Finding ease and comfort

It’s said that addicts are relief-seeking missiles. We don’t like feelings: happy, mad, sad, glad; hungry, angry, lonely, tired. We’re always either disappointed in what we didn’t get or frightened that the other shoe will drop and take away what we’ve gotten.

So, we constantly search for something that will provide relief from our ongoing misery. In the front matter of the Big Book, in “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth tells us that addicts use their substance to regain “the sense of ease and comfort that comes at once” when we do our addict voodoo. We use because when we don’t, we are “restless, irritable, and discontent.”

In other words, we’re uncomfortable.

We hate it when others reminds us that “such is life.” We are human, and so we are subject to pain, uncertainty, fear. Where other, normal, eaters may have coping skills for the tribulations of life, feelings trigger the mental obsession with our substance, and soon enough we feel an overwhelming desire to eat that is beyond our control.

When we join OA, we learn that in these moments, we substitute food for God. We believe that food will bring us the serenity that only a spiritual experience will give us. It never does. It numbs us for like eight seconds, then the feelings return. In addition we now have the shame emotions associated with compulsive eating, making the situation worse. We’ve once again traded a few seconds of mental analgesic for a lifetime of compulsive-eating misery.

That’s the why the first bite is a sucker’s game. We think we will beat the odds this time. If we just do what we see normal people do, we will be OK. We’ll get our relief for a few seconds, enough to still our feelings, then go back to living like a normal person. Nope. It’s as though we’re playing poker against someone whose hand is lying face up on the table and has us beat. The truth lay right in front of us, but we keep betting on a losing hand anyway. In fact, we’ll bet it all the way down to our last dollar.

There is another way. In OA, we learn that the only way to win is not to play. We must abstain from our compulsive eating. Only by keeping troublesome foods out of our system will the physical craving for them leave us. But even with the craving gone, if we don’t learn to deal effectively with our feelings, we’ll end up taking the first sucker bite again. We have to learn how to feel, deal, and heal? But how?

Of course, we must do the 12 Steps of OA. These are the program. They bring us into meaningful contact with something more powerful than we are. Something that can do what we want food to do for us. What exactly does that mean? It’s simple, when we are faced with emotional discomfort, we can pray for what we want:

God, please give me ease and comfort.

We keep it simple. We accept that we will feel discomfort. We take solace and strength in the fact that others with our disease have faced down the most painful situations without resorting to food. But most important, we use prayer when discomfort threatens our sense of emotional well-being.

All we’ve ever wanted is to feel better. It’s only human. But until OA, all we’ve ever done is use food as a drug, in an ineffective, off-label manner. But once in OA, we learn that we can pray for ease and comfort, and that we can follow that prayer with useful actions. We learn that after a simple prayer that opens us up to redirection from our Higher Power, we can use OA’s tools and, especially, Steps 10, 11, and 12 to stay out of the food trouble that dogged us for so long.

Because there’s far more ease and comfort in abstinence than there ever was in anything that came out of a box, can, bag, jar, or wrapper.


Tradition of the Month: How’s your business-meeting self?

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

“You want to know how recovered someone is?” an old program slogan goes. “Watch them in an OA business meeting.” If a member is truly putting OA principles before personalities then they will be kind, loving, and tolerant, even during difficult conversations. They will seek constructive action rather than evade service. They will not try to control the whole meeting.

Control is a topic we OAs know well. It’s one of our favorite self-seeking behaviors. Like the actor in chapter five of the Big Book, when we’re in our addiction, we love to control everyone around us so that we can feel as little pain or discomfort as possible. We don’t want surprises, uncertainty, or doubt to plague us. We try to gain serenity by wrangling others to do it our way.

How’d that work for us?

So now that we’ve got some OA experience under our belt, what’s our business-meeting self like? Do we dominate proceedings? Do we talk without being recognized by the leader of the business meeting? Do we interrupt or cut off others before they finish their thoughts? Do we try to push the agenda along even though we aren’t chairing the meeting? How we doing with that kindness, loving, and tolerant stuff?

