Tradition of the Month: Is Abstinence an Outside Issue?

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out- side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Previously, we’ve explored whether God is an outside issue in OA. Indeed, much about God and faith lies outside of the bounds of OA. We only know what a Higher Power does for us, not who or what the Higher Power might be. But here’s an even trickier one: Abstinence.

Overeaters Anonymous exists because folks like us need to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. We need a solution to our problem with food. In the sense that our primary purpose is to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer, abstinence is very much an inside issue. We go to any length we must for relief from compulsive eating, and we go to great lengths to help others find it too.

At the same time, abstinence is a slippery topic. Whose abstinence is the right one? Do you have to be squeaky clean in every facet of abstinence? What about the differences between food substances and food behaviors? How about anorexia, bulimia, and other disordered eating? Fortunately, OA has a definition of abstinence that helps us all find common language:

Abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program.

Regardless of the kind of eating or food issues we have, this definition includes us. We are all part of the OA tribe.

Beyond this, however, OA has no position on food and abstinence. We have no official food plan because it’s an outside issue. How can that be true when abstinence itself is central to recovery? Simply because OA isn’t the food police. If we spent our time hunting down food-plan heretics, we would not be spending time helping others get better. Instead, we encourage every person to have their own food plan and to seek medical and nutritional advice for creating one. We support their efforts to follow it as best we can and share helpful experiences as appropriate.

But more important than that is the fact that food plans aren’t just a tool. They are spiritual. When we commit to a food plan, we direct our willful selves away from our selfish impulses and toward something healthier and, ultimately, more spiritual. A food plan may be the first spiritually oriented move we make in OA…whether we know it or not. Initially or later in our journey, we may begin to ask our Higher Power, the universe, whathaveyou for willingness to follow our plan and relief from the obsession with food. From these small starts comes the willingness for more recovery, the willingness to surrender to the idea that we are no in charge. Never have been, if we’re honest.

If food plans and abstinence are, in fact, spiritual in nature, then they are our Higher Powers’ business. Each of us must find our plan on our own, just as each of us must do the Steps on our own. The Steps provide a framework for recovery, just like the OA definition of abstinence provides one for the food-based part of our journey. Although the pamphlets “Dignity of Choice” and “A Plan of Eating” give us helpful suggestions, they are not codes of food conduct. We cannot legislate the direction of someone’s first steps toward God. We can only share how we did it and help them to find the honesty, willingness, and spiritual connection to get going and keep going.

Tradition of the Month: God is an outside issue

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

 

Believe it or not, OA does not have an opinion on the nature of God, even though we practice a program of spiritual recovery. To be effective, OA can’t have a stance on God, and Tradition 10 assures that we won’t, as a fellowship, tread that dangerous path.

To be accurate, OA does take certain positions on God. They are very few, very specific, and address as little as possible the question of the nature or identity of God:

A) Each member needs a conception of an HP to recover
B) To be effective, a Higher Power must be more powerful than the member him- or herself
C) Each member can have their own conception, and no one can tell them what the specific conception must be
D) The conception must be one whose will they are willing to surrender to then to trust and rely on for daily living.

OA only talks about God in relation to recovery. It only takes positions on what it knows: How a Higher Power enables us to get better. That’s because God is an outside issue.

How can God be an outside issue in a spiritual program? Here the previous traditions guide us:

Tradition 1 tells us that “personal recovery depends upon OA Unity.” Imagine trying to achieve OA unity on the question of what God is or isn’t. Millions, probably billions, of people worldwide have been killed across history over the question Which is the one true God? How could we each recover if we busy fighting amongst ourselves about the nature of our Higher Powers?

Tradition 2 tells us that God is the source of our group conscience. How many My God can beat up your god arguments would arise if OA took even a simple and vague position on God?

Tradition 3 denies us the right to exclude anyone who wants to stop eating compulsively. Religious and spiritual tests are, therefore, disallowed. We’re having a hard enough time with our own food trials to be putting anyone else’s beliefs on trial.

Tradition 4 reminds us that groups are all autonomous except in matters affecting the entire fellowship. If OA took a position on God, every meeting would have to accept that stance.

Tradition 5 clearly states that OA’s primary purpose is carrying the message of recovery. We are not evangelists, but if OA took a position on the nature of God we would be. That would ultimately prove exclusionary, which would severely limit our ability to carry the message to all sufferers from this killing disease.

We could go on, but we needn’t. By taking a position on the nature of God, which is, perhaps, the most controversial question ever asked, OA would sabotage itself completely. There are programs sponsored by churches that attempt to use the 12 Steps in a specific religious setting, and those programs are not affiliated in any way with OA or any other 12 Step group. They can’t be if OA is to survive and thrive.

So when our members remind themselves and other members to trust and rely on God, we must always remember that while they may experience a Higher Power in a certain way, we each interpret that suggestion through the lens of our own concept of an HP. And even though the Big Book has a chapter devoted to the question of whether there is reason to believe in God, we are free to disagree with it always remembering the words we find in the famous promises: “This book is meant to be suggestive only.” No one can tell us that our HP must be a supernatural being. No one can tell us that our HP must have a personality of any sort. Or have a name. Only that we’d better something more powerful than we are that works for us. Because in the end, even God is an outside issue.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 10

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Imagine this scenario:

May 25, 2016

Overeaters Anonymous, the nation’s largest food-addiction support group has entered the increasingly divisive debate around whether sugar is addictive. OA’s World Service released a statement which indicated its position. “A vast majority of our members claim sugar as one of or the major food substance to which they are addicted. We are sympathetic with those who argue for increased attention to its addictive qualities.” Sugar industry representatives called the statement “irresponsible,” and one shrugged off the statement, wondering whether OA would have the government classify sugar with cocaine or heroin. Medical and nutritional leaders told reporters that the organization was overreaching its mandate by commenting on the controversy and suggested that OA’s recovery program is not scientifically based.

In this entirely fictitious scenario, we can understand the motivation for OA issuing a statement about sugar like this. It would raise awareness of the problem, provide an avenue of hope for those who read it. It would be a way to carry the message to those who are suffering.

Our fifth tradition tells us we have one primary purpose, to carry the message, and anything that might keep us from that purpose is probably a bad idea. How could telling the world about the addictive properties of a substance that many of our members know to lead to compulsive eating damage our primary purpose?

For one thing, internally, OA is not exclusively composed of people who identify as sugar addicts. By sending a message to the world about what part of our fellowship experiences, are we excluding others? Would that affect our OA unity (tradition 1)? Why would we even want to find out?

For another, once we enter any fray publicly, we are stepping into advocacy. When we take a side, we tell others they are wrong. Wouldn’t that possibly limit our ability to attract newcomers?

As the scenario above suggests, when we take a position, we also open ourselves up to being stigmatized by others who have a differing agenda or those who are simply ignorant of OA’s program and principles. Many people and organizations in the world are far less principled than OA is, and when we oppose them, we are providing opportunities for them to spread misunderstandings. Clearly, negative press coverage or publicity could inhibit our ability to carry the message of recovery to those swayed by news reports.

Perhaps most importantly, getting involved in controversy takes our focus off of recovery. If we are busy debating the merits of OA’s position on an issue, we aren’t busy getting better or helping others get better. If we are busy crafting position statements, we aren’t busy setting up workshops and other valuable events. Then there’s the whole issue of managing public relations in the face of public position statements. What a vortex of time, work, and personality!

The whole point about controversy is that it separates people. If, as Bill W. wrote, we are an ever widening circle of peace on Earth and good to will toward our fellow man, then why would we allow divisiveness into our fellowship? Even if it seemed like it was for a good cause.