Step of the Month: Step Two…the God of Our Own Understandings

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

We have a disease that’s going to kill us. We might die young of a heart or circulatory disease. It might rob of us of our mobility joint by joint before the hammer comes down. Inevitably, we will first die an emotional and spiritual death. Whether or not family and friends surround us, we will die alone, isolated by this disease.

The trick is that the disease uses our own minds against us.

We slog along in this life thinking that one day we’ll crack the code and find a skinny, happy way of life. But we will never again be able to both control and enjoy our food. When we try to control food, we cannot enjoy it. When we try to enjoy our food, we eat uncontrollably. Eventually we can do neither, yet our mind keeps up its illusion that someday we’ll figure it out. This despite a lifetime of evidence that once we can’t stop once we start, and we cannot stop from starting.

So we are faced with a decision. Are we going to treat this disease with seriousness of mind and purpose, or are we going to keep playing at the control-and-enjoy game? If we are serious, then we must take an objective look at the situation and ask ourselves a simple question:

How will my food be brought under control if I can’t do it?

Here we have only two answers:

A) Another person will control our food.

B) A Power greater than ourselves will control it.

But A isn’t really a reasonable answer, is it? No other person can enter our minds and hearts and pull the strings for us. We wouldn’t allow it, for one thing, and for another, we’ve often tried to approximate such conditions to no effect. We’ve tried Dr. So-and-So’s diet. Or gone to a counsellor or a psychiatrist. These don’t work because we’re still in control. So the answer must be B…or else.

This isn’t an easy answer to come to. It means that we have exhausted all other avenues. The Big Book tells us that a so-called “heavy eater” can stop on the influence of others or when drastic action is required. We are beyond that. We no longer have the luxury to dabble in other kinds of human aid. A Higher Power is our last chance.

At the same time, we do have some choice in the matter. Two actually. First, we get to decide that we will believe that this Power can help us. We are always at liberty to decide an HP won’t help us and be on our miserable way. But what good comes of that? It brings on only more pain, more suffering, more despair. The question here is Why not try the HP idea? Second we get to decide what this Power means to us. No one in OA is asked to take up anyone else’s idea of a Higher Power. The only requirement for a Higher Power is that it be effective. There’s no point in believing in something that won’t do us any good!

Let’s say for a moment that we have decided we’ll try the God idea. If we are already members of an organized religion, we might then choose Jesus, Y____, Allah, Buddha, or any other powerful figure known to us. We may wonder why these figures haven’t helped us yet, and that’s a reasonable question. We will find out shortly as we move through the Steps.

What if we are former members of a religion but are embittered by our experience? Here we may ask ourselves whether we might work with the God of that religion, absent of any dogma or religious intermediaries. If not, then we may ask ourselves this powerful question: What do I want in a Higher Power? Once we answer that question, we have arrived at an effective God concept.

How about those who have never had religious instruction but aren’t atheists or agnostics? They too can ask What do I want in a Higher Power? We need only be as specific as is required for recovery. If the gender of our HP is important to us, then we ascribe a gender. If not, we needn’t. If the form and appearance of our HP is important to us, then we give It features and characteristics. If not, we don’t. Many members choose traits such as unconditional love, steadfastness, caring, and nearness. The important matter is whether we define God in a way that enables us to work toward recovery. We may ask program friends what their HPs are like and how they came to believe in them.

Agnostics, by definition, have no opinion on the God question. They await information that will help them make a decision. They may wish to consider the idea that the fellowship, itself, has power greater than our individual selves. Beginning from this point of view, they may look at others and listen to their stories. How does a 400 pound food addict recover? How can all of these people, who were as hopeless as the agnostic him/herself, have recovered if their minds were poisoned against them? Is randomness or the placebo effect a reasonable answer? The aggregates of these recoveries are data that may help the agnostic move toward belief.

Finally, what about the atheist? The true non-believer? Plenty of them in our ranks. Here are two ways that atheists have arrived at means to do Step 2. First, one longtime member defines a Higher Power as “Love, truth, justice, and beauty.” Another defines a Higher Power as “The God of My Not Understanding.” In the first instance, the longtime member believes that these four ideals have great power in the world. The member has experienced these powers in their feelings toward a loved one or in the face of injustice, so they know that these forces are capable of doing for a person what their mind alone cannot do. Our second atheist at some point decided that it was possible, if unlikely, that they may not have the complete picture of the universe. Could they have been arrogant to believe they knew everything? So our second friend’s compromise worked splendidly because they needn’t define a God in anyone else’s terms nor have to fight internally about the logical inconsistencies of a human-defined deity. Most important, it worked.

Twelve Step programs take a great deal of flack in some quarters because God is the engine of recovery rather than people. It is difficult for an outsider who hasn’t experienced our level of degradation to understand just what addiction does to our hearts in addition to our minds. They don’t understand that we truly have lost the power of choice in our eating. We are willing to try the God idea because everything else that we’ve done has failed, and maybe, just maybe, this God thing will work. After all, the only thing we have to lose is weight. And misery. And despair. And hopelessness. And fear. And innumerable other sufferings.

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.

Wanting, Wanting, Wanting

Nothing is ever enough. We always want more. We are always wanting, wanting, wanting.

The food is the most obvious example. We finish a meal and want dessert. We finish dessert and want a little something more. We finish that and wonder how it is that two hours later we want a little culinary nightcap.

On the way home from work, we stop because we want a little something, a treat for a hard day. Something sweet or salty or crunchy or all three. We eat as we drive, finish it fast and then stop again. And again. The only limit to our stops is the length of our commute.

