The Magical Mystery Solution

In a meeting this morning, I noticed an object under the table I sat at, seemingly adhered to its bottom, half-hidden from view. Suddenly instead of listening to one of my OA friends sharing, I leapt into What if land. What if the half-hidden object were some overlooked treasure? It would change my life!

It turned out to be a support for the table.

But…what if it had been a treasure? A wad of money, a valuable trinket, something exciting! The fact that the object, whatever it would turn out to be, rightfully belonged to the hospital we meet in didn’t seem material. Not in What if land.

There’s this old TV commercial, probably for insurance or financial planning. A fella’s standing at a yard sale, buys a cheapo painting, and peels the backing off of it, only to find a signed, original copy of The Declaration of Independence inside. Treasure!

Before program, and even in recovery, that’s the guy I wanted to be. The lucky one who catches the windfall in his lap, moving not one muscle to earn it, nor being especially deserving of the gift. In fact, I wanted not only the invaluable document inside the painting but also for the painting itself turn out to be a priceless classic by some old European master. Because one life-changing find isn’t enough! In What is land, I don’t go to yard sales, I don’t buy cheapo paintings, and there’s no way that’s happening for me.

Still, my mind always seeks that hidden treasure, the Magical Mystery Solution. Once I’m rich my problems will be gone! I’ll be taken care of and have not a care in the world! Not once do I consider the consequences of such a find as our mythical painting. I can’t afford to own something that precious: the insurance, the security, the appraisals, the storage, the anything. I wouldn’t be rich, I’d be me with an albatross of a painting hanging around my neck.

It’s not unlike how I think about the lottery. If I would just win the lottery, I’d be set for life! I forget the oft-reported statistic that a full one-third of lottery winners go bankrupt within a single year of taking down the pot. Stories abound about how winning mondo money changes people and their lives in strange and often undesirable ways. But I’m only interested in the What if.

I want the easy way out. I don’t want to have to work for change.

I didn’t arrive at OA on a winning streak, and I knew I needed to change. But how?! And where to even start? The job seemed impossibly daunting, but the alternative—doing nothing—was even worse. Luckily I didn’t need a Magical Mystery Solution to come and take me away. I just needed to do a little work.

OA’s promises give us high expectations. Fortunately the Twelve Steps, the Fellowship, our sponsor, and our Higher Power provide us high levels of support to achieve those expectations.

In fact, there’s only twelve things I have to do:

  1. admit
  2. come to believe
  3. make a decision
  4. make an inventory
  5. admit some more
  6. become ready
  7. ask
  8. become willing
  9. make amends
  10. continue
  11. improve
  12. carry this message.

This work isn’t necessarily easy, but it ain’t rocket science: To do it I don’t need to know how to measure a parsec, map the genome, solve differential equations, interpret dense philosophical or literary texts, or use the Hubbell telescope. All I really need are pen and paper.

But when I do this work, I get the windfall I’ve always wanted—a spiritual windfall. You see, all along I wanted my problems taken care of, my fears allayed, my mind cleared, and my food to get better. I just didn’t understand it with that clarity. The good fortune I’d always imagined wasn’t capable of solving my life. So when I do the Twelve Steps I establish a relationship with a Higher Power that DOES accomplish those things.

Best of all, while I have to do some work, I don’t have to make any of the changes at all! My Higher Power does all the changing of me, for me. I just have to show up and be willing to be changed.

So even though I still sometimes end up in What if, I don’t have to stay there for more than a moment. I don’t have to wait in pain for a Magical Mystery Solution made of tomorrow’s luck. I can remind myself that I need never postpone serenity again as long as I live this one-day-at-a-time solution, today.

The other fourteen hours of our day

According to the AA Big Book, the point of the 12 Steps is “to fit us to be of maximum service to God and to the people about us.” That’s interesting! Many of us thought the point of the Steps was to ensure our abstinence from food and food behaviors.

Turns out that the real goal of the 12 Steps is to establish a connection to a Higher Power. Once we have a relationship with the God of our understanding, the Big Book tells us, we can realize the 10th Step promises, which include the removal of the compulsion to eat:

We will see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it…. Instead, the problem has been removed. (p 85)

However, we are also guaranteed that we will drift back into our addiction if we don’t remain in “fit spiritual condition.” To do that, we have to live the principles of the program. If we want to be free from food, we cannot “take what you want and leave the rest” when it comes to living in the solution. We must be of maximum service and keep the spiritual lifeline to God open, lest we become a spiritual punchline.

