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.

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.

What do I do about night-time eating?

Many OAs report in meetings that they struggle the most with their abstinence at night. Not necessarily during the day when a stressor occurs, but at night when it’s not right in their face. They tell us that the time after dinner and before bed daunts them most of all. Why do the wheels fall off at night? And what can we do about it?

Why night-time is the right time…for our disease to attack

Food addiction is an insidious disease that uses our minds against us. So let’s step back to the light and ask why the daytime might pose fewer problems for some compulsive eaters.

  • We may connect with our Higher Power and fellow OAs in the morning or during the day
  • We may have gotten some sleep and so have some level of alertness
  • We may have alertness from a stimulant like caffeine in our blood stream
  • We may be focusing on engrossing problems or important interactions at work
  • We may not want our office mates, friends, or loved ones to see us eating compulsively
  • We may not have access to our favorite binge foods until we get home.

In other words, we might have enough distractions, structure, and program disciplines to get us through dinner. Then all hell breaks loose, food wise. So what’s different about that witching hour between roughly the moment we clean the dishes and the moment our eyelids droop shut? Quite possibly, everything.

  • It may have been hours since we talked to our Higher Power or an OA person, or hours since we did any OA disciplines…and we may feel awkward calling someone during what we perceive as their “family time”
  • We’re tired, which puts us in that well-known danger zone called HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • Similarly, the events of the day may put us in the angry part of HALT, and if we live alone (and sometimes even if we don’t) we may be lonely.
  • We may still have stimulant in our blood streams, propping open our eyes yet keeping our mind spinning on the day’s events
  • Many addicts have no hobbies, or we are too tired too work on them, and with less structure at home, we may have nothing to occupy our minds except TV, which is a notorious tag-along to binging for many compulsive eaters
  • If no one’s around, we don’t have to hide our eating
  • We have lots of access to food, and we likely have a stash of our favorite binge foods nearby.

Of course these are just a few of the reasons why day may be easier and night more difficult for food addicts. We each have our own set of circumstances. Nor is caffeine problematic for all of us, and this shouldn’t be taken as an exhortation to abstain from it. But it’s clear that our disease has a lot more opportunity to get us at night than during the day.

So what do we do about night-time eating?

There are many, many things we can do at night. But for any of them to work we need two things:

  1. Willingness to go to any length to avoid the first bite
  2. Trust that we won’t die if we don’t eat, that our discomfort is temporary, and OA will help us through our toughest moments

Without willingness, we are merely wishing and wanting. Without trust, we have no alternative to the lies our minds tell us. But with willingness and trust, these actions can get us through the night:

  • Pray to a Higher Power: We don’t even have to know what It is, we just have to be willing to believe in one, we just have to say Help! or Please remove the obsession with food! Here’s a few OA prayers. But even if we don’t yet have belief in a Higher Power, we can use the rest of these ideas.
  • Meditate: We are often shocked when we first feel the amazing calm that comes from sitting quietly and emptying our minds of the worry of the day. There are many ways to meditate, google it, pick one that’s simple and fits you, then try it. It needn’t require a belief in a Higher Power, and a minute or five may be all it takes to quiet the urge to eat.
  • Call another OA member: OAs are willing to go to any length for recovery, and that includes taking phone calls or even texts at any hour. OA members would rather be roused from sleep than wake up to hear that another member has eaten compulsively. If we have a sponsor, we might start there. Don’t forget to ask how they are doing!
  • Attend a meeting: Hit a face-to-face meeting during your difficult hours of the night,  and if there isn’t one at that time, attend a phone meeting or an online meeting.
  • Listen to an OA podcast: There’s little more inspiring than hearing the powerful story of how others members found recovery.
  • Use the rest of OA’s tools: Reading some OA literature. Writing in a journal, writing a letter to our Higher Power (if we have one), continuing our Step 4 writing, or writing down our 10th Step. Working on any OA service projects we are involved in. Doing anything that falls within our OA Action Plan.
  • Remember OA slogans: Nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels. One day at a time. Take it easy. Here’s a page with hundreds of these helpful sayings!
  • Go to bed: An underrated by simple and effective way to avoid compulsive eating. Not only do you avoid the first bite, but you get a little extra sleep to help strengthen you for the next day. It always feels good to wake up abstinent.

