(Un)justified anger

No fair!!! That’s one of childhood’s classic refrains. As kids we do recognize right from wrong, and we call it out when we see it. But as we age, we learn that, in fact, life and the world are not fair. But on the inside we’re still six-year-olds turning red in the face.

As adults we have words for various kinds of unfairness: nepotism, favoritism, corruption, taxation without representation, illegality, disparity, classism, racism, sexism, ethno-centrisism, bigotry.

Our disease loves all flavors of unfairness.

The disease of addiction can’t wait to get hold of something that we perceive as unfair and turn it into justified anger. That’s the best kind of anger, right? It’s the motivator of all the raging arguments, debates, fisticuffs, revenge plans, courtroom scenes, and showdown fantasies that play in our heads. On repeat. Until we interrupt the thought with food.

As usual, we want to take the edge off, and why wouldn’t we with all the exhausting fights going on behind our eyes. The thing about justified anger is that it lingers much longer than the flashing anger we feel when we get cut off in traffic. Justified anger spins up and up, becoming increasingly complex as we tease out its nuances, assemble evidence for our prosecution, and revisit the subject ad nauseum. It starts to spill out in bad, then hostile moods as well as depression. But most of all, we just can’t get it out of our minds. So we think the only thing we can do is bury it alive with food.

As human beings, justified anger is going to happen. We are afraid of our own anger, and we know that we must do something to avoid letting our spiraling rage take over us like the Incredible Hulk. So we eat because we don’t know better. Once we have joined OA and worked on the Steps, however, we discover a third way. We learn to use spiritual principles to defuse our red-hot emotions.

To start with, we can go to meetings and talk about the situation with others. We need to reach out to the fellowship because justified anger is a great way for terminal uniqueness to spring up. No one can understand my anger because they don’t know my [family member, friend, boss, coworker, opponent] and what they’ve done. That kind of thinking is just our brain trying to kill us. It’s been waiting for something to come up so it can steer us back to the misery of compulsive eating.

We can pick up the 1,000-pound phone and talk to others. We can lean on our sponsor. We can read OA literature. We might write a letter to God about the situation. Because this is a spiritual program, we can trust and rely on our Higher Power by praying like crazy for removal of our anger. The Serenity Prayer and the Angry Man’s Prayer from page 68 in the Big Book are helpful here. The latter goes like this:

This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.

If we must confront the subject of our anger, we should do so only after prayer, meditation, and quiet deliberation. When we talk to this person or persons, we should do so carefully. It may be helpful to remember a bit of wisdom from a book of wisdom:

The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, and the lips of a fool swallow him up.

We are here to do good on this earth, not to pick fights. If we feel we have been treated unfairly, we may take action or we may choose to accept the situation. In either event, however, we must use spiritual principles and action so that we don’t sow seeds of anger in others. We don’t have the luxury to go off half-cocked because if we do, our disease might put us back in its full nelson.

Any excuse is a trivial excuse to eat

There’s no good excuse for wittingly taking the first bite. Not when we know what kind of pain and misery this disease brings us. Not when we know the terrible, fatal consequences of our decision to eat.

But when our disease gets hold of us, we do it anyway. We think out complex levels of justification. The broken shoelace led to not being able to wear the right shoes. That led to a blister. Which led to an embarrassing limp. Which led others to look askance and judge. Which led to negative self-talk. Which led to feelings of uselessness and worthlessness. Which led to taking off a loved one’s head at a slight provocation. Which led to a big fight. Which led to feelings of isolation. Which led to the first bite. All because of the broken shoelace!

We tell ourselves that any one of these things by itself isn’t so bad, but taken all together, it’s simply too much for us to handle.

In the Big Book’s chapter “More About Alcoholism” (page 37), it says, “There was always the curious mental phenomenon that parallel with our sound reasoning there inevitably ran an insanely trivial excuse for taking the first drink.” Or bite in our case.

