3 questions about whether we’re spreading hope when we share

Think back to the moment we first walked into an OA meeting. We finally gave up outwitting or toughing out our disease. Our eating discouraged us. The shape of our body discouraged us. So did our emotional health. 

We come into OA on a losing streak. None of us thought that, gee, OA might be a fun place to meet friends and network. We came because our lives, as we were living them, were pretty lousy: chained to food like a slave to their master. None of us had the foggiest idea what to do, we just wanted a place that could help us where no one else could before. So when we went to our first meeting, what were we looking for? Why, hope of course! All we wanted was a tiny glimmer, a glinting of shining hope. Half a ray of hope, even an eighth of a ray, would have been infinitely more hope than we walked in with.

But how do newcomers (or current members) get that hope? In our first meeting, we were probably confused by all the terminology chucked around: abstinence, food plan, Higher Power, unmanageability. What’s it got to do with stopping the uncontrollable urge to eat? Then we hear someone describe their journey. We hear in them what’s familiar: the obsession, the physical need for our binge foods, the fear and self-doubt. We hear in another’s words the lonely secrets of our food behaviors.

But the problem isn’t the only thing we need to feel hopeful. If everyone shared only about the problem, then it’s just talking. What we felt and heard was that OA has a solution. We didn’t necessarily know what “Twelve Steps” means, but we hear people talking about how their compulsive eating has been arrested. We see that they have achieved some physical recovery. And we imagine ourselves in their place. “If they were like that before, and they are getting better, then I can too!”

If we heard hope, then we probably left our first meeting with some lightness in our hearts. Finally, we’ve stumbled into a path forward.

But what if we hadn’t heard hope? What if we didn’t hear that there was a solution? What if we mostly heard about the problem? Or sharing that’s mostly retellings of the difficult problems of the past week? Would we have stuck around?

Just as newcomers need to hear hope, current members, no matter where we are in our journey of recovery, need to hear hope too. Even more important we desperately need to share hope. Step 12 tells us that we are to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer. The Big Book tells us explicitly and implicitly that we must share what happened (the problem), what we did (the solution in OA), and what we’re like now (how we’ve been changed by OA). This isn’t optional, it’s foundational to maintaining our spiritual condition. It’s mirrored again in Tradition 5 that tells us that the primary purpose of any OA meeting is to carry the message to still-suffering compulsive eaters. It’s not about us, it’s about others. It’s about hope!

As practicing OAs, we can ask ourselves three important questions about our sharing:

  • What percentage of our sharing is about our problem with food? With non-food life problems? Or is a retelling of events of the past days or week?
  • What percentage is about how we are working toward the solution?
  • Are we remembering to describe how our lives have changed for the better through OA?

Or we can ask one big question: Do I consistently share so that I feel better or so that someone else in the room feels hope so they can get better?

These answers make all the difference to us as well as the newcomer. If we hear ourselves talking about the solution, we may be more likely to continue reaching for it, reminded of its daily importance to us. Just as the still-suffering compulsive eater may be more likely to stick around and reach for the solution they hear hope from us.

Hope is a diamond for the newcomer, each of our recoveries are its facets, and our Higher Power is the light that sparkles through it.

It works better if you don’t eat

There’s an AA story that goes like this:

An AA member had attended meetings for six months or more. He shared that he was miserable and couldn’t figure out why the program wasn’t working for him. Afterward, a couple old-timers took him aside. They kindly said to him, “It works better if you don’t drink.”

In OA, we can relate. When we’re eating, we’re miserable. We feel shame, guilt, anger, disappointment, and helplessness. There’s little worse than a head full of OA and a belly full of compulsively eaten food. OA works better when we aren’t eating compulsively.

Of course, that’s a pretty obvious statement. Who would dispute that putting down our binge foods and ceasing our compulsive behaviors is good for our OA program? Well, actually, our own brains would. We may be highly logical or intuitively insightful in every other aspect of our lives, but when it comes to food, we can’t tell truth from the lies our food-addled minds foist on us.