To put it another way, our food plan isn’t enough to get us through the day without taking that first compulsive bite. In fact, it mostly only helps us during mealtimes. If the average OA sleeps eight hours and eats their planned meals for two hours, that means we have  fourteen hours a day when we need a spiritual plan, not a food plan.

Of course, committing to and eating a food plan can be a spiritual activity. But it’s those fourteen other hours that are killing us. The feelings and thoughts that arise out of the natural flow of human behavior, the little disappointments or big, fiery rages. Our binging, grazing, and mindlessly eating between meals or after the kitchen has closed for the night are merely symptoms of what’s going on in our minds and spirits, of our reactions to life.

In Step One, we told ourselves that our life (aka: those other fourteen hours) is unmanageable. Our only coping skill is eating. Well, we might have two or three: eating, drinking, smoking, for example. We don’t do life, life does us, and we try to manage our emotions by burying them in substances and behaviors.

Those emotions don’t really go away, they stay with us, often for years and years. We bring them with us into every encounter with another human being and into every conversation we have with ourselves. Until we dump those free-radical emotions through the first nine Steps, we are vulnerable.

Removing those objectionable feelings gets us pretty far, but we still can’t sit idly while our disease continues to progress, even in the absence of compulsive eating behaviors. We must continue the process of ego-reduction, of becoming right-sized, that the Big Book talks about. Otherwise, our non-eating/sleeping moments will once again fill up with thoughts about ourselves and our little plans, designs, emotional booboos, and harmful judgments.

Being of service to others provides us with a means to get through the tough stuff. By turning our attention outward, we avoid obsessing about what’s inward. In addition, having made our connection with a Higher Power, we now possess a source of wisdom and support. When we name a problem to God and ask for its removal or attenuation or for the right words or actions to cope safely, we find a new way to live: “To act on life rather than react to it,” as our OA literature describes it. We pay attention to our spiritual intuition, and we let go of the control we want over our situations.

“How’s God going to fix this one?” That’s a question we might ask when we find ourselves in an emotionally challenging moment. “God, what you have me do in this situation?” is another. But ultimately, we must follow up on the answers we get. Guess what? Following up on our spiritual intuition sometimes leads we do one of the most intensely spiritual things we can do: To take an action we’re afraid of or avoid an action we desperately want to take thanks to the courage that comes from the faith we’ve learned in the 12 Steps.

And that is how we live in the other fourteen hours of the day.

 

4 ways to know we might not be right-sized

OA and AA literature tell us time and again how important humbleness and humility are to our recovery. The Big Book illustrates this idea with the extended metaphor of an actor who wants not only to play his own part but to run the whole show.

Addicts are well known for their strong denial mechanisms, their stubbornness, and their you-ain’t-the-boss-of-me attitudes. All of these things occur in the average eater as well, but among compulsive eaters, we see them play out to sometimes outrageous degrees.

  • Who else but a compulsive eater would berate themselves for their inability to eat like a normal person but deny to anyone and themselves that they can’t control their food?
  • Who else but a compulsive eater would gain and lose hundreds of pounds yet still resist asking for help from OAs with sound recovery?
  • Who else but a compulsive eater would finally ask for help but refuse to take the simple suggestions of other people in recovery?

These scenarios, play out in OA groups and between OA members every day. They indicate the lack of humbleness and humility that plagues us. The possibility and quality of our recovery are inversely proportional to the degree that we indulge these character defects.

OA’s Steps and Traditions provide a safe, structured, supportive means for hitting the reset button on our attitudes. They help us toss aside these blockages that shut out God and other people. They help us get right-sized.

What exactly does right-sized mean? It means that we stop believing that everything in our lives revolves around us and our needs. It means that we allow ourselves to make mistakes and admit it freely and easily when we do—and that we don’t beat ourselves up for simply being humans. It means that we admit that we either don’t know everything or that we know as much as the next person. It means we view ourselves as having the same worth as anyone else, not more and not less.

With this attitude, we are assured that our Higher Power can help us recover from food addiction, give us a source of wisdom and courage, and show us how to be happy, joyous, and free despite our chronic illness.

Of course, we will, as humans do, fall short in this area. We may default back to some of the attitudes we’d hoped we’d left behind. When we do, it’s crucial that we identify them as soon as possible. Our members can share chapter and verse about how when we get wrong-sized, our disease will seize the opening and try to run our lives again. So here’s 4 ways to know you might not be right-sized.

