Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, the US remembers the sacrifice of lives that freedom requires. In order to be free of tyranny, slavery, and oppression, men and women have fought and died.

As OA members, we go to the front lines and fight for freedom each day. We don’t use guns and bombs, but we fight a pitched battle nonetheless. We seek freedom from the tyranny of our illness, the slavery to the obsession with compulsive eating, and the oppression of our very souls by the ravages of food addiction.

Those of us still actively engaged with OA and the spiritual solution are the lucky ones. Even if we struggle with our food, we know that the war is winnable. We know it because we see other OA members in normal sized or shrinking bodies day after day, week after week, year after year. We hear in their stories that OA is not just some crash diet nor that they suddenly developed will power. We know that spirituality is real and it does for them what they could never do for themselves.

But we also see that many, many members come and go. We wonder what happened to them. Are they still alive? Or has our disease destroyed them fully. We can let every day be Memorial Day in OA, and turn our reflection into action. When someone has disappeared from our midst, we can call them. We can email them. We can text them. They need our loving support, and we need them just as badly. Helping others is what keeps us on the spiritual straight and narrow.

People leave OA for numerous reasons. If they return, they often find in retrospect that the reasons for their departure were trivial excuses that their illness used to keep them away from getting better. When people stay away from OA one day at a time, they suffer. If they’ve been to just a couple meetings, they may know that a solution is out there but resent the idea that they need a Higher Power to recover. If they’ve done a lot of work in OA, they may feel guilt or shame about returning after a long absence. They may also have experienced the terrible sensation of having a belly full of food and a head full of OA.

Sometimes an OA may leave the program and die. Our disease claims lives every day (whether the sufferer was an OA member or not). If we go back to compulsively eating, we can be in grave danger. Type 2 diabetes is a killing disease that is triggered by obesity and excessive weight gain. It’s end stages are not pretty: Losing toes or legs, exploding blood vessels in the eyes and potential blindness, dependence on insulin, and the frustration of a food addicted mind grappling with the need for careful dietary management. Heart disease isn’t sexy either. Difficulty breathing, inability to conduct basic activities without shortness of breath or dizzy spells, the fear that at any minute the big one could hit. Obesity increases the risk of stroke, which often results in loss of speech, movement, sight, or brain function. COPD and emphysema can also be caused by obesity, and a life of irreversible constant coughing and shortness of breath won’t make anyone’s top-ten list.

Diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD/emphysema, and those are just the tip of the deathblow iceberg. People with our disease die in the trenches all the time. They are fighting the food and are losing or already lost. Yet, we know that fighting the food isn’t the same as abstaining. We know a spiritual solution that works and the power of fellowship to help.

If our battle is fought on the emotional and spiritual planes, then we have the ability to bring people back from that kind of death. We do it by reaching out to those who have left OA and whose emotions and spirit have often flatlined. We let them know that they are still loved and that the solution is still out there for them. We let our Higher Power act through us so that others may have their lives saved as ours have been so saved.

7 ways that compulsive eaters are not like normal people

The Big Book is filled with all sorts of lists, language, description, and stories whose purpose is to smash the idea that we are normal with respect to our food behaviors. Bill W, Dr. Bob, and the other early AAs knew full well that the illness of addiction was no respecter of facts. It lies, deceives, warps, obscures, and bends whatever information and memories it needs to so that it can perpetuate our compulsion. Our brains are trying to kill us.

So an important aspect of the Big Book’s message is to get our head out of the metaphorical sand. Dr. Silkworth writes in “The Doctor’s Opinion” that alcoholics think “their life is the only normal one,” which frustrates and boggles them because they see others drinking without harrowing consequences. They think they are normal so they should be able to drink like everyone else. But they can’t.

Swap food for drink, and it fits compulsive eaters to a tee. We OAs who have thought that maybe we were “making too big a deal” of compulsive eating have compared ourselves to normal eaters. Even once we hear the truth in OA about our compulsion, our mind continues to deny that we are materially different than anyone else. We “should” be able to eat normally and exercise willpower. We “should” be able to lose the weight. We “should” be able to live happy, healthy lives. Our disease is so tricky that many people leave OA because the idea that we have control is so persistently trotted out by our stinking thinker that it seems like truth.

This fallacy of normalcy will kill us if left unchecked. So we’ve got to examine our behaviors carefully. Not just at a surface level either. Nearly all of us in OA can admit to doing warped things with food: eating from the garbage, eating burnt/freezerburnt food, binging in vast quantities, hiding food, stealing food, excessively exercising or dieting out of shame, purging or starving out of desperation. You name it.

But those are the outward manifestations of our disease. They explode out of our motivations, our attitudes, our beliefs about ourselves and others. Not surprisingly, in meetings we hear a great deal of commonality about those underlying thoughts. The following are a few that we hear most often. If we struggle with the question of whether or not we really are compulsive eaters, these might remind us, because they are thoughts that normal eaters don’t have about food.

