The emotional, the analytical, and the spiritual

Like all addicts, we overeaters suffer a great deal mentally. OA’s 12 Steps help save us from our own minds, which use two primary weapons against us.

Emotions

We call them feelings because, physically, we feel our emotions. We feel the fatiguing sensations of dread or depression, like we are walking through life in a lead suit and can barely put one foot in front of the other. Our stomachs flutter anxiously, and we feel hungry at nearly any news—happy, mad, sad, or glad. We feel tense all the time awaiting the next disaster or trying to keep our emotions stuffed down.

Our lives consist of constant attempts to suppress our feelings until we just can’t anymore. We use food to bury our emotions, to not feel our feelings. But even food isn’t powerful enough, and at some point, things come thrashing out of us, affecting those around us.

Thinking

The Big Book describes our thinking as “soft and mushy.” Often our thinking and emotions dance together. Either our emotions lead us to justifications that make logical sense only in the context of our diseased minds, or our “analysis” leads us to ready-to-burst emotional states. We tend not to think through problems but rather to either think ourselves into problems, or get ourselves stuck in the problem we’re thinking about. The logical capacity of our brains is misused by our disease to keep us chained to our feelings, because our feelings always win out. So we base our decisions on our fears, our immediate wants, and of what we perceive as others’ opinions.

Our best thinking got us addicted to food because our addict mind tells us there’s little difference between what we feel and what we think. And that, anyway, what we feel trumps what we think if our thoughts and our feelings differ. We have no good tools for reasoning our way through life and making sensible decisions about food, relationships, money, or anything. Our perspective can be reduced to the simple question: Will it give me uncomfortable feelings?

A Third Way

Amazingly, despite knowing that our feelings are powerful and uncontrollable, we follow them blindly. Take eating, itself. Our anxious selves want soothing with food. Our minds at first say, bad idea. We might even step away from the fridge. But then our brain, addled by our compulsion, works on it a while. Whether it’s a moment, an hour, a day, a week, a year, or a decade later, our thinking will eventually churn out a justification for eating. That justification might be “screw it,” might be “it hurts,” or might be “it won’t hurt me this time,” or something far more complicated. But it’ll come. Eventually, we blindly follow our feelings into oblivion.

We need a new way. We can’t trust our feelings or our thinking because they serve the same master: food addiction, in whatever form we have it. So what can we trust? Or more accurately, Who can we trust? The answer is that we can trust our Higher Power to give us the intuitive thought or decision we need. When we let go and let God, then our emotions about and our analysis of a situation can be put to good use. Divorced from the drive for satisfying our compulsion, we can use our minds to examine our internal and external circumstances and draw well reasoned conclusions. We can also use our emotions and intuition as guides to ensure that what we’re considering feels right.

We don’t just one day arrive at this arrangement. We have to develop a relationship with God so that we can align our will and our thoughts with our HP’s. To do this, we need the 12 Steps of OA. They teach us through a practical means to identify how our feelings get out of control and how our thinking has been compromised. They then show us how to bring God into our daily life to help us make decisions and live happy, useful lives of service to others. Gradually, we learn the ropes and start to see the branching points in our life differently. We practice and “fake it ’til we make it.” We see our choices with increased perspective, and we trust that God will show us the way.

If we haven’t yet completed the Steps, we carefully watch and listen to those who have experience with them. How do they conduct themselves? What’s different between their thinking and feelings and our own? Could we try to move through the world more like they do? What would it mean if we did? Then we try out what we see in them. We practice it and find it feels more serene than we’ve felt in a long time.

Depending on a Higher Power for guidance in our live doesn’t make us weaker. It strengthens us. Where we’ve been making a lot of lousy decisions based on our narrow self-infected view of the world, now we can make thoughtful choices that propel us, and perhaps those around us, toward a better, more stable, and more satisfying life. And we no longer have to suffer as slaves to our emotions.

