Tradition of the Month: Paid Support

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

Tradition 8 probably seems obvious to us in retrospect. We understand that the power of OA’s fellowship emanates from one addict identifying with another because we experience it all the time. We know that the power of a sponsor-sponsee relationship comes from one addict sharing their experience in recovery with another.

That may not always have been so obvious. Early in AA’s history, medical doctors and psychologists played an important role in the fellowship’s development. “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book and Bill’s own story show us how Dr. Silkworth’s support of Bill’s wild idea of one alcoholic sharing with another enabled the fellowship to get off the ground and gain credibility in the medical community. Other members of the medical community were helpful in its development as well, including Dr. Harry Tiebout, one of the earliest psychologists to describe alcoholism as a disease and recognize the importance of ego-deflation in recovery.

With so much psychology involved in our desperate attempts to change our moods or feelings, push down our memories, and escape our minds, many groups in AA’s early days may have been tempted to bring in a psychology professional to support members’ recoveries. We can easily imagine such a person leading a meeting, because recovery counselors do just that in addiction treatment centers nationwide. We can easily imagine such a highly trained individual administering careful, thoughtful advice to an individual member going through the Steps. Who better to help us uncover the “hidden springs” of the mind that Bill writes about?

These genuinely helpful professionals could be difference makers to many members of OA. So, too, could dietary professionals. We might have meetings organized around developing a food plan that include these highly skilled people.

But we don’t. And the reason why is obvious when we step back and look at our own pasts.

How many of us went to see a counselor for help with our emotional issues or our food? How well did we listen? Did we really want to take the recommended actions? How about a nutritionist? Did we give them a fair hearing? Did we listen closely to our family doctor when they said that we should watch our eating because we were showing signs of Type 2 Diabetes?

We don’t listen to anyone but our disease when we are in the throes of addiction. Oh, we might take the advice for a week or three, but inevitably, we’re back into our stinking thinking and our unhealthy food behaviors. We certainly weren’t going to listen to someone we couldn’t relate to. Or who we thought was probably dispensing the same advice to us terminally unique addicts as they did to everyone else.

Yet, when we walk through the doors of OA, our ears open up because we hear our story told to us again and again. We see people in normal-sized bodies, people who are on the journey to a healthy body weight, and others who are just getting going. We hear in each of them an aspect of what we want, and in their experiences we hear echoes of our crazy food thinking and our general unmanageability. And these people are dishing out the straight dope without any expectation of payment. We see that they are so grateful for the gift they’ve received that they want to pass it on so others may share in it.

All of that hits us in our first few meetings. But would it if professionals ran the meeting instead? If OA groups set up a professional as their leader, we would learn to trust and rely on the pro rather than to lean, at first, on the fellowship and, later, to trust and rely on God. The Big Book tells us that “no human power could relieve our” addiction. But bringing in professionals would interpose them between us and the Power we come to know.

Wouldn’t we be likely to resent that professional too? What do they know about my life? My mind? Have they ever experienced cravings and mental obsession? Even if that professional were an addict, we would still see the profit motive at work. Do they give more time to one member versus another when we’re all chipping in for it? OA would never have gotten off the ground if it included professionals.

So we don’t include them. They are welcome to attend any open OA meeting, especially if they are, themselves, an addict. But for us psychology is an outside issue. Many members support their recoveries by seeking these talented and helpful individuals outside of their OA program, but OA recovery resides in the 12 Steps.

Step of the Month: Willingness

How’s your willingness today? It’s a question we might ask ourselves each morning. The word willingness is all over the first 164 pages of the Big Book as a well in the AA 12&12. For example, in his own story, Bill, referring to the recovery he saw in his sponsor, writes, “Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend.”

This willingness stuff is pretty important to recovery. Requisite, actually. “Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the essentials of recovery, but they are indispensable,” the Big Book tells us in the Appendix titled “The Spiritual Experience.” Willingness, in fact, can lead to open mindedness and honesty. For normal folks, any of these three might be an entry point to the rest, but for us addicts, willingness is probably the most important.

