Why the resistance?

Bad guys in bad movies often say to the hero, “Resistance is futile.” Whereupon the hero promptly escapes whatever torture is in store, vanquishes the villain, and lives happily ever after.

It’s kinda different in OA. Our illness is the bad guy, and it uses our brain to tell us that resistance is vital. That we must maintain the illusion of self-sufficiency as long as we possibly can. Most of us will maintain that desperate idea until the very moment that the pain of our addiction becomes more unbearable than the insult to our pride that we suppose the 12 Steps must be. We cling and cling to the long-held notion that we can eat like other people and lead normal lives…if only we tried harder.

In OA, resistance is, indeed, futile. The longer we deny the truth of our situation, the longer we will be in pain. The sooner we acknowledge the truth and the sooner we take OA’s suggested actions, the sooner will find freedom from our disease. Even while we resist the program, we know we’re staying stuck in the problem. We sure do have a lot of excuses. “Work’s too busy.” “The kids.” “I’m buying a house/car.” “My child/spouse/parent/friend is sick and needs my help.” “We’re renovating our home.” There’s truth in all of them, of course. These things do keep us busy, but if we don’t make time for OA, we may no longer have a family, a job, a home, or even our life.

  • If we resist abstinence, we can ask ourselves why. Is it only that we have tremendous cravings? Maybe. But other people in OA have gotten past them. What fear lurks behind this resistance to giving up our misery-inducing way of eating?
  • If we resist Steps two and three, we can ask ourselves why we find it so difficult to identify a Higher Power then ask It for help. Atheists, agnostics, and unrepentant religious iconoclasts do very well in OA by defining an HP on their terms. What fear keeps us from unlocking the door to a source of power that helps us get better?
  • If we resist writing our fourth-step inventory, we can ask ourselves why it seems so long and daunting. Many others of all walks of life have completed it by writing a little bit at a time each day. What truth do we fear God will show us in this inventory?

These are just a few examples of common points of resistance that all of us have felt, said, or heard during a meeting. We are all human beings with flaws and with our own ideas of what the good life ought to look like. Each of us encounters many junctures in our OA journey where we just don’t want to take that next action. But we must, and we must remember that the longer we resist, the longer we’ll hurt and the closer compulsive eating may bring us to our death. Because in OA resistance is futile, but it may also be fatal.

Tradition of the Month: Keeping OA Simple

6. An OA group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the OA name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.

Tradition Five says that we have but one primary purpose, and that’s helping compulsive eaters get better. That’s it. But we are all flawed human beings, and many of us are very sick people, so Tradition Six gets specific on how to stay focused on our primary purpose. And it boils down to this: Don’t let the outside world in.

Of course, it’s us who lets the outside world in. We keep our own vigil. The world isn’t a hoard of angry barbarians storming our ramparts, just as food isn’t hurtling into our mouths under its own power. Instead, our brains convince us to shove in another bite. Similarly, outside influences arrive in the form of our own best intentions. That’s why these were Dr. Bob’s last words to Bill W.:

“Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.” (Dr. Bob and the Good Oldtimers, p. 343)

Tradition Five is simplicity itself. Our only job is to carry the message. Dr. Bob was warning Bill, a man of energy and ideas, that once things get complicated, our attention to simplicity wavers. You can’t take back the acorn once it’s grown into an oak.

Imagine an intergroup that actively courted outside relationships. Think how quickly the tangle of outside issues would consume it:

“We’ve got to keep the money coming.”

“We can’t say something our business friends will take offense to.”

“Can we give the company a few minutes to speak at our workshop?”

“This will be so good for our intergroup. The papers will run with it.”

“I don’t care if that meeting doesn’t like him, the candidate is promising us funding!”

“We should offer them a seat on our intergroup.”

