You cannot fail in OA

Nearly every person in the world worries about failure. We addicts especially worry about what our errors say about us. How will we look to other people? Will our outsides finally reflect all the negativity we feel about ourselves on the inside?

We’ve spent an entire life masking this fear to the outside world (usually not very well) and trying our best to stanch the fear with the magical numbing properties of compulsive eating. Now that we’ve joined OA, these old feelings may well creep into how we think about our program.

We may become discouraged by what we perceive as our inability to “get” the program, to lose weight or lose it quickly enough, to get or stay abstinent, to find the “perfect” sponsor. The list can go on and on because our diseased thinking doesn’t want us to succeed in OA. It wants us to continue eating compulsively, and it will manipulate our thinking until it gets what it wants.

That’s why we so often hear OAers say “Keep coming back!” It is courageous to merely attend meetings and acknowledge that we have a problem. It is a great act of self care to ask someone for help with understanding and practicing the program. But our disease will tell us that these things aren’t so great, so why bother.

“Stay until the miracle happens,” many members will say. Amazing amounts of truth there. If we leave OA because we are struggling with abstinence, we throw away our last lifeline, and we set ourselves adrift to sea, alone, with no hope of rescue. But as long as our butt stays in an OA seat, and we continue to hear the message, we remain connected to the source of the solution for compulsive eating. We may struggle with others, but we fail alone.

Now, here’s the great hope for us with the fear of failure. It’s on page 55 of the Big Book:

If our testimony helps sweep away prejudice, enables you to think honestly, encourages you to search diligently within yourself, then, if you wish, you can join us on the Broad Highway. With this attitude you cannot fail. The consciousness of your belief is sure to come to you.

[Emphasis ours.]

The founders of AA here share one of the greatest of all promises in the Big Book: That if we continue down the 12-Step path, as long as we move toward the solution, we will not fail and are not failures.

Let’s break down this paragraph for just a moment into its components to see exactly what they mean.

  • “Our testimony”: We are in receipt of the experience of the first 100 AA members who first discovered the healing power of the 12-Step approach.
  • “Sweep away prejudice”: Why not suspend our judgment, even of things spiritual that we might have that of as woo woo or superstition? Nothing else is working for us.
  • “Search diligently within yourself”: No human being or group of them will give us a miraculous pill or balm to eradicate our addiction. This is an inside job, and a job that must be done well and carefully to have its promised effect. We can’t half-ass this thing and expect to win out. We must be ready to face all of demons to feel, heal, and deal.
  • “If you wish”: This is a program for those who want it, not those who need it. If we don’t really want it, we should probably keep coming until we do.
  • “Join us on the Broad Highway”: Recovery is open to anyone, regardless of gender, age, color, ethnicity, religion, ability, or any other demographic marker. Our fellowship requires unity because the spiritual power that works through it is amplified by our combined presence. And, hey, it’s a good time.
  • “This attitude”: Here’s the key, right? We must adopt an attitude of honesty (we don’t know everything), open-mindedness (this can work for us, too), and willingness (a commitment to doing the work of recovery), if we want to succeed. If we make these simple ideas a part of our OA practice, then we will never fail at recovery.

Oh, we may hit a rumble strip on the road to recovery. We might slip off the tarmac here and there. But if we, nonetheless, keep this simple attitude, we will continue moving forward. This is the long game. Even if we must take one step backward for every two we take forward, we will find the freedom from food obsession that OA promises us. Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, no doubt. But it’s always there for us, if we work for it.

Step of the Month: Abstinence is not the solution

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable. 

Abstinence, abstinence, abstinence. We all talk about abstinence all the time. And with good reason! We don’t need Overeaters Anonymous because we have control over our food. We arrive as people broken by their baffling inability to let go of compulsive eating despite its harmful effects. We want abstinence more than anything when we sit down at our first meeting. We recognize that abstinence is hard to get and easy to lose, and we admire and are astonished by those who have it for the long-term.

It’s only natural that we see abstinence as the number one most important feature of our recovery. As soon as we take that first compulsive bite, we place ourselves in life-threatening, mind-threatening, and spirit-threatening jeopardy. So, yeah, on a day to day basis abstinence is A Number One for us OA members.

But absence, no matter how long we have it, does not equate to recovery. Abstinence is not the solution to compulsive eating.

