3 questions about whether we’re spreading hope when we share

Think back to the moment we first walked into an OA meeting. We finally gave up outwitting or toughing out our disease. Our eating discouraged us. The shape of our body discouraged us. So did our emotional health. 

We come into OA on a losing streak. None of us thought that, gee, OA might be a fun place to meet friends and network. We came because our lives, as we were living them, were pretty lousy: chained to food like a slave to their master. None of us had the foggiest idea what to do, we just wanted a place that could help us where no one else could before. So when we went to our first meeting, what were we looking for? Why, hope of course! All we wanted was a tiny glimmer, a glinting of shining hope. Half a ray of hope, even an eighth of a ray, would have been infinitely more hope than we walked in with.

But how do newcomers (or current members) get that hope? In our first meeting, we were probably confused by all the terminology chucked around: abstinence, food plan, Higher Power, unmanageability. What’s it got to do with stopping the uncontrollable urge to eat? Then we hear someone describe their journey. We hear in them what’s familiar: the obsession, the physical need for our binge foods, the fear and self-doubt. We hear in another’s words the lonely secrets of our food behaviors.

But the problem isn’t the only thing we need to feel hopeful. If everyone shared only about the problem, then it’s just talking. What we felt and heard was that OA has a solution. We didn’t necessarily know what “Twelve Steps” means, but we hear people talking about how their compulsive eating has been arrested. We see that they have achieved some physical recovery. And we imagine ourselves in their place. “If they were like that before, and they are getting better, then I can too!”

If we heard hope, then we probably left our first meeting with some lightness in our hearts. Finally, we’ve stumbled into a path forward.

But what if we hadn’t heard hope? What if we didn’t hear that there was a solution? What if we mostly heard about the problem? Or sharing that’s mostly retellings of the difficult problems of the past week? Would we have stuck around?

Just as newcomers need to hear hope, current members, no matter where we are in our journey of recovery, need to hear hope too. Even more important we desperately need to share hope. Step 12 tells us that we are to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer. The Big Book tells us explicitly and implicitly that we must share what happened (the problem), what we did (the solution in OA), and what we’re like now (how we’ve been changed by OA). This isn’t optional, it’s foundational to maintaining our spiritual condition. It’s mirrored again in Tradition 5 that tells us that the primary purpose of any OA meeting is to carry the message to still-suffering compulsive eaters. It’s not about us, it’s about others. It’s about hope!

As practicing OAs, we can ask ourselves three important questions about our sharing:

  • What percentage of our sharing is about our problem with food? With non-food life problems? Or is a retelling of events of the past days or week?
  • What percentage is about how we are working toward the solution?
  • Are we remembering to describe how our lives have changed for the better through OA?

Or we can ask one big question: Do I consistently share so that I feel better or so that someone else in the room feels hope so they can get better?

These answers make all the difference to us as well as the newcomer. If we hear ourselves talking about the solution, we may be more likely to continue reaching for it, reminded of its daily importance to us. Just as the still-suffering compulsive eater may be more likely to stick around and reach for the solution they hear hope from us.

Hope is a diamond for the newcomer, each of our recoveries are its facets, and our Higher Power is the light that sparkles through it.

Tradition of the Month: Serving our primary purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

Here’s an OA slogan that is often understood incorrectly: “Service is slimming.” It is not slimming for us. Only an abstinence supported by the Steps and Traditions is slimming for us. But you know who it might be slimming for? Everyone else in OA.

This sounds paradoxical, but like many OA slogans, it requires us to shift our perspective to see a simple truth. Tradition Five tells us that our job as a meeting is to carry the message. Service in OA provides the people power for carrying that message. When we each do our part to help our meetings carry the message, more food addicts can hear it and begin their journey toward recovery. Therefore, by doing service, we are helping everyone else get slim by finding the solution we’ve found.

Carrying the message is also part of Step 12, which is vital to maintaining our recovery. But if it comes at the end of the Steps, what good is it for those who haven’t gotten there yet? Plenty good! The Steps are there to change our perspective. Our self-centered impulses rule us. Even if we show codependence, we can recognize that as a kind of self-centeredness. But service doesn’t come with guilt, compulsion, or as an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine. Service in OA is freely given with the knowledge that it will help someone, somewhere, sometime. It is also given freely out of gratitude for what has been given us: a path to recovery. If we aren’t yet at Step 12, giving service helps open our hearts and minds to the idea of being others-centered.

When we do service, we may be pleasantly surprised by the subtle change in attitude we feel. Whether working alone or with our fellow OAs, we find that we want to do a good job not because we’ll look good or get accolades or win friends. Instead we may, in some cases for the first time in a very long time, do something because we can feel in our spirits that our actions are helping others in some small way. Our Higher Power can use that little spark to crack open long closed-off reservoirs of sympathy, empathy, and joy, which each nurture our recovery and make us useful and purposeful in ways we may never have known before.

