The 12 threats of Christmas…and what to do about them

On the Sunday before Christmas, many of us are in a hurry. Last minute gift buying. Parties. And of course football. In the week to come we food addicts will face a number of potential threats to our abstinence. Even if we are not religious, many of these threats and triggers will be present for us:

  1. Celebratory meals: Christmas dinner, out with friends, whatever, especially ones with specialty items we used to look forward to all year.
  2. Shopping: We don’t know what to get our assistant, so we go to the local chocolatier or liquor store to get something genial that everyone likes…but that we like too much.
  3. Parties: Office parties, open houses thrown by friends, and our own shindigs have one thing in common. There’s always a ton of food and booze, and it’s usually a prime grazing opportunity.
  4. Goodies brought in by coworkers, vendors, clients, etc: The print vendor sends their annual basket of sweets and carbs, or maybe it’s a medical supplier, or, if you teach, it’s parents. If you work in an office, or your spouse does, you’ll likely be faced with open boxes of delectables that you really want to eat but really really don’t want to eat.
  5. Stocking stuffers: Your kids want to share a chocolate Santa or two with you. Or, gee, you’re giving them your favorite candy. And, that advent calendar with the pop-out chocolates needs attending to….
  6. Holiday food and beverage gifts: Uncle Jedediah gave you another bottle of Baileys? Auntie Shinnelle signed you up for the cake-of-the-month club? At least they mean well.
  7. Family: Nothing triggers us like family. They know how to push our buttons because they put the buttons there in the first place.
  8. Old eating/drinking buddies: Seeing old school pals over the holiday? And being around them reminds you of all the times you went to the diner or the bar in your hometown?
  9. Memories of holidays when we ate compulsively: Why limit ourselves to feeling threatened by this year’s holiday when we can hammer ourselves with guilt over all the other holidays where we ate without our permission.
  10. Cooking: Whether we’re trigger by the pressure of getting a meal out on time, of a million people in the kitchen with us, or we just find ourselves suddenly drawn to the beaters of a mixer, a spoon laden with stuff, or a piece of what we’re cooking that no one will ever miss.
  11. Smells: You’re at the mall shopping and you walk within 100 feet of some cart roasting this holiday treat or that. These smells can be powerful triggers. We can almost taste them.
  12. Feelings: Of any sort, but especially ones that lead toward self-pity.

These and many other people, places, and things may call to us this coming week. What do we do about it? For one, we don’t ignore those thoughts or dismiss them. They are a danger to us. We must acknowledge them and deal with them appropriately. In the midst of all the hoohah, what do we do?

Why, we use the Steps and Tools of OA, of course!

If we have established a relationship with a Higher Power, we find a way to quickly remove ourselves from the triggering situation. Maybe feigning a pee break? We use that time to reach out to our Higher Power and ask that he/she/it/they relieve us of the obsession and give us the willingness and strength to stay away from the food. If we feel fear, we can use the fear prayer in the Big Book:

God, please remove my fear and direct my attention to what You would have me be.

If we are still new in OA and haven’t yet made spiritual contact with our Higher Power, then we can use OA’s tools. Most convenient is the telephone. We can call or text an OA pal to bring the power of the fellowship to our situation. We can excuse ourselves and quickly read a piece of OA literature we’ve brought with us just for this reason. If a meeting is available to us, online or in person, perhaps we can attend it. We can use any of the Tools we want, but we must them if they are to work for us.

But what might be most important to us in the next week is simply having a plan. If we just blithely hope for the best, we are liable to be caught off guard and highly susceptible to the first bite. So we think through what tough situations are likely to occur, and we talk to our sponsor to make a plan for dealing with them. Don’t have a sponsor? Talk to an OA friend about it. But do get a sponsor!

No matter what, however, we can take a good piece of advice from the Big Book. Wherever we go or do in the next week, we can try to bring a good time to those around us instead of sitting hangdog wishing we could chow with impunity. Because we can’t, so we might as well bring some of the joy, love, and peace that the holiday season is supposed to be about.

Tradition of the Month: “Ever Reminding Us”

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to put principles before personalities.

Ever reminding us? Really? What kind of nag was Bill Wilson when he wrote this, anyway? Do we really need constant reminding that spiritual principles come before personalities? Well, all of the human history, and especially the collective Twelve Step experience, vociferously say Yes!

Human history is filled with good gone wrong. There’s the idea of “lethal mutation” where a good idea becomes popular and, like in a game of telephone, is turned into its opposite by excited people retelling and incorrectly or selfishly implementing it. Many helpful notions turn dark once other human beings discover how to leverage them for personal gain, or out of sheer ignorance of core principles.

These are lessons we OAers need to heed. If we are to overcome the killing disease of food addiction one day at a time, we must have OA to help us, and OA won’t survive if we don’t take special care to see that our spiritual principles are followed.

But “ever reminding us”?

Turns out we do need continual reminders. We addicts are prone to strange moods and twists of mind, and our disease is opportunistic. It will use our own sense of pride and our ego to kill us. We think we can sharpen up the spiritual principles that our founders presented. We’ll make them even better. Maybe discard this one in this situation to make that one better. We’ll add a little here and nip and tuck a little there to get it just right. Or maybe we’ll flout those principles all together because, hey, we got this. Next thing you know, it’s not OA anymore. Next thing you know, no one is recovering anymore, and meetings close. Next thing you know, we’re back in the food.

