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.


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:


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:


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.

The action of living one day at a time…today!

“One day at a time.”

It might be the most widely known and used slogan in any 12 Step program. It’s easy to understand, and it shines a hope-filled light on our difficulties. I don’t have to stop eating compulsively forever, just for this day. 

In the past we have been overwhelmed by the idea of permanently changing. We lose weight only to gain it all back. We try a healthy new diet on Monday, only to be cheating by Tuesday. Our new exercise program becomes a $35-dollar-a-month financial sinkhole after our diligent first week. We just don’t have it in us to change our lives. That’s why we need a spiritual solution to our problem with food.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play. We, not our Higher Power, are doing the eating, so we draw strength from our God to take the action of abstaining from compulsive eating. We might think of it as a formula:

Our decision not to eat compulsively
+ Our will power
+ God’s strength and guidance
= A day of abstinence

We’ve always used the first two parts of the equation only, which has landed us back in the food, cursing ourselves as weak-willed or broken. Turns out that for people like us, we can exert all the will power we want to, but without God’s help it is not enough. As one member in our area says, “I’m a 40-watt bulb in a 60-watt fixture, so I need God to supply the other 20 watts.” We don’t have enough power to overcome both the physical craving and the mental obsession with food.

What does adding God’s strength and guidance mean when we are obsessing about food? It could mean any or all of these things:

  • Praying to have the obsession with food removed, for ease and comfort, and for guidance…then listening for a response
  • Making a phone call or texting someone in OA because spirituality flows through us when two addicts talk about their common solution
  • Dropping everything and get to a meeting, whether in person, on the phone, or online
  • Pausing to read a piece of OA literature whether a favorite pamphlet or a longer work.

Of course, that’s just the moment of crisis. To live one day at a time, we need to prepare each day to meet our challenge. The Big Book gives explicit suggestions for morning prayer and mediation (pages 85-87) that help us live in ways that are less self-centered. Thinking of others helps keep the obsession at bay because we aren’t focusing on ourselves and our own life problems.

Speaking of our life problems, they too can be addressed one day at a time. In fact, they have to be. Like the sports adage goes, when you’re behind by dozen runs, you can’t hit a 12-run homer. So, if we are in heavy debt, for example, we can’t pay back after a single paycheck. We work each day, cash our checks, and send payment to our creditors on a schedule. Similarly, if we have a looming deadline, we must do what we can each day to meet it, not try to get the whole darned thing done right now. If our family is in crisis, we will not solve the issue by perseverating all day on it. In every case, we must simply do the next right thing that our Higher Power suggests and move toward resolution of the situation.

A funny thing happens when we take this one-day-at-a-time attitude toward our personal problems. They often resolve themselves without our having to do very much! All the dreaded heavy lifting we thought we’d have to do ends up done by another. Or we suddenly realize it is unnecessary or less burdensome than we expected. Sometimes it is done by us with courage we didn’t know we had. OA members have walked through the most difficult circumstances with dignity, grace, and courage by taking it one day at a time and asking for their HP’s help and guidance.

We just can’t wrestle our problems with food or life to the ground by ourselves. We’ve tried and it doesn’t work. So have to add our Higher Power to the equation so we can lead happy, healthy lives. And after all, it’s just one day.

Step of the Month: 11 suggestions for prayers

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step 11 tells us to inquire about and listen for God’s will. The Big Book tells us that “better men than we are using [prayer] constantly.” After all, if we are turning our will and our lives over to the care of God, we need some guidance about what to do during our day. That’s what prayer and mediation does for us.

Hear are 11 prayers suggested in our program literature and that we’ve heard about at meetings. Each of them has a different purpose and can be used at any time to help us either stay away from food or to discern the next right step to take.

  1. Help!
    The simplest of all possible prayers. Useful in any situation!
  2. Please keep me away from the first bite.
    Cutting right to the chase, and asking HP to relieve us of the obsession with food and from unthinking eating.
  3. The Serenity Prayer
    God, grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change
    courage to change the things I can,
    and wisdom to know the difference.
    Probably the first prayer we learn in OA, and one that’s especially useful when we feel ourselves ramping up emotionally into the fugue state that has always led us to the food.
  4. The Angry Man’s Prayer (Big Book, p 67)
    This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.
    Resentment is one of the chief emotions that lead us to eating compulsively. Dealing with anger is hard, and many of us eat to escape it. But when we eat, we take the poison that we intend for someone else. This prayer can help defuse and diffuse our anger.
  5. The Fear Prayer (Big Book, p 68)
    Remove my fear and direct my attention toward what You would have me be.
    If we aren’t angry, then we’re afraid, and usually one comes with the other anyhow. This simple, fast prayer helps us pivot away from our down-sucking fear response to a situation and toward something more useful around us.
  6. The Third Step Prayer (Big Book, p 63)
    God, I offer myself to Thee–
    to build with me and do with me as Thou wilt.
    Relieve me of the bondage of self,
    that I may better do Thy will.
    Take away my difficulties,
    that victory over them may bear witness
    to those I would help of Thy Power,
    Thy Love and Thy Way of Life.
    May I do Thy will always!
    All twisted up inside? Don’t know what to do, but feel like everything’s going wrong? This prayer’s a gift in those situations. It reminds us of spiritual truths, of Who’s running the show, and that our job is to be of service to others, not ourselves.
  7. The Seventh Step Prayer (Big Book, p 76)
    I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. 
    When character defects rear their ugly heads, this is the place to turn. In this prayer, we’re telling God that we want and ready to be changed by God. We’ve proven a million times over that we can’t change ourselves, and that’s why this prayer is vital to us.
  8. St. Francis’ Prayer (AA Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 99)
    Lord, make me a channel of Your peace;
    that where there is hatred, I may bring love;
    that where there is injury, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness;
    that where there is discord, I may bring harmony;
    that where there is error, I may bring truth;
    that where there is doubt, I may bring faith;
    that where there is despair, I may bring hope
    that where there are shadows I may bring light;
    that where there is sadness, I may bring joy.