  1. Getting my food is more important than the needs of the people around me.
    Do we have to have something in our mouths before we can see to the needs of our children? Do we become irritated or angry if our spouse asks us to do something before we get can get at our food?
  2. Once one meal has ended, the countdown begins to the next.
    Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. After we finish breakfast, do we start looking at our phone, our computer, our car’s clock well before we are due to eat lunch? If it’s 11:55, are we capable of waiting patiently for the next five minutes? Or do we typically say “close enough,” grab it, and wolf it down.
  3. If I don’t have access to food, I am not OK.
    Does our sense of moment-to-moment security rely on our proximity to food? Do we feel edgy until we nail down where we can get our next bite from? Must we have our food fix to simply get through the day?
  4. I’d rather die than be without my favorite foods!
    Would we rather eat compulsively or stop so that we can see our children or grandchildren graduate, get married, or have children? We may say “of course, the latter,” but do our actions suggest we’d rather eat? Do we heed our doctors’ advice and lay off our binge foods if we get a diagnosis of diabetes or heart disease? Can we imagine a life worth living without our favorite binge foods?
  5. Is food fuel?
    Can we differentiate between food as fuel and food as fun? Is food a material object that we need to live? Or do we imbue it with magic, mystique, and fond memories despite what it always does to us?
  6. Being alone with my thoughts is too difficult without food.
    Can we sit by ourselves without eating? Can we reflect on the happy or sad aspects of our day or our lives without resorting to food. Are there repetitive flashbulb moments, deeply disturbing memories, or thought loops that we can’t bear without the effect food has on us?
  7. I’m not worth saving anyway, so what difference does it make how much I eat?
    Do we believe that no one will care much if we’re gone? Do we feel as though our own lives are worth less than the brief feeling of relief that comes from eating compulsively?

What makes us different than normal people isn’t only that we think like this, it’s that we think like this all the time! Food is the axis our lives spin on, and our addictive thinking propels us around and around that axis until we find the solution or die from our disease.

Fortunately, there is an answer. With OA we can arrest our illness one day at a time. With the help of our fellow OAs and our program of recovery from food addiction, we not only can put down the food, but we can undergo a metamorphosis into the kind of person we’d always hoped we could be. A person whose thoughts don’t constantly consist of food and whose underlying motives don’t resemble a death wish. It’s a much better way to live than we have ever had before.

Tradition of the Month: Serving our primary purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

Here’s an OA slogan that is often understood incorrectly: “Service is slimming.” It is not slimming for us. Only an abstinence supported by the Steps and Traditions is slimming for us. But you know who it might be slimming for? Everyone else in OA.

This sounds paradoxical, but like many OA slogans, it requires us to shift our perspective to see a simple truth. Tradition Five tells us that our job as a meeting is to carry the message. Service in OA provides the people power for carrying that message. When we each do our part to help our meetings carry the message, more food addicts can hear it and begin their journey toward recovery. Therefore, by doing service, we are helping everyone else get slim by finding the solution we’ve found.

Carrying the message is also part of Step 12, which is vital to maintaining our recovery. But if it comes at the end of the Steps, what good is it for those who haven’t gotten there yet? Plenty good! The Steps are there to change our perspective. Our self-centered impulses rule us. Even if we show codependence, we can recognize that as a kind of self-centeredness. But service doesn’t come with guilt, compulsion, or as an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. Service in OA is freely given with the knowledge that it will help someone, somewhere, sometime. It is also given freely out of gratitude for what has been given us: a path to recovery. If we aren’t yet at Step 12, giving service helps open our hearts and minds to the idea of being others-centered.

When we do service, we may be pleasantly surprised by the subtle change in attitude we feel. Whether working alone or with our fellow OAs, we find that we want to do a good job not because we’ll look good or get accolades or win friends. Instead we may, in some cases for the first time in a very long time, do something because we can feel in our spirits that our actions are helping others in some small way. Our Higher Power can use that little spark to crack open long closed-off reservoirs of sympathy, empathy, and joy, which each nurture our recovery and make us useful and purposeful in ways we may never have known before.

In most cases, service is easier than we think it will be. At the meeting level, we may raise our hands for a position such as treasurer or speaker-seeker. These turn out to be far less time-consuming or complicated than we thought they would be. A phone call here or there, adding up the money and giving the rent check to our host location aren’t going to suck us dry of time. Though our sickened minds might tell us otherwise. Tasks such as setting up chairs, carrying the meeting’s bag, or being the key carrier give us the chance to support carrying the message in nuts and bolts ways. If our meeting doesn’t require many service positions, we can even make one up! Does the meeting have a greeter? If not, we might ask to be one and then greet members as they come in.