21 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays Abstinently

These 21 tips originally appeared at an OA Workshop in October, 1997 in Port Chester, NY.  They may be twenty years old, but good OA experience never goes stale. This list appears here at SeacoastOA.org thanks to the good folks at the Region 6 IGOR Google Group. This list has been very lightly edited for emphasis by us at SeacoastOA.
  1. Focus on the true meaning of the holiday or event rather than the food orgy that sometimes accompanies it.
  2. Don’t set yourself up to feel bad because of unrealistic expectations of what the holiday will bring. Sometimes we’re with family, sometimes with friends, sometimes we are alone. Face the reality of the situation beforehand. For example, if a family occasion almost always turns unpleasant, plan not to be part of the unpleasantness. If you’re going to be alone, face that you may face sadness. Plan to deal with it, without excess food.
  3. Build up your recovery bank account before and during the holidays by attending lots of meetings, working extra hard on your 12-Steps and using all the tools, especially service. Keep in constant contact with your sponsor. The disease doesn’t take holidays. Nor should our recovery.
  4. Keep your OA phone numbers with you at all times. Use them.
  5. Know the limits of your recovery. When in doubt, avoid persons, places and things that have in the past triggered overeating. The party is not worth it. Choose not to attend if you feel it may be a major problem. Remember that abstinence, one day at a time, has to be the highest priority in your life. Without it, all other things suffer.
  6. From the perspective of food, treat the holiday like any other day.  Our disease never takes a holiday.
  7. Plan something special for yourself when other people are eating sugary desserts that you choose not to include in your food plan.  Special teas, hot water and lemon, fruit, anything that’s a little special for you.
  8. Whether a holiday gathering or ordinary party, choose to focus on the people rather than the food. Pick out people and engage them in “real” conversation. If they don’t want to play, go to the next one. People like to talk about themselves. Ask them about themselves, their life, their work—and really listen.
  9. Try to really connect with people at the holiday table. Make food a secondary thing.
  10. At Halloween there is no law that says you have to give out candy. We’re not doing these kids a favor by giving them junk food. Give nutritious things or money. Do not give out things you would not consume yourself. Then there’s no problem with leftovers.
  11. Set an extra place beside you (in your mind or for real) at the table for your Higher Power.
  12. Remember Step Two. It says that with the help of a Higher Power we can be restored to sane eating behavior. Call on your Higher Power. HP can keep you sane, one day at a time, one meal at a time.
  13. During the holidays get out of yourself by giving service, any service, whether it’s to Program, to needy individuals, or to the community. Do something that may be a little hard for you, but that you know you will feel good about later. Give yourself something to respect yourself for.
  14. Plan!  Plan!  Plan! Be proactive toward the holidays and the meals. Don’t just lay back and hope for the best. Rehearse in your mind over and over exactly what you will do, particularly what, where and when you will eat. Pray just before sitting down to the meal.
  15. Just before sitting down to eat, or just before being served, go to a private room somewhere in the house or restaurant, call your sponsor, and commit what you are about to eat, as well as what you will choose not to eat. It makes no difference whether you get your sponsor or an answering machine. It’s your commitment.
  16. If you’re visiting others for a holiday dinner, it’s up to you to know what is being served and whether it is something that you choose to eat. Call the host. Plan accordingly. People understand others’ food limitations. Even people without our disease have foods they don’t eat for one reason or another. Volunteer to bring something that’s good for you. The host thinks you’re gracious and you’re taking care of yourself!
  17. Remember that you are responsible for what you eat. It’s easy when sitting with family to slip into old childish roles where you feel you must eat whatever you’re given. It’s not true. We are adults and responsible for our own choices. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves. It’s up to us to set whatever parameters or boundaries we need to set with our families.
  18. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. There is nothing as good for staying abstinent—particularly during the Thanksgiving season—than focusing on the many things we have, rather than what we don’t have. Do gratitude lists frequently.
  19. How about writing a little card/note to each person who will be at the Thanksgiving dinner table telling them why you’re grateful to know them? Leave it at their dinner place. The focus will quickly get to the real meaning of Thanksgiving rather than on the food.
  20. For many of us the most dangerous period for our abstinence is after we have successfully gone through a difficult occasion. The insanity of our disease subconsciously or consciously tells us to reward ourselves with food because we did so well yesterday. Or, we suffer some kind of letdown about the occasion. It didn’t meet our expectations. Some of us feel an emptiness after holidays that in the past we have tried to fill with food. For these reasons, plan to go to meetings the next day after the holiday.
  21. A holiday is not a crisis. Holidays come every year. They are simply calendar times set aside to honor certain things. We deal with the holidays just like we deal with the rest of the days in the year. You can do it. Relax and work your program the way you know how.

Step of the Month: Prayer between the bookends

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

On pages 85 through 88 of the Big Book, Bill W. and friends tell us a lot about what to do when we arise in the morning and retire at night. Plenty of good advice in there for bookending our days spiritually. As to how we go about our business in between, we get scant instructions:

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.”

Doesn’t sound like lots of specifics, does it? Especially considering how many decisions we face, interactions we have, and actions we take between sun up and sun down. Yet, if we look closely at this, there’s a great deal of sound, if pithy, advice. First of all, what actions are recommended to us?

  • Pause
  • Ask
  • Remind
  • Say

Although perhaps not intended this way, we could use this as a protocol for our moment-to-moment lives. After all, if we are planning, talking, or doing, it’s probably for good reason. If we are in doubt over the subject or substance of these actions, we may benefit from this little structure. By pausing, we don’t act hastily. By asking our Higher Power for guidance, we bring spirituality to the situation. By reminding ourselves that we aren’t in charge, we lower the stakes and can breath more easily. Then, finally, we say what we’re going to do and go do it, keeping God’s will in our thoughts as we do.

That’s a heckuva lot better than our old way of doing things. Our previous strategies for dealing with life included taking charge before someone else “screwed things up”; trying to control those around us to get what we want; people pleasing to get our way; obsessively plotting and planning; gossiping behind closed doors; yelling at others in public; crying; going stony-faced; getting into others’ business; shunning; and, of course, eating compulsively.

The old way kept us in the problem and away from the solution. It also swept others up in our wake, creating additional fear and resentment for us. But OA way helps us stay neutral. We discover that when we keep our nose out of things, we keep our nose cleaner, and we aren’t as hungry.

Still, none of us smells like roses all the time. We remain human beings, even if we are changed. We must stay vigilant that we don’t lose our spiritual mooring during the hectic events of the day, but we also must stay vigilant against those old recordings in our mind about perfection. “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” We are allowed to make mistakes, and if we’ve found out anything about ourselves from the 12 Steps, it’s this: We learn best by making mistakes and then asking God to help us remedy them.

If we have journeyed all the way through the Steps, we have found a Higher Power and are ready to put our trust and reliance in Him/Her/They/It. If we haven’t yet established that relationship with God, we might begin practicing to get there. “Help!” is a good prayer to try out. We might simply try it and see whether things go differently than usual or than we expect. We might also try out the serenity prayer that we hear so often in OA meetings. Those of a more religious nature might choose something pertinent to their particular customs. It likely matters little what prayer we choose so long as it expresses the foundational ideas that I can’t and God can and will.

We don’t stop living life just because we’ve stopped eating compulsively. We can’t jump off the merry-go-round. But if we want to avoid eating compulsively over the events of the day, we need to do our best to stay in contact with our HP throughout the sixteen or so hours each day we are awake.