Don’t Feed the Tomorrow Trolls

We addicts often talk about The Committee inside our minds. That collection of voices that shout a seemingly endless stream of corrosive negativity at us. When a good thing happens, they scream that we don’t deserve it. When a bad thing happens: See? They told us so.

These voices exert power over us. They drive us to eat compulsively, to act out, to conduct ourselves in the opposite manner of our most heartfelt values, and, worst of all, to believe the killing lie that we’re not good enough.

The Committee’s favorite pastime of all is predicting our future and judging how we’ll respond to it. It’s their favorite because they get to use every deception they have, and they get to use our memories against us. Over time, they have twisted and warped our perceptions of the past, and now they use those distortions against us as we contemplate the future.

The Committee is made up of Tomorrow Trolls:

  • The Dread Seer: Transforms any amount uncertain knowledge into an unfalsifiable vision of a future filled with pain
  • The Inferiority Complexor: Sorcerer with the spellbinding incantation, I’m not good enough, that traps us in our minds
  • Impostro: Who cuts through our external positives to reveal our inner weaknesses to us
  • The Mentalist: Reads others minds so we can know what they really think of us
  • Dr. Perfect: Uses the power of perfectionism to keep us from making mistakes
  • The Puppeteer: Creates unbeatable plans to keep control of the future by any means necessary.

Together this unjust league of evildoers have us ensnared in their web of powerlessness. We seem unable to escape their clutches. Every time we think we’ve finally gotten away, we hear their laughter around us and realize we hadn’t gotten very far at all. What’s left to us is reducing our suffering with the anesthetic called food. That’s right where the Tomorrow Trolls want us.

The only thing that can break The Committee’s crushing grip on us is the 12 Steps. It attacks the source of the Tomorrow Trolls’ power over us, our unwillingness to trust and rely on something greater than ourselves.

It’s true. These trolls exist inside us because we needed them at one time. They started out life as benign voices that helped us get through hard times, but they became twisted and evil as their megalomaniacal power over us grew. We didn’t know they would turn into monsters, and, besides which, we never learned another way to be.

The 12 Steps give us deeper perspective. We suddenly see that what bound us to these voices was fear. Fear of the past happening again. Fear of a tomorrow we can’t abide. But when we work the Steps, we discover that our Higher Power has abilities and authority that The Committee only pretends to have.

Our HP has the power to soothe us instead of scare us. HP can guide us forward instead of keeping us stuck in yesterday. God, as we understand God, can show us the innermost, light-filled truth about us instead of hiding it from us.

This is the essence of the phrase one day at a time. We fear pain in tomorrow. It prevents us from enjoying today and having real relationships with others. But when we live in today, when we make incremental progress instead of trying to go to war with the future, we do just fine.

We can be happy even if bad news looms. Trusting and relying on God is how that works. Today we step through our day with courage founded on faith. We leave tomorrow in the future. Today is where spirituality and abstinence live. Tomorrow is where fear and compulsive eating exist.

So our job in any given twenty-four hours is simple: Don’t feed the Tomorrow Trolls! Instead we do business with our Higher Power in the now. We don’t listen to the BS our brain tells us, we listen to the sound guidance from our HP that has come as a result of doing spiritual work on a daily basis.

5 ways to keep it simple

In meetings, OA members often mention the importance of keeping things simple. Why? Because our disease makes things complicated.

Our minds are trying to kill us, and our addiction-addled brains use our thinking against us. Simple decisions such as choosing an outfit suddenly acquire layer upon bewildering layer of complexity:

Is it too flashy?

Or too boring?

What will my coworkers think of it?

Does it look too much like something the boss would wear?

But I need the boss to like me because I need a raise so that I pay off that credit card bill and buy a new outfit that looks better on me because this one makes me look chunky.

I’ll never pay off the credit card, and if I don’t, my spouse will be angry, and that’ll mean yet another fight.

I don’t even know if I’m lovable, especially when my clothes don’t fit, and I’m spending way too much money on food I don’t even want to eat anymore.

And I don’t want to be alone!

We can do zero to doomsday in six seconds or less. What do I wear to work today can utterly paralyze us, and so we turn to food for relief.

The 12 Steps, 12 Traditions, and OA’s nine tools help us learn a simpler way to live. From our food to how we conduct ourselves, we find a way to walk through each day with clarity and purpose, even if our mind tries to make things complicated.