  1. Righteous anger: When feel completely justified in anger because we have the truth on our side or we know that what’s right is backing our feelings, we’re in trouble. In reality, people like us have a lot of trouble distinguishing right from wrong and true from false. The rush of anger can take us by storm. We often feel it rising inside us from our gut to our chest to our minds. Being red with anger is a red-alert that we may need to step back, sit quietly, talk with others, and check whether we’re making too much of something.
  2. Perseveration: If we can’t stop thinking about a situation, we’d better watch out. The more we replay it over and over, try to think our way out of it, or figure all the angles, the more danger we’re in. When we perseverate, we lose the willingness to accept what’s happened, to view it with reasonable perspective, and to trust that God will see us through it. Worrying is not a tool of recovery, but it is a tool that our disease will use to break into our minds.
  3. Nonchalance around food: Whether consciously or subconsciously we have a feeling of “I got this” with food, we’re practically begging for relapse. That’s because we have ceased giving our Higher Power the credit for our abstinence and started thinking that we have, ourselves, regained control of our eating. We have a lifetime of proving we can’t, but our sickened minds will take every opportunity to tell us we can. If we think we got this, we’re about to lose it.
  4. Unwillingness: We are told in our literature that “honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the essentials of recovery. But these are indispensable.” When it comes to willingness, we need it desperately in order to do what we need to remain free from food. If we find ourselves unwilling to go to a meeting, eat our food plan, ask for help, give help, give service, share, pray, do our Step work, whatever, something’s going on. That unwillingness has arisen from somewhere inside us. What, we suddenly don’t need to do our OA Tools, Steps, and disciplines to stay safe from food?

When we sense these, or when people we trust indicate they see these things occurring, we need to heed the alert. WAKE UP! We’ve had or are working toward a spiritual awakening that will save our lives. But we can’t afford to go back to sleep. WAKE UP! We need to take actions and really listen to our Higher Power. Otherwise, we risk returning to food and losing our lives. WAKE UP!

Step of the Month: Once You Know…

There’s a 12-Step slogan that takes on a variety of wordings, but boils down to “Once you know, there’s no not knowing no more, don’t you know.” Usually, it’s an alternative to the also popular, “OA ruins your eating.”

Once we learn the truth about compulsive eating, we cannot unlearn it. Forever more, every time we take a compulsive bite, we will know exactly what we are doing. We will know that we are activating the physical craving and the mental obsession as well as dooming ourselves to food hell.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for us because in Step Four, we come face to face with the rest of our compulsive self. Many of us discover that our coping skills consist of eating and a motley assortment of esteem-squashing other behaviors that we didn’t realize we used to medicate ourselves.

Gossipping is a prime example. We may have used gossip to reduce our anxiety about a situation. We think that if we control certain information, then we control a situation. We can’t be blindsided. So we gather intelligence. We reconnoiter. We gather up every scrap of intelligence we can from our carefully developed network so that we can’t be ambushed.

We might also use gossiping to feel better about ourselves. If our allies see the predicament the way we do, we are validated in our righteous anger or our victimhood. We can get an outside of assessment of how good or bad we are in comparison to others.

And we can run our enemies down so that we feel superior.

We prescribe ourselves a cocktail of food and gossip when we feel insecure in our position in a situation. We might add some other off-label meds as well, for example self-pity, complaint, binge-watching television, people-pleasing, isolating. Bring ’em all to our pot-luck pity party!

When we get to Step Four, we have a lot of untangling to do. We think food is the big, hairy monster, when, in reality, the monster is inside our mind. Food is but a symptom, and so are all the other behaviors that we lean on. But until we write out our inventory and see how it has affected both ourselves and those around us, we don’t even realize how badly the disease has us.

Our addiction-addled brains will do anything to take the edge off of. Our disease has grown tentacles that weave themselves into our neurons. We can no longer tell where our personality begins and the addiction ends. All we can think about is how we will relieve our pain and anxiety, and so we use food and any other behaviors we have at our disposal to feel a little better. A little more in control or a little more numbed.

In Step Four we must see these other behaviors in black and white. And not just once. We’ll see them again and again, if we do an honest and thorough job. In fact, the repetition of these defective behaviors is part of the magic of doing inventory.