If it were true that abstinence is the solution to compulsive eating, none of us would need OA in the first place. We’d only need a diet and some will power! But none of us has the necessary will power. Instead, we can diet all we want, but what makes us different from the merely obese is the mental obsession with food. We plot and plan what, how, when, and with (or without) whom we will eat. Food occupies our mind. We can’t get away from it. We see it all around us. We feel the need for it almost constantly—even in our dreams. We can feel it in our mouths and imagine its soothing properties long before we take that first bite. Worse, we are always disappointed that the ease and comfort it brings lasts just moments.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” the Big Book tells us about the cycle of addiction. It always starts in our mind. It is the presence of a thought or a feeling that activates our obsession with food. We obsess about relief before we take that first bite. That’s why the Big Book tells us that “the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.” Which means that food addiction is a mental issue that affects us physically, not a physical issue that affects us mentallyAnd that’s why abstinence is not the solution, only part of the treatment.

We will never escape compulsive eating if we only treat the symptom of consumption. With this self-diagnosed disease, we must treat the whole patient: mental, spiritual, and physical. The solution that OA provides is the 12 Steps, and abstinence only falls under Step 1.

The 12 Steps are there to change us from the inside out. As compulsive eaters, we have been using food as medication. We constantly feel restless, irritable, discontented, resentful, and fearful. We eat to make those feelings go away. But they always come back, and then we need more food to make them disappear again. We must find a way to gain peace, serenity, ease, and comfort from something inside ourselves rather than something we put into ourselves. That’s what the 12 Steps do. They help us locate a power that will change us rapidly and profoundly so that we don’t need to use food to find our place in this crazy world.

But what about those with long-term abstinence who don’t do the steps? Hey, our hats are off to them! But the length and quality of one’s food-sobriety are not mutually inclusive by themselves. Although we wish to make blanket judgment about anyone, just because a person has ceased compulsively eating doesn’t mean that their mental and spiritual selves have healed at all. Indeed, when we put together some time in abstinence, it becomes easier and easier to think to ourselves “I got this” and coast. That’s a sure path to eating compulsively once again. If we have not experienced the psychic change the Big Book describes, then we are not experiencing recovery. We are dieting, and we know how that has ended for us in the past. If we continue to behave toward others as we always have. If we continue to be paralyzed by our fear of others’ opinions. If we remain tangled in webs of codependence and people-pleasing. If we’re just the same old person we were, then we really need to do the 12 Steps before we experience the horror of relapse and so we can enjoy our abstinence fully.

But the good news is that abstinence, if only a beginning, is a great beginning! From there we embark on the most amazing journey imaginable, a trip to the center of our hearts where we will discover that we are good, imperfect, and wonderful people who deserve love and respect just like everyone around us. The change we are given will enable us to remain abstinent through thick and thin with an ease that we have never otherwise in our lives experienced. Peace with our selves and freedom from compulsive eating: Who wouldn’t want that?!


The emotional, the analytical, and the spiritual

Like all addicts, we overeaters suffer a great deal mentally. OA’s 12 Steps help save us from our own minds, which use two primary weapons against us.


We call them feelings because, physically, we feel our emotions. We feel the fatiguing sensations of dread or depression, like we are walking through life in a lead suit and can barely put one foot in front of the other. Our stomachs flutter anxiously, and we feel hungry at nearly any news—happy, mad, sad, or glad. We feel tense all the time awaiting the next disaster or trying to keep our emotions stuffed down.

Our lives consist of constant attempts to suppress our feelings until we just can’t anymore. We use food to bury our emotions, to not feel our feelings. But even food isn’t powerful enough, and at some point, things come thrashing out of us, affecting those around us.


The Big Book describes our thinking as “soft and mushy.” Often our thinking and emotions dance together. Either our emotions lead us to justifications that make logical sense only in the context of our diseased minds, or our “analysis” leads us to ready-to-burst emotional states. We tend not to think through problems but rather to either think ourselves into problems, or get ourselves stuck in the problem we’re thinking about. The logical capacity of our brains is misused by our disease to keep us chained to our feelings, because our feelings always win out. So we base our decisions on our fears, our immediate wants, and of what we perceive as others’ opinions.

Our best thinking got us addicted to food because our addict mind tells us there’s little difference between what we feel and what we think. And that, anyway, what we feel trumps what we think if our thoughts and our feelings differ. We have no good tools for reasoning our way through life and making sensible decisions about food, relationships, money, or anything. Our perspective can be reduced to the simple question: Will it give me uncomfortable feelings?

