Tradition of the month: #5, the Steps, the Steps, the Steps

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

So we know that a meeting has just one thing it must do, and that’s carry the message. Still, as one of our longtime area member says, “We addicts can complicate a two-car funeral.” If we aren’t in top spiritual condition, even a simple, direct statement such as Tradition Five can be overly parsed in the spirit of wanting to do well by our fellow members.

For example, many years ago some members of a certain meeting wanted the group to join hands during the closing serenity prayer. They brought it up at a business meeting. Proponents said holding hands fostered a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. Opponents said it was too intimate and might frighten newcomers. Each group, perhaps each member of the group, had its own interpretation of this simple suggestion. Yet, both appeared to act from the same basis: making the meeting as comfortable for the newcomer as possible.

So we can see the kind of nested-doll thinking this leads to. We wonder whether people will be attracted or repelled by a meeting’s format, and how will we carry the message if they don’t come back? How can we make this thing “better”? There’s thousands of meetings across the world, and every one of them does things differently. Not just things, actually, but many, many things. Whether it’s holding hands, talking about individual binge foods, or having a certain number of days before sharing, meetings have tried every possible adjustment. Yet there’s only one thing that’s known for sure to work well everywhere: sharing our experience with the Steps.

That’s it. OA is a Twelve-Step program held together by the loose webbing of guidelines called the Traditions. As a result, OA World Service includes this language in the OA preamble:

Our primary purpose is to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors and to carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of OA to those who still suffer.

So the only thing we must do at a meeting is tell others about the Steps and how they help us refrain from compulsive eating. Our job is not to make things more or less comfortable for ourselves, others, or newcomers. Our job is not to “perfect” our meeting. Our job is not to let everyone know how events in our lives went in the past week. Our job is not to “sell” anyone on OA either. It’s simply to talk about how OA’s Steps keep us out of the clutches of this awful disease. Our experiences are enough to attract others; we need not worry over the rest.

Holding hands or having a timer or saying one prayer or another must all be viewed through this single lens: Does it enable our members to speak specifically and honestly about their experience with the Steps? We need not worry about which way of doing the Steps either. Nor whether we ourselves have done them “correctly.” We just share what we’ve done and what the result is. The group’s Higher Power takes care of the rest.

So the next time we face the prospect of a difficult business meeting with controversial agenda items, we can relax and take it easy. We merely ask God for wisdom and ask ourselves and our OA fellows if a proposal is maximally aligned with Tradition 5. Why make it complicated?