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 of the Month: “Ever Reminding Us”

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to put principles before personalities.

Ever reminding us? Really? What kind of nag was Bill Wilson when he wrote this, anyway? Do we really need constant reminding that spiritual principles come before personalities? Well, all of the human history, and especially the collective Twelve Step experience, vociferously say Yes!

Human history is filled with good gone wrong. There’s the idea of “lethal mutation” where a good idea becomes popular and, like in a game of telephone, is turned into its opposite by excited people retelling and incorrectly or selfishly implementing it. Many helpful notions turn dark once other human beings discover how to leverage them for personal gain, or out of sheer ignorance of core principles.

These are lessons we OAers need to heed. If we are to overcome the killing disease of food addiction one day at a time, we must have OA to help us, and OA won’t survive if we don’t take special care to see that our spiritual principles are followed.

But “ever reminding us”?

Turns out we do need continual reminders. We addicts are prone to strange moods and twists of mind, and our disease is opportunistic. It will use our own sense of pride and our ego to kill us. We think we can sharpen up the spiritual principles that our founders presented. We’ll make them even better. Maybe discard this one in this situation to make that one better. We’ll add a little here and nip and tuck a little there to get it just right. Or maybe we’ll flout those principles all together because, hey, we got this. Next thing you know, it’s not OA anymore. Next thing you know, no one is recovering anymore, and meetings close. Next thing you know, we’re back in the food.

We need to be endlessly reminded because our disease doesn’t take vacation days. Instead it constantly works on us. Addiction is a chronic illness that cannot be cured. Our therapy is a one-day-at-a-time spiritual toolkit that leads us to our Higher Power who helps remain free. Are we so arrogant as to think that once we’re recovered we can start calling the shots for a program we were given and asked to protect?

Who among us forgets that the first bite leads to madness? We know this like we know our names. Yet, some of us nonetheless reach for it again, even after years of recovery. We absolutely accept that we need to be reminded of our vulnerability to food all the time. The same is true of our vulnerability to the emotional aspect of our disease. The control we like to exert and the egoic thinking that leads to the first bite lurks in even more nooks and crannies than the physical compulsion to eat. We desperately need to understand that our mind, even in recovery, can be a place where what we think is our best thinking is actually our worst.

Ever reminded? We can’t hear it enough. But thanks to Tradition Twelve we can easily remember how valuable this program is to us and how to put that value into action by upholding our traditions.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 12

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Many of us compulsive eaters do a lot of people pleasing. We share frequently about our dread of conflict, our willingness to do anything to avoid other people’s bad opinion. We seem in general to hurt ourselves with food rather than take it out on those who are hurting us.

The reasons why this might be the case are debatable, and we will each arrive at our understanding of those reasons as we take fourth-step inventory. What’s important as OA members is that we end people-pleasing behaviors, and the Twelfth Tradition points us in that direction.

Another way of thinking of people-pleasing, conflict-avoidance, and their many sibling behaviors is codependence. We don’t want to put anybody out because we feel overly responsible for their feelings. The reality is that we can hardly control our own feelings, so why in the world should we control another’s? Tradition 12 tells us that principles come before personalities, just as we learn in Steps 4 and 5 that feelings are not facts.

Tradition 12 is telling us something very, very important. When we deal with one another, we must put to use the most important life-strategy we learn in OA: Trust and rely on God. When we ask someone publicly or privately to keep the Traditions, we are taking right action and letting God handle the results. We are not in the results business. We can’t make anyone do anything. What we can do is speak gently and kindly about the importance of the Traditions and let the other person decide for themselves. Which is the other important aspect of all this. By letting people hear our suggestion and do with it as they will, we treat them as adults. We let them have their own feelings. We are not trying to shape or control those feelings like we used to. That’s old behavior we are trying to get rid of after all!

We need not worry that we’re being a “Traditions Nazi” or anything like that. What we are doing is safeguarding the program that saves our lives. Isn’t keeping OA going more important than our worries about offending or disappointing a single person on a single day? And anyway, we never know what can come of such an interaction. For example, that person may see the courage that making your suggestion takes as evidence that this program works.

Beside which, personalities are fickle. We addicts know that one day we can be hale and hearty and the next day fearful and paranoid. We can’t begin to know what someone else will be like from one day to the next. Our fellowship has survived not by trying to gauge one another’s moods but by giving us all structure and consistency within which to safely have those moods. That structure is the Traditions, and the consistency comes from the principles they embody.

Remember the old saying: The Steps keep me from killing myself; the Traditions keep me from killing everyone else.