30 years.
  • Billy Wilder’s The Apartment won best picture. It was a black-and-white film.
  • The personal computing revolution was still 20 years away. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both five years old. Computers filled entire rooms and had far less computing power than today’s smart phones.
  • Ubiquitous email use was about 35 years away, and the internet hadn’t been invented.
  • Facebooks were still the picture books that incoming freshmen received to introduce them to their classmates.

Right. So it’s a new world. When you think about it, Twitter, Facebook, email list-servs, and other forms of online communication offer an amazing opportunity to carry the message of the 12 steps to other compulsive eaters. If we made our membership known to our Facebook friends, it could be helpful. It’s not like an article in the Saturday Evening Post, after all.

Actually, that’s true, it’s not like a feature article…it’s worse. Most magazines have a very limited subscription base. The internet’s viewing world is only limited by whether a person (anywhere on the globe!) can connect to the web. An important aspect of anonymity is the idea that we have no stars or VIPs. There is no Dr. Phil of 12-step recovery. And that’s a good thing because human beings are flawed. Just as quickly as one of us might gain fame in recovery, our disease could pull us back down, tarnishing the reputation of OA or leading people to think the steps don’t work.

So then, how does a compulsive eater use the many resources available on the internet while avoiding divulging their own or anyone else’s membership in OA? Here are some simple strategies:

  1. Don’t talk about OA on social media: Duh, right? When you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, just don’t say in your profile or any posts that you are in OA. Don’t even reference it obliquely. We once saw a fellow who, when asked how we was doing on Facebook by someone else, said he was working, enjoying his hobbies,…and sponsoring. also, if you put someone else’s handle on a message that contains OA content, you may be breaking their anonymity too.
  2. Remember that people can see your contacts: If you identify yourself as an OA, and if your account allows others to see your friends/contacts, you may be giving up someone else’s anonymity indirectly.
  3. Be careful about photos: We once saw a Facebook photo of several OA women gathered for a meal. While OA was not mentioned by name, the poster used OA language to describe an abstinent meal. Worse yet, the poster had tagged the photo with the names of each pictured member.
  4. Following, liking, retweeting, favoriting: It is not a break of anonymity to follow, like, retweet, or favorite OA content or recovery-related content. Unless you identify as an OA member, you are not giving up your anonymity. Following, liking, retweeting, and favoriting could indicate many things about your attention to recovery such as supporting a loved one or a professional interest. Just don’t tell anyone about your OA affiliation.
  5. Commenting: Be careful here! You may wish to comment from a 12-step perspective on a news article or blog that you read, but be aware of how commenting works on a site. On some sites, you sign in via Twitter or Facebook, which likely means your name and picture are then shown, or at least a link back to your account. Even if you haven’t identified yourself as a member on your account, if you think you are posting anonymously, you might not be. On other sites, you must be a member of the site to post. Remember that you are giving some information to that site when you become a member. If you have any doubt about how that information could be used, think before you click. If a site has anonymous posting capability, or you can provide a guest name, that’s likely your best route. In general, be careful, and when in doubt check your motives for replying (are you defending OA or resentful at someone else’s caricaturization of it?) and ask yourself if it’s safe to post.
  6. Emailing: Always place recipients into the BCC when sending an email to a group of OAs from any email account. For example, if you are emailing a large group about an upcoming workshop, just use BCC for everyone. (Take it from us, we’ve made this booboo!) Remember, when you send out to a large group, it could be forwarded anywhere for perfectly fine reasons, but could be seen by people who shouldn’t.

That’s just a few strategies for today’s world. In reality, nothing is truly private on the internet. There’s always risk where there’s a database. So keep it simple, and don’t take yours or anyone else’s anonymity lightly!

Step of the Month: Step 11

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

 

You don’t have to believe in my Higher Power, and I don’t have to pray like you do. That’s one of the beauties of OA. We each come to our individual understanding of God, we learn to depend on the God of our understanding as the steps unfold, and then we learn to communicate with God in whatever way works for us.

That’s right, while OA has many suggested prayers, not one of them is mandated. Many of us use them, and we find them indispensable, but no one can make us talk to God in a way that doesn’t align with our concept of a Higher Power or whatever practices make sense to us. After all, the Big Book tells us that “the realm of the spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive….”

One way we could look at prayer is that it is much like our food plan. It needs to be tailored to our own needs, of course, but we can also adapt prayers others have used. We can express the meaning of the prayer to God in whatever words we wish to. So it might be helpful to review some prayers from OA and AA literature. They can be used in the morning, in the evening, or just when walking around or facing difficulties. The important thing is that we each have the opportunity to use them in whatever way best supports our relationship with our own Higher Power, our abstinence, and our relations with others.

OA PRAYERS
Roz’s Prayer/Unity Prayer/OA Promises
“I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness, no longer must we each depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.”

THE BIG BOOK
Third Step Prayer, page 63
“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

Angry Man’s Prayer, page 67
“This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

Seventh Step Prayer, page 76
“My Cre­ator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”

Recommended to be said throughout the day, page 88
“Thy will be done.”

TWELVE STEPS AND TWELVE TRADITIONS OF ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
St. Francis’ Prayer, page 99
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace – that where there is hatred, I may bring love – that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness – that where there is discord, I may bring harmony – that where there is error, I may bring truth – that where there is doubt, I may bring faith – that where there is despair, I may bring hope – that where there are shadows, I may bring light – that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted – to understand, than to be understood – to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”

Serenity Prayer, page 125
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

There are many other prayers scattered throughout various pieces of literature, but these should give a good cross-section of some of the more popular ones.

Step 11 reminds us to stay humble, close to God, and out of the driver’s seat. We get inspiration from God…not confirmation of how we think things should go. The prayers above and many others help us stay right sized, sane, and connected to God.