A Third Way

Amazingly, despite knowing that our feelings are powerful and uncontrollable, we follow them blindly. Take eating, itself. Our anxious selves want soothing with food. Our minds at first say, bad idea. We might even step away from the fridge. But then our brain, addled by our compulsion, works on it a while. Whether it’s a moment, an hour, a day, a week, a year, or a decade later, our thinking will eventually churn out a justification for eating. That justification might be “screw it,” might be “it hurts,” or might be “it won’t hurt me this time,” or something far more complicated. But it’ll come. Eventually, we blindly follow our feelings into oblivion.

We need a new way. We can’t trust our feelings or our thinking because they serve the same master: food addiction, in whatever form we have it. So what can we trust? Or more accurately, Who can we trust? The answer is that we can trust our Higher Power to give us the intuitive thought or decision we need. When we let go and let God, then our emotions about and our analysis of a situation can be put to good use. Divorced from the drive for satisfying our compulsion, we can use our minds to examine our internal and external circumstances and draw well reasoned conclusions. We can also use our emotions and intuition as guides to ensure that what we’re considering feels right.

We don’t just one day arrive at this arrangement. We have to develop a relationship with God so that we can align our will and our thoughts with our HP’s. To do this, we need the 12 Steps of OA. They teach us through a practical means to identify how our feelings get out of control and how our thinking has been compromised. They then show us how to bring God into our daily life to help us make decisions and live happy, useful lives of service to others. Gradually, we learn the ropes and start to see the branching points in our life differently. We practice and “fake it ’til we make it.” We see our choices with increased perspective, and we trust that God will show us the way.

If we haven’t yet completed the Steps, we carefully watch and listen to those who have experience with them. How do they conduct themselves? What’s different between their thinking and feelings and our own? Could we try to move through the world more like they do? What would it mean if we did? Then we try out what we see in them. We practice it and find it feels more serene than we’ve felt in a long time.

Depending on a Higher Power for guidance in our live doesn’t make us weaker. It strengthens us. Where we’ve been making a lot of lousy decisions based on our narrow self-infected view of the world, now we can make thoughtful choices that propel us, and perhaps those around us, toward a better, more stable, and more satisfying life. And we no longer have to suffer as slaves to our emotions.

The jigsaw puzzle of addiction

Said one OA member to another this week, “life is jigsaw puzzle, isn’t it?” It sure seems like one. Indeed, this is a wonderful metaphor for recovery.

While we’re eating compulsively, it’s as though we’re working on several different puzzles at once. We’re trying to figure out our food. We’re trying to manage our relationships. We’re trying to manage our fear. We’re trying to get life to go our way. We’re trying to change as we simultaneously try to keep everything around us the same.

None of these are going well. We suspect that someone (perhaps even us) has lost some of the pieces. Or that the pieces are miscut. We wonder if maybe the images on the pieces don’t actually match the box. Pieces from the other puzzles somehow snuck into one another’s puzzle’s boxes. Worst of all, the number of pieces in the puzzle keeps getting bigger and bigger; what once was a 100-piece puzzle with big pieces is now a 10,000 piece puzzle with pieces that practically require tweezers to handle.

For each of the different puzzles, we can’t seem to find one single strategy that works for each of them. We try assembling the border first. Or grouping pieces by color or the sector in the puzzle we suspect they belong to. We put all the same shaped pieces in a pile. We keep them all in their box, or we scatter them face up on the puzzle table. But we just can’t seem to make any headway. Oh, we might get a little block of the final image complete, but then the image changes!

As we engage in OA’s program of recovery, we start to get somewhere. As we use the Tools of Recovery to get our food in order, we find all of the straight-edged border pieces and define the scope of the problem. We finally have some boundaries around food, and we feel relief. Once we accept that our lives are unmanageable, we also start to see that all of those puzzles were really just one all along. Phew!

But until we do the Steps, the solution eludes us. If we haven’t done the Steps, we still only have the border of the puzzle. But the whole image remains mostly blank inside, and it will stay that way without further spiritual action on our part. So we do the unthinkable: We turn our will and lives over to the care of a Higher Power.