    Lord, grant that I may seek rather
    to comfort rather than to be comforted 
    to understand rather than to be understood
    to be love rather than to be loved.
    For it is by self-forgetting that one finds.
    It is by forgiving that one is forgiven.
    It is by dying that one awakens to eternal life.

    A great one to start the day with because it helps guide us toward an altruistic helpfulness that we addicts don’t come by naturally. There are many different versions of this prayer floating around. Use the one that best helps you.

  9. God, I don’t know how you’re going to fix this one, but how can I be helpful?
    When things are getting complicated, this one keeps it simple. A great prayer for contentious business meetings….
  10. Please give me restraint of pen and tongue. (adapted from the AA’s Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p 91)
    The chief rule of getting out of holes is to not start digging in the first place. That’s where this prayer comes in handy. Thinking you might be about to blow your stack at someone? Or maybe you’ve rapped out an angrygram but haven’t yet hit send? That’s where this prayer is most needed. It’ll save you from making amends later.
  11. Thy will, not mine, be done. (Big Book, p 85)
    Your mind tells you that you really want to do something. Your spirit is telling you otherwise, and you feel that tension keenly. Try this prayer, wait one minute, and see if things don’t clear up a bit.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of prayers that work in the morning, at night, or anytime during the day. The key is to use them! Try these or any others that can help you in a pinch. Also, many of these prayers have alternative wordings, and you can adapt a prayer to your own situation or needs. The key is to use prayer in the first place. Try it, and it will soon become a habit you’re glad you picked up.

Step of the Month: Step 11

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.


You don’t have to believe in my Higher Power, and I don’t have to pray like you do. That’s one of the beauties of OA. We each come to our individual understanding of God, we learn to depend on the God of our understanding as the steps unfold, and then we learn to communicate with God in whatever way works for us.

That’s right, while OA has many suggested prayers, not one of them is mandated. Many of us use them, and we find them indispensable, but no one can make us talk to God in a way that doesn’t align with our concept of a Higher Power or whatever practices make sense to us. After all, the Big Book tells us that “the realm of the spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive….”

One way we could look at prayer is that it is much like our food plan. It needs to be tailored to our own needs, of course, but we can also adapt prayers others have used. We can express the meaning of the prayer to God in whatever words we wish to. So it might be helpful to review some prayers from OA and AA literature. They can be used in the morning, in the evening, or just when walking around or facing difficulties. The important thing is that we each have the opportunity to use them in whatever way best supports our relationship with our own Higher Power, our abstinence, and our relations with others.

Roz’s Prayer/Unity Prayer/OA Promises
“I put my hand in yours, and together we can do what we could never do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness, no longer must we each depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams.”

Third Step Prayer, page 63
“God, I offer myself to Thee—to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!”

Angry Man’s Prayer, page 67
“This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.”

Seventh Step Prayer, page 76
“My Cre­ator, I am now willing that you should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do your bidding. Amen.”

Recommended to be said throughout the day, page 88
“Thy will be done.”

St. Francis’ Prayer, page 99
“Lord, make me a channel of thy peace – that where there is hatred, I may bring love – that where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness – that where there is discord, I may bring harmony – that where there is error, I may bring truth – that where there is doubt, I may bring faith – that where there is despair, I may bring hope – that where there are shadows, I may bring light – that where there is sadness, I may bring joy. Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted – to understand, than to be understood – to love, than to be loved. For it is by self-forgetting that one finds. It is by forgiving that one is forgiven. It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life. Amen.”

Serenity Prayer, page 125
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

There are many other prayers scattered throughout various pieces of literature, but these should give a good cross-section of some of the more popular ones.

Step 11 reminds us to stay humble, close to God, and out of the driver’s seat. We get inspiration from God…not confirmation of how we think things should go. The prayers above and many others help us stay right sized, sane, and connected to God.