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.

 

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.

Step of the Month: Continue

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

On page 84 of the Big Book, Step 10 begins about halfway down the page. In one paragraph, Bill W. and company explain its mechanics:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.

This little snippet begins with an important word: Continue. In the entirety of this paragraph, the word appears four times. It must be important:

  • Continue to take personal inventory
  • Continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along
  • Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness…. It should continue for our lifetime.
  • Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Previously, in Chapter Two, “There Is a Solution,” we learned that we are in the grip of a progressive illness. We are never cured of our addiction. Like any chronic disease, it worsens over the long haul, and it must be managed one day at a time. Our disease continues to worsen, even as we work on our recovery. That means that if we discontinue the spiritual practices the Steps recommend, we are going to revert to compulsive eating. Why? Because we’ll stop getting better, and our disease will eventually catch up to us.

To understand better, here’s an extended metaphor:

You are running in a head-to-head marathon. At the outset, your opponent bolts out to a big lead. You think about quitting the race altogether as you plod along. How will you ever catch up? It’s hopeless. But you realize that this is one of many tactics your opponent uses to psyche you out. Finally, you get a bolt of energy, and you catch up! In fact, you pass your opponent.

The other runner appears to be flagging. But you’ve studied your opponent’s clever tactics. Your rival is also known to hang back, just a few steps behind, letting you set the pace, then pouncing at the first sign of an opponent’s fatigue. So now you have to continue at your pace, lest you be passed again. You have to remember all your training and preparation every step of the way during the rest of the race.

But the further you run, the more tired you get. It seems easier to forget that the other contestant is nipping at our heels. Just as you think you’ve got it made, your foe resorts to a new tactic that you hadn’t expected. Your rival runs up beside you, but just outside of your peripheral vision. You hear their footsteps beside you, and worse, you hear whispers: “Don’t you think you deserve a little rest? You’ve run such a good race so far.” The other runner then drops back to where they were and watches for weakness in your stride. They periodically repeat the tactic, especially on really tough hills. But you know that if you just keep on like are, you’ll win out.

It is not only easier to get abstinent than to stay abstinent, it’s easier to continue living by spiritual principles than to take a break and try to resume them later. If we stop working Step 10, then we will stop growing spiritually, and our opponent runner will pass us. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that we will have the willingness to get back in the race if we stop for a breather. The resentments, fears, dishonesty, and selfishness that build up inside us when we don’t do Step 10 are like the lactic acid that builds up in a runner’s legs. If we keep running, we can get through the discomfort, but once we stop, we’ll likely cramp up or be unable to get back to the pace we’d set before.

Good news: If we keep going, keep doing Step 10, we will keep our focus clear on the race. We also discover that there are people lined up to help us alongside the race course. They shout encouragement, they provide water and even energy bars as we go. Best of all, we discover to our astonishment that two other runners have joined us. They don’t wear a number, so they just decided to run on their own. One is our running coach, and they keep stride with us and give us practical suggestions to keep us going. Better yet, a mysterious fourth runner stays right beside us, pats us on the shoulder as we’re going, tells us how well we’re doing, and provides quiet encouragement to drown out our foe. Each time we hear from that mysterious runner, we feel like a gust of wind is blowing us toward the finish line.

So all we have to do is continue. Continue, continue, and continue, until we hit the tape.

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.

3 ways out of dangerously sentimental food thoughts

“We will not regret the past,” says the Promises that many meetings close with each week. Usually we think of this as referring to the stuff in our backgrounds that we’d rather not remember. But we also need to keep careful watch for sentimentalism, a gateway to self-pity.

Of course there’s nothing wrong for reflecting gladly on bygone days of glee. We rightly and naturally cherish the memories of our loved ones, special moments, successes, happy surprises, challenges overcome. But the disease of addiction is cunning and baffling, and so we must be on guard and monitor our thinking. Instead of keeping it in the day, our illness can turn our thoughts toward matters of food, weight, and body image quickly and almost imperceptibly.

What begins as a pleasant trip down memory lane can turn into lingering thoughts about certain foods or meals. Once our minds reach a place such as this, we can easily slip into self-pity over the foods we can no longer eat. Our disease can begin to tell us that those meals of yore were worth more than our abstinence. The cycle of addiction always beings with a thought or feeling.