We may not have realized it, but we’ve been afraid that the image the puzzle ultimately produces will be horrifying to us. But once we’ve taken Step Three, we’ve committed to doing the moral inventory in Step Four. As we do so, we increasingly feel as though our Higher Power is guiding our hands across the puzzle pieces. Things fit together that somehow seemed impossible before. Finally, in Step Five, we see the completed image of our lives before us. It is, indeed, ugly in some places. We see all of our warts, our defects of character and how they have kept us away from happiness. But we also see that our self-pity and anger arises despite the many good things we have around us.

We may feel despondent at this point. We may want to tear up the finished puzzle. Instead, Step Six tells us to be willing to let God figure out what to do with it. Then in Step Seven we ask him to so, and we begin living life of God’s terms, not ours.

As we live our new way of life and to make amends, something utterly amazing happens. We discover to our delight that what we thought was the border of the puzzle is, in fact, just an image within an image! The puzzle extends infinitely outward in all directions. Previously, we defined what we thought our lives were. Now our HP is showing us a wider truth. God has turned our defects into assets that help others find recovery and happiness.

New puzzle pieces suddenly appear, and they attach themselves to the puzzle we completed without our having to figure out where they go. As the new picture radiates outward, we see how small the old life we led was. Our new life dwarfs it in size and in beauty. That tiny little box of painful memories will always be there, but we need never focus on that misery again. We see it now as way to help other suffering food addicts. And those straight-edged boundary pieces that comprised our food plan? They turn into a wall that helps keep the pain of our old life boxed in.

So life can be seen as a jigsaw puzzle. The question for compulsive eaters like is who is doing the solving? Are we relying on our own wits to arrest a disease that outwits us at every turn? Or are we going to let our Higher Power guide us to the solution? Are we going to keep seeing an image of pain in our old way of life? Or are we going to start seeing the bigger picture and live sanely and safely in this world?

It works better if you don’t eat

There’s an AA story that goes like this:

An AA member had attended meetings for six months or more. He shared that he was miserable and couldn’t figure out why the program wasn’t working for him. Afterward, a couple old-timers took him aside. They kindly said to him, “It works better if you don’t drink.”

In OA, we can relate. When we’re eating, we’re miserable. We feel shame, guilt, anger, disappointment, and helplessness. There’s little worse than a head full of OA and a belly full of compulsively eaten food. OA works better when we aren’t eating compulsively.

Of course, that’s a pretty obvious statement. Who would dispute that putting down our binge foods and ceasing our compulsive behaviors is good for our OA program? Well, actually, our own brains would. We may be highly logical or intuitively insightful in every other aspect of our lives, but when it comes to food, we can’t tell truth from the lies our food-addled minds foist on us.

The little voice inside our head may tell us that we’re making too big a deal of all this. That it’s OK to have a bite here and there, because we can control it in small amounts. That we can’t possibly give up a favorite food. That tomorrow will be different, but food will take the edge off now. These are all big, fat lies. We in OA have watched both newcomers and old-timers return to misery because they clung to some bright, shining lie about food. We’re all susceptible to it, no matter how many years of abstinence we have because our disease is chronic. It gets worse while we get better.

When the old-timer loses abstinence and bounces along the rocky path of a couple days on the wagon, a couple days off, they are baffled that abstinence that was once so easy to get previously is ridiculously hard to find again. The newbie, on the other hand, may also end up in that difficult up-and-down place, hearing about others’ joyful success and wondering how the heck they did it.

In either case, the 12 Steps of OA are the common solution to our troubles with compulsive eating. Refraining from compulsive eating is not about willpower. It’s not about a diet or food plan. It’s not about our moral character. It’s not even about us. Lasting abstinence occurs when we trust God to take care of our food needs. The 12 Steps allow us to build a relationship with a Higher Power that will guide us throughout our lives, if we allow it.

When the old-timer fell off the wagon, they did so by taking control of their food back from their HP. “Don’t worry, God, I got this.” In this case, something spiritually essential may have been either misplaced, forgotten, or ignored. Remember, our disease is progressive and always seeks to lure us back to compulsive eating. The newbie, by contrast, may not yet have a relationship with their Higher Power. They are not without spiritual resources, however. Part of OA’s spiritual aspect is attending meetings, tapping into the power of the fellowship, and developing relationships with other members whom we trust to help us on our journey. As newcomers, these may be the first spiritual tools we’ve ever used, and likely the first time we’ve applied spiritual principles toward our food problem.

