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.