Here are five ways that the program can help us keep it simple so that we don’t drown in complicated thinking.

1. Going to a meeting

The great thing about meetings is that we have nothing to do except sit and listen. Nothing more is required of us. But that seemingly small action makes a big difference. When things are complicated, our mind is committee of people who talk over themselves constantly. It’s hard to even make sense of the chatter sometimes. But when we sit in a meeting and simply focus on what another person is saying, the committee adjourns. In meetings, one person talks. Then another person talks. Then another. No one is interrupted, no one talks over anyone else. Compared to the bustle in the world and the tussle in our minds, it’s downright idyllic. This may be part of the reason why many members report they usually feel better after a meeting than when they arrived.

2. Calling a program friend

The telephone is like a mini-meeting. Dropping a dime and asking someone else how they are doing provides a boost to us, even though we’re not doing the talking. When we think unselfishly of another person and take action, we feel the benefit. Even if they don’t pick up the phone. Once we’ve heard how the person on the other end of the line is doing, we might ask them for help to simplify our thinking. Often another person can cut through the tangles in our mind and help us to simplify our dilemma. If we are willing to listen to them, we may well see through our cluttered thinking.

3. Keeping it in the day with perspective

Does the problem have to be solved today? Is there any action we must take in this twenty-four hours about this problem? The truth is that we don’t know the whole story, nor what will really happen. We can’t travel to the past nor to the future, so perseverating over a complicated issue will not help us. Today, today, today!

4. Asking our Higher Power for the right thought or action

In our example above about choosing an outfit, our disease uses our own cognitive abilities against us. We can’t hack our way out of this mental thicket. But when we ask for spiritual help, we get it. The clothing example above has some basis in reality. One of our members reports having once stood paralyzed by the question of what to wear to work. They debated internally, asked their spouse, and felt increasingly agitated by this everyday decision. They recalled another person living the 12-Step life saying that they had once needed to ask God to help them brush their teeth. So why not this? “God, what should I wear to work today?” our friend uttered. Within moments, the right outfit presented itself.

This technique is practical in any situation. Desperate to find the car keys and feel the repercussions multiplying? Ask God for help. Don’t know what to pick out on a menu? Ask God for help. It really does work, and we usually spot a simple solution in front of us that we otherwise were unable to see.

5. Seeking ways to be helpful to others

Working with others is the cornerstone of our recovery. Step 12 tells us that we must carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer. We have to give it away if we want to keep it. When we turn our minds to helping others we might begin with our sponsees. Would they benefit from a quick jingle? Or would a member whom we know is struggling? But it doesn’t stop with compulsive eaters. When we do the dishes or make the bed or clear the snow or weed the garden without prompting because we know it will help someone else, we make things simpler. We just do what’s in front of us. We suddenly find ourselves focusing on something other than our complicated problems. Answers may well arrive for the problem. It might simply leave our minds. Or we might, without realizing it, feel a profound shift that allows us to feel at ease once more. We will get more out of helping others than they will from us.

Overeaters Anonymous is often said to be a simple program for complicated people. But when we take simple actions like the five above, our thinking simplifies, and that means our day does to. So let’s keep it simple. We can let things go where they will and do what they must without involving ourselves. We can let those worry whose job it is to do so. All we have to do is take action.

Step of the month: Is my Higher Power strong enough?

It’s axiomatic that everyone enters OA doubting their Higher Power (if they have one). After all, we eat for ease and comfort from our problems, and if we had an HP we could bank on, we wouldn’t need to self-soothe with food.

The question for us compulsive eaters isn’t whether the conception of God we came to OA with had enough power to help us. Rather the question is whether the HP we develop during Step 2 is powerful enough.

The test for whether our Higher Power has the necessary strength to help us is pretty simple: Am I able to trust and rely on this God? If we continue to eat compulsively, if we balk at any of the Steps after the second, or if during our daily contact with God we feel like we’re talking to nothing, then we probably aren’t able to lean on our concept of a Higher Power.

When we find ourselves unable to trust and rely on our concept of God, we need to go back to Step Two and page through the HP catalog. It is crucial that we find a way to approach the God question honestly, thoughtfully, and practically. Remember we need to be willing to turn our will and our life over to this Higher Power! It’s a big deal.

