Permission to be powerless

Once we walk through the doors of OA, we may think that we have made the big decision.  We have finally given up the ghost with food. Our compulsive eating has left our minds, emotions, and spirit battered and bruised. We tell ourselves we really mean it. After all, why else would we go to meetings?

As we read OA literature, listen at meetings, and talk to our fellows, we begin to understand the idea of powerlessness. We learn that we cannot control our own eating by an act of willpower. We cannot stop once we’ve started, and we cannot stop from starting. We need this program because we grasp the seriousness of the situation. And yet, many of us struggle for a long time with Step 1.

Of course, to some degree, the struggle to gain abstinence arises from the cycle of cravings we initiate any time we pick up that first bite. This physical manifestation of our disease demands more and more food. Yet, many of us will put down the food long enough to be relieved of the physical sensation of craving only to return to our old eating behaviors. We’ve all been in meetings where a member shares that they can’t explain why they threw a month, six months, a year or two of abstinence out the window.

The insidious idea that after some abstinence we can control our food is planted by our disease. It grows slowly over time. We may begin a period of abstinence as desperate as we’ve ever been, yet give it a little while, and we begin to feel and act as if we’ve been doing the trick all along by our lonesomes. We forget so quickly the lessons that our years of compulsive eating have taught us. Our periods of control are temporary as long as we’re running the show.

Why do we do this? Is it possible that we haven’t given ourselves permission to be powerless? That is, permission to admit to ourselves that when it comes to food addiction our best efforts aren’t, and will never be, good enough to beat the rap. We know it to be true intellectually, and we resist and resist and resist it. We refuse to admit that something as simple as eating has us defeated, even in the face of a lifetime of evidence. Perhaps we ultimately fear that if this thing has us beaten, then all our fears about our own worth or inadequacy are also true?

Good news: they aren’t, and we discover this when we do the Steps. But first we have to give ourselves permission to accept some hard truths. Not just intellectually, but all the way deep down inside. Not just between our ears but between our ribs. We need to take OA actions not because our sponsor suggests them but because we desperately feel we want to recover, not because we think we ought to. We give ourselves permission to embrace the outcome of recovery instead of the fear of what happens if we don’t recover. We give ourselves permission to succeed rather than to avoid failing.

The Big Book tells us that with an attitude of courage and faith, we cannot fail. We give ourselves permission to put our faith in the Steps rather than drive ourselves crazy in another vain attempt to white knuckle our way to the false promise of self-controlled eating.

We will never achieve self-control with food. But with OA’s help we can achieve something far better. We can have a life of purpose, contentedness, and gratitude instead of food obsession, anxiety, and shame. All we have to do is admit defeat so that we can begin to reclaim victory.