So how do we recognize when we’re in danger of romancing the foods of yesterday? And what do we do if we enter that mindspace?

These are some warning signs heard from OA members that signal when we’ve crossed over from sentimental remembrance into self-pity:

  1. “I wish I could eat that again.”
  2. “Ooh, I remember that [holiday or special event]. The [food] was soooooo good.”
  3. “Wow, I can taste that right now.”
  4. “I wonder if that would taste as good to me now as it did back then?”
  5. “Maybe I could have a bite of that? It’s been so long.”
  6. “That food reminds me of my parent/sibling/friend who I miss so much.”

If thoughts such as these rattle through our mind, we’ve got to act quickly and decisively. The longer we polish this turd, the more it looks to us like a jewel. How do we get ourselves out of this tight spot?

  1. Pick up OA’s Tools: The Tools which will turn our thinking back toward our solution quickly.
    1. A plan of eating: Review our food plan to help remember why we don’t eat what we’ve been thinking about
    2. Sponsorship: Call our sponsor to talk about this slide into food-romance or call a sponsee to see how they’re doing to move our thoughts in a more productive direction
    3. Meetings: Get to a meeting quickly to hear about the solution and to be reminded of the hellishness of being in the problem
    4. Telephone: Talking to someone right away about the dishonesty our illness is trying to perpetrate on us is a sure way to be reminded of the solution
    5. Literature: Read any piece of program literature to remind us of the importance of maintaining our abstinence
    6. Writing: Journaling about our thoughts drifting foodward, writing a letter to our Higher Power asking for help, or continuing our 4th Step inventory will support sanity around food
    7. Service: What’s better for redirecting our thoughts than seeing how we can be of service to OA or any group that needs a helping hand?
    8. Plan of Action: Any other action that we regularly take as part of our program can help us keep our OA foundation strong.
  2. Do a 10th Step: Page 84 of the Big Book tells us to watch for selfishness, dishonest, resentment, and fear then gives us specific actions to take when these crop us:
    1. Ask our HP to remove the issue: Go straight to the spiritual source of our recovery!
    2. Discuss the issue with someone immediately: A sponsor or trusted OA friend is the ideal someone who understands how food addiction plays tricks our minds
    3. Make amends if necessary: Especially if our thinking is causing us to neglect other important responsibilities
    4. Turn our thoughts to someone we can help: Getting out of our own heads requires us to put ourselves second
  3. Remind ourselves of the nature of our illness: Our addiction always lies to us, and it even uses truths to deceive us. For example, it reminds us of the fleeting pleasure of food, but blocks out recollections of the daily torture of compulsive eating.

Additionally, we must remember that whatever direction our life in recovery takes, it’s an unfolding adventure that we get to live fully one day at a time. Rather than worry that tomorrow won’t be like yesteryear, we can instead rejoice that today isn’t as painful as our old way of living was. Rather than pining for the “good” old days, we can be grateful for this moment in recovery.

 

Step of the Month: Forgiveness around food

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Even in recovery, many of us are still touchy around food. We aren’t defensive, so much as ready to blame ourselves. If we are one spoonful off or we’ve eaten something that might contain a food that’s not on our plan, we double over with guilt, shame, and remorse. The question is whether we’ll let those feelings overrun us, or whether we will simply resume our food plan. It can make all the difference.

With a slip or break in our abstinence, it’s natural to feel disappointment or anger. We feel that old sense of powerlessness, and because we have years of experience with shaming ourselves, our disease guides us into that old groove: I feel bad about eating, so now I want to eat again to dull the pain of having eaten in the first place. Depending on what and how we’ve eaten, we’ve reactivated the physical craving and mental obsession that has lain dormant for some time. How do we return them to slumber?

Of course, we must cease eating compulsively and return immediately to our food plan. But we also have to deal with the mental and spiritual parts of our disease. What’s going to turn off the obsession? What’s going to prevent it from turning back on again? How do we get back on the spiritual track? Fortunately Step 10 holds a practical answer to all these questions.

