Step of the Month: Willingness

How’s your willingness today? It’s a question we might ask ourselves each morning. The word willingness is all over the first 164 pages of the Big Book as a well in the AA 12&12. For example, in his own story, Bill, referring to the recovery he saw in his sponsor, writes, “Upon a foundation of complete willingness I might build what I saw in my friend.”

This willingness stuff is pretty important to recovery. Requisite, actually. “Honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness are the essentials of recovery, but they are indispensable,” the Big Book tells us in the Appendix titled “The Spiritual Experience.” Willingness, in fact, can lead to open mindedness and honesty. For normal folks, any of these three might be an entry point to the rest, but for us addicts, willingness is probably the most important.

We are a stubborn people, us addicts. We’re trying to control and enjoy everything. We think we know what’s best. But we can’t enjoy what we can control nor enjoy what we can’t. We’re trying to take the edge off with food without the consequences. We’re trying to rely on ourselves instead of a Higher Power. We are not open-minded people, at least not on this matter.

Nor are we especially honest. Not merely about what we’re eating but about how our lives are going. About whether we’ll ever get control of our food (we won’t). About whether we’re hurting others besides ourselves (we are). About whether we even know what we feel (mostly, we don’t). But we tell ourselves lies about all of these and thousands of other things each and every day, from the moment we awaken to the moment we go to sleep (sometimes even in our dreams).

How can the solution offered by OA to our compulsive eating possibly break through our stubbornness and our dishonesty? That’s why willingness is so important.

The Big Book says that “alcohol beat us into a state of reasonableness,” and this is true for compulsive eaters and their substance. Willingness is a synonymous with “the gift of desperation.” When we’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, we suddenly get a little burst of willingness. Or maybe a big burst. We hurt so much, that we would try anything to get better. And we’ve done so in the past. Grapefruit diets, fad diets supposedly from other countries, Dr. So-and-So’s diet, supposedly holistic diet programs where we purchase unhealthily salty food branded by the company, lifestyle changes comprising unsustainable calorie restriction and extreme exercise regimens. You name it. We’ve had the willingness before, but we’re cynical after so many past failures.

So willingness comes first and leads open-mindedness and honesty by the ears as we march through the Steps. In fact, the theme of willingness appears in several of the steps even if it is only directly expressed in Step 8:

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

The chapter “We Agnostics,” is all about becoming willing to believe in a Higher Power of our own conception. Bill writes, “… As soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we commenced to get results…”. Relief from compulsive eating begins with willingness (and requires more action to stick).

The theme of willingness in a step often indicates that an important action will required of us in the next step. So it is that Step 2 bridges to Step 3.

3) Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

The Chapter in the AA 12&12 is absolutely littered with references to willingness, and with good reason. “There is only key,” writes Bill, “and it is called willingness.” Elsewhere in the chapter he writes, “Once we have placed the key of willingness in the lock and have the door ever so slightly open, we find that we can always open it some more.” And willingness is huge in Step 3 because we are making a contract with God: You save me from addiction, and I’ll do what you ask and help others. We are saying, in effect, that we’ll do the rest of the steps, and Step 3 comes before Step 4 for a reason. We’ll need willingness to conduct a thorough and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

6)  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Here’s the really big one. In Step 7, we are going to ask God to change us from the inside out. We’ll be given a second shot at life. So we need to get willing, utterly willing, to let God take away from us all of our old habits, our old ways of thinking, our compulsive eating. All of it. Are we willing to give up these things that we’ve worn like an old sweater all these years? A sweater that everyone can see is stained, fraying, putrid-smelling, time-faded, hole-riddled garment that was ugly even when it was new. If we’re not ready to let go, then we won’t be changed. If we are not changed, we will not get the gift of neutrality toward food. We’ll be stuck. This is where we truly “abandon ourselves to God” as the famous “How It Works” passage admonishes us. Which brings us, finally, to Step 8.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Why do we need to become willing to make amends? Why don’t we simply make the list and get to it? Simply put, because we need honesty, open-mindedness, and only willingness will get us there. First off, making amends isn’t a fun-times activity. It’s serious, and it requires some serious pride-swallowing. At that simplest of levels, we need to check in our willingness.

