Tradition of the Month: Specialness from inclusivity

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Remember those mens jackets from the 1980s that had the epaulet-like straps on their shoulders? No? What if I asked you to remember a Members Only jacket? Of course! Now you remember with ease. Those little bits of fabric served zero useful functions for the wearer of the jacket, but they sure did a lot for the manufacturer’s brand awareness. Why every time you saw one of those coats, you knew exactly what company’s jacket it was.

The name of the brand was chosen to give shoppers a sense of belonging to an exclusive club. Exclusivity in our culture tends to be held in greater esteem than inclusivity. If everyone can join, what makes a club special?

Tradition Three, however, turns that idea upside down. Instead of making OA a chummy old-boys network, a fraternity with hazing rituals, or an underground scene for hipsters in the know, our founders and AA’s founders before them, chose to accept members with open arms. People suffering from the misery of addiction don’t have time for secret handgrips, they need a solution now before the rest of their life turns into their death. When we are foggy with food, the window of willingness might not stay open long enough for us to learn arcane truths that allow us to pass onto the next level of mastery.

So in OA, we throw our arms around the whole world. If we want to stop eating compulsively, we41 can join. We don’t even have to want it all the way. Even a wisp or fleeting notion does the trick. Anything to get us into a seat at our first meeting.

We often hear members open their sharing by saying, “I want to claim my seat.” From the point of view of Tradition Three, we are never obligated to claim anything other than our desire to stop eating compulsively. And even that claim need only be to ourselves. No one in OA will be quizzed about that desire. The desire, though shared by many, is ours alone. The very act of sitting down at an OA meeting is claim enough on our seat.

While a desire to stop eating compulsively is all we need to get in the door, it’s easy to get off track and walk back out the door. Tradition Three ensures that when we return, we will once more be taken in lovingly and without question. We will not face a panel of questioners when we come back through the door. No one can tell us that by leaving we forfeited the claim to our seat. Quite the opposite! Typically, returning members find their seat kept warm for them by their OA friends.

Of course, this Tradition carries with it responsibilities. Individual members must uphold this Tradition so that future members will be similarly welcomed. To do so, we greet newcomers warmly and give them some sense of how OA operates. Just as was done for us. At the group level, when tensions arise at a business meeting or out of the behavior of a single member, we do our best to observe principles, not react to personalities. We remember that are all chronically ill, and that we once displayed behavioral difficulties, just as the disruptive member may be doing. We avoid legislating members out of our group or putting up psychological walls between “us” and “them.”

Because in the end, thanks to the imperative magnanimity of Tradition Three, we all have an equal claim on our seat, and no claim against anyone else’s.


Tradition of the Month: Tradition 3…The Only Requirement

oa funnel3.  The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

When in “Our Invitation to You,” we read “Welcome to Overeaters Anonymous, welcome home,” it’s easy to focus on “welcome.” We all want to be accepted and welcomed into OA’s ranks, and for the newcomer this is a particularly powerful thought. But isn’t it that last word, “home,” that holds the most meaning in that sentence?

OA is the place where people who can’t stop themselves from eating compulsively find their tribe and the solution to their problems. The merely fat may not be at home in OA because they might not be compulsive eaters. They may yet have the ability to put the brakes on their eating if a really good reason crops up. Why would someone like that spend several hours a week in OA?

Of course, we all want to be that person, the “heavy eater,” but we arrived at OA on a losing streak. None of us could get off the food and stay off the food. We’d proved that much to ourselves, and that’s the difference between people like us and heavy eaters. That’s why OA is home. Whether we eat too much or whether our obsession takes the form of overeating, underrating, overexercising, or any other symptom, we all have in common the twin perils of a mental obsession with food, body image, and relief-seeking behaviors that won’t go away no matter how much we wish it. We are at home, among our tribe at in OA.

Step 12 tells us that we must carry the message of OA to still-suffering compulsive eaters. That is to other members of our OA tribe. Tradition 3 is something like an extension of that condition of our recovery. In fact, it saves us from ourselves in a way so that we can help others. To borrow a contemporary business analogy, imagine a funnel. This funnel will represent how people are attracted to OA at the wide end and how many stick around for recovery at the narrow end. Further imagine that this funnel has four levels.

  • The top of the funnel, the widest end: We attract people through word of mouth, the OA website, and various public-information opportunities. Many of these people will never go further than investigating OA.
  • Section 2, one step narrower: Meetings, where an interested person will either feel at home or not come back.
  • Section 3, another step narrower: Sponsorship, where a person will either decide to ask for help, connecting them more strongly to our fellowship…or not.
  • Narrow end of the funnel: The Steps, where a person will either take action to find recovery and help others, or they will get stuck and not make progress.

When viewed this way, it’s easy to see why Tradition 3 exists. The number of people who actually stick around to do the work of recovery is small compared to those who never attend a meeting or who come and go quickly, so it is dependent on sheer quantity. So why in the world would we want to narrow the wide end of the funnel?

Everyone who eats compulsively deserves a shot at a better life. Everyone in OA deserves a shot to help as many people recover as they can. If we placed any restrictions on membership it would benefit no one. Oh, some meeting or member or another might think that excluding those people will make their meeting stronger or reduce tension or what have you. And in AA’s early history many groups did just that. Whether it was women, people of color, atheists, or any other sort of person who didn’t meet their version of what a good AA looked or sounded like. Ultimately, however, groups discovered that exclusionary principles had a triple-whammy effect: They did not jibe with our code of kindness, love, and tolerance for others; they reduced the number of opportunities members had to work with others; and they kept recovery away from those in the community who desperately needed it.

Outside the halls of OA, we see potential problem eaters all around us, and it is not for us to decide who is eligible for recovery through the 12 Steps and who is not. It’s only for us to trust our Higher Power to put people in our path so that we can be helpful as they recover. After all, while OA may be our home, none of us is the king or queen of the castle. We’re all just servants.