No matter what the case may be, we must trust God in every situation, or we will eat. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or a broken shoelace, it’s God or food. So, we feel our feelings, reach out to other OAs for support, and give the outcome over to our Higher Power. Of course food is trustworthy too. We can trust that once we take that first bite, food, with its three-second high, its spiraling need for more and more, and its enslavement of our minds and bodies, will once again dominate our lives.

So it works better if we don’t eat compulsively. We learn to trust God and not food by…trusting God. We just have to do it. That means not eating compulsively no matter what. We put the plug in the jug, the lid on the jar, the top on the box, the cap on the container. We accept that we will face a detox period with some aches and pains and intense cravings. We trust that a week or two from now we’ll feel better. That we will then turn our attention to our spiritual growth so that we may never have to be on the bumpy road to abstinence again.


Fear and self-pity: a deadly combination

Go to any OA meeting, and you’ll hear about fear. We hide out from the world and seek the companionship of food because we are afraid to face what’s out there. If we restrict our eating, it’s often because we are afraid we weigh too much and that people will judge us. No matter the fear or its origin, we have developed eating behaviors as a coping mechanism. And if that weren’t bad enough, fear has a nasty relationship with self-pity that speeds along our demise from this disease.

In the Big Book, we read that “resentment is the number one offender.” When we take inventory of our resentments, we list how it affected us, and, as in the example on page 65, we always list “(fear)” among them. Of course, we don’t stop at what the offending person did. The Big Book instructs us on page 67 to also ask ourselves where we were selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. As we write all these resentments, we come to see the massive power that fear had over us. We acted selfishly, lied to ourselves, and behaved out of self-concern because of our fears. So, the Big Book then has us inventory our fears, starting with those we analyzed in our resentments and then those unconnected to a resentment. Fear is a big deal.

The thing about fear is that our disease uses our past experience to create fear about our future. If we were told something negative in the past that hurt us, our addict brain tells us that we will suffer the same humiliation or heartache whenever a similar circumstance occurs. It uses our past as a lever to make us eat. This is a big part of why it is that the cycle of addictive behavior always begins with a feeling before we are activated to eat.

If fear is the transferring of past experience to an unknown future, then self-pity is staying stuck in the past and being unwilling to see a different future. Our disease loves to tear down our defenses with self-pity. We feel a strong urge to stop eating compulsively, and then we have an encounter with someone at work that didn’t go well. That encounter reminds us consciously or subconsciously of another time we had a bad encounter with someone. And another. And another and another. Until this small but painful encounter today feels freighted with the emotional weight of our whole inner world. Because we have a disease that warps our perspective, we can only see this tunnel-like vision of bad encounters, forgetting or ignoring all the positive relations we have in the world. And we are activated to eat.

Our disease skillfully plays fear off of self-pity:

  1. We have a painful encounter
  2. It reminds us all our other painful encounters
  3. We feel self-pity
  4. We realize that we’ll have to deal with the person or situation again in the future.
  5. We fear that the next encounter will be as painful as this one…or worse.
  6. If we haven’t already eaten, we’re primed to do so now.

If we are truly addicts, we have lost the power to control ourselves around food in part because our minds act against us in this and many other ways. We cannot change ourselves. We’ve tried! We’ve told ourselves we won’t take ourselves so seriously, or that we’ll go on a diet, or that we’ll let these hurtful things roll off our backs, or that next time we just won’t eat over it. But it never works. We always return to our old ways of thinking and our addictive eating.

The whole point of the 12 Steps is to create inside us the conditions for change. We prepare ourselves to be changed by inventorying all the yucky stuff so that we can then ask God to remove it all and enter into our hearts. The Big Book tells us that we must let go of “old ideas” in order to be changed. These fears and self-pities are some of those ideas. We may have suffered in the past, but now we replace the fear of the future with trusting and relying on God to get us through whatever may come. We may have continually felt sorry for ourselves, but now we see that God is using those old hurts as ways that we can win the confidence of other suffering compulsive eaters and help them find the recovery we’ve been granted.

In other words, God turns these defects of character into assets that help us to be of service to others. Fear and self-pity are an insidious part of the human condition, a killer for people like us, but OA and our HP give us a special power to combat them and help the world be a little better place. And that’s nothing to be afraid of!

