Tradition of the Month: Serving our primary purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

Here’s an OA slogan that is often understood incorrectly: “Service is slimming.” It is not slimming for us. Only an abstinence supported by the Steps and Traditions is slimming for us. But you know who it might be slimming for? Everyone else in OA.

This sounds paradoxical, but like many OA slogans, it requires us to shift our perspective to see a simple truth. Tradition Five tells us that our job as a meeting is to carry the message. Service in OA provides the people power for carrying that message. When we each do our part to help our meetings carry the message, more food addicts can hear it and begin their journey toward recovery. Therefore, by doing service, we are helping everyone else get slim by finding the solution we’ve found.

Carrying the message is also part of Step 12, which is vital to maintaining our recovery. But if it comes at the end of the Steps, what good is it for those who haven’t gotten there yet? Plenty good! The Steps are there to change our perspective. Our self-centered impulses rule us. Even if we show codependence, we can recognize that as a kind of self-centeredness. But service doesn’t come with guilt, compulsion, or as an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. Service in OA is freely given with the knowledge that it will help someone, somewhere, sometime. It is also given freely out of gratitude for what has been given us: a path to recovery. If we aren’t yet at Step 12, giving service helps open our hearts and minds to the idea of being others-centered.

When we do service, we may be pleasantly surprised by the subtle change in attitude we feel. Whether working alone or with our fellow OAs, we find that we want to do a good job not because we’ll look good or get accolades or win friends. Instead we may, in some cases for the first time in a very long time, do something because we can feel in our spirits that our actions are helping others in some small way. Our Higher Power can use that little spark to crack open long closed-off reservoirs of sympathy, empathy, and joy, which each nurture our recovery and make us useful and purposeful in ways we may never have known before.

In most cases, service is easier than we think it will be. At the meeting level, we may raise our hands for a position such as treasurer or speaker-seeker. These turn out to be far less time-consuming or complicated than we thought they would be. A phone call here or there, adding up the money and giving the rent check to our host location aren’t going to suck us dry of time. Though our sickened minds might tell us otherwise. Tasks such as setting up chairs, carrying the meeting’s bag, or being the key carrier give us the chance to support carrying the message in nuts and bolts ways. If our meeting doesn’t require many service positions, we can even make one up! Does the meeting have a greeter? If not, we might ask to be one and then greet members as they come in.

Our local Intergroup is EXCLUSIVELY about providing service for carrying the message. An Intergroup’s function is to help meetings join at a broader level what they cannot do themselves. Creating special events, informational campaigns, and strategic plans for getting the message out to the community all require service by many individuals. Anyone can provide service at the Intergroup level. Even if we don’t currently meet the requirements for an Intergroup office holder, we have many talents and experiences that can be helpful. Special events may need someone with design talent to create flyers. An initiative aimed at educating the medical community might benefit from those in the fellowship who have worked in the field. Project-management skills are always helpful for executing on any kind of long-range plan.

So if we want service to be slimming, we might need to think of someone else’s waistline besides ours. We might need to consider the idea that raising our hand for service is

  • changing our mindset to be less self-centered, which supports our Step work
  • taking out insurance on our own recoveries (Step 12)
  • giving back freely to the the fellowship that so freely gave us recovery
  • ensuring that OA is around in perpetuity for folks like us.

Let’s carry the message!

Step of the Month: Practicing these principles during the Holidays

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive eaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The holiday season is an open invitation to pig out. Christmas dinner, Hanukah festivities, New Years Eve parties, Kwanza celebrations. There’s food frickin’ everywhere. As OA members, we’re taught to use our program’s tools to support our abstinence, and this is always helpful advice. And if we need a little something extra, Step 12 provides a way.

If we recall the cycle of addiction, it always begins with a thought or feeling that we makes us uncomfortable. We obsess about food when we are mentally or emotionally activated. In recovery, we learn that to stop this cycle in its tracks, we must use the tools and Steps. But what if we could avoid this activation in the first place?

That’s what the Steps help us do. The holidays activate many of us because we spend them with the people who trigger us the most: our loved ones. They know how to get us going and which buttons to press to get us wrapped around the axel. They will assume the roles and characters they’ve always played in the family drama of our life. After all, they may not have a program, and we can’t expect them to change.

It is we who must play our part differently. If we do, we will be less prone to the mental/emotional activation that leads to the first bite.

But how do we do it? Step 12 suggests we apply the principles we’ve learned in the Steps. For example, the Big Book shares many important ideas, including the following:

  • resentment is the number one offender
  • fear is a corrosive thread in the fabric of our lives
  • kindless, love, and tolerance are our code
  • when we are wrong, we promptly admit it
  • our job now is to be of service to God and others
  • our only defense against the first bite is our Higher Power.