We are a stubborn people, us addicts. We’re trying to control and enjoy everything. We think we know what’s best. But we can’t enjoy what we can control nor enjoy what we can’t. We’re trying to take the edge off with food without the consequences. We’re trying to rely on ourselves instead of a Higher Power. We are not open-minded people, at least not on this matter.

Nor are we especially honest. Not merely about what we’re eating but about how our lives are going. About whether we’ll ever get control of our food (we won’t). About whether we’re hurting others besides ourselves (we are). About whether we even know what we feel (mostly, we don’t). But we tell ourselves lies about all of these and thousands of other things each and every day, from the moment we awaken to the moment we go to sleep (sometimes even in our dreams).

How can the solution offered by OA to our compulsive eating possibly break through our stubbornness and our dishonesty? That’s why willingness is so important.

The Big Book says that “alcohol beat us into a state of reasonableness,” and this is true for compulsive eaters and their substance. Willingness is a synonymous with “the gift of desperation.” When we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, we suddenly get a little burst of willingness. Or maybe a big burst. We hurt so much, that we would try anything to get better. And we’ve done so in the past. Grapefruit diets, fad diets supposedly from other countries, Dr. So-and-So’s diet, supposedly holistic diet programs where we purchase unhealthily salty food branded by the company, lifestyle changes comprising unsustainable calorie restriction and extreme exercise regimens. You name it. We’ve had the willingness before, but we’re cynical after so many past failures.

So willingness comes first and leads open-mindedness and honesty by the ears as we march through the Steps. In fact, the theme of willingness appears in several of the steps even if it is only directly expressed in Step 8:

2) Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

The chapter “We Agnostics,” is all about becoming willing to believe in a Higher Power of our own conception. Bill writes, “… As soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results…”. Relief from compulsive eating begins with willingness (and requires more action to stick).

The theme of willingness in a step often indicates that an important action will required of us in the next step. So it is that Step 2 bridges to Step 3.

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

The Chapter in the AA 12&12 is absolutely littered with references to willingness, and with good reason. “There is only key,” writes Bill, “and it is called willingness.” Elsewhere in the chapter he writes, “Once we have placed the key of willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that we can always open it some more.” And willingness is huge in Step 3 because we are making a contract with God: You save me from addiction, and I’ll do what you ask and help others. We are saying, in effect, that we’ll do the rest of the steps, and Step 3 comes before Step 4 for a reason. We’ll need willingness to conduct a thorough and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

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

Here’s the really big one. In Step 7, we are going to ask God to change us from the inside out. We’ll be given a second shot at life. So we need to get willing, utterly willing, to let God take away from us all of our old habits, our old ways of thinking, our compulsive eating. All of it. Are we willing to give up these things that we’ve worn like an old sweater all these years? A sweater that everyone can see is stained, fraying, putrid-smelling, time-faded, hole-riddled garment that was ugly even when it was new. If we’re not ready to let go, then we won’t be changed. If we are not changed, we will not get the gift of neutrality toward food. We’ll be stuck. This is where we truly “abandon ourselves to God” as the famous “How It Works” passage admonishes us. Which brings us, finally, to Step 8.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Why do we need to become willing to make amends? Why don’t we simply make the list and get to it? Simply put, because we need honesty, open-mindedness, and only willingness will get us there. First off, making amends isn’t a fun-times activity. It’s serious, and it requires some serious pride-swallowing. At that simplest of levels, we need to check in our willingness.

But as we progress into Step 9, we’re going to need to do some rigorous examination of what we are making amends for, to whom we are making them, how to make them, and most importantly, whether direct amends may create further wreckage in that person’s life.

