What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.

Patience is gratitude

Why do we eat compulsively? One reason is that we are impatient to take the edge off of our feelings. We can’t sit still with discomfort. Whether it arrives with words or by an urge, inside we feel that I’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth explains that when we don’t have our substance, we feel “restless, irritable, and discontented.” Even before a triggering feeling or event occurs, we’re emotionally primed for self-sabotaging action because of the general uncomfortableness of our disease. It’s like prickly heat of the mind. So when we can’t stand it anymore, we eat, or we yell at our loved ones, or we blast out of the room we’re in, or we slam the phone into the cradle.

One thing that people routinely discuss in meetings is how much more patient they feel in recovery. We might hear that “those things my husband does don’t bother the way they used to.” Or someone might say that “I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.” A great old saying that gets bandied about: “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” Much of this increase in patience comes about by the simple action of abstaining from our trigger foods. When these substances are no longer in our bodies, physical cravings cease, removing one of the factors in our general impatience. But the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent only clear up once we have experienced the Twelve Steps.

The Steps remove many mental and emotional barriers to abstinence and spirituality. Every trigger we encounter reminds us of some past bruisings of our ego. Just another piece of evidence against us in the court of mental law. But once we do the Steps, these feelings either disappear entirely or they ease so far back that we can gain perspective on them and deal with them in an adult manner. What a relief! The restlessness, irritability, and discontent are not permanent features of our mentality.

We also, however, gain through the Steps the ability to draw upon the support of a Higher Power, however we might define our HP. Infused with spiritual energy, our hearts and spirits soften and we become more open minded. We find that our need for immediate relief has slackened. We can make an appropriate decision or ask God for help. And that pause is beautiful.

When we take a moment before acting, we can reflect, even if just for a moment, on our situation. Are we amped up emotionally? Has anger risen up to our eyeballs? Has a gaping pit of despair opened in our stomach? Have we become so excited that we’re hyper? Pausing to recognize these conditions helps us come down from our emotional high.

Its turns out that applying patience to a situation is also an act of gratitude. We are so thankful for a new lease on life. We may find ourselves reminded that as people in recovery we can demonstrate our gratitude by turning to love and tolerance. We committed in the Third Step to building a better world by helping others:

God, I offer myself to Thee

To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt

Relieve me of the bondage of self

That I may better do Thy will

and take away my difficulties

that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life.

May I do Thy will always.

The bolded areas indicate that our HP wants us to engage in constructive action and help others. It’s the contract we made with God: Save me, and I’ll help You and others. If we react to our emotions (especially the negative ones) instead of pausing, then we risk destroying rather than building. We risk alienating others whom we might help.

So pausing is an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude. We’ve been saved from the doom of compulsive eating, and we return the favor by not going off half-cocked for selfish reasons. We wait as long as is necessary, perhaps a lifetime, perhaps a second. But we wait, sometimes gritting our teeth in gratitude, so that we we can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Tradition of the Month: Innovation from Autonomy

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

In OA, there is no one food plan. Our statement on abstinence says only that “abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight.” Each member determines what abstinence means for them and a food plan and action plan that support their abstinence. No one in the program has the right to tell anyone what they can and cannot do.

In other words, while we depend on the fellowship for support, we are each autonomous in how we work our program.

This very same principle applies to meetings. There is no one way to run a meeting. OA has some important guidelines about meeting formats such as allowing all members the chance to share, avoiding crosstalk, promoting the 12 Steps, and abiding by the 12 Traditions. Beyond that, however, OA as an organization lacks much central authority.

Most organizations have a great deal of centralized authority. There are chains of command and rules both spoken and unspoken. We might think of OA instead with an analogy. OA’s World Service is a greenhouse, and each meeting is one of the plants inside of it. World Service supplies a broad, roomy, and safe place for groups to grow. The beams and glass of the greenhouse are the 12 Traditions. Each group sits in its own pot, finding its own way to thrive. Not every plant will survive, but most will, and they produce their own beautiful flowers.

Sometimes, however, a blight, pest, or invasive species may be inadvertently introduced to the greenhouse. When this occurs, we carefully watch to see whether groups’ own natural defenses will be enough to keep it at bay. If we mind the 12 Traditions, that’s likely. But because we are human beings, events can get ahead of us and begin to spread throughout the greenhouse. When this occurs, we need to be vigilant, and we need to act parsimoniously, doing exactly enough to remedy the issue. We can’t beat the issue by killing everything we’ve planted.