Here, several different types of people may find difficulty. Stepping backwards and revising our idea of God might seem scary, heretical, or intellectually difficult to swallow. So let’s pick cautiously through some situations that commonly face our members.

Strongly religious members: Those with a deep experience in organized religion may find difficulty revising their ideas of God. Years of training may cause them to feel unsettled by the thought. We wish to quell those fears by first noting the fact that religious fervor and compulsive eating together indicate spiritual, if not religious, disharmony. Second, we note that even a very small adjustment can make a big difference. Even an adjustment as simple as exchanging a deep, paternalistically-toned idea of God’s voice for a more soothing version can have profoundly positive effects on our ability to trust and rely.

Lapsed religious members: Many members feel scarred by a heavy dose of religion in their youths. Yet these powerful lessons in dogma remain as fixed ideas in their present mind. It is important for us to remember that religion and spirituality are not the same. OA has no position on what Truth with a capital T is, but we do believe that everyone requires their own concept of God to recover. Sometimes, we fear the inculcated consequences of loosening our grip on a concept that hasn’t worked for us, and that has caused us spiritual pain. But here we must adopt an inquiry stance and simply find open-mindedness. We have often thought in terms of a binary system: The religion we were born into, yes/that religion, no. But there exist many paths to faith in the world, some of which are not organized or dogmatic at all because they come from within our own hearts.

Intellectual arguers: Other members have evaded a full-on confrontation with the question of a Higher Power for decades through argument. This is especially attractive to those who want a spiritual life and have lived for a long time among family or friends who deride spirituality as intellectually dishonest, weak, or undesirable. One day, these members hope, they can be argued into faith. For those of us who have trod this wearying path, we recognize the moves of talking about cosmology, asserting the power of reason, and even of thinking we have it all figured out. In fact, there’s a simple question that we have avoided like the plague: Whom am I to say there is no God? The core of this question isn’t an argument of one’s own intelligence, of the degree of one’s expertise, nor of the form of the reasoning necessary to prove something unprovable. Instead, it is a question of humility. Do I have the computing power in my brain to truly understand the world, the universe, and everything? Whether there is a God in it or not? Am I truly so arrogant as to think that I could understand something more spiritually powerful than I am? Have I given the Steps my best shot, or am I simply brushing aside the experience of the hundreds of 12-Step people around me who have had a spiritual experience and show evidence of the change that’s come over them? If we take a experiential approach rather than an arguing approach, we may learn something very, very deep that was inaccessible to us previously.

Principled atheists: For those with strong atheistic principles, OA appears to present nearly insurmountable problems. And yet many OA members with recovery will tell you that they don’t subscribe to any kind of supernatural being or intelligence. Instead, they may believe in the power of certain ideas to shape our lives: trust, justice, beauty, love, respect, compassion, empathy, altruism, and others. They may have their own, unique believe, such as one member who believes that music is the expression of a single, harmonious idea in the world, and that when we are out of synch with that music, we eat compulsively. Still others rely on the idea of nature, goodness, or some other ideal.

If all else fails: Try this one: The God of my not understanding. Because for some OAs, even the attempt to define a Higher Power creates pain. For those folks, that simple statement can open the doors wide to a spiritual experience. Why? It’s similar to Step One. Many of us feel great relief when we finally admit to ourselves that we cannot stop eating compulsively. When we admit we cannot understand God, we can stop fighting the urge to do so. We needn’t struggle any longer.

Remember, at first, we must only be willing to believe in a power greater than ourselves. Willingness is everything, and it can be simple. More will be revealed to us as we progress through the Steps. After all, that’s what they’re for! So if we find ourselves stuck on a step, just step back. We revisit our conception of God to see if there’s something about it that keeps us from trusting and relying. We update our understanding. Then we keep moving forward. Eventually, our hearts and spirits will win out, and we will have the vital spiritual experience we need. If we are willing.

Talking about pain to avoid mental suffering

“No pain, no gain” say the gym rats. But we compulsive eaters mean it differently…in our minds. “If only they wouldn’t hurt me, I wouldn’t have to eat, and I wouldn’t be fat.” But the world keeps turning round, and we aren’t allowed to stop it just because we hurt.