In fact, given what happens whenever we take the first bite, any excuse is trivial. We understand the torture of food addiction. It is dehumanizing and utterly painful. Any time we try to take the edge off with food, we are making things worse, not better. First of all, we are engaging our addiction, which has terrifying consequences. Second, we aren’t even getting rid of the feeling. We burying it alive temporarily, knowing fully well that it will come back after us later. It always does.

Actually the broken shoelace that started this example off is in fact too much for us to handle. So are all of those other things in the scenario. We’ve proven again and again to ourselves that we can’t handle feelings of any sort. Otherwise, why do we continually eat to take the edge off? So we need a Higher Power to get us through these spots that we can’t navigate ourselves without food.

But what about truly awful circumstances? What about abuse, past or present? Instances of rape, the death of a loved one? A diagnosis of late-stage cancer? A crippling accident? Or some horrendous combination of them all? That big hairy monster that makes us unique and broken and unfixable?

The answer to that question is in the halls of OA, looking right back at us. Among OA’s membership are thousands of people who have been physically, sexual, or emotionally abused, and who are not eating. OA members have been through the worst diseases without the first bite. Live or die, they don’t pick up. Thousands of OAs have lost parents, siblings, children, friends, pets, you name it and still not taken that first sucker bite. They all have their own hairy monster of damage, and they don’t eat over it.

These people know today that there is absolutely no excuse that can justify a return to compulsive eating. If they do, they not only inflict misery on themselves, but they, in turn, inflict misery on those around them by the inevitable falling apart and negative personality changes that compulsive eating brings. These people know that in each of the dire situations just mentioned eating will make them less able to cope, less able to heal, and less able to help those who desperately need it.

One other thing they know: That they didn’t avoid picking up on their own willpower. If only! Instead, they were given courage, strength, and purpose by their Higher Power…however they understand their HP…and found additional strength through the Steps, Traditions, Tools, and fellowship of OA.

So next time the wheel of addictive thinking presents us with the choice to eat over our problems or not, let’s choose to not. Because otherwise, we’re just making excuses.

 

The 1 question to ask before that first compulsive bite

Are we asking the wrong question about taking that first compulsive bite? We often have second thoughts when faced with that fateful decision, questions such as:

  • Am I going to do this to myself again?
  • Will this lead to another binge?
  • Why do I want to eat this?

These are all helpful responses, and yet, they don’t get at the most basic part of what every addict faces, including us compulsive eaters.

One of the most important paragraphs in the Big Book is in the Doctor’s Opinion (pp xxvii–xxix). Dr. Silkwood tells us that when we put the substance into our bodies we have a reaction that creates physical cravings. But before we do so, however, we are activated mentally and obsess about eating. And why are we activated to obsess? Because of a thought or feeling.

The doctor tells us “Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.… They are restless, irritable, and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks….” Or to put it another way, we eat because we want to take the edge off.

That edge is the emotional discomfort or pain we feel in any given moment. It is both the triggering event itself (job stress, a fight with a loved one, a broken shoelace) and the accumulation of every hurt, disappointment, and fear that we’ve buried alive inside us by eating. Every new pain reminds of all the previous ones, so we do what we did before: eat compulsively.

We never just sit with emotional discomfort. It’s too much for us. We may appear stoic on the outside, but by always taking the edge off, we are admitting that our discomfort is stronger than we are.

In OA, however, we discover that our Higher Power is more powerful than our feelings. Even our roughest emotions are no match for the god of our understanding. So the question we ask ourselves now is:

Are we willing to trust and rely on God to get us through discomfort instead of turning to food?

After all, why would we ever turn to the food that makes us miserable instead of the God that makes us feel better?

Of course, there’s an important condition to trusting God instead of food. We need a conception of God that we can actually put trust in. If we are unable to achieve abstinence despite asking our HP for help, our understanding of God may be too limited. Or it may simply be the wrong conception for us.