We know that the cycle of addictive behavior begins in our minds with some kind of activating thought. Usually a negative one. “I wish it had gone my way.” “I wish my husband/wife were different.” “I’m tired of this.” Step 10 rolls together Steps 4 through 9, so we first look back at what kind of thoughts could have triggered our eating, and then we inventory them just as we did in Step 4. We are looking for any chinks in our spiritual armor that allowed our disease to attack us. These are places where we may have held onto fear or resentment and not given them away to our HP. As we seek these weak spots, we must be ruthless in our inspection, but we must also take care not to pound on ourselves. It’s as much a lie to harshly judge ourselves as it is to harshly judge others. So, just the facts.

Once we’ve inventoried what’s been eating us, Step 10 tells us to do as we did in Steps 5 through 7. We ask our sponsor or a confidant to listen to us as we read off whatever inventory we have written. We then ask God to remove the objectionable thinking, and in so doing, we also let go of the negative judgments about ourselves. Remove means remove. God takes it, so we don’t hold onto it. We start putting one foot in front of the other just as we know how to do. That’s the essence of spiritual action, moving forward with trust that our Higher Power is keeping us safe so long as we continue to take spiritual action.

As we resume our walk down the spiritual highway, we may find it helpful to remind ourselves of what spiritual work may we have pushed aside during busy times, resisted all along, or simply forgotten? We ask God to help us add such actions to our OA Plan of Action so that we might avoid a food slip or relapse in the future.

Here’s some things we don’t do. We don’t walk around fretting that we’re going to eat again. Instead we just get back on our feet and keep walking. We don’t blame ourselves. Instead we use the experience as a learning moment, remembering that humility is another way of saying we are teachable. We don’t blame anyone else. Instead we remember that we are responsible for our own spiritual condition and take action to restore its solidity. We don’t say screw it and go off and eat again. Instead we remember that the program kept us food-sober for some time when we ourselves couldn’t, and we embrace OA principles more firmly.

In short, Step 10 is like our spiritual GPS. When we make a wrong turn with our food, we return to Step 10 for a course correction. It helps us recalibrate our route on the road to happy destiny so that we can enjoy our life again and keep a right-sized perspective on those moments when we temporarily lose our way.

Tradition of the Month: #4 and how food and autonomy

4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole. 

What in the world does this Tradition have to do with our food? What does it have to do with maintaining our abstinence? As it turns out, plenty. Tradition Four has much in common with Steps Three, Six, Seven, and Ten. All these Steps help us address a key aspect of the cycle of addiction.

Let’s be specific. The wheel of addiction turns and turns and runs us over. Every time we eat compulsively, we start out to give ourselves ease and comfort about a feeling we have. The Big Book famously says these feelings are usually restlessness, irritability, and discontentedness. It also tells us that resentment, anger, and fear are root-level issues for us addicts. Once we have a feeling, we start obsessing about dampening that feeling. Then we go about the usual stages of compulsive eating: the first bite, physical cravings, remorse, and a resolution to never do it again, which we forsake as soon as we have another feeling. If we could only deal with the feelings when they arise, we’d have a puncher’s chance!

Now, in Step 3, we decide that we aren’t in control anymore, God is. We’re going to let HP call the shots. After we do inventory, we arrive at Steps 6 and 7, where we decide we are ready to have God remove what’s objectionable, and then ask for its removal. As we begin making amends, we also start the daily practice of Step 10, where we ask God to remove new resentments and to help us maintain the code of kindness, love, and tolerance toward others.

In other words, these Steps help us see that to recover, we must surrender control, ask to have our angry, fearful, and judging natures changed, and ask that we live in harmony with others as best we can. That is how our feelings become less dangerous to us.

Now comes Tradition 4. It’s basically telling us that, in terms of how meetings conduct themselves, our code is “Live and let live.” Which isn’t easy! Why not? Because we are used to doing the opposite of Steps 3, 6, 7, and 10. We try to control situations. We don’t want our defects of character removed because we either aren’t convinced we have any, or we think we can’t live successfully without them. We don’t live by the code of kindness, love, and tolerance because the world is mean and unfair to us, and it can go screw itself while we take from it what we’re owed.

