What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

Why can’t I stop eating?

Why can’t I stop eating? It’s a question that probably every Overeaters Anonymous member asked themselves every day before they joined. We also asked ourselves similar questions such as:

  • Why can’t I eat like other people?
  • Why can’t I stop after just one bite?
  • What’s wrong with me?

While every OA member is different, we all share some basic understandings about the disease of compulsive overeating. Our own experiences, the experiences of other members in our area, countless recordings and podcasts, and our program’s literature give us a reasonable set of explanations for our behavior.

Compulsive eating is an illness

First of all, we believe that compulsive eating is an illness or a disease. Just like Alcoholics Anonymous believes that alcoholism is a disease. No healthy person would go to the lengths we go to with food. Who but a compulsive eater would dig into the trash for food? Or eat frozen, burnt, spoiled, stale, or damaged food? Or hide their stash of food? Go out in a horrible storm or the wee hours of the night just to get something sweet or crunchy? What healthy person would allow themselves to gain as much weight as we have despite the well-documented risks, the physical pain, the shame, and the inevitable medications and surgeries? Who would eat themselves to death if they didn’t have an illness?

Major symptoms of compulsive eating

We recognize our illness as having three universal components. Every OA member has experienced these, and they explain a great deal of the why behind our illness. Sometimes we don’t realize it until well after we join OA, but these three symptoms have always been there. These symptoms differentiate us from normal eaters.

1. Physical cravings

Radio and TV ads often tell us that a restaurant or product can satisfy a food craving. They are talking to normal eaters, not to us. There is no amount of food that can satisfy us physically. That’s part of why we keep eating. For many OAs, certain foods are like allergens. When they eat these foods, the allergy triggers a physical need that only more food can meet. Over time, our bodies develop a tolerance, so we need more and more food to address the craving, and the relief from the craving lasts a terrifyingly shorter time. Although the craving may be related to any food, our members often find it manifests often with added sugars, flours, salt, and/or fats. As with any substance-centered addiction, the elimination of physical cravings may require a few days to a few weeks once someone begins to abstain from their trigger foods.

2. Mental obsession

Physical dependence on food is relatively simple. Remove the substance, and the cravings go away. So then why do people fall off the wagon? It’s because our minds are sickened as well. The expression of this sickness is our obsessive thinking about food. Immediately after we’ve eaten a meal, our mind is asking us What’s next? We might be doing something very important at home or at work, but suddenly the thought of a favorite food comes to us unbidden. We can’t be in a room with food without thinking about eating it. And getting seconds. Or thirds. The mental obsession is so powerful that it overwhelms rational thought. When we try to talk ourselves out of that next bite, the mental obsession shouts us down. Even when we diet, we invariably regain weight because we haven’t righted our mind.

3. Spiritual demoralization

If we could have changed our thinking about food we would have done so years ago. But the fact that we can’t stop shows us that we are powerless to stop eating compulsively. We can’t do the job. So we’ve turned to dietitians, weight loss groups, best friends, family members, celebrity gurus, and everyone else we could think of. None of them could help either. Eventually, no matter what successes we had with them, we always returned at some point to compulsive eating. We may have tried religion and found it only so helpful. What we need is someone more powerful than we are to help us. A Higher Power as the saying goes. But our illness also affects us spiritually. Our spiritual health has been as deeply damaged as our minds and bodies. We’ve been denying our problem for a very, very long time, and so we’ve forgotten how refreshing the truth is. We’ve been believing our situation hopeless for so long that we’ve forgotten what real hope feels like. We’ve been soothing our cravings and immediate crisis-triggered feelings but not our hearts, so we can only feel dullness instead of lightness. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to engage strongly with our spiritual selves. We may have been angrily denying that we have a spiritual self or that any spiritual power can help us. That’s a very common theme in many OAs’ stories.

It turns out that spiritual demoralization is at the root of our troubles. When we re-energize our spirits, we can overcome the mental and physical aspects of our malady. That’s precisely what OA and the Twelve Steps help us do.

Terminal uniqueness

Why can’t we stop eating? It’s not because we don’t want to. It’s because our disease has a stranglehold on us. But a key to unlocking its grip is to realize that we are not “terminally unique.” We are not so different from everyone else in the world that there’s no help for us. When we attend our first OA meetings, we learn that in our own communities, there are many people who think just like we do. Oh, the particulars might differ, but the pattern of their thinking is just like ours. If we can suspend, just for a little while, our mind’s chatter and go hear what others say about their experiences with compulsive eating and  recovery, we are giving ourselves the most valuable gift imaginable: hope.

9 ways to turn Black Friday into Cyber Monday

For us compulsive eaters, “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” can have very different meanings than for everyone else. One that we don’t like, and one that can really help us.