But as we progress into Step 9, we’re going to need to do some rigorous examination of what we are making amends for, to whom we are making them, how to make them, and most importantly, whether direct amends may create further wreckage in that person’s life.

Any amends that can be made directly should be, and our minds will rebel at the idea of facing those hurt face to face. We need God to help us get willing. Some amends should never be made directly, and we need God’s help to understand which. In fact, we may need God to stay our hand in this matter if we are zealous! Some amends shouldn’t be amends at all. Our disease is still alive inside us, and it uses our ego against us. Just as it may tell us, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need to make amends for that little thing,” it may also tell us that something we did rises to the definition of harm, even though it isn’t. This is a form of self-centered thinking. So we need HP’s help to show us what to do, or who to ask about it so we gain clarity. We’ve already done damage to others, and we must take great care that in repairing that damage we don’t create more wreckage, even with the best intentions.

So willingness is massively important to our recoveries. There’s much to be done so that we can be changed. God will do the changing as we do the footwork that prepares us for it. So we must be willing to go to any length. But we are rewarded with a happy life, the joy we haven’t felt in so so long, and freedom from food obsession. Willingness is worth it!

Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.

Patience is gratitude

Why do we eat compulsively? One reason is that we are impatient to take the edge off of our feelings. We can’t sit still with discomfort. Whether it arrives with words or by an urge, inside we feel that I’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth explains that when we don’t have our substance, we feel “restless, irritable, and discontented.” Even before a triggering feeling or event occurs, we’re emotionally primed for self-sabotaging action because of the general uncomfortableness of our disease. It’s like prickly heat of the mind. So when we can’t stand it anymore, we eat, or we yell at our loved ones, or we blast out of the room we’re in, or we slam the phone into the cradle.

One thing that people routinely discuss in meetings is how much more patient they feel in recovery. We might hear that “those things my husband does don’t bother the way they used to.” Or someone might say that “I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.” A great old saying that gets bandied about: “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” Much of this increase in patience comes about by the simple action of abstaining from our trigger foods. When these substances are no longer in our bodies, physical cravings cease, removing one of the factors in our general impatience. But the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent only clear up once we have experienced the Twelve Steps.

The Steps remove many mental and emotional barriers to abstinence and spirituality. Every trigger we encounter reminds us of some past bruisings of our ego. Just another piece of evidence against us in the court of mental law. But once we do the Steps, these feelings either disappear entirely or they ease so far back that we can gain perspective on them and deal with them in an adult manner. What a relief! The restlessness, irritability, and discontent are not permanent features of our mentality.

We also, however, gain through the Steps the ability to draw upon the support of a Higher Power, however we might define our HP. Infused with spiritual energy, our hearts and spirits soften and we become more open minded. We find that our need for immediate relief has slackened. We can make an appropriate decision or ask God for help. And that pause is beautiful.

When we take a moment before acting, we can reflect, even if just for a moment, on our situation. Are we amped up emotionally? Has anger risen up to our eyeballs? Has a gaping pit of despair opened in our stomach? Have we become so excited that we’re hyper? Pausing to recognize these conditions helps us come down from our emotional high.

Its turns out that applying patience to a situation is also an act of gratitude. We are so thankful for a new lease on life. We may find ourselves reminded that as people in recovery we can demonstrate our gratitude by turning to love and tolerance. We committed in the Third Step to building a better world by helping others:

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

and 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.

The bolded areas indicate that our HP wants us to engage in constructive action and help others. It’s the contract we made with God: Save me, and I’ll help You and others. If we react to our emotions (especially the negative ones) instead of pausing, then we risk destroying rather than building. We risk alienating others whom we might help.

So pausing is an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude. We’ve been saved from the doom of compulsive eating, and we return the favor by not going off half-cocked for selfish reasons. We wait as long as is necessary, perhaps a lifetime, perhaps a second. But we wait, sometimes gritting our teeth in gratitude, so that we we can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Step of the Month: The 1-2-3 Waltz

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood Him.