Any amends that can be made directly should be, and our minds will rebel at the idea of facing those hurt face to face. We need God to help us get willing. Some amends should never be made directly, and we need God’s help to understand which. In fact, we may need God to stay our hand in this matter if we are zealous! Some amends shouldn’t be amends at all. Our disease is still alive inside us, and it uses our ego against us. Just as it may tell us, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need to make amends for that little thing,” it may also tell us that something we did rises to the definition of harm, even though it isn’t. This is a form of self-centered thinking. So we need HP’s help to show us what to do, or who to ask about it so we gain clarity. We’ve already done damage to others, and we must take great care that in repairing that damage we don’t create more wreckage, even with the best intentions.

So willingness is massively important to our recoveries. There’s much to be done so that we can be changed. God will do the changing as we do the footwork that prepares us for it. So we must be willing to go to any length. But we are rewarded with a happy life, the joy we haven’t felt in so so long, and freedom from food obsession. Willingness is worth it!

The jigsaw puzzle of addiction

Said one OA member to another this week, “life is jigsaw puzzle, isn’t it?” It sure seems like one. Indeed, this is a wonderful metaphor for recovery.

While we’re eating compulsively, it’s as though we’re working on several different puzzles at once. We’re trying to figure out our food. We’re trying to manage our relationships. We’re trying to manage our fear. We’re trying to get life to go our way. We’re trying to change as we simultaneously try to keep everything around us the same.

None of these are going well. We suspect that someone (perhaps even us) has lost some of the pieces. Or that the pieces are miscut. We wonder if maybe the images on the pieces don’t actually match the box. Pieces from the other puzzles somehow snuck into one another’s puzzle’s boxes. Worst of all, the number of pieces in the puzzle keeps getting bigger and bigger; what once was a 100-piece puzzle with big pieces is now a 10,000 piece puzzle with pieces that practically require tweezers to handle.

For each of the different puzzles, we can’t seem to find one single strategy that works for each of them. We try assembling the border first. Or grouping pieces by color or the sector in the puzzle we suspect they belong to. We put all the same shaped pieces in a pile. We keep them all in their box, or we scatter them face up on the puzzle table. But we just can’t seem to make any headway. Oh, we might get a little block of the final image complete, but then the image changes!

As we engage in OA’s program of recovery, we start to get somewhere. As we use the Tools of Recovery to get our food in order, we find all of the straight-edged border pieces and define the scope of the problem. We finally have some boundaries around food, and we feel relief. Once we accept that our lives are unmanageable, we also start to see that all of those puzzles were really just one all along. Phew!

But until we do the Steps, the solution eludes us. If we haven’t done the Steps, we still only have the border of the puzzle. But the whole image remains mostly blank inside, and it will stay that way without further spiritual action on our part. So we do the unthinkable: We turn our will and lives over to the care of a Higher Power.

We may not have realized it, but we’ve been afraid that the image the puzzle ultimately produces will be horrifying to us. But once we’ve taken Step Three, we’ve committed to doing the moral inventory in Step Four. As we do so, we increasingly feel as though our Higher Power is guiding our hands across the puzzle pieces. Things fit together that somehow seemed impossible before. Finally, in Step Five, we see the completed image of our lives before us. It is, indeed, ugly in some places. We see all of our warts, our defects of character and how they have kept us away from happiness. But we also see that our self-pity and anger arises despite the many good things we have around us.

We may feel despondent at this point. We may want to tear up the finished puzzle. Instead, Step Six tells us to be willing to let God figure out what to do with it. Then in Step Seven we ask him to so, and we begin living life of God’s terms, not ours.

As we live our new way of life and to make amends, something utterly amazing happens. We discover to our delight that what we thought was the border of the puzzle is, in fact, just an image within an image! The puzzle extends infinitely outward in all directions. Previously, we defined what we thought our lives were. Now our HP is showing us a wider truth. God has turned our defects into assets that help others find recovery and happiness.

New puzzle pieces suddenly appear, and they attach themselves to the puzzle we completed without our having to figure out where they go. As the new picture radiates outward, we see how small the old life we led was. Our new life dwarfs it in size and in beauty. That tiny little box of painful memories will always be there, but we need never focus on that misery again. We see it now as way to help other suffering food addicts. And those straight-edged boundary pieces that comprised our food plan? They turn into a wall that helps keep the pain of our old life boxed in.