Even if we haven’t yet completed the Steps, we can put these principles into immediate practice. Here’s some examples:

Resentment is the number one offender
If we retain resentment against those we will celebrate with we have choices. We can not go. Or before going, we can work those resentments out using the 10th Step. At the very least, we need to acknowledge our hurts and be honest with someone about them so they don’t own us.

Fear is a corrosive thread in the fabric of our lives
Fear breeds resentment. Fear also breeds compulsive eating. If we are afraid of the situation in our holiday celebrations, we must ask our Higher Power for courage. Courage is the willingness to go forward despite our fear. We’ve been afraid all our lives, so we’ve eaten. Now is not the time to deny our fear and cross our fingers that we won’t be tempted to eat.

Kindness, love, and tolerance is our code
It’s easy to be fun and gentle around our easy-going loved ones. But what about the coarse, bigoted uncle who shouts his opinions at everyone else at the table? Or the bratty teenager who only cares about their phone? Or the sibling you’ve always butted heads with? We can ask ourselves a simple question: Do I want to be right, or do I want to be happy? Nothing we say will change Uncle’s mind. Nothing we do will make that adolescent grow up. The more we try to control a sibling relationship, the more strained it gets. Instead of loading for bear, we can remember that we are as flawed as they are, if not more so and give them the same respect we ask in return.

When we are wrong, promptly admitted it
We addicts are prideful by nature. Our disease uses pride to generate resentments and keep us eating. So if we find ourselves arguing for argument’s sake, or if we find ourselves taking an invitation to a family fight, or if we are too snarky with someone, we can just admit it. Experience shows that we’ll be surprised and delighted by the results.

Our job now is to be of service to God and to others
Even if you don’t yet have a Higher Power, you can easily practice being of service to others. If you are visiting somewhere, ask to set or clear the table. Help with preparing food. Volunteer to go to the store to grab a missing ingredient. Pick up a baby or play with a little one to give a parent a break. Wash or dry the dishes. If you are hosting, mingle and talk with everyone one-to-one to help them enjoy the occasion. Be extra helpful to your spouse or cohost. Don’t try to control the day, just ask people to enjoy it with you.

Our only defense against the first bite is our Higher Power
This most of all. We can’t do it ourselves, but we are never alone if we invite the God of our understanding to show us the way to an abstinent holiday season. We don’t need stocking stuffers, holiday treats, or boozy drinks to feel aglow during the holidays. We only need to ask God to remind us of our gratitude for the blessings we have and to strengthen us in our times of temptation and need. Experience says God will be happy to do so.

Have a joyous and abstinent holiday season!

Measuring our compassion

An idea that courses through virtually every spiritual tradition is compassion. Dictionary.com provides this definition: “A feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” As we work through the 12 Steps of OA, we begin to feel truly compassionate, perhaps for the first time, as our hearts and minds become aligned with our Higher Power.

Some of us have simply been too self-centered to feel compassion. We may feel a distance from suffering and shut our minds to it, or we may dismiss it because we are not, ourselves, in the moment, experiencing the same suffering as another person is. If we are people pleasers, we may think we brim with compassion, but do we? What motives do we have in helping others? Is it possible that we seek the approval of others? Or that of the person suffering? Do we do help out of guilt or out of sympathy or empathy? Who are we really trying to help—ourselves or the other person?

When we get through the 12 Steps, we do not emerge as saintly peacemakers, and we certainly couldn’t keep it up even if we did. We are human beings, we are prone to the same pratfalls of ego, the same biases and stubbornness that any person has. Just because we are more reasonable than we were doesn’t mean we are entirely reasonable. We are works in progress, and compassion is a very good measuring stick for our spiritual condition.

See, the great thing about OA is that as we get better, we are learning how to help another person get better. We can measure our compassion by our willingness to help another addict. Judgment is the opposite of compassion, and through it we claim to ourselves that we are different than another person. Do we judge an OA member for how they work their program? For their size or the speed of their physical recovery? Do we judge them for talking about The Steps too much during meetings or for talking too much about personal problems? How often have we judged another person’s recovery by what they look like across the room from us—only to learn that they’ve already lost more weight in OA than we have to lose in the first place?

Our twelfth Step tells us that we must help others with our affliction, if we are to live long and happily. To do so, we must develop compassion by countermanding the judgments that appear in our heads. After all, the person we are judging is just like us!

Outside of OA, we have even more opportunity to measure our compassion. We need only look at the front page of the newspaper. Pick a tyrant, a political figure, a drunk driver, a shooter, a serial killer, a child abuser, or an animal abuser, anyone whose actions set your anger ablaze. Then ask yourself what terrible suffering must have led them to their present state. Ask what awful mental illness, cruel experience, or deprivation could lead a person to such hideous actions. Our recoveries do not depend on determining who is right or who is wrong; they depend on our willingness to be helpful to God and others. If the person you picked from the headlines asked you to help them stop eating compulsively would you?