Thanksgiving might be better termed Amateur Day. All those normal eaters out there have their big turkey feast then fall asleep on the couch while watching the Lions or Cowboys. These normal eaters have seconds and feel as stuffed as the bird they were just consuming. Meanwhile, we compulsive eaters are just getting started. Actually, we probably primed the pump well before company arrived or before we got to our feast destination. Once there, we graze on appetizers, pick at the turkey to get the choicest pieces of skin, take extra helpings of everything, then pile in the pie. By 5:00 while everyone else is groaning about their bloated bellies, we’re thinking about turkey sandwiches.

Then comes our Black Friday. It might begin in the wee hours of the morning, with a sudden awakening to acid reflux. Or maybe we’re so full we never got to sleep in the first place and stayed up berating ourselves for gluttony once again. We get up in the morning feeling lethargic, burping, and wondering whether we’ll ever be able to control our eating. All the while, we know deep inside that we’ll never gain control, but our pride tells us to fight anyway. In this way, Thanksgiving is no different than many other days except in the volume of food at the dining room table.

Over the rest of the weekend we might tell a spouse or friend that we’re going on a diet on Monday. Or maybe after Christmas. Or in the New Year. We just need to get through the holidays. As Friday, Saturday, and Sunday roll by, we feel that familiar sense of failure and remorse, and our misery continues. Thanksgiving dinner didn’t fix it.

Luckily for us, however, we can interpret Cyber Monday in a different way as well. We can see it as an opportunity to look for the solution. We can go online to locate all kinds of OA resources that will guide us toward recovery from compulsive eating! Here’s a few examples for people in different parts of their OA journey.

Prospective members

  • Not sure if you’re a compulsive eater? Take this quiz and find out.
  • Visit this page for newcomers at OA.org to see what happens at meetings and hear podcasts of member’s experiences.
  • Read OA’s FAQ to learn the answers to questions commonly asked by newcomers.

Newcomers and returning members

Members who struggled on Thanksgiving

 

10 ways to know if you are obsessing about food

Are you really obsessed with food and powerless over it? Here are ten common forms of obsessive thinking about food that many OA members have experienced. If you’ve experienced these or similar thinking, you may be in the grip of the obsession with food.

1. Moments after finishing one meal, you begin thinking about the next

You arrive at work at 9:00, having just tossed down a quick breakfast. For the next several hours, you fixate on what you’ll get for lunch. The minutes tick away. You tell yourself you’ll wait until 1:00, but at 12:15, you say “screw it” and yank the takeout menu from the top drawer of your desk….

2. Anytime you have a strong feeling (happy, mad, sad, glad), you get the urge to eat

The Red Sox win! Time to eat. My daughter has filed for divorce. Time to eat. The cable is on the fritz again. Time to eat. My doctor called, and the diabetes hasn’t gotten as bad as I’d feared. Time to eat.

3. Food thoughts pop unbidden into your mind throughout the day and over time

The deadline for that report is the end of the day. You’re about halfway done. This section is just killing you. Then this thought: Oh, remember that time in Denver when I had that dessert with….

4. The same foods or food types dominate your thinking

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5. You rationalize food behaviors

“Just because my blood sugar is at dangerous levels doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have a little fun. My doctor is such wet blanket. He’d eat too if he had to deal with what I deal with. What’s one little bite going to do to me anyway. I’m making too much of this.”

6. Ultimately, you always lose the argument with yourself about your eating

  • Good Self: Don’t eat that last helping that’s in the dish. You know it’s just going to make you fatter.
  • Bad Self: But it’s good. You deserve a treat.
  • Good Self: Think about how much more exercise or dieting you’d have to do to get rid of it.
  • Bad Self: Like you’ve worried about it lately, anyway?
  • Good Self: And your knees always hurt, and your back hurts, and your neck hurts.
  • Bad Self: Exactly, so just have a bite and we’ll take away the pain for a few moments.

7. The idea of going without certain foods creates a visceral reaction of fear or anger

Something is upside down if life wouldn’t be worth living without a favorite food.

8. You often plan elaborate meals months in advance, sometimes even for fantasy meals that will never happen

And you’re not a chef, caterer, wedding planner, or other culinary or event-planning professional.

9. Passing a convenience store triggers you to stop and buy food

Our dealer is on every corner and even has signs inviting us in. But we don’t really need those signs because we know exactly where the store keeps the goodies we want need.

10. Pushing away a half-eaten plate seems utterly foreign

She’s not going to finish that? Is she ill? What planet is she from? If she’s not going to eat, maybe I can.

11. I’ll never get skinny—I might as well just keep eating my face off

There’s a lot truth here. We likely never will get the body we want when our mind constantly thinks about food. That’s because we can’t fix ourselves. We can’t outwit our own diseased minds.