Blatant and repeated breaks of tradition are often cause for consternation and cries for action. But we may find that they end up damaging the metaphorical host plant before it can infect others. So we watch carefully instead of flying off the handle and threatening extreme sanctions. This is the essence of autonomy. It’s OK to let groups do things wrong and to fail. The fourth Tradition explicitly says we don’t get involved unless “other groups and OA as a whole” are affected. Notice it doesn’t say “OA members.” We are not in charge of making things perfect for the newcomer, though many of us have that fear. We are not in charge of making sure someone else is “doing it right,” though our perfectionistic streaks may swell with anxiety.

Ultimately, OA is anarchic by design. This sort of hands-off approach has the great benefit of creating opportunities for innovation. A new and successful meeting format may emerge from the wide experimentations of our groups. We stifle that impulse at OA’s expense…which is ultimately our own expense. So we encourage autonomy and only act if it’s absolutely necessary.

Step of the Month: 10 Suggestions for Completing Our Inventory

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Oftentimes when members contemplate Step 4, the moral inventory, they think Uh-oh. Who wants to face the past? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget it. Who wants to know the bad stuff about themselves? We’ve been eating compulsively to forget that too. Who wants to stare down their fears? We’ve also been eating compulsively to forget them. But compulsive eating never solves the problem. It’s only delaying the inevitable confrontation with ourselves or hastening our demise so we won’t ever have to look ourselves in the eyes.

Are we really that awful? We’re not, but we may not be able to understand that until we actually write our inventory. So for those wary of the inventory or approaching it in their step work, here are several suggestions for completing Step 4 that we hear frequently from those that have worked through it.

  1. It’s not as scary as we thought. In fact, for many of us, we realized that we’d built it up into some kind of monster, yet it turns out to be very gentle.
  2. Just get going. If we wait until we’re ready, we may never start at all. Our window of willingness is only open for so long before we’re again drowning in self-pity and sugar-coated sugar bombs (or whatever our favorite kind of binge foods are).
  3. Write every day. Look, if we’re going to do this thing, let’s get it the heck done! Why delay receiving the gifts of recovery! Even if we only write one page or one entry on a given day, it’s better than nothing at all.
  4. Use a timer. Commit to a certain amount of time each day, and use a kitchen timer to ensure to reach that goal. Because otherwise, our sickened minds will tell us that five minutes is thirty minutes.
  5. Say the Third Step Prayer every time you write. If we’re writing our inventory, then we ought to have completed Step 3. The prayer associated with it (on page 63 of The Big Book) is, in essence, a contract with God. If our HP helps us recover, then we’ll pass it on and be of service to others. It’s helpful to be reminded of that goal while we write. We’re not there to recover so that we can merely feel better. We’re writing inventory so that by our surviving this disease, we can be a beacon to others with our affliction. By helping them, we further insure ourselves against recidivism. So we say the prayer to remember Who’s in charge, and how the program will transform selfish us.
  6. Let God do the writing. By saying the Third Step Prayer, we’re acknowledging that HP is in charge. So then, as we write, we can take care to listen for God’s voice. We may think we know all about ourselves, but in reality, much is buried deep inside us, and we need more power than we have to dig it all out. When we let God push our pen and run the show, we are assured of success.
  7. Perfect is the enemy of recovery. Seeking perfection is self-centeredness running amok, and the Steps are helping to deflate that very kind of attitude. Instead of asking if it’s a perfect job of inventorying, we trust that God will help us see what we need to see. Getting stuck in perfection is a great way to just get stuck.
  8. Use visual aids. The Big Book tells us to be fearless and thorough. So as we make our grudge list, before we declare it done, we might consult yearbooks, photographs, directories, old address books, Facebook, any place where we might get a visual reminder of someone we resent. If we feel anger toward a person, or if we feel some gnawing but unnamable feeling, it’s worth adding them to the list.
  9. Lean on a sponsor. To write an inventory, we must be sure our sponsor has written one, and talk to them frequently about it. We check in with them often, showing them our writing. We can’t be too careful because our minds love to sabotage our efforts to get better. A sponsor can gently show us where our brains are trying to take over and BS us.
  10. The BIG SECRET is that we’re not so bad after all. Yup, if we do this inventory well, trusting God along the way, and working closely with our sponsor, we’re going to discover that while we may have done some bad things, we are not bad people. In fact, we’re good people who have been stuck in a rut thanks to a disease that controls our minds and actions. We see how we’ve been trapped and now we start to see the path ahead of us. A path that’s cleared of choking debris and that leads in  purposeful direction. All those defects of character and experiences we’d rather forget are about to be turned into assets by which we will help others and lead a happy, joyous, and free life.

GET WRITING! KEEP WRITING! FIND FREEDOM!