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.

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.

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.

 

The emotional, the analytical, and the spiritual

Like all addicts, we overeaters suffer a great deal mentally. OA’s 12 Steps help save us from our own minds, which use two primary weapons against us.

Emotions

We call them feelings because, physically, we feel our emotions. We feel the fatiguing sensations of dread or depression, like we are walking through life in a lead suit and can barely put one foot in front of the other. Our stomachs flutter anxiously, and we feel hungry at nearly any news—happy, mad, sad, or glad. We feel tense all the time awaiting the next disaster or trying to keep our emotions stuffed down.

Our lives consist of constant attempts to suppress our feelings until we just can’t anymore. We use food to bury our emotions, to not feel our feelings. But even food isn’t powerful enough, and at some point, things come thrashing out of us, affecting those around us.

Thinking

The Big Book describes our thinking as “soft and mushy.” Often our thinking and emotions dance together. Either our emotions lead us to justifications that make logical sense only in the context of our diseased minds, or our “analysis” leads us to ready-to-burst emotional states. We tend not to think through problems but rather to either think ourselves into problems, or get ourselves stuck in the problem we’re thinking about. The logical capacity of our brains is misused by our disease to keep us chained to our feelings, because our feelings always win out. So we base our decisions on our fears, our immediate wants, and of what we perceive as others’ opinions.

Our best thinking got us addicted to food because our addict mind tells us there’s little difference between what we feel and what we think. And that, anyway, what we feel trumps what we think if our thoughts and our feelings differ. We have no good tools for reasoning our way through life and making sensible decisions about food, relationships, money, or anything. Our perspective can be reduced to the simple question: Will it give me uncomfortable feelings?

A Third Way

Amazingly, despite knowing that our feelings are powerful and uncontrollable, we follow them blindly. Take eating, itself. Our anxious selves want soothing with food. Our minds at first say, bad idea. We might even step away from the fridge. But then our brain, addled by our compulsion, works on it a while. Whether it’s a moment, an hour, a day, a week, a year, or a decade later, our thinking will eventually churn out a justification for eating. That justification might be “screw it,” might be “it hurts,” or might be “it won’t hurt me this time,” or something far more complicated. But it’ll come. Eventually, we blindly follow our feelings into oblivion.

We need a new way. We can’t trust our feelings or our thinking because they serve the same master: food addiction, in whatever form we have it. So what can we trust? Or more accurately, Who can we trust? The answer is that we can trust our Higher Power to give us the intuitive thought or decision we need. When we let go and let God, then our emotions about and our analysis of a situation can be put to good use. Divorced from the drive for satisfying our compulsion, we can use our minds to examine our internal and external circumstances and draw well reasoned conclusions. We can also use our emotions and intuition as guides to ensure that what we’re considering feels right.

We don’t just one day arrive at this arrangement. We have to develop a relationship with God so that we can align our will and our thoughts with our HP’s. To do this, we need the 12 Steps of OA. They teach us through a practical means to identify how our feelings get out of control and how our thinking has been compromised. They then show us how to bring God into our daily life to help us make decisions and live happy, useful lives of service to others. Gradually, we learn the ropes and start to see the branching points in our life differently. We practice and “fake it ’til we make it.” We see our choices with increased perspective, and we trust that God will show us the way.

If we haven’t yet completed the Steps, we carefully watch and listen to those who have experience with them. How do they conduct themselves? What’s different between their thinking and feelings and our own? Could we try to move through the world more like they do? What would it mean if we did? Then we try out what we see in them. We practice it and find it feels more serene than we’ve felt in a long time.

Depending on a Higher Power for guidance in our live doesn’t make us weaker. It strengthens us. Where we’ve been making a lot of lousy decisions based on our narrow self-infected view of the world, now we can make thoughtful choices that propel us, and perhaps those around us, toward a better, more stable, and more satisfying life. And we no longer have to suffer as slaves to our emotions.

In a Word: Miracles

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the founders of AA used the miracle frequently. Why wouldn’t they? They saw many of the most hopeless drinkers recover, and quickly, through the application of spiritual principles. Even those who didn’t believe in a religious God, or necessarily any God, received this miracle.

Miracle has several related definitions, some of which don’t include divine operation. Here are three from a simple Google search for “definition miracle”:

  • A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
  • A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.
  • An amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.

These three usages encompass a lot of possible Higher Powers. If we bring a particular religious sentiment to our OA program, the first definition has application for us. The latter two definitions allow other members to interpret the word in a way that works in the system of belief they have arrived at during the Steps.