Complicated? Heck, yeah. Even if this intergroup had a powerful leadership team that could keep the outside influences at bay for some time, the toll would be complete exhaustion for them and a weakening of everyone’s ability to remember the still-suffering compulsive eater. Eventually, a weaker leadership team would come along, and these once carefully managed outside relationships would come to dominate the intergroup. Think of the countless hours of meeting time and personal time this kind of thing would require.

It’s not difficult to imagine those lost hours because whether at the meeting or intergroup level, discussions like these already occur. Have you, for example, had a meeting where a member has asked about having outside literature on the table? Or inviting a non-member to provide a service? Or about a member who wants to donate a service their business provides? If so, how did that meeting go? Experience suggests that these topics tend to elicit a great deal of discussion, usually heated, even for simple yes/no questions. Now multiply that by many orders of magnitude, and you can see how quickly the outside world can derail us from our mission, how members could be turned off entirely from OA, and how nasty it could all become.

So keeping it simple isn’t just a way, it’s the only way. We constantly remind ourselves of the need for complete autonomy from the outside world. Here we are food addicts, out there we are consumers, members of demographic subgroups, or an opportunity. The only opportunists we can afford to have in OA are those who see a chance to recover from the killing disease of compulsive eating.


Step of the Month: Step 6

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

To do Step 6 effectively, we need to know what a defect of character actually is. After all, how can we get rid of something if we don’t know where to look for it? As the AA Twelve and Twelve tells us, our defects are simply natural drives that have been taken to extremes in the course of our illness. That’s good news since it means that we suffer the same defects as every other human being. But it’s a challenge because we don’t remember a time when those drives weren’t so overpowering that the considerable abilities of self-reflection and self-control that all humans have been granted could be used to tame them.

The same AA Twelve and Twelve uses as a framework for discussion the seven deadly sins, or PAGGLES: Pride, Anger, Greed, Gluttony, Lust, Envy, Sloth. In the early 1950s, these provided a very familiar set of defects. Today, with fewer of us identifying as religious, these characteristics may feel alien. For the moment, however, we can draw an important inference from that list. We might notice that none of them is a verb. We don’t see Judging, Yelling, Hoarding, Eating, Whoring, Shunning, or Lazing for example. Defects and effects are two different things.

Defects are traits, characteristics, or states of being. They are descriptors. That list of actions, however, are the behavioral results of our defects. The Big Book suggests that, for each resentment, we examine where we have been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. Those four items represent our core character defects. All our addiction-centered behaviors and attitudes can ultimately be filed under them, especially under self-seeking, which is what we did to get what we wanted or feel better.

So moving away from the seven deadlies, especially for those of us without a strong religious identity, we can identify our character defects as those traits inside us that lead to our worst behaviors. And the Big Book helpfully reduces them to selfishness, dishonesty, self-seeking, and fear.

  • Selfishness: What did I want? Or, an overwhelming drive that I couldn’t control.
  • Dishonesty: What was the lie I told myself? Or, an untruth I used to justify my behavior.
  • Self-Seeking: What did I do to get what I wanted or feel better? Or, the actions I took that resulted from a willingness to indulge my selfishness.
  • Fear: What was I afraid of? Or, what fear motivated my selfishness, dishonesty, and self-seeking in the first place?

To demonstrate the difference between defects and effects, we might think about an action such as gossiping. Gossiping, itself, is not a defect of character. It is a self-seeking behavior. We were willing, for example, to indulge our underlying fear that someone else was getting ahead or acting against our interest, so we gossiped about them. The same goes for cruelty, hitting another person, or compulsively eating. They are all behavior responses enabled by our character defects.

When, in Step 6, we become ready to let God remove all our defects of character, we may want to take a moment to consider what that means. It’s not just that we want HP to make us stop binging. It’s that we want our Higher Power to remove or remedy those conditions inside us that have proven over time to lead inevitably to overeating. We want not merely relief but total change. If those defects are on-ramps to compulsive-eating, we want God to close those entrances and reroute us to the superhighway of an abstinent, spiritual life.