The little voice inside our head may tell us that we’re making too big a deal of all this. That it’s OK to have a bite here and there, because we can control it in small amounts. That we can’t possibly give up a favorite food. That tomorrow will be different, but food will take the edge off now. These are all big, fat lies. We in OA have watched both newcomers and old-timers return to misery because they clung to some bright, shining lie about food. We’re all susceptible to it, no matter how many years of abstinence we have because our disease is chronic. It gets worse while we get better.

When the old-timer loses abstinence and bounces along the rocky path of a couple days on the wagon, a couple days off, they are baffled that abstinence that was once so easy to get previously is ridiculously hard to find again. The newbie, on the other hand, may also end up in that difficult up-and-down place, hearing about others’ joyful success and wondering how the heck they did it.

In either case, the 12 Steps of OA are the common solution to our troubles with compulsive eating. Refraining from compulsive eating is not about willpower. It’s not about a diet or food plan. It’s not about our moral character. It’s not even about us. Lasting abstinence occurs when we trust God to take care of our food needs. The 12 Steps allow us to build a relationship with a Higher Power that will guide us throughout our lives, if we allow it.

When the old-timer fell off the wagon, they did so by taking control of their food back from their HP. “Don’t worry, God, I got this.” In this case, something spiritually essential may have been either misplaced, forgotten, or ignored. Remember, our disease is progressive and always seeks to lure us back to compulsive eating. The newbie, by contrast, may not yet have a relationship with their Higher Power. They are not without spiritual resources, however. Part of OA’s spiritual aspect is attending meetings, tapping into the power of the fellowship, and developing relationships with other members whom we trust to help us on our journey. As newcomers, these may be the first spiritual tools we’ve ever used, and likely the first time we’ve applied spiritual principles toward our food problem.

No matter what the case may be, we must trust God in every situation, or we will eat. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or a broken shoelace, it’s God or food. So, we feel our feelings, reach out to other OAs for support, and give the outcome over to our Higher Power. Of course food is trustworthy too. We can trust that once we take that first bite, food, with its three-second high, its spiraling need for more and more, and its enslavement of our minds and bodies, will once again dominate our lives.

So it works better if we don’t eat compulsively. We learn to trust God and not food by…trusting God. We just have to do it. That means not eating compulsively no matter what. We put the plug in the jug, the lid on the jar, the top on the box, the cap on the container. We accept that we will face a detox period with some aches and pains and intense cravings. We trust that a week or two from now we’ll feel better. That we will then turn our attention to our spiritual growth so that we may never have to be on the bumpy road to abstinence again.

 

Tradition of the Month: A race to the bottom

6. “An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”

In a speech on November 13, 1969, then Vice President Spiro Agnew opined that “Bad news drives out good news.” His theory said that the news media prefer to cover salacious, scandalous, or confrontational news because the excitement it generates sells papers. And monotony doesn’t.

Agnew stated a “race to the bottom” argument. We observe this same line of reasoning used in many other fields. For example, when seemingly artistically principled musicians make an album designed for wide appeal, they are called sellouts. The same holds for filmmakers who appear to be trying to make a hit rather than a cinematic statement. Folks or organizations in any industry or endeavor that has important, mission-oriented goals or publicly places high value on quality is vulnerable to this kind of accusation.

What do people say about those accused of engaging in race-to-the-bottom tactics?

  • They are appealing to the least common denominator.
  • They lost their integrity.
  • It used to be about the music.
  • They put the bottom line ahead of quality.
  • I can’t trust them anymore.
  • I might as well buy anything in their market now.
  • I wish they’d go back to doing what they used to do.

If there’s a common theme underlying all of these complaints and others like them, it’s an adaptation of Agnew’s line: Bad money drives out good money.

What’s this got to do with us in OA? When it comes to Tradition 6, everything! Because when it comes to our primary purpose virtually any money is bad money.