This is just a selection of the kinds of thinking we hear about in OA meetings all the time. These old tapes run endlessly in our minds while we remain in the throes of compulsive eating.

But there is a solution.

The 12 Steps of OA provide relief from the daily slog of trying to think ourselves out of a disease that works through our own minds. With OA’s help we can eat like a normal person, one day at a time.

Step of the Month: Step One, Resolutions

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

Unmet New Years resolutions are almost as ubiquitous as resolutions themselves. Each of us knows dozens, maybe hundreds of people who decide that January 1st is the day they will start losing weight, not eating this or that, controlling their portion sizes, exercising, or “eating healthy.” Most of these well-intentioned individuals will have broken their resolution before the end of the month. Many before the end of the week.

How many times did we compulsive eaters resolve to stop binging, to cease numbing ourselves with food, or to get right with our bodies? How many, many times? We didn’t need an excuse like the new year either. In “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, Dr. Silkworth describes the cycle of addiction as including “a firm resolution” never to abuse our substance again. We entered this cycle multiple times daily, thousands of times yearly. Of course, that’s not the end of the cycle, it just takes us back to the beginning of it because we are filled with remorse and worry that the next time will be just like every other time. And so our firm resolve dissolves.

Yes, the difference between compulsive eaters and all those many people making food-related resolutions is that they can stop and we can’t. Oh, we might stop for a little while. Maybe even several months or years. But in the meantime we’re utterly miserable, or we turn to some other substance or activity to take the place of food. But eventually we will return to food because we’ll still be thinking about it all the while. While we think we are abstaining, we are merely white-knuckling it. We imagine our high resolve will win out, but inside we know the truth of our powerlessness.

The problem with resolutions for people like us is simple to see: Resolutions only work when we have power in a situation. We addicts have nothing to bring to resolutions because we are powerless. We can bring no will to bear on our food problem. Without that will, we can’t manage our food. Then we find that life is unmanageable as well because our food obsession has taken over and drives our thinking during times when we ought to be focusing on how to do our jobs, love our families, or make decisions.

So if we can’t use willpower and have no resolve, how does OA work? For one thing, the first Step isn’t the only Step. We must first admit our powerless and the unmanageability of our life. In doing so we make a good start, but we’ve only identified the what of our disease and not the how of our solution to it. However, we crucially recognize that the power needed to overcome our affliction is not inside our minds. We can’t think our way out.

If we get a bloody cut on our knee, we don’t ignore it and hope it goes away. Similarly, we don’t stanch the bleeding by telling ourselves we’ll do better next time we fall. Nor do we go to a surgeon and request the whole leg be taken off. To do any of these things would be lying to ourselves about our present condition and would inhibit our ability to heal. Well, that’s just how it is with Step One. We assess the fact of our obsession with food and its affect on us. We do this in the cold light of day so that we can find the warm light of the Spirit to guide us to our solution.

Here then is the importance of Step One. We see that our way isn’t working and is making us miserable. When we see the facts laid bare and accept them, we can find the willingness and desperation to start over and find the necessary Power outside of our minds. And if we follow the Twelve Steps, we never have to make a resolution around food again.

A Video Introduction to OA

If you missed our “Freedom Isn’t Free” workshop yesterday, we missed you! It was a great recovery experience. Our leader had so many great things to say, and in our next couple of posts, we will highlight a few resources and initiatives he mentioned in passing so that we can all learn more about them.

Today, we’ll focus on the newcomer video he mentioned and how you can use it yourself whether you’re new to the program or not. The Westchester United Intergroup (WUIG) has created a video just for newcomers that we’ve made available on our Newcomers page. The point of the video is to quickly help newcomers understand exactly what the program. In fact, it’s good for OA veterans too! In about nine minutes it covers:

  • the cycle of addiction
  • some key terms of recovery
  • how to get honest about our food
  • how the Tools and Steps work
  • what to do to get started.

Click the image to watch it.

What a great way to learn about OA FAST!

For Newcomers

  • Watch the video so that you’ll understand the basics of OA.
  • Talk about it with other members, especially your sponsor.
  • Reflect on it as you read our Newcomer’s Packet.

Current Members

If you have an opportunity to 12th Step someone, this is a great way to do it. Share your membership with them, tell them your story, and if they’d like to know more, this video is a great resource for them.

Sponsors and Temporary Sponsors

Here’s three ways to use this video with someone you’re working with:

  1. Have a newcomer or sponsee watch it by themselves to learn about the program.
  2. Watch it with them and talk about it as you watch (ideal for use with a tablet device or laptop)
  3. Watch it yourself and use it as talking points for working with others or sharing at a meeting.