Go to any OA meeting, and you’ll hear about fear. We hide out from the world and seek the companionship of food because we are afraid to face what’s out there. If we restrict our eating, it’s often because we are afraid we weigh too much and that people will judge us. No matter the fear or its origin, we have developed eating behaviors as a coping mechanism. And if that weren’t bad enough, fear has a nasty relationship with self-pity that speeds along our demise from this disease.
In the Big Book, we read that “resentment is the number one offender.” When we take inventory of our resentments, we list how it affected us, and, as in the example on page 65, we always list “(fear)” among them. Of course, we don’t stop at what the offending person did. The Big Book instructs us on page 67 to also ask ourselves where we were selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. As we write all these resentments, we come to see the massive power that fear had over us. We acted selfishly, lied to ourselves, and behaved out of self-concern because of our fears. So, the Big Book then has us inventory our fears, starting with those we analyzed in our resentments and then those unconnected to a resentment. Fear is a big deal.
The thing about fear is that our disease uses our past experience to create fear about our future. If we were told something negative in the past that hurt us, our addict brain tells us that we will suffer the same humiliation or heartache whenever a similar circumstance occurs. It uses our past as a lever to make us eat. This is a big part of why it is that the cycle of addictive behavior always begins with a feeling before we are activated to eat.
If fear is the transferring of past experience to an unknown future, then self-pity is staying stuck in the past and being unwilling to see a different future. Our disease loves to tear down our defenses with self-pity. We feel a strong urge to stop eating compulsively, and then we have an encounter with someone at work that didn’t go well. That encounter reminds us consciously or subconsciously of another time we had a bad encounter with someone. And another. And another and another. Until this small but painful encounter today feels freighted with the emotional weight of our whole inner world. Because we have a disease that warps our perspective, we can only see this tunnel-like vision of bad encounters, forgetting or ignoring all the positive relations we have in the world. And we are activated to eat.
Our disease skillfully plays fear off of self-pity:
- We have a painful encounter
- It reminds us all our other painful encounters
- We feel self-pity
- We realize that we’ll have to deal with the person or situation again in the future.
- We fear that the next encounter will be as painful as this one…or worse.
- If we haven’t already eaten, we’re primed to do so now.
If we are truly addicts, we have lost the power to control ourselves around food in part because our minds act against us in this and many other ways. We cannot change ourselves. We’ve tried! We’ve told ourselves we won’t take ourselves so seriously, or that we’ll go on a diet, or that we’ll let these hurtful things roll off our backs, or that next time we just won’t eat over it. But it never works. We always return to our old ways of thinking and our addictive eating.
The whole point of the 12 Steps is to create inside us the conditions for change. We prepare ourselves to be changed by inventorying all the yucky stuff so that we can then ask God to remove it all and enter into our hearts. The Big Book tells us that we must let go of “old ideas” in order to be changed. These fears and self-pities are some of those ideas. We may have suffered in the past, but now we replace the fear of the future with trusting and relying on God to get us through whatever may come. We may have continually felt sorry for ourselves, but now we see that God is using those old hurts as ways that we can win the confidence of other suffering compulsive eaters and help them find the recovery we’ve been granted.
In other words, God turns these defects of character into assets that help us to be of service to others. Fear and self-pity are an insidious part of the human condition, a killer for people like us, but OA and our HP give us a special power to combat them and help the world be a little better place. And that’s nothing to be afraid of!