Music fans, know the waltz tempo well: ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. It’s characteristic of “The Blue Danube Waltz,” “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and “Norwegian Wood” among numerous favorites. Many folks in OA know that tempo too. They get a food plan for Step ONE, think earnestly about Step Two, get stuck at Step Three. Then they eat compulsively and repeat the whole thing over again and again. ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three….

Why does this 1-2-3 Waltz happen? Of course, every OA member is different, but there are some guiding principles that might help us if we find ourselves dancing these Steps.

The whole concept of Step Three is surrender. We’ve reached a point where it’s do or die. If we go on the way we’ve been living our lives we will die from the inside out. We’re mostly dead spiritually already, our emotions feel lethally out of control, and if our bodies haven’t already begun falling apart they soon will.

In nearly every culture, men and women are taught to be self-sufficient, to solve their own problems, and to stubbornly resist help lest we show weakness, lose face, or put someone out. We are not naturals at accepting help. But man oh man do we need it. In this terrible predicament, Step Three asks us whether we’re willing to make a decision to let our Higher Power not merely lend a hand but to run the whole show.

This is not a decision where we are saying, “I, for one, welcome my new spiritual Overlord.” Instead we are saying, “If I bang my head against this wall anymore I’ll spill my brains. I’ll give try this last-ditch Higher Power thing my best shot because it’s my last hope.” In other words, Step Three is a practical, hard-headed decision. We don’t make it because we think it’s a good idea, we make it because we know there’s no better alternative, and we’re going to die from compulsive eating.

In that light, the do-or-die, it’s not so complicated. We don’t even have to become sudden supplicants. All we must do is decide to let our Higher Power show us a better way by actively doing the remaining Steps. Even if we are doing the Steps to prove Bill W. or the Fellowship wrong (as has been heard at meetings from time to time), if we do them thoroughly and honestly, we will be shown a better way of life.

Still, it’s not a snap decision, and we may not be as ready as we think we are. If we’re in the midst of the 1-2-3 shuffle, something’s amiss. As one of our local members has noted, when someone gets stuck on a particular Step, it’s often because they haven’t quite wholeheartedly completed the previous Step, or some Step along the way. In the case of Step Three, there’s relatively few things we’ve been asked to do or accept before hand:

  1. We are powerless over compulsive eating.
  2. Our lives have become unmanageable.
  3. We are insane around food.
  4. There is Something more powerful than we are.
  5. That this Something is powerful enough to restore our sanity around food.
  6. That this Something would restore us to sanity if we reached out for help.

That’s pretty much it. We could go deeper and find nuances, but that’s the big picture in Steps One and Two. So if we struggle with Step 3, we can turn those six things into questions to answer from as deep in our hearts as we can:

  1. Am I powerless over compulsive eating? Or is there still some part of me that thinks I can control my food?
  2. Is my life unmanageable? Is my life a chaotic mess? Or must I control everything and everyone because I’m afraid of chaos?
  3. Am I insane around food? Am I obsessed with food? Do I do things that normal eaters don’t do?
  4. Is there anything out there more powerful than I am? Do I think that my mind is the most powerful thing out there? Or that because I can’t conceive of a Higher Power, one must not exist?
  5. Is there Something powerful enough to restore my sanity around food? Or am I terminally unique, such that other OAs’ Higher Powers can help them, but I’m beyond help?
  6. Would this Something restore me to sanity if I reached out for help? Let’s meditate on this last one a little longer….

It’s easy on that sixth question to confuse our self-worth with our actual worth. We may believe we aren’t worth saving. That we’re far too flawed, bad, ugly, stupid, fat, or whatever to be worth a reclamation project. But this negative self-talk is just our diseased brain trying to deceive us out of getting better so that it can continue to dominate us. But take a step back and ask this: If a friend in the same predicament asked whether a Higher Power would save them from compulsive eating, would we say, “Yes! You’re worth saving no matter what your mind might tell you!” Of course, and the same is true for us. We are worth no more and no less than our fellows, and we deserve to be freed from our illness as much as the next person.

