5 OA disciplines that make us free

Discipline is one of those words that folks love or hate. Sometime the same person can bristle at the very sound of the word yet enjoy the fruits of a focused, structured application of will that seems an awful lot like discipline.

In fact, we all find ourselves wandering in and out of disciplined thinking and behavior throughout the day. Arriving to work on time is a discipline, and so is the way in which we carefully, even laboriously go about the detailed practice of hobby or favorite area of study.

In other words discipline can get a bad rap. It’s often associated with the phrase military discipline. The military has a very high level of discipline, and many people thrive under it. But that’s a fairly extreme degree of discipline, and there’s a very broad continuum of degrees of discipline between being able to bounce a quarter off your newly made bed and never getting out of bed in the first place.

In OA, we are encouraged to adopt some daily disciplines. We can also think of them as structures or supports that focus our attention on recovery from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. Here are five areas of discipline in OA that make a big difference in our recoveries:

1. Taking care of our food

The most obvious area of discipline for us is how we deal with food. Everyone walks in the door wanting to know what they can/can’t eat. That’s just part of managing our food. We may also need to measure or weigh our food. Many also favor sharing our daily intake with an accountability partner or sponsor. These disciplines are somewhat mechanical in nature, and they help us to develop a sense of rhythm and safety around food as we change and sustain a new, often unfamiliar way of eating.

2. Taking care of our minds and spirits

Since our brains are the source of many of our problems, we have to manage our thinking and feelings very closely, not to mention the actions that follow. So OA encourages us in Steps 10 and 11 to adopt three disciplines:

  1. Self-reflection: That’s Step 10 where we watch out for self-centered thoughts and actions and clean up our messes quickly
  2. Prayer: Here we let God know our intentions and our needs
  3. Meditation: Now we listen up for our HP’s response and his/her/its/their will for our day.

Needless to say, these are revolutionary ideas for us. We rarely engaged in self-reflection before OA. Self-recrimination, self-judgment, self-loathing, self-shaming, and self-blaming are not the same as the balanced and objective notion of self-reflection suggested in Step 10.

Similarly, since we wanted to control everything, we didn’t pray, or at least not effectively. Nor did we listen if we every meditated. We were doing it our way, after all.

3. Helping, not taking care of, others

Prior to OA, we tended to manage relationships in two opposite and unhealthy ways. Either we took care of others out of unhealthy codependence, or we did nothing for others without an expectation of receiving something in return. No wonder we ate: When we did something for others they either resented it or didn’t do for us what we’d wanted!

Now in OA, we help others instead of “taking care” of them or ignoring them. This kind of helping is a discipline. It requires us to actively consider what we can do for someone else. It could as simple as putting the toilet seat down or letting someone merge into traffic in front of us. It could be another step up such as bringing our spouse home an unexpected cup of coffee or flowers. It could be a big thing such as volunteering our time and donating money. Or it could be helping our fellow sufferers find recovery through sponsorship.

But it’s disciplined action of anticipating how we can be helpful and following through on it that makes the difference.

4. Communicating with others

You know, OA’s tools include the telephone for a reason. When we’re suffering, we tell ourselves we don’t want to bother them even though we need their help and support desperately. But when we’re cruising, we’re on to other things and forget to think about those in OA who might benefit from a text or a call or an email.

But there’s more to it than that. OA teaches us that respect for others is crucial to our long-term survival in this world. Our HP is changing us to be of service to those around us, and communicating respectfully and effectively is part of that.

That means we must learn the disciplined restraint of pen and tongue. In short, we gotta listen more, talk less, and talk less about us. In conversation we often assumed a defensive posture immediately upon detection of anything that might be a criticism. Instead of listening to the other person, we picked apart everything they said, ready to spit it back at them in our own defense. Or we readied our list of resentments to throw in their face. Or maybe we instead called up our deep reservoir of self-pity as a soft defense to turn the tide of conversation and turn a supposed tongue lashing into a warm bath of “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize…”.

Now we take the bit, and we express ourselves wholly, honestly, and appropriately, but not until we’ve listened well to the other person and truly considered, objectively, what they say. We don’t start from a place of personalization anymore, we start from a place of wanting to understand. We also eschew throwing advice at others, and instead we give suggestions when asked. We stay calm, even in the face of negativity, and we let our HP work through us. We’re the only Big Book someone might read.