So life can be seen as a jigsaw puzzle. The question for compulsive eaters like is who is doing the solving? Are we relying on our own wits to arrest a disease that outwits us at every turn? Or are we going to let our Higher Power guide us to the solution? Are we going to keep seeing an image of pain in our old way of life? Or are we going to start seeing the bigger picture and live sanely and safely in this world?

Defining our abstinence with OA’s wisdom

It’s all too easy to get tangled up in perfectionism when it comes to our abstinence. Am I abstinent, or aren’t I? Was that a slip, or was my body truly signaling me through hunger to eat? If I change my food during the day, am I not being honest?

Each OA member is different, and, therefore, abstinence differs for each of us. One person’s pastries may be another’s Brussels sprouts. We must each define our own abstinence. Only we know what foods and eating behaviors trigger us.

But we also know that when it comes to food, we are born liars. Denial of our problem was a lie. All the fibs we told others to cover for our compulsive eating were lies. Stuffing bags, boxes, or containers in the bottom of the trash so no one else could see them was a lie. So how do we define abstinence meaningfully and honestly?

OA defines abstinence very simply and broadly so that all members have common ground no matter what food plan or approach they use:

Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous is defined as 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.

OA provides four important criteria for abstinence:

  • refraining from compulsive eating
  • refraining from compulsive food behaviors
  • working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight
  • doing all of these things simultaneously (indicated by the words and and while in the first sentence).

This is the most basic definition of abstinence available to us OA members. It does not say that anyone must abstain from any specific foods or food behaviors. Instead, the responsibility for that level of specificity is on us. We must be serious and honest about what foods are an issue and what behaviors are an issue. Then we avoid them.

At the same time, we must also be diligent on the matter of physical recovery. It’s not just about specific binge foods. Eating larger quantities of food than is required to maintain healthy body function is another problem most OAs have in common. That’s why a big reason why we’re fat, after all. Still, within that third bullet point are two traps we must be wary of.

First, we must not use the definition of abstinence as a reason to make physical recovery our Higher Power. The point of OA is not to recover from being fat but to recover our lives and stay recovered. Our physical recovery is but one facet of our program, which the second sentence in the definition of abstinence tells us. We must work the Twelve Steps to find lasting physical recovery.

Second, we must be honest and rigorous about our journey toward physical recovery. Are we eating the right amount to lose weight? Or are we continuing to eat more than necessary and telling ourselves that losing a pound a year fits the spirit of OA’s definition of abstinence? Are we “getting around” to losing the weight or doing it? Do we know objectively or medically what a healthy body weight is for us, or are we letting our diseased minds tell us that a weight above a realistically healthy weight is just fine. Do we even know what the right amount is to eat for weight loss? Or are we just guessing? Are we committed to the idea that being at a healthy body weight is a way to show newcomers that the program works?

OA has no opinion on the details of diet, calories, and similar matters. The specifics of these are outside issues that every member is encouraged to explore with a medical and/or nutritional expert. OA’s only opinions of matter of diet are to avoid compulsive eating, avoid compulsive food behaviors, and return our bodies to a normal size.

There are sometimes reasons why some OA members may not be able to reach a conventionally healthy body weight for their age, body type, and activity level. For example, some members take medications for serious medical conditions with side effects of weight gain, water retention, general bloating, or other metabolic responses. Other members who have lost hundreds of pounds may have extra skin that causes them to weigh more than they otherwise would. (The choice to have this skin surgically removed is a personal matter and for OA’s purposes an outside issue.) For these members, maintaining a healthy body weight may mean something different than it does for members without these complexities.