The problem with emotional pain is that we addicts tend to carry it around with us, and our society often tells us to suffer in silence. Pain doesn’t become suffering, however, until we give it the opportunity. When we stew in self-pity, pain becomes suffering. When we turn over the same conversation or situation in our mind trying to figure out how to change it, even though we can’t, pain becomes suffering. Until the moment we accept what’s happened, we will suffer.

In OA, we learn several actions to take when we have mental agony that’s about to tip into prolonged suffering. But all of them depend on two factors:

  1. acknowledging that we are in pain
  2. recognizing that our addictive minds want to seek relief as quickly as possible.

The second of these two factors is, in some way, the easy part. Once we acknowledge our pain and discomfort, we have a fighting chance. For us OA members, relief comes from honesty. OA’s Steps and Tools help us cope with the searing or dull mental pain of our lives. When we use the 10th, 11th, and 12th Steps to work through pain, we are taking spiritual actions designed to get us through the tough stuff. When we go to a meeting or pick up the phone, we lean on the fellowship for support. Others can identify, have had the same kinds of feelings and situations in their lives. All of the Tools, by definition, support the 12 Steps and the recovery we find in them. They ultimately lead us back to the Higher Power we connect with in the Steps.

The actions we can take are well documented and have proved out over decades of OA experience and that of other fellowships as well. So let us examine for a moment the idea of acknowledging our pain.

Admitting to ourselves that we are in the grips of emotional pain is very, very difficult sometimes. We may feel overwhelmed so much that we can’t think straight. We may have such singular focus on an issue in our lives that we completely lose the ability to see ourselves perseverating over it. The depression, anger, disappointment may be so pervasive that it descends like a black cloud over everything else in our lives. Our relationships, our work, and our program seem like distant joys.

Even so, many of us have been taught, conditioned by society, to just bear it up. When we ate compulsively, we used denial as a tool to get through each day, and we have years of practice in this bleak art. For males, especially, the popular notion of the strong, silent man brings with it doubts about the appropriateness of even admitting there’s something wrong.

But as one of our local members has experienced, intense relief often arrives quickly after saying out loud that we are in pain. Sitting alone, speaking frankly to our Higher Power, telling HP that we hurt creates an amazing opening in our minds. We will have more work to, which we’ve discussed above, but suddenly our willingness to do that work increases because we receive a moment of hope.

To multiply the power of that conversation with God, we can ask for HP’s will for us, the willingness to carry it out, and guidance in how to do it. We often find that a word or phrase leaps to mind, and that we soon after encounter obvious pathways through our lives that seemed blocked earlier. “God makes simple terms with those who seek Him,” the Big Book tells us.

When we admit to God, and, others, that we hurt, we get honest about our state of mind. We also get honest about who’s in charge, because our perseveration is but another form of control. So when we ask for our Higher Power’s will, we admit, too, that we can’t manage our life. We are as sick as our secrets, especially the ones we keep from ourselves.

You cannot fail in OA

Nearly every person in the world worries about failure. We addicts especially worry about what our errors say about us. How will we look to other people? Will our outsides finally reflect all the negativity we feel about ourselves on the inside?

We’ve spent an entire life masking this fear to the outside world (usually not very well) and trying our best to stanch the fear with the magical numbing properties of compulsive eating. Now that we’ve joined OA, these old feelings may well creep into how we think about our program.

We may become discouraged by what we perceive as our inability to “get” the program, to lose weight or lose it quickly enough, to get or stay abstinent, to find the “perfect” sponsor. The list can go on and on because our diseased thinking doesn’t want us to succeed in OA. It wants us to continue eating compulsively, and it will manipulate our thinking until it gets what it wants.

That’s why we so often hear OAers say “Keep coming back!” It is courageous to merely attend meetings and acknowledge that we have a problem. It is a great act of self care to ask someone for help with understanding and practicing the program. But our disease will tell us that these things aren’t so great, so why bother.

“Stay until the miracle happens,” many members will say. Amazing amounts of truth there. If we leave OA because we are struggling with abstinence, we throw away our last lifeline, and we set ourselves adrift to sea, alone, with no hope of rescue. But as long as our butt stays in an OA seat, and we continue to hear the message, we remain connected to the source of the solution for compulsive eating. We may struggle with others, but we fail alone.

Now, here’s the great hope for us with the fear of failure. It’s on page 55 of the Big Book:

If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.