Once we engage with recovery, we no longer have the luxury of sitting back and judging others (and their meetings) then gossiping about them. Even if we disagree with someone(s), we must do so with love and honesty. And not the kind of honesty that’s designed to spit in their eye while we share “our truth” with them.

Instead, we ask God to help us assess the situation. If we believe our meeting is going against Tradition, then we ask HP to give us the words to lovingly question whether the meeting is doing the right thing. If we believe another meeting is going against Tradition, we ask HP to show us whether their actions will harm other meetings or OA as a whole before we take any action. We discuss all of this with a trusted OA friend to make sure we’re not power driving.

If the meeting isn’t harming other meetings or OA as a whole, we have one important to do: nothing. It’s not our business to tell a meeting what to do. Nor is it our business to worry about it. Steps 3, 6, 7, and 10 basically tell us that the problem is with us, not with the other person(s). It’s out of our control, we need to be rid of the defects of character that we are engaging in the situation, and we need to be sure our conduct isn’t causing harm. With Tradition 4, we are putting the principles into action.

Release from worry. From anger. Ask how God will fix it. The answer may be that it doesn’t need fixing, we do. In which case, we’ve learned an ultra valuable lesson about our own natures, and we can ask God how to fix us so that our feelings don’t send us back to the food.

Love and Tolerance Is Our Code

“Live and let live.” If everyone in the world applied this 12-step slogan throughout their daily lives, we’d all be a lot better off, addicts or not. But we addicts use this slogan for a reason. We find it helps us to avoid eating compulsively.

We OA members seek comfort in food or food behaviors. We want to avoid the painful feelings of our day. Sometimes what we see in a situation is real. Sometimes it’s a product of our thinking. In either event, our diseased minds use these situations to kill us by eating compulsively.

In the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book we are told that the cycle of addiction begins with feelings of restlessness, irritability, or discontent. In other words, with a thought or a feeling. This activates the obsession of the mind before we take the first bite. This means that our thinking and emotions are the trigger for our compulsive behaviors.

Enter “live and let live.” It is telling us that we should abandon our attachment to the people and events (current, previous, or future) who are triggering us. No matter what they’ve done to us, we’re the ones eating the poison we intended for them. If we simply let go of the situation, we have a shot at not taking that next compulsive bite, and at maintaining our abstinence because we have interrupted the cycle of obsession and craving.

This is true even when it is ourselves that we are angry at. We have to let ourselves off the hook as well. Are we not also people, deeply flawed in the way that all people are?

In its description of the tenth step, the Big Book has some very interesting things to say about this. First it tells us that when faced with the kinds of thoughts and feelings that lead to compulsive fooding, we should turn our thoughts to others and how we can be helpful to them. By doing so, we give our minds a break from whatever loop of anger, pride, fear, or self-pity it’s running, while putting a little spiritual deposit in the bank by doing right action. Right action, estimable acts, lead to self-esteem and connection with God, both of which are important to our recovery.

“Love and tolerance of others is our code,” the book also tells us. If we live and let live, if we love people despite their flaws, tolerate the same kind of utterly human behaviors that we commit, and seek compassion for them, we will be the ones who get the benefit. We will gain some softness in our heart, some insight into how we can help others, and some more bankable spiritual moments.

We often eat because we haven’t developed yet the capacity for tolerance, compassion, and love. It’s been said that while alcoholics stop growing emotionally in their teens, food addicts stop growing around age five. Our substance is freely available at an early age. That means that we may need the emotional growth suggested by the Big Book in a deeper way than even it had considered. Many faith traditions place heavy emphasis on either or both of good works and compassion. Doing for others and trying to walk a mile in their shoes makes us better, deeper people. We can feel for others instead of always making it about ourselves inside our heads. We can grow emotionally as we were meant to do.

What an idea! But also what a journey.

We won’t get there overnight. This is a lifelong process of prayer, meditation, spiritual action, listening to others, helping others, and having our own limitations in mind at all times so that we can avoid repeating the patterns that got us here. Love and tolerance will make us feel better and eat better. It will calm the pounding urge inside to eat, and it will give us a pause in which we can ask our Higher Power to help us before we do our usual, death-wish thing.

After all, we find in our inventory that God has loved and tolerated us. If God can do that for us with our flaws, why shouldn’t do the same for others?