These are just some of the many ways to support abstinence, even after our worst days. We know it’s possible because we know members who have long-term food-sobriety. So we simply find what works for us, work it as well as we can, and trust our Higher Power and OA to help us through the dark night.

Welcome Back Workshop, Nov 4th in York, Maine

Join us on Saturday, November 4th at 9:00 am in York, Maine, for Welcome Back to a New Beginning! If you are currently experiencing relapse or have been away from OA for some time, we hope you will join us. Our three person panel will tell us how they survived relapse and came to thrive in OA. Check out our Welcome Back Workshop Flyer for all the details. There is no registration necessary.

If you are not currently experiencing relapse, you are also welcome to join this fellowship opportunity. In fact, please consider inviting someone you haven’t seen at a meeting for a while. This handy guide provides some language for inviting someone to join the event. We know from experience, that there’s nothing more powerful for members who are out of the rooms than to receive a caring call or email from OA friends.

Together we get better. Join us to hear our speakers’ experience, strength, and hope, and enjoy fellowship with other compulsive eaters. Please share this flyer widely with OA friends from this and other areas, especially anyone in relapse. And please announce this special event at your meetings.

Friends you keep

OA friends are like few others in our lives. We may know one another only a short time yet feel as though we’ve known one another for years or decades more. It only makes sense. We watch one another get better. We ask one another for help. We share a number of intimate secrets with one another.

Perhaps most importantly, we hear our OA fellows talk about our problem in the same way that we’ve thought about it. We thought these incessant, dishonest, and overpowering thoughts and feelings belonged only to us. We thought that somewhere, sometime, our circuits got fried, irreparably damaging us, and we knew we couldn’t tell a soul. Yet when we arrive in the halls of OA, our story gets told to us time and again. Oh, the details differ, but we recognize that it’s nonetheless, the same tale of woe and misery. That is, until our new friends tell us about the solution they’ve found in OA’s 12 Steps.

Our pals show us that the impossible is possible. We believe them because their experience matches ours. Their renewal shows us that a new path can open up for us if we care to follow them on it.

As tough as things seem at first as we struggle toward abstinence and do the Steps, it’s when things go awry that we find out how much our OA friends come to mean to us. If we stumble in our program, we discover more helping hands extended to us than we could have thought. Sympathetic ears lean toward us. We learn more about the experiences of others than ever and know that if they’ve skinned a knee on the broad highway and are still walking, so can we.

If it is our new friends, instead, who miss a step, we discover the power of listening to and helping others. We feel honored by their willingness to confide in us, and this increases yet again the tightness of our connections. When they rise again to their feet, we rejoice with them, clap them on the back, and admire the courage they’ve shown. Because we know: this thing ain’t easy.

The OA fellowship is powerful. It is not a foundation stone of recovery, instead it is the cement between the stones. While it is not enough to get us abstinent, nor keep us abstinent, it helps us to see how each stone fits into the ongoing work. It helps us stay together if some pieces loosen.

In all of our lives, friends will come and go. OA will always be here, and we can be assured that our OA friends, new or old, will understand us and help us in a way that few others in the world can.

Tradition of the Month: Is Abstinence an Outside Issue?

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out- side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Previously, we’ve explored whether God is an outside issue in OA. Indeed, much about God and faith lies outside of the bounds of OA. We only know what a Higher Power does for us, not who or what the Higher Power might be. But here’s an even trickier one: Abstinence.

Overeaters Anonymous exists because folks like us need to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. We need a solution to our problem with food. In the sense that our primary purpose is to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer, abstinence is very much an inside issue. We go to any length we must for relief from compulsive eating, and we go to great lengths to help others find it too.

At the same time, abstinence is a slippery topic. Whose abstinence is the right one? Do you have to be squeaky clean in every facet of abstinence? What about the differences between food substances and food behaviors? How about anorexia, bulimia, and other disordered eating? Fortunately, OA has a definition of abstinence that helps us all find common language:

Abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program.

Regardless of the kind of eating or food issues we have, this definition includes us. We are all part of the OA tribe.

Beyond this, however, OA has no position on food and abstinence. We have no official food plan because it’s an outside issue. How can that be true when abstinence itself is central to recovery? Simply because OA isn’t the food police. If we spent our time hunting down food-plan heretics, we would not be spending time helping others get better. Instead, we encourage every person to have their own food plan and to seek medical and nutritional advice for creating one. We support their efforts to follow it as best we can and share helpful experiences as appropriate.