[Emphasis ours.]

The founders of AA here share one of the greatest of all promises in the Big Book: That if we continue down the 12-Step path, as long as we move toward the solution, we will not fail and are not failures.

Let’s break down this paragraph for just a moment into its components to see exactly what they mean.

  • “Our testimony”: We are in receipt of the experience of the first 100 AA members who first discovered the healing power of the 12-Step approach.
  • “Sweep away prejudice”: Why not suspend our judgment, even of things spiritual that we might have that of as woo woo or superstition? Nothing else is working for us.
  • “Search diligently within yourself”: No human being or group of them will give us a miraculous pill or balm to eradicate our addiction. This is an inside job, and a job that must be done well and carefully to have its promised effect. We can’t half-ass this thing and expect to win out. We must be ready to face all of demons to feel, heal, and deal.
  • “If you wish”: This is a program for those who want it, not those who need it. If we don’t really want it, we should probably keep coming until we do.
  • “Join us on the Broad Highway”: Recovery is open to anyone, regardless of gender, age, color, ethnicity, religion, ability, or any other demographic marker. Our fellowship requires unity because the spiritual power that works through it is amplified by our combined presence. And, hey, it’s a good time.
  • “This attitude”: Here’s the key, right? We must adopt an attitude of honesty (we don’t know everything), open-mindedness (this can work for us, too), and willingness (a commitment to doing the work of recovery), if we want to succeed. If we make these simple ideas a part of our OA practice, then we will never fail at recovery.

Oh, we may hit a rumble strip on the road to recovery. We might slip off the tarmac here and there. But if we, nonetheless, keep this simple attitude, we will continue moving forward. This is the long game. Even if we must take one step backward for every two we take forward, we will find the freedom from food obsession that OA promises us. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, no doubt. But it’s always there for us, if we work for it.

3 OA ways to avoid the big blow-up

Here’s a classic couples argument.

You’re in the car with your spouse. You realize that you got off at the wrong exit and you mention it. Your spouse asks, “Did you look at a map before you left?” You spit back that you don’t need a front seat driver, and why didn’t they speak up earlier?

Or maybe it’s an argument with a coworker about why a project went pear-shaped. Or with a sibling about what to do about Mom and Dad’s estate. Or, or, or….

There’s millions of opportunities each day for a spat or even a big blow-up with loved ones, colleagues, and, even, complete strangers. So how do we use OA principles to lead with kindness instead of anger? Here’s three ways.

1. Pray!

OK, that’s pretty obvious. OA is a spiritual program for people who haven’t done much spiritual business in their lives. We need guidance in difficult situations, so prayer should probably be our number one move when we need stillness of tongue or pen/keyboard/device. In fact, Step 10 suggests we pause when agitated or doubtful and ask for the right thought or action. ***SPOILER: An emotional fireworks display doesn’t promote love and kindness.*** “God, please help me” is enough. We don’t need to go into a lengthy monologue with our HP, especially in the heat of an emotional moment.

2. Use OA’s tools

Program literature tells us that the OA Tools exist to support living and working the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. In our driving example, it can be hard to break away from an argument in the cabin of a moving vehicle. But in many instances, we may be arguing over the phone, over email or text, or in an online discussion thread. In each of these instances, we have opportunities to put down the conversation (“Let me call you back” or to literally step away from a computer or device). That’s when we pick up the Tools. If we need to deescalate immediately, the Tool of Telephone (or text) probably works best. If we have some time, the Tool of Meetings or Service can help shift our minds onto others and away from the source of our conflict. That pause from the fight is often enough to help us regain perspective.

3. Ask ourselves what our intentions are

Truth-telling is hard, but often super rewarding, especially in a situation like this. Is fear driving our side of the argument? Does pride demand we avoid losing face? Is there something we badly want or need that the other person is getting in the way of? Are we just trying to control our little world or avoid losing control of it to the other person? We often find once we ask these questions that we lose to the urge to counter or to even reply because we recognize the self-centeredness rearing up in our mind.

Let’s go back to the navigational argument we started with and apply each of these 3 techniques.