First, we have to know what behaviors are killing us spiritually so we can avoid them. Second, many addicts tend to cling stubbornly to their defects of character, so if we don’t seem them numerous times, we may gloss over them. Third, until we understand the hurt we cause to ourselves and others by practicing those behaviors, we may not feel much impetus to ask our Higher Power to remove them.

So we do our inventory, discover the damaged and damaging goods in our stores, and we  ask for their removal. And then we practice living without them. They may well come back. Our disease is cunning and never cured. It will try to loose our grip on God’s hand by whatever means it can, and that may mean a slow, nearly imperceptible slide back into some secondary behaviors like gossip.

But once we know we can’t not know. We remain vigilant. We ask others for feedback. We listen to the voice in our gut that tells us to avoid doing what we used to do. Most important, if we find ourselves resuming those old behaviors, we must stop them or ask for help in stopping them. They are a pathway to the first bite.

Starting again in OA—rebooting from relapse

When our computer or device gets hung up, the first piece of advice we get usually goes, Did you try restarting? Rebooting causes programming to refresh itself, which typically relieves whatever bugginess has cropped up.

In relapse, we can feel as though we have gotten hung up too. We are frozen in a pattern of compulsive eating, and we can’t get to the next screen. But unlike an insensate device, we have to reboot ourselves to get our OA program back online.

We can’t rely on anyone else to hit the power button for us. OA is a program for people who want it, not people who need it. We’ve got years of experience at resenting others for telling us what to do. You aren’t the boss of me has rattled around our inner monologue more than a few times. Even if another person told us they’d drive us to meetings and help us do the work, we’d say no or get no benefit. As the ABCs on page 60 of the Big Book remind us, “probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.”

It’s up to us to take the actions required to gain or regain food sobriety. The recovery is ours, not the next person’s.

If we are ready to get back into the swing of OA, we might ask ourselves, What have I learned from this experience with compulsive eating? Could be we’ve learned some hard lessons about things such as:

  • I can’t stop eating compulsively once I start, and I can’t stop from starting.
  • My food plan wasn’t enough by itself to prevent me from eating compulsively.
  • My disease is worse now than when I first arrived at OA.
  • I can’t work this program without a sponsor.
  • I need to take my sponsor’s suggestions.
  • This disease uses my own thoughts to kill me.
  • I can’t do this halfway.
  • I need to do the Steps.
  • I’m totally screwed without OA.

These are just a few things we may have learned, there are so many others. We can take what we’ve learned and use it as a stepping stone toward recovery. We know that eating in isolation is likely to kill us with a heavy dose of misery before we lose our life. we need the fellowship of OA.

  • Luckily, OA’s nine Tools are designed to help us make maximal use of the fellowship. Meetings, Telephone, and Sponsorship place us in direct contact with other local compulsive eaters who can help us.
  • Literature gives us insight from OAs around the world.
  • Writing helps us get those lessons mentioned above onto paper so we can remember them and talk about them with other OAs.
  • Food plan helps us restore boundaries to our eating and provides an opportunity for accountability.
  • Service helps us stay connected to OA.
  • Anonymity frees us from shame with the knowledge that the public isn’t invited to know our story.
  • Action Plan gives us a framework for understanding how each element of our program supports our abstinence and recovery.

Of course, we’re going to need more than fellowship with people as the ABCs we referenced above tell us. We need a Higher Power. That’s a big lump in some of our throats, but less difficult to swallow than we imagine. All it takes is a willingness to believe something might be out there and a decision to work with that Something for the Steps to work for us.

Here’s a few things we don’t need to restart our program:

  • Guilt, shame, and remorse: These feelings often pull us back down into the quicksand of self-pity and compulsive eating
  • Stubbornness: We know we’re in trouble with food and that others have recovered, so why do we insist on doing it our, failed, way?
  • Denial: If we still think we’re in control or that we’re not like our OA fellows or that we are unique, we’re in for a bumpy ride
  • People-pleasing: We must toss aside our need to be “good” or please others because we have to get better for ourselves
  • Waffling: If we want recovery, we must commit to actions that result in recovery and avoid saying we’ll do something then bailing on it

Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the keys to successful recovery. If we practice their opposites, we’ll get the opposite of recovery.

Finally, the journey to recovery can seem long and difficult when we try to imagine how getting back on track will play out. Yeah, there’s work ahead of us, but we’ve been committed to our substance one day at a time for a long time. Now we can commit to freedom from food obsession one day at a time. In the long run, a little work now will save us a lot of pain and an early death later—or for the really unlucky, sooner.

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.