Giving…and getting…the minimum

OA is not like many other aspects of our lives in many ways, and here’s one. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. In most endeavors in our lives, we make predictable, incremental improvement. Educators will be familiar with Piaget’s learning curve (or J-shaped curve), for example. Or think about learning a musical instrument, where progress evolves over time, roughly proportional to how much we practice and how much tutelage we receive.

OA’s results are predictable, but they are not incremental. Our literature tells us that if we don’t work the entire program we won’t find recovery. But if we do work it, we will be changed and freed form our obsession. The Big Book puts it in stark terms: “Half measures availed us nothing.” If we just do part of the program we won’t gain recovery incrementally. In fact, we won’t gain anything but self-knowledge and possibly weight. Self-knowledge as the Big Book smashes home upon us, does absolutely nothing for us in combination with our self-will. If it did, we wouldn’t need OA!

We can pick apart our psyches, and many of us will discuss during meetings the crooks and bends in our personalities that feed our compulsion to eat. And that information alone has absolutely no use to us in recovery. We’ve tried to leverage these understandings for years, often with the help of psychology professionals, and in many cases rather than help us recover, they’ve keep us mired in our self-pity. We may identify more and more with our problems so that we struggle to see other possible avenues our life might take.

The whole point of the 12 Steps is for us to find a relationship with a Higher Power that works for us, to clear out everything inside our minds and hearts that keeps us from that HP, and to let God change us so that we can then be helpful to others. “Trust God, clean house, and help others.”

  • Trust God: The first three Steps help us establish at least a willingness to seek God.
  • Clean House: The middle five Steps help us identify the crap inside us that’s in the way of recovery, be changed by HP, and clean up our past.
  • Help Others: The last three Steps help us maintain an attitude of humility and helpfulness.

Once we’ve worked the Steps and begun to live in the solution each day, we find real recovery. Before then, we may have found ourselves not eating compulsively for a time, but that’s only part of what recovery means. We are promised that if we don’t grow spiritually, we will eat again. If we don’t do business with God, write inventory, speak it to someone, let God change us, make amends, monitor our behavior, ask God for guidance, and help others, then our disease will creep up when we least expect it and grab us by the throat.

Remember, our illness is always getting stronger. It’s progressive, which means it never gets better, only worse. So we have to keep growing spiritually to stay ahead of it. If we only do the minimum, we will get the minimum: nothing. If all we do is avoid binge foods, we’re only dieting. If we are only going to meetings, we will not recover by osmosis. We must ask for help in working the Steps. If we’re putting off writing inventory, we aren’t making spiritual progress, and we will find the food increasingly tempting. If we stop working the middle Steps, we won’t realize the famous Ninth Step promises read after each meeting. If we slacken off on our latter Steps, we will lose touch God, stop helping others, and drift back toward misery and food.

This isn’t opinion. It’s experiences we can and have observed in ourselves and in others.

Look at those OAs in our area whose recovery we admire. We see that they keep up not only with their food plan and meetings, but with making their amends, praying, doing their daily 10th Step, helping others, and working the tools of the program. They also don’t shout their recovery to their hilltops but share it with humility that others may be helped by it.

Does that seem like a lot of work? Sometimes it does to us. Does it seem like a lot more work to be miserable, bursting out of our clothes, and unable to do anything about those conditions? Yes, and it seems like a death sentence: one where we slowly die physically long after we’ve withered to a husk of ourselves emotionally and spiritually.

If we are going to meetings, we must keep coming back. Nothing can happen for us if we isolate and don’t ask for help. But we also need to know that if all we do is go to meetings, we won’t get better because human aid is not enough. If we are stuck in the first three Steps, we must pocket our pride, swallow our fear, and make time in our lives for the action Steps. Otherwise, we won’t change on the inside at all.

Because this is all or nothing. The lasting result (peace, joy, happiness, serenity, and freedom from compulsive eating) will only be given us once we do all the required work. We don’t get them a little bit at a time. If we do the minimum, then the minimum all we’ll get.

The Force Is With Us, Always

This weekend, the new Star Wars movie has opened with as much fanfare as perhaps any movie ever. One of the chief ideas driving the story of the Star Wars saga is “The Force,” an invisible spiritual energy that binds the universe together and gives people powers they wouldn’t otherwise have. Those who believe in it will give one another the benediction, “May the Force Be with You.”