1. Pray!

As the driver, we’ve stated that we goofed up. Even if our spouse is being as snarky as can be in their response, why should we take the bait? We can ask God to remove our anger and to show us how we can be helpful to our spouse. Maybe there’s something going on inside them that needs to come out but hasn’t yet found its way. At the very least, the rest of the car ride needn’t be spent on razor’s edge.

2. Use OA’s Tools

If we are the non-driving spouse, instead of asking about the map, we might pull out our phone and text a program friend about our frustration. If we happen to have a For Today in the car, we might grab it and open to a favorite passage. Even as the driver, we might choose to remember a favorite passage such as the Acceptance Page. In situations such as  online interactions, we have time to step away and do whatever is necessary to restore us to civility.

3. Ask ourselves what our intentions are

The questions we provided above, and others, lead us back to our selfish instincts. All humans have them! Ours just happen to be more intense as a symptom of our affliction. Here’s the amazing part, though. Often when we stop the flow of the angry conversation and talk about our intentions openly and honestly, we get to the most intimate, productive, and/or satisfying results. We might have been assuming that our spouse was responding in sarcasm, when, in fact, their response might have been a genuine question because they thought we’d read a map before leaving! If we’re afraid of losing face, and we respond by describing how we are afraid of letting them down or looking weak to them, we might end up learning that we needn’t ever have that fear again because their love isn’t conditional. The possibilities are many here, but when we dig a little deeper and reply with the truth about ourselves, we open new opportunities for love, kindness, and tolerance, not to mention service to others.

OA is a flexible program that really works in rough going. In a car, in the boss’ office, at the family dinner table, at a party, at a funeral, while buying a car or a house, during an audit, a court case, or dental visit. It works when we work it.


Tradition of the Month: A House Divided

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

One hundred sixty years ago this June 16th, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his best known speeches. It included this famous line:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

In distilling the experience of thousands of groups across the world into twelve pithy traditions, Bill Wilson recognized that any organization that included human beings as members would find itself factionalized. That’s just how people are, and it’s especially true of addicts. In the chapter of the Big Book titled “How It Works,” we are told exactly this about ourselves. We are reminded that we seem to constantly try to wrest happiness and satisfaction from people, places, and things regardless and generally don’t care all that much about their welfare as long as we get ours. Why would a 12-Step group be different?

So the founders went to great lengths to create something new that didn’t look like most other human endeavors. For one thing, they called it a fellowship. Not an organization. The trouble with organizations is that they need leaders, officers, board members, all the usual trappings of authority. Leadership roles convey status, power intoxicates us and can divert us from our primary purpose. More important, our Higher Powers are the leaders of OA, not limited individuals like us.

At every step, AA’s and OA’s founders sought ways to block the way toward infighting. Make it a fellowship. Let it be anarchic in nature. Place authority in God’s hands, not people’s hands. Let every member choose their own conception of God so that there can be no fighting about which is the “right” Higher Power. Invert the service structure so that local meetings are served by World Service rather than vise versa. Make the primary purpose altruistic and disallow outside enterprises and influences. Give every member the right to adopt whatever plan of eating works for them so that we avoid food-plan factionalism. All geared toward the combination of ego deflation and dependence on spirituality so that we don’t let our pesky opinions of how things should be run get in the way of others’ recovery.

It’s amazing sometimes that 12-Step groups have enough organization to even have a meeting each week, and yet that’s precisely how unity works in OA. The more rules there are, the more interpretations of the rules there are. The more interpretations there are, the more we argue, parse words, and find ourselves in opposition with our fellow sufferers. How does that help a newcomer?

In an important way, Tradition One parallels Step One. We might say that, “A mind divided against itself cannot stand itself.” Self-recriminiation seems to haunt all us compulsive eaters, and it easily overcomes our weak resistance to self-flagellation. Our best selves, unsupported by other sufferers and not yet connected to a Higher Power, can’t stand up to the onslaught of negativity that comes from the part of our brain controlled by our disease. So we eat to quiet the arguing inside, and we slowly slip further and further into the grip of addiction.

The more our addition overtakes our personality, the more unmanageable life becomes. Problems feel bigger and more intractable. We despair of ever returning to a life of normalcy let alone happiness. Friendships feel like obligations. As we observe these phenomena of unmanageability happening to us, we feel worse and worse. Eventually our metaphorical house can no longer stand, all because this disease leads us to think that we can’t stand ourselves.