Our abstinence begins to take shape as we examine what OA’s definition of abstinence looks like for us. Does our compulsive eating increase when we consume certain things? Fats, sugars, salts, flours, alcohol, or any other “red light” foods that always get us in trouble? Are there “green light” foods that have never played a role in our compulsive eating? Are there “yellow light” foods that we’re not quite sure about? How honest are we able to be with ourselves about these foods? Are we willing to let go of those that fall into the “red light” group?

How about compulsive food behaviors? Are certain times of day perilous for us? Certain rooms in our house? Can we dine out safely? Is watching TV or reading while eating an invitation to mindless binging? There are at least as many compulsive food behaviors as there are OA members.

Once we have awareness of these parameters, we can get to work using the OA Tool of Food Plan. There is no one food plan in OA. Everyone gets to create their own, which is best done under the guidance of a sponsor and with help from our Higher Power. Food plans are a tool to gain abstinence, and we may choose to define our abstinence through them as strictly or loosely as benefits our recovery. OA has no opinion on any food plan nor on what within that food plan denotes abstinent food or behavior. That’s up to us.

That said, we may want to avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Are we seeking progress or perfection? Do we constantly worry whether we are abstinent, or are we keeping our mind on how we can be helpful today? Are we placing the power for abstinence in God’s hands, or are we trying to control our food? Are we working with someone else to be accountable for what we eat, or are we using another human being as a Higher Power-like judge of our abstinence?

Ultimately, we can’t have the perfect abstinence. But if we’re staying open to taking action, trusting our Higher Power to guide our food rather than merely doing another diet, and being completely honest about what we eat, we will have the perfect abstinence for us.

Tradition of the Month: Let’s keep this thing simple

7. Every OA group ought to be self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

Dr. Bob’s last words to his AA confounder Bill W. were an admonition:

“Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.” (Dr. Bob and the Good Old Timers, page 343.)

Bill had been in the world of high finance. In the high towers on Wall Street making a mint’s worth of paper proceeds, only to see them all dissolve in the market meltdown that kicked off The Great Depression. In fact, what brought Bill to Akron where he met Dr. Bob was an investment scissor fight. He involved himself in a vicious proxy battle with a tire manufacturer’s board of directors. Complicated, political, protracted dueling among the lords of that particular realm.

Meanwhile, Dr. Bob practiced proctology.

The pull and drag dynamic of their relationship served AA amazingly well. Bob could provide a realistic assessment of Bill’s more grandiose ideas. Bill could spur the more conservative Bob toward practices that would give AA the ability to reach a regional then national audience. By the time of Dr. Bob’s death in 1950, AA had blossomed across America and well beyond, so his last words to Bill were important. They had been big fish in a little pond. Now they could choose to see themselves as big fish in a vast ocean if they wished.

Bob wisely counseled against it. Addicts have enough problems with grandiosity and ego that they don’t need to see themselves as kahunas of some burgeoning world power. Stay small in your own mind, he seemed to be telling Bill. AA’s Twelve & Twelve published just a year or three after this famous encounter. In it, Bill frequently warns against big-shotism and repeatedly reminds us of the importance of humility and humbleness.

All of this relates in profound ways to Tradition Seven. The AA 12×12 analogizes Tradition Seven to a vow of poverty. As a former financier, Bill knew quite well the ups and downs of markets as well as of the accumulation and management of wealth. He understood how complex the issues around it are. If you’ve ever visited a retirement planner, run your own company, or been in accounting, you probably have some idea how complicated money can be. By taking a metaphorical vow of poverty, AA ensured that the money intake itself would be modest, posing less risk of profiteering motives. Just as important, placing that vow of poverty in the context of Tradition 5 (our primary purpose) and Tradition 8 (AA should remain forever nonprofessional…) created a bulwark against the corporatizing of AA’s message of hope. The fellowship was to use the money for one purpose (helping drunks) and not paying guys like Bill to do it.

Experience taught AA the necessity of its vow of poverty. Arguments about money divert  from the primary purpose. The endless decision making around money and the finger pointing that occurs when investments don’t pan out create disunity in a fellowship whose first Tradition stresses its importance.