We need to be endlessly reminded because our disease doesn’t take vacation days. Instead it constantly works on us. Addiction is a chronic illness that cannot be cured. Our therapy is a one-day-at-a-time spiritual toolkit that leads us to our Higher Power who helps remain free. Are we so arrogant as to think that once we’re recovered we can start calling the shots for a program we were given and asked to protect?

Who among us forgets that the first bite leads to madness? We know this like we know our names. Yet, some of us nonetheless reach for it again, even after years of recovery. We absolutely accept that we need to be reminded of our vulnerability to food all the time. The same is true of our vulnerability to the emotional aspect of our disease. The control we like to exert and the egoic thinking that leads to the first bite lurks in even more nooks and crannies than the physical compulsion to eat. We desperately need to understand that our mind, even in recovery, can be a place where what we think is our best thinking is actually our worst.

Ever reminded? We can’t hear it enough. But thanks to Tradition Twelve we can easily remember how valuable this program is to us and how to put that value into action by upholding our traditions.

Step of the Month: Practicing these principles during the Holidays

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive eaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The holiday season is an open invitation to pig out. Christmas dinner, Hanukah festivities, New Years Eve parties, Kwanza celebrations. There’s food frickin’ everywhere. As OA members, we’re taught to use our program’s tools to support our abstinence, and this is always helpful advice. And if we need a little something extra, Step 12 provides a way.

If we recall the cycle of addiction, it always begins with a thought or feeling that we makes us uncomfortable. We obsess about food when we are mentally or emotionally activated. In recovery, we learn that to stop this cycle in its tracks, we must use the tools and Steps. But what if we could avoid this activation in the first place?

That’s what the Steps help us do. The holidays activate many of us because we spend them with the people who trigger us the most: our loved ones. They know how to get us going and which buttons to press to get us wrapped around the axel. They will assume the roles and characters they’ve always played in the family drama of our life. After all, they may not have a program, and we can’t expect them to change.

It is we who must play our part differently. If we do, we will be less prone to the mental/emotional activation that leads to the first bite.

But how do we do it? Step 12 suggests we apply the principles we’ve learned in the Steps. For example, the Big Book shares many important ideas, including the following:

  • resentment is the number one offender
  • fear is a corrosive thread in the fabric of our lives
  • kindless, love, and tolerance are our code
  • when we are wrong, we promptly admit it
  • our job now is to be of service to God and others
  • our only defense against the first bite is our Higher Power.

Even if we haven’t yet completed the Steps, we can put these principles into immediate practice. Here’s some examples:

Resentment is the number one offender
If we retain resentment against those we will celebrate with we have choices. We can not go. Or before going, we can work those resentments out using the 10th Step. At the very least, we need to acknowledge our hurts and be honest with someone about them so they don’t own us.

Fear is a corrosive thread in the fabric of our lives
Fear breeds resentment. Fear also breeds compulsive eating. If we are afraid of the situation in our holiday celebrations, we must ask our Higher Power for courage. Courage is the willingness to go forward despite our fear. We’ve been afraid all our lives, so we’ve eaten. Now is not the time to deny our fear and cross our fingers that we won’t be tempted to eat.

Kindness, love, and tolerance is our code
It’s easy to be fun and gentle around our easy-going loved ones. But what about the coarse, bigoted uncle who shouts his opinions at everyone else at the table? Or the bratty teenager who only cares about their phone? Or the sibling you’ve always butted heads with? We can ask ourselves a simple question: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? Nothing we say will change Uncle’s mind. Nothing we do will make that adolescent grow up. The more we try to control a sibling relationship, the more strained it gets. Instead of loading for bear, we can remember that we are as flawed as they are, if not more so and give them the same respect we ask in return.

When we are wrong, promptly admitted it
We addicts are prideful by nature. Our disease uses pride to generate resentments and keep us eating. So if we find ourselves arguing for argument’s sake, or if we find ourselves taking an invitation to a family fight, or if we are too snarky with someone, we can just admit it. Experience shows that we’ll be surprised and delighted by the results.

Our job now is to be of service to God and to others
Even if you don’t yet have a Higher Power, you can easily practice being of service to others. If you are visiting somewhere, ask to set or clear the table. Help with preparing food. Volunteer to go to the store to grab a missing ingredient. Pick up a baby or play with a little one to give a parent a break. Wash or dry the dishes. If you are hosting, mingle and talk with everyone one-to-one to help them enjoy the occasion. Be extra helpful to your spouse or cohost. Don’t try to control the day, just ask people to enjoy it with you.

Our only defense against the first bite is our Higher Power
This most of all. We can’t do it ourselves, but we are never alone if we invite the God of our understanding to show us the way to an abstinent holiday season. We don’t need stocking stuffers, holiday treats, or boozy drinks to feel aglow during the holidays. We only need to ask God to remind us of our gratitude for the blessings we have and to strengthen us in our times of temptation and need. Experience says God will be happy to do so.

Have a joyous and abstinent holiday season!