Just as Tradition One helps us to bring a recovered sense of kindness, love, and tolerance to OA affairs, the Steps help us find compassion and redemption in our personal affairs. Just as Tradition One implores us to consider the welfare of the group instead of just our small selves, the Steps help us see that we’ve always been out for number one, even when we did things with good intentions. Then the program changes us so that we can practice selflessness and self-care.

Together we get better. If there is no fellowship, we will suffer and die alone and without hope. But when we seek OA unity, avoid petty infighting, resist gossiping about others’ recoveries, and find ways to bring our members together, we all have a chance at serenity, happiness, and a life second to none.


Step of the Month: Abstinence is not the solution

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 

Abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. We all talk about abstinence all the time. And with good reason! We don’t need Overeaters Anonymous because we have control over our food. We arrive as people broken by their baffling inability to let go of compulsive eating despite its harmful effects. We want abstinence more than anything when we sit down at our first meeting. We recognize that abstinence is hard to get and easy to lose, and we admire and are astonished by those who have it for the long-term.

It’s only natural that we see abstinence as the number one most important feature of our recovery. As soon as we take that first compulsive bite, we place ourselves in life-threatening, mind-threatening, and spirit-threatening jeopardy. So, yeah, on a day to day basis abstinence is A Number One for us OA members.

But absence, no matter how long we have it, does not equate to recovery. Abstinence is not the solution to compulsive eating.

If it were true that abstinence is the solution to compulsive eating, none of us would need OA in the first place. We’d only need a diet and some will power! But none of us has the necessary will power. Instead, we can diet all we want, but what makes us different from the merely obese is the mental obsession with food. We plot and plan what, how, when, and with (or without) whom we will eat. Food occupies our mind. We can’t get away from it. We see it all around us. We feel the need for it almost constantly—even in our dreams. We can feel it in our mouths and imagine its soothing properties long before we take that first bite. Worse, we are always disappointed that the ease and comfort it brings lasts just moments.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” the Big Book tells us about the cycle of addiction. It always starts in our mind. It is the presence of a thought or a feeling that activates our obsession with food. We obsess about relief before we take that first bite. That’s why the Big Book tells us that “the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.” Which means that food addiction is a mental issue that affects us physically, not a physical issue that affects us mentallyAnd that’s why abstinence is not the solution, only part of the treatment.

We will never escape compulsive eating if we only treat the symptom of consumption. With this self-diagnosed disease, we must treat the whole patient: mental, spiritual, and physical. The solution that OA provides is the 12 Steps, and abstinence only falls under Step 1.

The 12 Steps are there to change us from the inside out. As compulsive eaters, we have been using food as medication. We constantly feel restless, irritable, discontented, resentful, and fearful. We eat to make those feelings go away. But they always come back, and then we need more food to make them disappear again. We must find a way to gain peace, serenity, ease, and comfort from something inside ourselves rather than something we put into ourselves. That’s what the 12 Steps do. They help us locate a power that will change us rapidly and profoundly so that we don’t need to use food to find our place in this crazy world.

But what about those with long-term abstinence who don’t do the steps? Hey, our hats are off to them! But the length and quality of one’s food-sobriety are not mutually inclusive by themselves. Although we wish to make blanket judgment about anyone, just because a person has ceased compulsively eating doesn’t mean that their mental and spiritual selves have healed at all. Indeed, when we put together some time in abstinence, it becomes easier and easier to think to ourselves “I got this” and coast. That’s a sure path to eating compulsively once again. If we have not experienced the psychic change the Big Book describes, then we are not experiencing recovery. We are dieting, and we know how that has ended for us in the past. If we continue to behave toward others as we always have. If we continue to be paralyzed by our fear of others’ opinions. If we remain tangled in webs of codependence and people-pleasing. If we’re just the same old person we were, then we really need to do the 12 Steps before we experience the horror of relapse and so we can enjoy our abstinence fully.

But the good news is that abstinence, if only a beginning, is a great beginning! From there we embark on the most amazing journey imaginable, a trip to the center of our hearts where we will discover that we are good, imperfect, and wonderful people who deserve love and respect just like everyone around us. The change we are given will enable us to remain abstinent through thick and thin with an ease that we have never otherwise in our lives experienced. Peace with our selves and freedom from compulsive eating: Who wouldn’t want that?!


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.