 

Greed is one of the deadly sins, warned against in every culture. Like our inhuman compulsion toward food, greed can transform well-meaning people into money monsters by playing on our fears and our self-esteem. It is a defect of character, and it has the ability to tear people apart. Tradition 1 tells us that OA unity is crucial to our recoveries and our ability to carry the message. Money can disrupt that unity very, very quickly. Alarmist? Perhaps, but consider that in recent history, a high-ranking OA treasury official in our region made off with the funds under their control.

So we have a duty to keep money out of the fellowship except as a carefully guarded tool for reaching sufferers. That goes for the money we donate as well as money from outside enterprises. We don’t want to be engaged in competition or cooperation with diet programs, food rehabs, or any other kind of organization lest we get dragged into a race toward profitability. Once that happens people will start talking about us, too:

  • What’s the difference between OA and one of the diet companies that never worked for me anyway?
  • I remember when OA was about recovery.
  • Gee, whatever happened to OA, anyway?

Step of the Month: Are you sure?

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Are you sure you want to experience a spiritual and emotional rebirth? Are you certain that you want to return to a healthy life and arrest this chronic illness one day at a time? Do you  really want to think about something else besides food and your own inadequacies? Do you really want to be freed from the personal baggage that’s owned you since you were a kid?

That’s what’s going on in Step Six. We’ve finished the long and courageous task of taking a moral inventory. We’ve told it to a sympathetic listener, hearing the mental soundtrack of our lives played back to us. When would be more ready to ditch our old ways of thinking for God- and others-centered ways of thinking?

At this point, even the skeptics among our ranks must feel some level of willingness to let go of all the mental and spiritual junk inside us that’s kept our disease in bloom and our lives in turmoil or existential peril.

Still, what are we supposed to be ready for? The removal of our defects clears the deck for our new way of life, but then what? We already know the most obvious change we will undergo: The obsession with food will be removed on a daily basis. That’s a big deal! And then what? If we hearken back to the Third Step Prayer, we’ll get a pretty good idea of where God will take us.

God, I offer myself to thee
to do with me
and to build with me
as Thou wilt.

 

Relieve me of the bondage of self
that I may better do Thy will

 

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.

We’re entering into an agreement with God. We give it all over to our Higher Power to run the show, and in so doing we will be restored to sanity and health so that we can help HP an others. So as we contemplate whether we are entirely ready, we can ask ourselves:

  • Am I entirely ready to let God run my life?
  • Do I want to be relieved of the bondage of self (that is, the emotional burdens that activate our eating and weigh us down)?
  • Do I want to better do God’s will?
  • Do I want my difficulties taken away?
  • Do I want to help others with the same difficulties I have and be a living representation of the transformative power of the Steps?
  • Do I want to be connected to my Higher Power always?

It’s OK if we aren’t willing. We just need to understand that we will not receive the gifts of this program until we are. We have to go all-in with God, or we go nowhere and stay stuck. This is the crucial turning point in the Steps. If we say yes, and proceed through Step Seven, amends are not optional. Prayer is not optional. Sponsoring is not optional. Compulsive eating is not an option. OA is not optional.

After this turning point, we will commit to living a life that we’ve never lived before. The great news is that we will not eat compulsively so long as we keep at it. As Step 10 promises, we won’t even have to do anything about that compulsion because God will lift it from us. Our Higher Power will also guide us through our amends. Those can feel scary to some folks, but we will receive all the courage and dignity and grace we need from our Spiritual Source. We will develop a spiritual sixth sense that will help our lives run smoothly despite our tendency to make them complicated and our need for control. We will still experience pain, but we will not cause ourselves to suffer needlessly and continuously. We will not be cured of fear, but we will be given courage.

Step Six is not like The Matrix. We don’t take the blue pill, have our illusions stripped away, and then suddenly wake up in a horrific world we would never have chosen to know about. Instead, we are waking up from a horrific lifestyle into a wonderful world we never knew we could choose. It’s good to be entirely ready.