When we close ourselves off from compassion, we judge. When we judge, though, aren’t we really trying to separate ourselves from what we are afraid of and from what we believe are the worst parts of ourselves? Anytime we point the finger at another, aren’t three of our fingers are pointing back at ourselves?

If we are to live and prosper in OA, we must help others. If we must help others, we can’t allow our mindless judgments to get in the way of our spiritual work and attitude. We must flip our judgments back over to compassion. We must remind ourselves that we are works in progress, and that God is turning our defects into assets daily. Otherwise, we’ll spend our time yelling at the radio or TV, complaining about those we love, and sitting in meetings wondering why everyone else seems more at ease than we are. Or else just eating.

Step of the Month: Step 12…A Small Word with HUGE Implications

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

There are three parts to Step 12 as you can see:

  1. spiritual awakening
  2. carrying the message
  3. practicing these principles

Today, let’s just look at the first of these by focusing on one very simple word that appears in Step 12. That word is the. As in “the result of these Steps.” If we remember back to our high school English classrooms, the expresses “definiteness,” while a/an are the indefinite article. So what? Consider these two phrases:

  • Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps…
  • Having had a spiritual awakening as result of these Steps…

Bill, Dr. Bob, and the early AAs were telling us very specifically what the Steps are doing for us. They are causing us to enter into a relationship with a Higher Power that will change our lives. Had they used the indefinite article, as in the second example above, what would they have been claiming were the other results of the Steps? Not drinking or eating, of course. Getting one’s spouse back? Or house? Restoring one’s health? Having one’s children move back into your home? Maybe money is coming our way? We could increase the list ad infinitum, which is precisely why the appears in Step 12. AA made no guarantees about circumstances and situations, rather they guarantee that, done honestly and thoroughly, the Steps will help us “enter into a new relationship with our Creator.”

Or we might say that they promise that the promises of the Big Book will come true. There are dozens of those sprinkled across pages i to 164, and they are not exaggerations if the experiences of millions of drunks, overeaters, junkies, gamblers, sex addicts, debtors, and others are any indication.

But what about our food??? The Big Book book has plenty to say on this. Here are three examples:

“The alcoholic at certain times has no effective mental defense against the first drink. Except in a few rare cases, neither he nor any other human being can provide such a defense. His defense must come from a Higher Power.” (43)

“When the spiritual malady is over come, we straighten out mentally and physically.” (64)

“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.” (85)

In other words, our food is no longer our problem. It’s God’s food now, and God is the one who removes our insanity and our compulsive eating through this process. Step 12 need not mention the food because it is already covered by the spiritual experience.

And that’s why the is so important. Because no other possible result from the Steps conquers our problem with food. But this one does, and it takes care of all our other problems too. Now that’s a great result!!!

Thanksgiving; Thanks for giving; Thanks, giving

Now that we’ve dispensed with the eating part of Thanksgiving—amateur day for the non-compulsive eaters—let’s have a closer look at the idea behind it.

While the circumstances of the first celebration of Thanksgiving Day in America are a matter of historical debate, we do know that the holiday has its roots in England and Europe as a day of prayer and celebration for an abundant harvest. An annual feast that shared the bounty of the year’s labor in a degree and manner that was otherwise special in the hardscrabble colonial world. Today, we can have a Thanksgiving dinner whenever we want, and as food addicts, we often do….

But that notion of giving thanks for abundance is powerful because it is really about giving thanks for life and the means to sustain it. As addicts, our life is as day-to-day as the colonists’ was. While a crop failure, a vicious summer or winter storm, or simple pestilence could destroy their lives on any given day, we need only take one bite or one swig of a trigger item and we’re on the road to perdition. Research recently written about in the New York Times suggests that adopting an attitude of gratitude, even when we’re not sure we mean it, leads us to a higher quality of mind and life. We addicts know this. Fake it til you make it! When we become full of thanks, of gratitude, we don’t need to eat because we now see abundance all around us: family, friends, jobs, material well being, physical well being, we can increase the list ad infinitum. We are filled with spiritual things instead of self-pity, self-recrimination, resentment, and any of a dozen other negative feelings in which we can only see ourselves. We forget everything good in our lives and seek relief in the one thing we know to do…eat. Giving thanks isn’t merely a good idea, it’s an essential way of life for people who are constitutionally predisposed to the centrality of their suffering.