Miracle has its roots in Latin from the word for wonder. And wonder we do at the good fortune that OA brings us. As we work our way through the journey of recovery, we come face to face with the miraculous each time we look in the mirror. We may see the difference in our eyes first, as the food fog lifts and our minds clear, the sharpness returning to our gaze. Soon we see the physical change in our faces and shape that has allowed us to live in a normal sized body. Eventually, we see the spiritual change reflected not in mirror glass, but in the eyes of others as we live a more peaceful and loving life.

At each of these stages, we sense that something “highly improbable” has happened within us, and that its occurrence is, indeed, “very welcome.” If we take a moment to pause and make a quick count of the behaviors we’ve been relieved of, we can see rapidly just how amazing the change in us is. We never thought we’d be able to shed our compulsive food behaviors and the cravings that accompany them. Nor our hair-trigger eating response to even our least potent feelings. But they no longer dominate us as they once did.

It is important for us to remember, however, that we have been given this miracle, by whatever spiritual mechanism we understand. Yes, in the Steps we make some decisions, write some inventory, speak it out, make some amends, but we remain unable to actually change ourselves. After all, if we could have done so all along, we wouldn’t need OA. Whatever our Higher Power is, we asked for recovery, did a little work, and then the miracle just happened to us. It is not of our making, but it does require our participation and acceptance.

We are walking miracles, but let’s not get cocky. We’re still human beings, and we still have this chronic disease. It continues to worsen while we continue to grow in OA. To keep this miracle alive, we must stay in touch with the program and continue to cultivate a deeper relationship with the our HP. If we do so, then we will stand as examples for those who need help with compulsive eating. By helping them, our recovery will be further strengthened!

So we needn’t every worry whether we will receive the “welcome consequences” of OA. Each one of us is a miracle. Each one of us, no matter where we are in recovery, represents one more person whose life is not claimed by compulsive eating while in ignorance of its solution.

Discipline

For many of us addicts, the word discipline conjures up nightmares of boot camps, childhood spankings, and a general sense of punishment that flies in the face of our willfulness. Indeed, the first definition for discipline in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary reads ominously, in all caps, and in red:

PUNISHMENT

On the other hand, we often find ourselves wishing we had the discipline to stop eating compulsively! The same source’s fifth definition surfaces what we’re looking for:

5 c: SELF-CONTROL

When put through the filter of our diseased thinking, we may regard controlling of our food as both a punishing restriction and as a sign of good moral character. Our illness wins out every time, and as we watch normal eaters take or leave food and lament that we can’t be like them, we feel burnt up. Which makes want to eat even more.

But maybe we’ve got it backwards? What if we thought about compulsive eating as punishing ourselves? What if we recognize that because of the disease of addiction, we can’t control our eating? What if no amount of thinking, no surge of willpower, and no diet regimen will save us because we are different than normal folks?

That’s exactly what Bill W. and Dr. Bob realized. When they tell us in the Big Book, “never talk down to an alcoholic,” they recognized that we addicts struggle with authority as well as self-control. We don’t respond to the carrot-and-stick approach. But as we get into the program, we see that those members with strong recovery have some semblance of that discipline we always wanted. It may manifest in “squeaky clean abstinence,” or in a general demeanor that demonstrates a level of self-control that we don’t possess, but we see it. How did they get it?

Now we are ready for another of the definitions of discipline:

5 b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior

We may think of “military discipline” or monk-like behavior, but don’t we see this in everyday people in our lives? That person we know who works out three times a week no matter what. Or the one who always has wonderful gardens because they weed regularly. A music student who practices frequently and without prodding because they want to improve. And in our case, the OA member who uses the Steps, Traditions, and Tools to gain abstinence and see a turnaround in their lives.

So how did those folks get that self-control, the orderly behavior? We’re desperate to know when we first join OA. The answer is, not surprisingly, one more definition of discipline:

4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

That’s exactly what we are after in OA. We go about it a little differently than most of courses of study. Typically, when people follow a discipline, they practice the thing they want until they become proficient at it. Well, we do some of that. But the thing we really want, the change in our spirits and our mentalities isn’t of our own making. We do our step work and learn some wonderful insights and coping tools for life, but we have no more ability to change ourselves than we did before OA. Our Higher Power changes us. The disciplines we attend to are designed to get us ready to be changed and to maintain the change, but we never arrive at proficiency at controlling our food and having a spiritual awakening. Instead, we are granted another chance at the life we always wanted.

“We alcoholics are undisciplined,” the Big Book tells us, “so we let God discipline us.” And we remember that this discipline isn’t about punishing but about forgiving and healing.