In the former case, we may believe a Higher Power is out there, but we don’t really believe it cares about us. Or we may believe we are so terminally unique that not even God can help us. These are both instances where we can choose to let an HP show us its power rather than assume it isn’t available to us. The way we do that is by not taking the first bite, finally asking God for help, and observing what happens when we let go and let God.

In the case of having the wrong conception for us, we may have long-held religious beliefs that are hindering our spiritual understanding. If we are not actively religious, we may find it useful to finally admit that our religious heritage isn’t helping us and seek a God concept that does. If we are engaged in religion, we might consult with our religious teacher or leader to see if we something about our concept of God is holding us back.

Of course, we may be atheistic or agnostic. This is no barrier to trusting and relying on God. We might define it as Good Orderly Discipline or as Group of (Food) Drunks. Others among us with the atheistic/agnostic line of thinking have seen other OAs recover with the help of a Higher Power and simply decided their conception is a Great Friend or the God of My Not Understanding. If it helps, we don’t have to use the capital G.

The most important thing is that we have a useful, effective conception of a Higher Power.

Why is it so important? Because we need to believe that whatever it is we trust will get us through the rough patches we ate over in the past. We need to believe that we can sit with discomfort thanks to the help of something bigger than we are. We need something that we can pray to, paraphrasing the Doctor’s Opinion, asking: Higher Power please bring me ease and comfort.

Trust God, clean house, and help others is the formula Dr. Bob passed down. Not picking up the first bite is putting trust in our HP, demonstrating our willingness, and starting down the road to happy destiny.

Tradition of the Month: 8 ways to live OA unity every day

1Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

Is there anyone in our program who doesn’t believe in OA unity? In order to be a listed OA meeting, a group need only meet a precious few requirements. Primarily that it welcomes all compulsive eaters and that it follows the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of OA. This is the most basic unifying principle of OA. It’s everything after that where things get tricky. After all, no one in OA believes in the power of factionalism to arrest our illness.

Whether it’s our disease talking through our pride, or it’s our zeal to share our experience with others, we sometimes get a little off the beaten path. As we do we may find ourselves feeling apart from other members and perhaps even recruiting others to help us make things “right” with our meeting or the program. Thus disunity emerges from a wish to do good.

Here are ways that we can ensure we don’t interrupt the unity of OA and jeopardize our recoveries and those of our fellows. There are many others, but these represent seven common situations that can arise in OA (and all human endeavors).

  1. Let others use the food plan of their choice.
    In the past, OA has been so divided by the question of what food plan is best that factions broke away and formed their own independent recovery program. When we advocate for a specific food plan, we may be making others’ plans “wrong” without even realizing it.
  2. Identify as a willing sponsor.
    The Steps and Traditions of the program are best learned from an informed sponsor. When we raise our hands for sponsorship at a meeting, we create opportunities to pass along the message of OA unity.
  3. Let other do the 12 Steps by whatever means they wish.
    We all have our own path to finding recovery through the 12 Steps. Just because one way works for us or many of us doesn’t make it right for all of us. Besides, it may be that a person needs to do it one way at first and will eventually try it your way. In which case, you may find yourself able to help them.
  4. Let others make mistakes.
    Decades after its inception, it should be clear that no one person can topple OA by making mistakes that violate a Tradition or a part of a meeting format. Take the opportunity to gently remind the mistake maker of the Tradition in play. Most of these mistakes arise from ignorance, not belligerence. Live and let live.
  5. Give those we disagree with the benefit of the doubt.
    Our OA fellows are not enemies or extremists. We’re all trying to get better together, and we’re all going to be sick with this disease for our entire lives.
  6. Keep speculations between our ears.
    When we begin to place motives on people or divine their true intentions, we engage in a form of dishonesty that can be harmful to our abstinence if we let it fester. But gossiping with others about those speculations can lead to rifts between members and lay groundwork for factionalism.
  7. Let God guide the group’s conscience.
    If ever we find ourself rallying consensus and counting votes, we’re politicking rather than seeking God’s will as expressed through our group conscience.
  8. Ask our Higher Power to open our minds and our hearts.
    If we are in intense disagreement with another member, perhaps we are clinging too strongly to our own beliefs. We can ask God to show us why. Better yet, we can ask our HP to show us the question at hand from the other person’s point of view. And even better, we can ask God to show us how to be loving to that person even when we are in disagreement.