Here’s a truth: We’re human, and our defects of character won’t disappear the day we finish our step work. We have to work at them every day, slowly sanding down our burred or jagged edges. Some days we do well, and others, we struggle.

Here’s another truth: Even when we struggle with those defects, the answer is always the same. We must trust and rely on God rather than on ourselves and our broken-down life strategies.

At our business meetings, if we act irritable or curt, aren’t we taking back our will? We are substituting control of others for letting go and letting God. If someone goes on at unnecessary length (in our opinion), so what? How are we being harmed? Instead of getting impatient and testy, can we ask God to give us ease and comfort? To help us extend the patience and attention we demand from others when it’s our turn to speak?

If we are trying to run the show (especially if we aren’t chairing the meeting), we may need to take a time out. What’s really bugging us in this situation? Are we afraid that a proposal will kill our meeting or OA? Nothing can do that if it hasn’t happened already. No proposal taken with spiritual intention and guided by the twelve traditions will destroy OA in one fell swoop. But what about the newcomer? And how do we know precisely what every newcomer needs? We don’t. We only know what we needed.

If we are to do service work well in OA, we must bring humility to it. We must accept that we don’t know the best way to do things. We must ask God to make it happen instead of trying to force it ourselves. Otherwise, we’re just practicing our character defects instead of OA principles.

Step of the Month: In all our affairs

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive eaters, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The hard part of Step 12 isn’t helping others, sponsoring, or doing service. It’s the last prepositional phrase that’s difficult.

The word all doesn’t provide any wiggle room for us to take our will back. Step 12 tells us that we have to live in the solution every day, no matter what. Boss is making things awful at the office? Still have to be kind, loving, and tolerant. The hubs is making you crazy? Still aren’t allowed to try the old control tricks. Feel uncomfortable? Still can’t eat over it or take it out on others. In other words, we have no where to go but our Higher Power.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have to do everything perfectly. We’re after progress, not perfection. It is recommended that we practice these principles. When we practice something, we are attempting to master it through close study, exercises, play, and repetition. But can we master the art of living a good life? Probably not because no one yet has. We can, however, improve, but as human beings we cannot expect ourselves to always make the right decisions.

What’s important is that we make an honest effort. We fake it til we make it. We don’t pick and choose when to use the principles OA’s steps reveal to us. We make use of them as frequently as possible. Or as frequently as we remember. We hope that the further along in recovery we are, the less likely we are to forget.

We get swept up in events, or we feel like things are humming along smoothly, and our mind wanders away from OA principles. It happens to every single one of us, no matter how high we’ve climbed toward the spiritual mountaintop. The question is how quickly our focus on living a more spiritual life returns when we stray from it.

So we’re practicing in all our affairs. But what exact principles are we practicing? This is interpretable in many, many ways. At the most basic level, however, we practice trusting and relying on our Higher Powers. When we do not eat no matter what, and when no matter what we don’t eat, we trust our Higher Power to see us through whatever difficult emotion we feel. When a situation frightens us, rather than run away, we trust and rely on HP to get us through it. When our problems get to be too much, we trust and rely on God as we share them with an OA friend. When we admit our wrongs to others and make amends, we trust and rely on our Higher Power to help us swallow our pride. And when we are willing to go to any lengths to stay in recovery, we most definitely are trusting and relying on God.

We can look at page 67 of the Big Book to see what the principles of a spiritual life look like. They are the opposite of the questions asked on that page. Instead of Where had we been selfish? we think of how we can be helpful to others. Instead of Where had we been dishonest? we act with honesty and integrity, not telling people what we think they want to hear or out and out lying to get our way. Instead of Where had we been self-seeking? we stay our hand, back off of our worst impulses, ask God for the next right step, and go help someone else. Instead of Where were we afraid?, we give our fears to our HP and continue forward despite our worries and anxieties.

And we do this for the rest of our lives, to the best of our ability. If we don’t do this, the rest of our lives will likely be shorter than if we keep it up—and the quality of that time will stink. But if we stay the course, life will reward us with a serenity, even in hard times, that we didn’t think we’d ever find. New doors will open that we thought had closed forever. And we will find new meaning in a life that once went nowhere.