If we are still listening to the 1-2-3 Waltz, it’s time to turn off the music. Whether we finally decide to make that Step Three decision or whether we go back to review Steps One and Two to make sure we’re solid, we’ve got to get off the dance floor and get better. Because we don’t want this song to be our funeral dirge.

Is it possible that we don’t know what we think we know?

Virtually anyone who has been in the program for any length of time will have experienced some variation on this situation:

“What are you struggling with?”

“I’m struggling with the God thing.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t believe in a god that cares about me.”

“But you believe in a Power greater than yourself?”

“Yes, but it’s not a god with a personality, it’s just nature, and nature doesn’t care about individuals.”

Some OAs are, in fact, trained as theologians or philosophers and could perhaps reply to this line of reasoning with a carefully wrought line of thinking. But even that might do no good. Why? Because the person in this situation believes they have God, the universe, and everything figured out. Some of us come into the rooms of OA with this belief because we’ve done a lot of thinking, reading, and talking about this matter. Much of it has been healthy reflection and good research, but nonetheless influenced by our illness, which uses our minds to keep us chained to food.

Let’s think for just a moment about how we who have been down this particular path have been thinking. Are we experts in matters of theology, philosophy, cosmology, psychology, neurology, and the other fields that might help us understand a higher power and the effect it might have on human will power? For that matter, even if we know the evidence, are we effective reasoners? Is our logical faculty sound, especially if we are in the food?

The fields in question are so vast that most of their experts spend a lifetime specializing in a single subdomain within them (or a subsubdomain). To believe that we can know all there is to know about any of them, let alone all of them is, perhaps, a form of either arrogance or ignorance. To further believe that as laypeople we are smart enough not to need a lifetime of training and expertise to figure out something so complex as the universe and the human mind is just as illogical as having blind faith in someone else’s definition of a higher power.

So faced with someone like our example above, we can ask them a single question: Is it possible that you don’t know what you think you know? Any reasonable person will answer that, of course, this is possible…that in fact it’s rather unlikely that any one of us knows all this. But we become unreasonable in the course of our illness. So be patient with the person you’ve asked this. Give them a moment to consider, or even a few days. Ask them again another time. Sometimes the power of a question like this needs a great deal of time to sink in.

Perhaps the reality for this type of thinker is that they are afraid the program won’t work for them. They may fear being forced to adopt something they do not believe in. They may fear failing because they don’t have a belief that can work for them. It may feel safer for them to be stuck where they are than to seek something that seems impossible to reach.

It is possible that this person needs only to know two things.

  1. They need only be open to the possibility that something out there might help them.
  2. That more will be revealed, if they do the Steps thoroughly.

We can’t say what will be revealed. It could be that they will engage with a Higher Power of the sort they didn’t think they could believe in. It could be that they will engage with a Higher Power of exactly the sort they did believe in but there perception of Whose power their diseased mind had limited. It could be something else altogether that they hadn’t imagined but that ultimately works for them.

Christopher Columbus believed the world was round and that by sailing westward, he’d eventually hit the East Indies. His opponents thought the world was flat. He discovered that he was partially right, but that there was land between Spain and the East Indies. But he couldn’t get any answer without first setting sail.

Why the resistance?

Bad guys in bad movies often say to the hero, “Resistance is futile.” Whereupon the hero promptly escapes whatever torture is in store, vanquishes the villain, and lives happily ever after.

It’s kinda different in OA. Our illness is the bad guy, and it uses our brain to tell us that resistance is vital. That we must maintain the illusion of self-sufficiency as long as we possibly can. Most of us will maintain that desperate idea until the very moment that the pain of our addiction becomes more unbearable than the insult to our pride that we suppose the 12 Steps must be. We cling and cling to the long-held notion that we can eat like other people and lead normal lives…if only we tried harder.

In OA, resistance is, indeed, futile. The longer we deny the truth of our situation, the longer we will be in pain. The sooner we acknowledge the truth and the sooner we take OA’s suggested actions, the sooner will find freedom from our disease. Even while we resist the program, we know we’re staying stuck in the problem. We sure do have a lot of excuses. “Work’s too busy.” “The kids.” “I’m buying a house/car.” “My child/spouse/parent/friend is sick and needs my help.” “We’re renovating our home.” There’s truth in all of them, of course. These things do keep us busy, but if we don’t make time for OA, we may no longer have a family, a job, a home, or even our life.