In OA, we are also granted special powers beyond our own abilities. The Force is with us! This is most outwardly obvious in our relationship to food and our physical recovery. The first Step tells us that we are utterly powerless over food. We can’t control it whatsoever. Our bodies usually indicate this whether we are fat or too skinny or bouncing in between. The second Step tells us that we won’t be restored to any kind of normalcy around food without a Higher Power. For the Star Wars inclined, we must use The Force. Or more accurately, let it use us.

Of course, that’s not all there is to it. We are also powerless over our feelings and emotions. Our literature tells us that our physical compulsion to eat actually begins in our minds. We first obsess about food in reaction to our feelings. The disease centers in our minds, and we are activated before the first bite is taken. We need a Force to help us here as well, and the Steps show us how to call upon that Force when we need help conquering the fears and emotions that drive us to hurt ourselves with food. Because we obviously can’t cope with those things ourselves, or we would have done so already.

Of course, this all means that we have also had a spiritual sickness. We have shunned God and left the idea of a Higher Power to die on the vine. We need the Steps and the guidance of someone with experience to help us find our Higher Power and tap into Its amazing flow of positive energy. In the original Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker’s mentor Ben Kenobi says things to him such as “Feel the Force,” “Let go of your feelings,” and “The Force will be with you, always.” Sounds pretty familiar, right? Our sponsors and the program are telling us to feel the presence of a Higher Power; to let go of what troubles us and give them to God; and that our HP will always be there for us, no matter how grave the situation. Whether the crisis occurs in a galaxy far, far away or just behind our eyes, the answer is the same! Spiritual principles are the same everywhere: Trust and rely on God, whatever your concept of God is, whatever you might call God, no matter what the situation is. That’s what OA tells us that the essence of spirituality is. An idea that is shared through virtually every spiritual or religious concept out there.

Finally, the Jedi in the Star Wars saga use their Force-given powers unstintingly to help others. That’s exactly what OA asks of us. Think of others, ask God how we might be helpful to someone besides ourselves, and let our spiritual discoveries lead us to new ways to bring peace and goodwill to the world.

Hey, it’s fun to see incredible aliens, watch spacecraft hurtling through the stars, and enjoy the thrill of evil enemies meeting their match. But right here, in our own lives, we get to enjoy the benefits of a Force if not “The Force.” We aren’t granted superhuman powers, but rather the amazing power to be merely human. To walk among people with our chins up, meeting the world on its terms, and living happy lives instead of turning back to the dark side that our disease has chained us to for so many years. The Force is with us. Always!

Step of the Month: Step 8

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

Step nine, the making of amends, gets a lot of air time, but in some ways, it is step eight where the truly hard work of amends gets done. Think of it like exercising. The hard part isn’t the actual exercise! The hard part is walking out the door to go to the gym. The big roadblock is not in the action itself but in our minds. In step eight, we are stepping out this proverbial door en route to the spiritual gym known to us as…our lives.

In the first seven steps we have spent our time on a solitary path toward recovery. We are supported by OA and our sponsors, perhaps even by family and friends, but no one can go on our spiritual journey for us; it is ours alone. But once step nine rolls around, we return to the world having undergone a massive psychic change. Our amends will demonstrate to those in our lives, most of whom we’ve probably not told much about our move toward spirituality, that we have changed and that a Higher Power can make change in us. But we have to know who to make this demonstration to, and sometimes when we recognize the who, we find ourselves wanting for willingness to walk out that door.

We have to be specific to make any progress. As we did in step four, we make a list in step eight. But this time, that list is who we harmed, not who harmed us. To review step four for just a moment: Page 65 of the Big Book shows us three columns to write out: who we were resentful at, the cause of the resentment, and what it affected inside us (how it harmed us). In that second column, we described what burned us up about another person. Then on page 67 we are asked to write a fourth column of inventory for each resentment: where were we selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? Now in step eight, we are again asked to look at our inventory from the other person’s point of view. The self-seeking we wrote about in the fourth column of our own inventory is what we did to other people to get our way. We might imagine them writing inventory that includes us, and it turns out that our self-seeking behaviors are their second-column resentments! So we can start right there at making our list, and then we can ask God to show us other folks we may have harmed who were not in our inventory.