But more important than that is the fact that food plans aren’t just a tool. They are spiritual. When we commit to a food plan, we direct our willful selves away from our selfish impulses and toward something healthier and, ultimately, more spiritual. A food plan may be the first spiritually oriented move we make in OA…whether we know it or not. Initially or later in our journey, we may begin to ask our Higher Power, the universe, whathaveyou for willingness to follow our plan and relief from the obsession with food. From these small starts comes the willingness for more recovery, the willingness to surrender to the idea that we are no in charge. Never have been, if we’re honest.

If food plans and abstinence are, in fact, spiritual in nature, then they are our Higher Powers’ business. Each of us must find our plan on our own, just as each of us must do the Steps on our own. The Steps provide a framework for recovery, just like the OA definition of abstinence provides one for the food-based part of our journey. Although the pamphlets “Dignity of Choice” and “A Plan of Eating” give us helpful suggestions, they are not codes of food conduct. We cannot legislate the direction of someone’s first steps toward God. We can only share how we did it and help them to find the honesty, willingness, and spiritual connection to get going and keep going.

Step of the Month: Continue

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

On page 84 of the Big Book, Step 10 begins about halfway down the page. In one paragraph, Bill W. and company explain its mechanics:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.

This little snippet begins with an important word: Continue. In the entirety of this paragraph, the word appears four times. It must be important:

  • Continue to take personal inventory
  • Continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along
  • Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness…. It should continue for our lifetime.
  • Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Previously, in Chapter Two, “There Is a Solution,” we learned that we are in the grip of a progressive illness. We are never cured of our addiction. Like any chronic disease, it worsens over the long haul, and it must be managed one day at a time. Our disease continues to worsen, even as we work on our recovery. That means that if we discontinue the spiritual practices the Steps recommend, we are going to revert to compulsive eating. Why? Because we’ll stop getting better, and our disease will eventually catch up to us.

To understand better, here’s an extended metaphor:

You are running in a head-to-head marathon. At the outset, your opponent bolts out to a big lead. You think about quitting the race altogether as you plod along. How will you ever catch up? It’s hopeless. But you realize that this is one of many tactics your opponent uses to psyche you out. Finally, you get a bolt of energy, and you catch up! In fact, you pass your opponent.

The other runner appears to be flagging. But you’ve studied your opponent’s clever tactics. Your rival is also known to hang back, just a few steps behind, letting you set the pace, then pouncing at the first sign of an opponent’s fatigue. So now you have to continue at your pace, lest you be passed again. You have to remember all your training and preparation every step of the way during the rest of the race.

But the further you run, the more tired you get. It seems easier to forget that the other contestant is nipping at our heels. Just as you think you’ve got it made, your foe resorts to a new tactic that you hadn’t expected. Your rival runs up beside you, but just outside of your peripheral vision. You hear their footsteps beside you, and worse, you hear whispers: “Don’t you think you deserve a little rest? You’ve run such a good race so far.” The other runner then drops back to where they were and watches for weakness in your stride. They periodically repeat the tactic, especially on really tough hills. But you know that if you just keep on like are, you’ll win out.

It is not only easier to get abstinent than to stay abstinent, it’s easier to continue living by spiritual principles than to take a break and try to resume them later. If we stop working Step 10, then we will stop growing spiritually, and our opponent runner will pass us. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that we will have the willingness to get back in the race if we stop for a breather. The resentments, fears, dishonesty, and selfishness that build up inside us when we don’t do Step 10 are like the lactic acid that builds up in a runner’s legs. If we keep running, we can get through the discomfort, but once we stop, we’ll likely cramp up or be unable to get back to the pace we’d set before.

Good news: If we keep going, keep doing Step 10, we will keep our focus clear on the race. We also discover that there are people lined up to help us alongside the race course. They shout encouragement, they provide water and even energy bars as we go. Best of all, we discover to our astonishment that two other runners have joined us. They don’t wear a number, so they just decided to run on their own. One is our running coach, and they keep stride with us and give us practical suggestions to keep us going. Better yet, a mysterious fourth runner stays right beside us, pats us on the shoulder as we’re going, tells us how well we’re doing, and provides quiet encouragement to drown out our foe. Each time we hear from that mysterious runner, we feel like a gust of wind is blowing us toward the finish line.

So all we have to do is continue. Continue, continue, and continue, until we hit the tape.