5. Actively engaging in fellowship

Last but not at all least, is fellowship. We desperately need one another to survive this disease. Addiction is a past master at divide-and-conquer techniques. It hammers a wedge in between us and the rest of mankind. Without fellowship, we have a lot of trouble remembering who we are, what we are like, and where the solution is. We also can’t help others find that solution without meeting some addicts.

So we must engage actively in the fellowship of OA. That can take on many forms, but the two most important are the OA Tools of Meetings and Service. We must go to meetings if we are to find others who want recovery from food addiction, no two ways about it. Without their warmth and support, we’ve got no shot. We must also take care to bring the message not the mess, to talk about the solution not the problem. We don’t attend meetings to check in about the events of the week. We don’t attend meetings to dump our psychological stuff on others. We don’t attend meetings as psycho therapy. We must bring the solution as best we are able.

But in order for meetings to survive, we must also perform OA service! That may mean simply being your home group’s treasurer, raising a hand to sponsor, or speaking when asked. Better yet, we volunteer to provide support for our intergroup by being a group rep or taking part in its initiatives on an informal basis.

Like with other things, we must make a discipline of regularly attending meetings and of  performing regular service at some OA level.

With these five disciplines our recovery can make leaps to a level of serenity and usefulness we didn’t think possible. We need always remember, it’s not about getting disciplined, it’s about acting in a disciplined way.

Tradition 11: Anonymity on social media is more important than ever

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television, and other public media of communication.

We often talk about the importance of anonymity in terms of our not misrepresenting OA. Or of OA having no spokespeople. But this election year shows us another invaluable reason: not repelling potential members.

OA’s tenth tradition tells us that we have no opinion on outside issues. We don’t want to be drawn into public controversy because it will reduce our ability to help other food addicts find recovery. Meanwhile, the 2016 election was the most heated and bitterly contested since before the dawn of the 20th century. Fear, anger, and intolerance for differing points of view exploded during our electoral process. Since the results came in, this bitterness has grown and intensified. There’s much talk around water coolers and in the media itself about how friends and family members are unfriending each other on Facebook and other social-media platforms.

Now put yourself in the shoes of a still-suffering compulsive eater who isn’t yet an OA member. You are researching OA, and a Facebook friend is expressing opinions you strongly disagree with. You’re thinking about unfriending them, and you see that they also identify as an OA member and perhaps even promote it. What would you think of OA? Would it represent the code of kindness, love, and tolerance that the Big Book recommends? Could it potentially appear to have political overtones?

Our number one job as OA members is to carry the message of hope and recovery. Our traditions tell us that everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively is welcomed in our meetings. In our lives as compulsive eaters, it doesn’t matter who is the president. It doesn’t matter what’s going on in our country. The most important facts for our survival are that we are compulsive eaters, that we need one another if we are to get better, and that helping others is the most important thing we can do in this world.

In other words, OA is more important to our survival as compulsive eaters than our political affiliations, opinions, or grievances.

We’ll have no political allegiance if we are dead.

We can’t hold an opinion if we are dead.

We cannot air our grievances if we are dead.

We cannot afford to repel anyone who wants to get better because we need them as badly as they need us. So we cannot reveal our OA membership on social media. We most certainly can talk to someone one-on-one where we can give a more complete picture of OA. Where we can tell them that our beliefs are not characteristic of OA as a whole, which has no political beliefs. One-to-one we can give them the sense of warmth and community that a political post can’t convey. But we can’t do any of that if they run from us because they associate our names with both a political doctrine they can’t abide and our OA membership.

Among our fellows, we are no longer party members. We are no longer trying to persuade anyone of our rightness (or leftness). We are only trying to be helpful to other compulsive eaters. Some must keep our anonymity on social media lest OA cease to be a place where every compulsive eater can find a solution.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 11

11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, films, television, and other public media of communication.

