Tradition of the Month: Tradition 3…The Only Requirement

oa funnel3.  The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

When in “Our Invitation to You,” we read “Welcome to Overeaters Anonymous, welcome home,” it’s easy to focus on “welcome.” We all want to be accepted and welcomed into OA’s ranks, and for the newcomer this is a particularly powerful thought. But isn’t it that last word, “home,” that holds the most meaning in that sentence?

OA is the place where people who can’t stop themselves from eating compulsively find their tribe and the solution to their problems. The merely fat may not be at home in OA because they might not be compulsive eaters. They may yet have the ability to put the brakes on their eating if a really good reason crops up. Why would someone like that spend several hours a week in OA?

Of course, we all want to be that person, the “heavy eater,” but we arrived at OA on a losing streak. None of us could get off the food and stay off the food. We’d proved that much to ourselves, and that’s the difference between people like us and heavy eaters. That’s why OA is home. Whether we eat too much or whether our obsession takes the form of overeating, underrating, overexercising, or any other symptom, we all have in common the twin perils of a mental obsession with food, body image, and relief-seeking behaviors that won’t go away no matter how much we wish it. We are at home, among our tribe at in OA.

Step 12 tells us that we must carry the message of OA to still-suffering compulsive eaters. That is to other members of our OA tribe. Tradition 3 is something like an extension of that condition of our recovery. In fact, it saves us from ourselves in a way so that we can help others. To borrow a contemporary business analogy, imagine a funnel. This funnel will represent how people are attracted to OA at the wide end and how many stick around for recovery at the narrow end. Further imagine that this funnel has four levels.

  • The top of the funnel, the widest end: We attract people through word of mouth, the OA website, and various public-information opportunities. Many of these people will never go further than investigating OA.
  • Section 2, one step narrower: Meetings, where an interested person will either feel at home or not come back.
  • Section 3, another step narrower: Sponsorship, where a person will either decide to ask for help, connecting them more strongly to our fellowship…or not.
  • Narrow end of the funnel: The Steps, where a person will either take action to find recovery and help others, or they will get stuck and not make progress.

When viewed this way, it’s easy to see why Tradition 3 exists. The number of people who actually stick around to do the work of recovery is small compared to those who never attend a meeting or who come and go quickly, so it is dependent on sheer quantity. So why in the world would we want to narrow the wide end of the funnel?

Everyone who eats compulsively deserves a shot at a better life. Everyone in OA deserves a shot to help as many people recover as they can. If we placed any restrictions on membership it would benefit no one. Oh, some meeting or member or another might think that excluding those people will make their meeting stronger or reduce tension or what have you. And in AA’s early history many groups did just that. Whether it was women, people of color, atheists, or any other sort of person who didn’t meet their version of what a good AA looked or sounded like. Ultimately, however, groups discovered that exclusionary principles had a triple-whammy effect: They did not jibe with our code of kindness, love, and tolerance for others; they reduced the number of opportunities members had to work with others; and they kept recovery away from those in the community who desperately needed it.

Outside the halls of OA, we see potential problem eaters all around us, and it is not for us to decide who is eligible for recovery through the 12 Steps and who is not. It’s only for us to trust our Higher Power to put people in our path so that we can be helpful as they recover. After all, while OA may be our home, none of us is the king or queen of the castle. We’re all just servants.