Our local Intergroup is EXCLUSIVELY about providing service for carrying the message. An Intergroup’s function is to help meetings join at a broader level what they cannot do themselves. Creating special events, informational campaigns, and strategic plans for getting the message out to the community all require service by many individuals. Anyone can provide service at the Intergroup level. Even if we don’t currently meet the requirements for an Intergroup office holder, we have many talents and experiences that can be helpful. Special events may need someone with design talent to create flyers. An initiative aimed at educating the medical community might benefit from those in the fellowship who have worked in the field. Project-management skills are always helpful for executing on any kind of long-range plan.

So if we want service to be slimming, we might need to think of someone else’s waistline besides ours. We might need to consider the idea that raising our hand for service is

  • changing our mindset to be less self-centered, which supports our Step work
  • taking out insurance on our own recoveries (Step 12)
  • giving back freely to the the fellowship that so freely gave us recovery
  • ensuring that OA is around in perpetuity for folks like us.

Let’s carry the message!

Step of the Month: Honesty

Honesty, it turns out, doesn’t have to be a lonely word. In OA, we need to get honest about our food and our lives as quickly as possible. It’s imperative that we can stop killing ourselves with food, of course, but that longer life will be much happier and free if we can be honest with ourselves and those around us. Step Five takes us a long way toward our new ideal of complete honesty.

The moment that we cross the line into addiction, we became liars. Our diseased minds may tell us that we are honest people, but we’re not. We have lied to ourselves daily about food. “This time I’ll get control.” “I can eat this without repercussions.” “Screw it. I’m going to eat because I’m not worth saving anyway, and food is my only proven source of comfort.”

Meanwhile, we’ve told half-truths, dissembled, obfuscated, omitted, prevaricated, stolen, stashed, and out-and-out told baldfaced lies to ourselves and others about our food, our feelings, and our life. With the best intentions, we’ve said to spouses and children that we’ll stop eating so unhealthfully. Maybe we even lose a few pounds. Then we pick up that disastrous first bite again. All along, we ignore our history of continually failing to control our food. We ignore the lingering feeling that it won’t work anyway. We do it for them instead of doing it for ourselves.

Another common source of dishonest around food is stealing. We put our hand into someone else’s candy stash at work. We eat a roommate’s food and hide the evidence. We may even shoplift, including eating out of bulk food bins without paying first for the “sample” we’ve taken.

Perhaps the very worst lie our illness perpetrates on us is the one that says “I am not good enough.” That little sentence is food addiction pulling the trigger on the eating gun that’s destroying us. We who have experienced this disease and found recovery know now that this is, indeed, a huge lie. All of us are worth being saved from the oblivion of food addiction. But try to tell anyone who’s in its grips.

In fact, they have to tell themselves. That is what Step Five is all about. In Step Four, we wrote a fearless and searching moral inventory. But what good is the inventory if we don’t do something with it? A business that takes inventory doesn’t just file it away. It then decides what to keep, throw away, or order. In our inventory we have learned much about our dishonesty. We’ve also learned how to be more honest with ourselves. Now in Step Five, we’re going to use that inventory and the connection with made with our Higher Power to reach a new level of honesty by sharing it out loud, omitting nothing.

At this point, some members feel awkward or frightened. Of course we do. We are always thinking of ourselves, so we fear how will the person who is hearing our inventory judge us. But we go ahead anyway. We have to or else.

We read our inventory aloud to our Higher Power and another (carefully chosen) person (who is likely our sponsor). As we read, we discover a few things. First that holding all this crap inside of us has been exhausting. We’re relieved to just get it out. Second that if our listener is an OA member or familiar with the Twelve Steps, they completely understand. They nod their heads and remind us that they and many others have done the very same things we have. Third that when we are done, we have just done the most honest thing we’ve ever done. We can meet anyone’s eye without blinking because we have told the whole truth, and it made us stronger and didn’t kill us.

Some of us may experience the aftermath of Step Five as a refreshing breeze that blows across us. Others may simply feel quiet and grateful. Still others report that it took them a few days or weeks to notice a difference in themselves. But inevitably, they eventually feel a remarkable difference in their feeling about themselves and in their ability to be honest.

Thanks to our Higher Powers’ willingness to help us recover, we come face to face with our dishonest past, and we sweep it away by being utterly honest about it and by then following Step 5 with more action in the middle Steps. And we learn the big truth: That we are OK on the inside. We move from hope for a better life toward a certainty we will find it with God’s help. Honesty in OA isn’t lonely. We find it by working with our Higher Power, our sponsor, and the fellowship. In fact, as we discover that honesty really is the best and simplest policy, we find that we feel closer to others in lives because, finally, we can be real with them.