Always wanting more. One isn’t enough. One thousand isn’t enough. Humiliation, heartburn, explosive gas, the runs, headaches, grogginess, morbid obesity, type-II diabetes, heart disease, hip replacement, and rotting teeth won’t keep up us from trying to get more. Nor will financial uncertainty, a doctor’s orders, and the concern of loved ones.

That’s just how we food addicts roll—when our disease is left untreated.

If we are fortunate enough to find OA, then start to unravel the mystery of all of this wanting. First we find out that our bodies don’t respond like that of a normal person’s to specific food substances: sugars, flours, salts, fats, whatever our trigger foods may be. Where a normal person can take it or leave it, we have no control. None whatsoever. What we want, we eat, and all of it. The more we eat it, the more we want it. It’s a physical, bone-deep need. We crave the substance.

Eventually we realize, however, that this craving is only related to the physical aspect of our disease. Maybe we abstain from our trigger foods for a couple weeks and discover that we no longer crave them after a few days. But we are still obsessed by them. Our bodies no longer need this food, but our minds do. We are still plagued by thoughts such as A little bit of this would be good; Wouldn’t it be nice to have some of that?; I bet just one would be OK. And worst of all I’m making a too big deal out of nothing. We are still wanting, wanting, wanting.

The obsession with food strongly suggests that the problem isn’t really physical in nature. It’s our thinking that gets us in trouble. After all, we know that our trigger foods lead us to danger, but we eat them anyway. If someone is allergic to shellfish, would that person spend a lot of time, money, and energy getting and eating shellfish? Of course not. But that’s just what we do with our trigger foods. So the initiating factor for our eating is our minds.

Our minds tell us that we want something. But what is it that we want so badly that we are willing to risk despair, sorrow, and, eventually, death? The answer, at least according to the “Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, is that we want “ease and comfort.” We are always trying to take the edge off of life. We want to feel OK about life, ourselves, everything, and food gives us this for mere moments. But the feeling is quickly gone, so we need more. As time goes on, we need more food to feel better, but the feeling goes away even more quickly as our bodies become accustomed to the substance.

So, here comes the spiritual part of the program. We have a defective mind that can’t discern what’s toxic to us and continually tells us to eat poison. That sick mind can’t heal itself, especially because it is seeking relief from itself in something that isn’t designed to provide relief. The relief we seek can only come from a Higher Power.

We need the spiritual part of the program because only something more powerful but just as intimate as our own thinking can fix us. We need a Higher Power personal to us that will restore us to sanity not only around food, but also around wanting. If we are to live honest, fulfilling lives, we must seek our ease and comfort from a Higher Power who can relieve our constant wanting. If we are willing, merely willing, to entertain the idea that this power exists and will help us, we are on our way to soothing the wanting that traps us in our disease.

Reflections from Unity Day #2: Surrender

In our previous post, we started to look back on what we heard at Unity Day. Here’s another gem from our speakers.

Compliance, they said, is not the same as surrender. Before we came to the program, many of us would comply with a diet program, lose the weight, then gain it all back…with “interest.” Why? Because we were just obeying. We didn’t surrender.

Surrender to what? To a lot of things. Surrender is a process that begins even before we walk in the door. “Step Zero” is surrendering to the idea that we’re in so much pain we have to do something about it. So we go to a meeting. That’s as far as some of us get because we may not yet be ready to surrender the idea that we can control our eating. Or our life. That’s the surrender of Step One, to the hopelessness of our disease and the damage it does to us.

As we hear others talk about their recovery in spiritual terms, however, we come upon another place to surrender. For many of us, Step Two feels like game over. We won’t go down the spiritual path because we’ve had negative experiences with religion, and we don’t want to admit we are insane. We might be able to surrender to the idea that God exists and has the power to help us, but we may not be convinced God cares about our food. We may believe that a Higher Power cares about others but not about ourselves. We might be able to surrender to the idea that we are bonkers about food, but at least that insanity is our own. Admitting to all of Step Two can be a lot to swallow, and we may need time, perhaps a lot of it, to fully surrender ourselves to it. Some of us require more “research” into the pain of compulsive eating before we reach a place of surrender. But that surrender must be ours.

Then comes Step Three with what feels like a monumental surrender. “We turned our will and our lives over to the care of God….” Even if we can surrender to Steps One and Two, we’re in a tough spot. Will we still be ourselves? Can I really trust a Higher Power? With my very life? Here’s the catch, though, we’ve trusted ourselves, and it’s gotten us misery. We turned our will over to food and let it drag us around to the fridge, to minimarts, to restaurants, to garbage cans, to other people’s plates, and worse. This was the best we could do with what we had, but now it’s time to try something else or, more accurately, Someone Else. We decide to surrender our will and our lives because it’s our last, best chance to live a life worth living. We didn’t come to OA on a winning streak. We didn’t sit through meetings to stay sick with this disease while others got better. We surrender to Step Three because the alternative is continued pain. It’s not until later, after we’ve tried it for a while, that we learn how joyful and how much easier life can be when we aren’t trying to run the show.

Merely complying with the Steps because a sponsor says we need a Higher Power just prolongs the issue. Pretending to turn our will and lives over to God doesn’t allow the solution to fully take hold. Even if we must “fake it ’til we make it” and “act as if,” we find at some point that we’ve stopped struggling and that even more surprisingly we’ve started accepting, if not downright believing, that this solution will work for us.