So what’s this history lesson got to do with our food and OA’s fellowship? Everything. We hear in many rooms the phrase “Keep it simple.” Why? Simply because we addicts can complicate an egg timer. That adage is often used to describe our food planning, but it’s also true of the fellowship in its entirety. If we don’t keep things simple, we simply won’t be able to keep OA healthy.

Food plans are a lot more complicated than sobriety from alcohol. We have to let the tiger  out of the cage three times a day, and our deal is on every street corner. We do not have the time to deal with the complications that arise from handling money, attracting donations or capital, and making big plans for how to use it. We have just two things we need to do: stay abstinent and help others. Anytime our focus drifts away from those tasks, we are vulnerable to this vicious disease.

We take our vow of poverty so that we can find the richness of recovery from compulsive eating.

 

Step of the Month: Humbly asked

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Because in Step 7 so much of importance occurs inside of us, we typically focus on the the removal of our shortcomings. We didn’t just write all that moral inventory and share it with our sponsor so that the bad stuff stays stuck inside us! This is a big deal. It’s where God makes good on the third step prayer. We said we’d try it God’s way, and in exchange God removes our troubles. It’s a miracle.

But we might be wise to pause for a moment on the leading adverb of the sentence: Humbly. Why did Bill W. and the gang slip that small but important word there? Those folks knew a thing or two about how us addicts work. They know that a lack of humility is an issue for us. Self-centeredness is self-centeredness whether we think we are better than everyone else or worse than everyone else. Whether we have delusions of superiority or delusions of inferiority. Either way, we are not able to assess ourselves humbly.

People like us are stubborn. Or perhaps it’s that our disease place stubborn ideas in our heads. For example, the idea that we have to be able to do the job ourselves. Whatever the job is. Or that we don’t need fixing, but everyone else does. Or that we know what actually needs to removed from us. In fact, we may know, but we may not have much perspective about the relative importance of each item that requires extraction. Finally, we may have the idea that we aren’t worth saving. That old saw has killed a lot of addicts. It’s another bit of old thinking that is self-centered in nature and has to go. It’s not humble to think that we are uniquely awful in our HP’s eyes.

If we have done the first six Steps well and learned to trust and rely on God by working them, then it is very likely that we are well and ready to ask for the removal of our shortcomings in the same way that Ebenezer Scrooge asked to be saved from the torment of understanding the terrible effect of his words and deeds on others. In the Big Book, on page 75, the authors ask us to consider whether we’ve done the work of the first five Steps well, whether we are truly ready to be changed by our Higher Power. Why would they ask this? Aren’t we all ready to have the scourge of addiction lifted from us?

Maybe we are in some ways and not others.

Are we hoping to have our obsession lifted but hang onto the worst of our defects? Are we hoping to have our obsession lifted merely to improve our life circumstances with little care for living in the solution thereafter? Are we we hoping to have the obsession lifted and then go on our merry way without returning again to help others like us? Perhaps most important: Do we still want to run the show? Or think we aren’t worth saving?

Of course, we all want to run the show. That’s how we are as addicts. We want freedom from discomfort and feelings more than anything. But if that freedom has to come via mechanisms we control, then we have not absorbed the solution. Our freedom comes from dependence on God, not merely with independence from food. So this simple little word, humbly, keys us into the idea that we still have more to learn. Humble is related to humility, a word that describes being teachable. Are we asking God to remove these objectionable items so we can learn more about our nascent spirituality? Or only for selfish reasons.

We here from long-time members and members with strong recovery that we must always stay on guard against our disease. It’s getting worse inside of us even as we’re getting better. We are never immune to its attacks on our thinking, even if we’ve got 10,000 days of abstinence. “Lurking notions” likely linger inside all of us. Step 7 is the archway we walk through into a new life of sobriety and freedom. But it does have conditions, the most important being the willingness to standing on a humble spiritual footing and to continue to maintain and expand it one day at a time. Even if it doesn’t come easily or naturally to folks like us.

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.