In the end, we could surely sum up these and many other ways to adopt a unity stance this way: Practice OA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions in all our affairs. If we can embody those principles and practices, we’re going to feel great, our fellows will respond with greater kindness and respect to us, and we will be doing our part to keep OA unity healthy and strong.

Together we get better!!!

Step of the Month: 12 Big Fat Lies Compulsive Eaters Tell Themselves

We compulsive overeaters are dishonest by nature. Really! For decades, our brains have been telling us lies about our eating to keep us eating. The truth about compulsive eating is that it is an illness. We are not like other people. We have a physical allergy to food that creates systematic cravings, a mental obsession with food, and a downward spiral of our spiritual well-being. But some of us are so wedded to our lies that we either don’t realize they are lies or are too afraid of failure to address them.

Here are 12 of the lies shared retrospectively by people who have experienced recovery. Lies that keep us stuck in our disease when we accept them as truths.

  1. I’m a bad person because I can’t stop eating compulsively.
    We’re sorry to burst this bubble, but we aren’t bad people. What we are is people with a chronic, progressive illness that we cannot control.
  2. I don’t care anymore. I might as well keep eating.
    If we truly didn’t care, we wouldn’t be preoccupied with our bodies and the pain the disease causes us. Experience shows that we eat precisely because we care desperately.
  3. If I could eat like a normal person, everything would be better.
    An insidious lie if there ever was one. What we’re really saying to ourselves is that we wish we could eat as much as we wanted and not gain weight so that we could keep eating compulsively and not face any consequences.
  4. I’m only hurting myself.
    We bury feelings with food, and in our more lucid moments, we recognize that the people who love us are deeply concerned by the slow suicide our food behaviors appear to be.
  5. All I have to do is eat in moderation.
    Sure, and while were at it, we can build a time machine, be in two places and once, and bring peace and harmony to the world with one magic word. Controlling our food is no longer possible for us. By the time we learned about OA, that ship had sailed a long time ago.
  6. Life wouldn’t be worth it if I couldn’t have my favorite foods.
    Really? And how’s life going with those favorite foods?
  7. Depriving myself of my favorite foods is just a way to punish myself.
    Perhaps abstaining from those foods is a way to give ourselves the gifts of freedom, joy, and happiness?
  8. I’m just an emotional eater.
    Maybe true. If so, try this experiment just to make sure: Put a serving of your favorite food in front of yourself, but keep the rest of the contents of its original container within arm’s reach. Now sit in front of that one serving and see if you can not eat it. Try it for 5 minutes. 10 minutes. An hour. Try it a couple days in a row. In our experience, few if any compulsive overeaters can keep themselves from not only eating that serving but from getting into the rest of the container as well. It’s because our emotions are only a trigger for our eating, not the root cause.
  9. I eat because of what someone else did to me or how they treated me. You’d eat too!
    In other words, we take the poison we intend for the other person.
  10. I know myself, and I can’t change.
    Do you really know yourself? What we find out in OA is that underneath the highly-defended face we present to the world is a person we don’t know very well. We haven’t let anyone, including ourselves, get close to that person for years, perhaps decades, because of pain and fear. We’ve discovered that our outward behaviors can indeed be changed if we let go of what we think we know about ourselves and adopt an attitude of rigorous honesty, openness, and willingness to try what millions of others have used successfully to arrest this killing disease one day at a time.
  11. I just need to get through ____, and I’ll OK.
    In our experience, addiction doesn’t care what’s going on in our lives. We can eat over a broken shoelace, a broken heart, a broken arm, or a broken home. There’s always some reason to eat.
  12. I’ve tried everything else, and OA won’t be any different.
    OA isn’t like anything else. Come in, stick around, you’ll see.