What does Tradition 11 mean today, when the world is interconnected in ways that, when AA and OA were created, only science-fiction writers could imagine? Consider for a moment how distant Bill and Bob and Rosanne were from today’s world:

The Beginnings of AA (the mid-1930s)

  • Bill’s story includes reference to a pay phone. When was the last time you saw one of those?
  • In the 1930s, TVs rarely appeared in anyone’s home, and they weren’t in color.
  • Films had only a few years before added sound and weren’t yet in color.
  • Computers had been theorized but never built and wouldn’t be until World War II.

The Beginnings of OA (1960)

  • The postal service and rotary phones were still the main means of long-distance one-to-one communication. Toll-free calling wasn’t yet available.
  • Televisions doubled as furniture and stores didn’t stop selling black-and-white models for more than 30 years.
  • Billy Wilder’s The Apartment won best picture. It was a black-and-white film.
  • The personal computing revolution was still 20 years away. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both five years old. Computers filled entire rooms and had far less computing power than today’s smart phones.
  • Ubiquitous email use was about 35 years away, and the internet hadn’t been invented.
  • Facebooks were still the picture books that incoming freshmen received to introduce them to their classmates.

Right. So it’s a new world. When you think about it, Twitter, Facebook, email list-servs, and other forms of online communication offer an amazing opportunity to carry the message of the 12 steps to other compulsive eaters. If we made our membership known to our Facebook friends, it could be helpful. It’s not like an article in the Saturday Evening Post, after all.

Actually, that’s true, it’s not like a feature article…it’s worse. Most magazines have a very limited subscription base. The internet’s viewing world is only limited by whether a person (anywhere on the globe!) can connect to the web. An important aspect of anonymity is the idea that we have no stars or VIPs. There is no Dr. Phil of 12-step recovery. And that’s a good thing because human beings are flawed. Just as quickly as one of us might gain fame in recovery, our disease could pull us back down, tarnishing the reputation of OA or leading people to think the steps don’t work.

So then, how does a compulsive eater use the many resources available on the internet while avoiding divulging their own or anyone else’s membership in OA? Here are some simple strategies:

  1. Don’t talk about OA on social media: Duh, right? When you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other social media, just don’t say in your profile or any posts that you are in OA. Don’t even reference it obliquely. We once saw a fellow who, when asked how we was doing on Facebook by someone else, said he was working, enjoying his hobbies,…and sponsoring. also, if you put someone else’s handle on a message that contains OA content, you may be breaking their anonymity too.
  2. Remember that people can see your contacts: If you identify yourself as an OA, and if your account allows others to see your friends/contacts, you may be giving up someone else’s anonymity indirectly.
  3. Be careful about photos: We once saw a Facebook photo of several OA women gathered for a meal. While OA was not mentioned by name, the poster used OA language to describe an abstinent meal. Worse yet, the poster had tagged the photo with the names of each pictured member.
  4. Following, liking, retweeting, favoriting: It is not a break of anonymity to follow, like, retweet, or favorite OA content or recovery-related content. Unless you identify as an OA member, you are not giving up your anonymity. Following, liking, retweeting, and favoriting could indicate many things about your attention to recovery such as supporting a loved one or a professional interest. Just don’t tell anyone about your OA affiliation.
  5. Commenting: Be careful here! You may wish to comment from a 12-step perspective on a news article or blog that you read, but be aware of how commenting works on a site. On some sites, you sign in via Twitter or Facebook, which likely means your name and picture are then shown, or at least a link back to your account. Even if you haven’t identified yourself as a member on your account, if you think you are posting anonymously, you might not be. On other sites, you must be a member of the site to post. Remember that you are giving some information to that site when you become a member. If you have any doubt about how that information could be used, think before you click. If a site has anonymous posting capability, or you can provide a guest name, that’s likely your best route. In general, be careful, and when in doubt check your motives for replying (are you defending OA or resentful at someone else’s caricaturization of it?) and ask yourself if it’s safe to post.
  6. Emailing: Always place recipients into the BCC when sending an email to a group of OAs from any email account. For example, if you are emailing a large group about an upcoming workshop, just use BCC for everyone. (Take it from us, we’ve made this booboo!) Remember, when you send out to a large group, it could be forwarded anywhere for perfectly fine reasons, but could be seen by people who shouldn’t.

That’s just a few strategies for today’s world. In reality, nothing is truly private on the internet. There’s always risk where there’s a database. So keep it simple, and don’t take yours or anyone else’s anonymity lightly!