  • If we resist abstinence, we can ask ourselves why. Is it only that we have tremendous cravings? Maybe. But other people in OA have gotten past them. What fear lurks behind this resistance to giving up our misery-inducing way of eating?
  • If we resist Steps two and three, we can ask ourselves why we find it so difficult to identify a Higher Power then ask It for help. Atheists, agnostics, and unrepentant religious iconoclasts do very well in OA by defining an HP on their terms. What fear keeps us from unlocking the door to a source of power that helps us get better?
  • If we resist writing our fourth-step inventory, we can ask ourselves why it seems so long and daunting. Many others of all walks of life have completed it by writing a little bit at a time each day. What truth do we fear God will show us in this inventory?

These are just a few examples of common points of resistance that all of us have felt, said, or heard during a meeting. We are all human beings with flaws and with our own ideas of what the good life ought to look like. Each of us encounters many junctures in our OA journey where we just don’t want to take that next action. But we must, and we must remember that the longer we resist, the longer we’ll hurt and the closer compulsive eating may bring us to our death. Because in OA resistance is futile, but it may also be fatal.

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.

Step of the Month: Step 3

3. Made a decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him.

For those of us with religious education that included phrases such as “sinners in the hands of an angry god” or “fear is the heart of love,” we may not be thrilled by the prospect of Step 3. However, if we’ve done Step 2 well, the third Step will feel like precisely the next right thing to do.

In Step 2, we chose to define God in a way that is helpful to our recovery. This is the Higher Power that we want in our lives. This is the Higher Power we’re excited about. So it’s sensible to tell the God of our understanding that we’re all-in, that we want to do whatever God wants us to do. If we aren’t willing to do this, then we need to look again at our concept of a Higher Power. Does our concept actually work for us? Is it a concept that we’re willing to work with? Are we hanging on to old ideas about a Higher Power that keep us from recovering?

It may be that we are diffident about giving our selves away. We fear that this surrendering to God will result in the neutering of our personalities. We imagine ourselves turning into spiritual robots, smiling automatons spewing programspeak and ignoring what’s really going on outside our limited point of view.

Don’t worry, that’s just the usual…our disease trying to kill us.

All we need do is look around at those who have experienced recovery. Does Mrs. so-and-so on Wednesday night act like a Stepford Wife? Is that fellow on Sunday morning devoid of personality? Do we know anyone who has completed the 12 Steps who hasn’t faced hardship since then? Of course not. What we might see are people with more perspective on their problems. They don’t need to drunkalog about their issues because the Steps help them feel, heal, and deal appropriately. They don’t have to talk about what hard going life is because they have a solution. They express gratitude not because it’s expected but because they aren’t dead nor are they physically or emotionally incapacitated by food addiction. They are like the cancer survivor who is thankful for every healthy day.

Beside which, do we really want to keep on being the miserable person we are? The one we really don’t like that much? We may be all we’ve got, but in that case we are as impoverished as a starving third-world refugee. But our disease is once again pulling its usual levers: fear, pride, and control. These forces are quite strong. One OA member recollects that while taking Step 3 they felt a physical sensation as if someone inside them had grabbed their ribs and was yanking down to prevent the reciting of the Third Step Prayer.

In the Big Book’s chapter titled “More About Alcoholism,” Fred says that after taking Step 3, “I had the curious feeling that my alcoholic condition was relieved, as in fact it proved to be.” Of course, he did the other nine Steps as well, but this points out that Step 3 is a turning point where some members receive a jolt of God-presence. Others find themselves being decisive where in other aspects of their life the were frustratingly irresolute. The reality is that in Step 3, we are making an agreement with God that goes like this: We’ll do the rest of the Steps and agree to help others do them, too, in exchange for our Higher Powers removing our compulsion for food and helping us turn our lives around. The experience of those who live in recovery today confirms that our HPs keep their word.

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.