But how about another way of looking at it? What if we insert a certain preposition in the word Thanksgiving? Thanks for giving. Here we can choose to observe our Higher Power at work in our life. We aren’t only grateful for something, we are grateful to Something. We can celebrate our relationship with the God of our understanding with thanks for being able to receive our blessings. What this means is that we have opened ourselves to help. We have torn down the walls between us and our Higher Power, however we may conceive of an HP. Without this turn of thought, we cannot see the abundance in front of our faces. Before program we not could truly receive from God; we thought we were providing our own blessings. In recovery our eyes are opened to the truth. Indeed, in many cases the family, friends, and circumstances that used to drive us to the fridge now delight us. Did they change? No, we changed by letting God into our lives.

Finally, what about thanks, giving. Here we might think about these two words sequentially. That is, in the way that step 12 guides us. If we are thankful, we must demonstrate it. To keep our attitude of gratitude, we must give it away. Good words signal a grateful mind, good deeds a grateful heart. If we are thankful for family and friends, are we telling them we love them and being of help and service to them? If we are thankful for OA, are we providing service? Or do we just attend meetings and let others do the work for us? Most important, if we are thankful for recovery, no matter where we are at in that journey, are we giving it away by helping newcomers? Do we greet them warmly? Do we call them? Do we tell them about our experiences so that they can identify with us and find a home in OA? We are told that if we do not carry this message, we will return to our old ways. We have to give it away if we want to keep it. And to return to our old ways means to die. First spiritually, then emotionally, and then physically.

We are never cured of the disease of compulsive eating. We have a daily reprieve. When we remember to tell God how grateful we are, we pave the road to ongoing recovery. When we tell other people how grateful we are, even those not in program and perhaps even strangers, we bring a little peace into someone else’s day. Thanksgiving is a day when “normals” take a moment to count their blessings and then feast. Just as we are significantly more experienced at feasting than they are, becoming similarly expert at counting our blessings will make our blessings count more and lives saner and happier.

How to Get Started Sponsoring in OA

Yesterday’s Sponsor Training was inspiring. If you weren’t able to make it, this recap can give you some ideas about your own sponsorship opportunities.

Speaker One: How to Get Someone Started with the Food

Our first speaker focused on step one, and especially on helping a new sponsee define their plan of eating and gain abstinence. Here are three key points that our first speaker made:

  1. Share what you eat and how you created your food plan
  2. Everyone gets to develop their own food plan, and our role is to support them as they implement it
  3. Honesty is the most vital and crucial thing a sponsee needs in step one, and it’s our job to point this out and help them find it.

Speaker Two: How to Guide Someone Through the Steps

Next, our second speaker shared how to guide a sponsee through the steps:

  1. Share up to the level of your experience with the steps
  2. Remind them that this is a program of action and that the steps are the program
  3. Don’t listen to the doubts inside that say “My program isn’t good enough.”

Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide

We also passed along a copy of OA’s official sponsoring guide as well as Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide. This locally produced collection of Seacoast OA members’  experiences with sponsoring is now available on our Recovery Resources page. Here’s three key ideas from it as well:

  1. Just do it! Get started right away whether you have doubts or not—it’s worth it!
  2. It takes courage to ask someone else for help: Tell sponsees what a privilege it is to work with them and that everything they say is confidential
  3. We’re there to be as helpful as we can, never to judge, chastise, or belittle.

Q&A

Finally, we wrapped up with a wonderful Q&A that everyone in the room contributed their experience to. Here are a few questions, answers, and comments you may find helpful:

Q: How do we best help someone who is slipping?

A: Be gentle, we OAs are filled with enough shame. Tell them that hope is far from lost, and perhaps try offering this OA nugget, “simply resume.” It’s important to also help them trace the root cause of the slip so they can see the warning signs next time. For chronic slips, you might also try working with them on OA’s “Been Slipping and Sliding” worksheet or its “Strong Abstinence Checklist.”

Q: What do I do when a sponsee is constantly making excuses?

A: Remind them that this is a deadly malady that requires us to work hard for the solution. But we must remember that the motivation must come from within a sponsee, not from us. We are there to pass along our experience, not to enforce our suggestions, and everyone arrives at recovery in their own time.

Q: Do we continue to sponsor someone after they have completed the twelve steps?

A: Even when we have worked through all twelve steps, we remain chronically ill people who need the help and support of others. If we are “full” perhaps this sponsee will now require less intensive work, opening some time for you to work with others.

Wrapping Up

Everyone in the room had three things we seemed to all agree on:

  1. We will not be perfect sponsors
  2. Another’s inability to recover is not our fault, and another’s success is not ours to claim but God’s
  3. We cannot play therapist, nutritionist, or doctor to a sponsee—it’s not good for them or us!

If you couldn’t make it, we missed you. We’ll be doing this again in the fall, and we hope to see you then, and hear your experiences, too!