Step of the Month: Step Two…the God of Our Own Understandings

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

We have a disease that’s going to kill us. We might die young of a heart or circulatory disease. It might rob of us of our mobility joint by joint before the hammer comes down. Inevitably, we will first die an emotional and spiritual death. Whether or not family and friends surround us, we will die alone, isolated by this disease.

The trick is that the disease uses our own minds against us.

We slog along in this life thinking that one day we’ll crack the code and find a skinny, happy way of life. But we will never again be able to both control and enjoy our food. When we try to control food, we cannot enjoy it. When we try to enjoy our food, we eat uncontrollably. Eventually we can do neither, yet our mind keeps up its illusion that someday we’ll figure it out. This despite a lifetime of evidence that once we can’t stop once we start, and we cannot stop from starting.

So we are faced with a decision. Are we going to treat this disease with seriousness of mind and purpose, or are we going to keep playing at the control-and-enjoy game? If we are serious, then we must take an objective look at the situation and ask ourselves a simple question:

How will my food be brought under control if I can’t do it?

Here we have only two answers:

A) Another person will control our food.

B) A Power greater than ourselves will control it.

But A isn’t really a reasonable answer, is it? No other person can enter our minds and hearts and pull the strings for us. We wouldn’t allow it, for one thing, and for another, we’ve often tried to approximate such conditions to no effect. We’ve tried Dr. So-and-So’s diet. Or gone to a counsellor or a psychiatrist. These don’t work because we’re still in control. So the answer must be B…or else.

This isn’t an easy answer to come to. It means that we have exhausted all other avenues. The Big Book tells us that a so-called “heavy eater” can stop on the influence of others or when drastic action is required. We are beyond that. We no longer have the luxury to dabble in other kinds of human aid. A Higher Power is our last chance.

At the same time, we do have some choice in the matter. Two actually. First, we get to decide that we will believe that this Power can help us. We are always at liberty to decide an HP won’t help us and be on our miserable way. But what good comes of that? It brings on only more pain, more suffering, more despair. The question here is Why not try the HP idea? Second we get to decide what this Power means to us. No one in OA is asked to take up anyone else’s idea of a Higher Power. The only requirement for a Higher Power is that it be effective. There’s no point in believing in something that won’t do us any good!

Let’s say for a moment that we have decided we’ll try the God idea. If we are already members of an organized religion, we might then choose Jesus, Y____, Allah, Buddha, or any other powerful figure known to us. We may wonder why these figures haven’t helped us yet, and that’s a reasonable question. We will find out shortly as we move through the Steps.

What if we are former members of a religion but are embittered by our experience? Here we may ask ourselves whether we might work with the God of that religion, absent of any dogma or religious intermediaries. If not, then we may ask ourselves this powerful question: What do I want in a Higher Power? Once we answer that question, we have arrived at an effective God concept.

How about those who have never had religious instruction but aren’t atheists or agnostics? They too can ask What do I want in a Higher Power? We need only be as specific as is required for recovery. If the gender of our HP is important to us, then we ascribe a gender. If not, we needn’t. If the form and appearance of our HP is important to us, then we give It features and characteristics. If not, we don’t. Many members choose traits such as unconditional love, steadfastness, caring, and nearness. The important matter is whether we define God in a way that enables us to work toward recovery. We may ask program friends what their HPs are like and how they came to believe in them.

Agnostics, by definition, have no opinion on the God question. They await information that will help them make a decision. They may wish to consider the idea that the fellowship, itself, has power greater than our individual selves. Beginning from this point of view, they may look at others and listen to their stories. How does a 400 pound food addict recover? How can all of these people, who were as hopeless as the agnostic him/herself, have recovered if their minds were poisoned against them? Is randomness or the placebo effect a reasonable answer? The aggregates of these recoveries are data that may help the agnostic move toward belief.

Finally, what about the atheist? The true non-believer? Plenty of them in our ranks. Here are two ways that atheists have arrived at means to do Step 2. First, one longtime member defines a Higher Power as “Love, truth, justice, and beauty.” Another defines a Higher Power as “The God of My Not Understanding.” In the first instance, the longtime member believes that these four ideals have great power in the world. The member has experienced these powers in their feelings toward a loved one or in the face of injustice, so they know that these forces are capable of doing for a person what their mind alone cannot do. Our second atheist at some point decided that it was possible, if unlikely, that they may not have the complete picture of the universe. Could they have been arrogant to believe they knew everything? So our second friend’s compromise worked splendidly because they needn’t define a God in anyone else’s terms nor have to fight internally about the logical inconsistencies of a human-defined deity. Most important, it worked.

Twelve Step programs take a great deal of flack in some quarters because God is the engine of recovery rather than people. It is difficult for an outsider who hasn’t experienced our level of degradation to understand just what addiction does to our hearts in addition to our minds. They don’t understand that we truly have lost the power of choice in our eating. We are willing to try the God idea because everything else that we’ve done has failed, and maybe, just maybe, this God thing will work. After all, the only thing we have to lose is weight. And misery. And despair. And hopelessness. And fear. And innumerable other sufferings.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition One, Unity

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

We OAs are often people of extremes. In our dealings with others we might be people-pleasers or narcissists. As the Big Book tells us, our disease includes “an appalling lack of perspective” (5). Both of these extreme types, and everyone in between, learn slogans like: “Program first,” “Go to any lengths,” and “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to gain a one-day-at-a-time remission of our disease.