A question worth asking is what exactly is harm? Harm is usually defined as injury whether physical, emotional, or financial. In step eight we needn’t get overly specific about what harm we did to another, only that we caused it. For now, we are simply making a list of those we harmed. If we can answer yes, then their name goes on the list. If we aren’t sure, we pray for the truth from our Higher Power.

We need to be careful at this point that we don’t tell ourselves that we didn’t harm someone only because we know step nine is coming. Just because we don’t want to face someone doesn’t mean we didn’t do them harm. We might recognize that they did us a terrible harm, far worse than we did them. So what? That doesn’t negate the harm we did. And isn’t a willingness to proceed with an amends to that person a reasonable exchange for our abstinence, our happiness, and our freedom from the horrors of compulsive eating? Here our minds may place our pride and fear ahead of our recovery. If we listen to them, we will be troubled again. If we ask God to help us with them, we will make gains spiritually.

Step eight is not an overnight step. We may make a list of those we have harmed and find ourselves requiring time and prayer to achieve willingness for all the names on it. That’s OK. We become willing. If pride and fear put a wall up between us and willingness, we use the tool of prayer to chip it away. We will know when we are ready not because the fear and pride are gone, but rather because the way through them will seem passable, if not easy. In the meantime, we have made our list and are willing to be willing. We can move on to step nine and make the amends we are willing to make as we continue to pray about those we are unwilling to make. In other words, progress not perfection.



What Are the 12 Steps of Overeaters Anonymous?

OA is a “12 Step program” that saves our lives from the insidious danger of compulsive eating. But what exactly does that mean? What are the Steps? Why are they important? What happens if we do them? Or don’t do them?

“Our Invitation to You” from the book Overeaters Anonymous (aka: The Brown Book), tells us that OA is “not a diet and calories club.” While many of us come into OA wanting a solution to the physical issues that our eating has caused us, our program literature tells us that our cravings for food are “but a symptom.” A diet-and-calories club won’t address the underlying emotional and spiritual issues that allow the disease of food addiction to prey so easily on us. But that’s exactly what the 12 Steps are designed to do. That’s why our primary purpose is “to abstain from compulsive overeating and to carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of OA to those who still suffer.”

And so, what are those Twelve Steps? To put it as succinctly as possible, the Twelve Steps ARE the OA program of recovery. The Steps are simple but not easy. They require commitment, which we addicts often find in short supply, and they require facing the facts about how we’ve run our lives so far. Sometimes we’d rather duck the Steps altogether because we think the process of opening our hearts and hurts for healing will be more than we can stand. Probably every OA member has tried to get around the Steps at one time or another, and there are many tried-and-true ways to avoid them. Many of us have told ourselves that we don’t need the Steps to recover, we’ve gone to a different meeting where the Steps aren’t emphasized, fired the sponsor who recommended we start or finish them, told ourselves that the problem is our food plan and put all our attention on it, or we simply dropped out of OA and ate. But the pain of our disease brings us back to the Steps because we can’t live long or happily with the emotional and spiritual baggage that our disease uses to keep us enslaved to food and chained to our problems and our negative thinking. Once we know, there’s no not knowing.

So what happens if we do the 12 Steps? For one thing, we arrest our compulsive eating one day at a time. But that’s not even close to everything we get from the program. All of our program literature is filled with wonderful promises. We read a mere sampling at most meetings. Rather than repeat “The Promises,” which most meeting read, here’s some promises from the OA Twelve and Twelve:

From the isolation of food obsession we have emerged into a new world. Walking hand in hand with our friends and our Higher Power, we are now exploring this world, using the great spiritual principles embodied in the Twelve Steps as the map to guide our way…. (106)

We will be shown a way of life that is happy, joyous, and free, and in which we can finally be of true help to others. A definition of recovery is “to return to usefulness,” and that is another of the many benefits of the Steps.

We always have the option of not doing the Steps. They are a suggested program of recovery. But haven’t we already put ourselves through enough pain? If we don’t do them, we stay with the devil we know—our cravings, our bodies, our emotional pain, and the pain of being detached from anything spiritual. If we do them, and with an open mind and heart, we may find that the devil we don’t know is actually the Higher Power we didn’t realize we’d always wanted contact with. At the worst, we’ll have done some good work toward understanding who we are and what makes us tick.

Ultimately, a 12-Step program without the Steps is like a car without an engine. We might be on the road, but we’ll be stuck just where we are.