But how does that square with the first Tradition? What happens if another member does or says things that feels threatening to our abstinence? Or if someone wants to change a meeting that has helped us a great deal? What happens when potentially divisive issues arise? Do the old tapes start playing so that the people pleaser seeks dishonest harmony to avoid conflict, or the narcissist casts aside others’ opinions en route to getting their own way?

This is the whole reason for Tradition One’s existence. In a program full of selfish people seeking to better themselves, how do we keep the group from falling apart over the molehills, let alone the mountains, in the path of any human organization? Tradition One answers this by implicitly referring us back to the Steps, especially the last three. Step 10 tells us that we continue to take personal inventory. This allows us to assess whether our reaction to the OA issue at hand is really a manifestation of fear, resentment, or dishonesty. Step 11 prescribes prayers and meditation to know God’s will, which may not be the same as our will. Bill Wilson describes the combination of Steps 10 and 11 in his story, “I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me” (13). Just as we would use these Steps in our daily lives, so we use them in program situations.

Step 12 tells us that we should demonstrate the principles of the program in all our affairs and carry the message to the newcomer. Sometimes we hear the saying that “we are the only Big Book a person might ever read.” We are the message, and our conduct says as much about the power of OA as any words or literature can. When we encounter disagreement in OA, we must consider the other person’s point of view honestly and objectively. We try to see it from their side. After all, we’ve found out through the Steps that we really don’t know even half of what we thought we knew. We also try to see issues through the newcomer’s eyes. What’s best for the person walking in the door for the first time. How do the potential solutions to a situation help them?

When we stop, ask God for help, try to see things from another person’s perspective, and seek out the fear and resentment in our own approach to the issue, we can detach from the outcome. We remember that we are just another person in OA, and that God and our fellows will support us regardless. We let God’s will flow, and when a decision is reached, we do not hold grudges. Instead we see how we can be helpful and keep an open mind as it is implemented. If something doesn’t work out, we don’t wag fingers or roll eyes, or tell anyone that we told them so. We can instead calmly suggest returning to prior practices or seeking another alternative.

In any case, we have to remember that dissension begins in our minds, which is where our disease has its greatest hold on us. Our addiction is always trying to get at us and never stops trying. Without fellowship, we have little to no hope, and a house divided will fall. We need each other to get better, so we need unity to stay alive. Whether we are people pleasers or narcissists by nature, we should only listen to our minds with extreme caution and after prayer. Instead, we might turn our thoughts to how we can support the fellowship and how we might reconcile opposing viewpoints in contentious matters.

Step of the Month: Step One, Resolutions

  1. We admitted we were powerless over food—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Unmet New Years resolutions are almost as ubiquitous as resolutions themselves. Each of us knows dozens, maybe hundreds of people who decide that January 1st is the day they will start losing weight, not eating this or that, controlling their portion sizes, exercising, or “eating healthy.” Most of these well-intentioned individuals will have broken their resolution before the end of the month. Many before the end of the week.

How many times did we compulsive eaters resolve to stop binging, to cease numbing ourselves with food, or to get right with our bodies? How many, many times? We didn’t need an excuse like the new year either. In “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, Dr. Silkworth describes the cycle of addiction as including “a firm resolution” never to abuse our substance again. We entered this cycle multiple times daily, thousands of times yearly. Of course, that’s not the end of the cycle, it just takes us back to the beginning of it because we are filled with remorse and worry that the next time will be just like every other time. And so our firm resolve dissolves.

Yes, the difference between compulsive eaters and all those many people making food-related resolutions is that they can stop and we can’t. Oh, we might stop for a little while. Maybe even several months or years. But in the meantime we’re utterly miserable, or we turn to some other substance or activity to take the place of food. But eventually we will return to food because we’ll still be thinking about it all the while. While we think we are abstaining, we are merely white-knuckling it. We imagine our high resolve will win out, but inside we know the truth of our powerlessness.

The problem with resolutions for people like us is simple to see: Resolutions only work when we have power in a situation. We addicts have nothing to bring to resolutions because we are powerless. We can bring no will to bear on our food problem. Without that will, we can’t manage our food. Then we find that life is unmanageable as well because our food obsession has taken over and drives our thinking during times when we ought to be focusing on how to do our jobs, love our families, or make decisions.

So if we can’t use willpower and have no resolve, how does OA work? For one thing, the first Step isn’t the only Step. We must first admit our powerless and the unmanageability of our life. In doing so we make a good start, but we’ve only identified the what of our disease and not the how of our solution to it. However, we crucially recognize that the power needed to overcome our affliction is not inside our minds. We can’t think our way out.

If we get a bloody cut on our knee, we don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Similarly, we don’t stanch the bleeding by telling ourselves we’ll do better next time we fall. Nor do we go to a surgeon and request the whole leg be taken off. To do any of these things would be lying to ourselves about our present condition and would inhibit our ability to heal. Well, that’s just how it is with Step One. We assess the fact of our obsession with food and its affect on us. We do this in the cold light of day so that we can find the warm light of the Spirit to guide us to our solution.

Here then is the importance of Step One. We see that our way isn’t working and is making us miserable. When we see the facts laid bare and accept them, we can find the willingness and desperation to start over and find the necessary Power outside of our minds. And if we follow the Twelve Steps, we never have to make a resolution around food again.