In most cases, service is easier than we think it will be. At the meeting level, we may raise our hands for a position such as treasurer or speaker-seeker. These turn out to be far less time-consuming or complicated than we thought they would be. A phone call here or there, adding up the money and giving the rent check to our host location aren’t going to suck us dry of time. Though our sickened minds might tell us otherwise. Tasks such as setting up chairs, carrying the meeting’s bag, or being the key carrier give us the chance to support carrying the message in nuts and bolts ways. If our meeting doesn’t require many service positions, we can even make one up! Does the meeting have a greeter? If not, we might ask to be one and then greet members as they come in.

Our local Intergroup is EXCLUSIVELY about providing service for carrying the message. An Intergroup’s function is to help meetings join at a broader level what they cannot do themselves. Creating special events, informational campaigns, and strategic plans for getting the message out to the community all require service by many individuals. Anyone can provide service at the Intergroup level. Even if we don’t currently meet the requirements for an Intergroup office holder, we have many talents and experiences that can be helpful. Special events may need someone with design talent to create flyers. An initiative aimed at educating the medical community might benefit from those in the fellowship who have worked in the field. Project-management skills are always helpful for executing on any kind of long-range plan.

So if we want service to be slimming, we might need to think of someone else’s waistline besides ours. We might need to consider the idea that raising our hand for service is

  • changing our mindset to be less self-centered, which supports our Step work
  • taking out insurance on our own recoveries (Step 12)
  • giving back freely to the the fellowship that so freely gave us recovery
  • ensuring that OA is around in perpetuity for folks like us.

Let’s carry the message!

Tradition of the month: #5, the Steps, the Steps, the Steps

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

So we know that a meeting has just one thing it must do, and that’s carry the message. Still, as one of our longtime area member says, “We addicts can complicate a two-car funeral.” If we aren’t in top spiritual condition, even a simple, direct statement such as Tradition Five can be overly parsed in the spirit of wanting to do well by our fellow members.

For example, many years ago some members of a certain meeting wanted the group to join hands during the closing serenity prayer. They brought it up at a business meeting. Proponents said holding hands fostered a welcoming, inclusive atmosphere. Opponents said it was too intimate and might frighten newcomers. Each group, perhaps each member of the group, had its own interpretation of this simple suggestion. Yet, both appeared to act from the same basis: making the meeting as comfortable for the newcomer as possible.

So we can see the kind of nested-doll thinking this leads to. We wonder whether people will be attracted or repelled by a meeting’s format, and how will we carry the message if they don’t come back? How can we make this thing “better”? There’s thousands of meetings across the world, and every one of them does things differently. Not just things, actually, but many, many things. Whether it’s holding hands, talking about individual binge foods, or having a certain number of days before sharing, meetings have tried every possible adjustment. Yet there’s only one thing that’s known for sure to work well everywhere: sharing our experience with the Steps.

That’s it. OA is a Twelve-Step program held together by the loose webbing of guidelines called the Traditions. As a result, OA World Service includes this language in the OA preamble:

Our primary purpose is to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors and to carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of OA to those who still suffer.

So the only thing we must do at a meeting is tell others about the Steps and how they help us refrain from compulsive eating. Our job is not to make things more or less comfortable for ourselves, others, or newcomers. Our job is not to “perfect” our meeting. Our job is not to let everyone know how events in our lives went in the past week. Our job is not to “sell” anyone on OA either. It’s simply to talk about how OA’s Steps keep us out of the clutches of this awful disease. Our experiences are enough to attract others; we need not worry over the rest.

Holding hands or having a timer or saying one prayer or another must all be viewed through this single lens: Does it enable our members to speak specifically and honestly about their experience with the Steps? We need not worry about which way of doing the Steps either. Nor whether we ourselves have done them “correctly.” We just share what we’ve done and what the result is. The group’s Higher Power takes care of the rest.

So the next time we face the prospect of a difficult business meeting with controversial agenda items, we can relax and take it easy. We merely ask God for wisdom and ask ourselves and our OA fellows if a proposal is maximally aligned with Tradition 5. Why make it complicated?


How to Get Started Sponsoring in OA

Yesterday’s Sponsor Training was inspiring. If you weren’t able to make it, this recap can give you some ideas about your own sponsorship opportunities.

Speaker One: How to Get Someone Started with the Food

Our first speaker focused on step one, and especially on helping a new sponsee define their plan of eating and gain abstinence. Here are three key points that our first speaker made:

  1. Share what you eat and how you created your food plan
  2. Everyone gets to develop their own food plan, and our role is to support them as they implement it
  3. Honesty is the most vital and crucial thing a sponsee needs in step one, and it’s our job to point this out and help them find it.

Speaker Two: How to Guide Someone Through the Steps

Next, our second speaker shared how to guide a sponsee through the steps:

  1. Share up to the level of your experience with the steps
  2. Remind them that this is a program of action and that the steps are the program
  3. Don’t listen to the doubts inside that say “My program isn’t good enough.”

Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide

We also passed along a copy of OA’s official sponsoring guide as well as Sponsorship: A Getting-Started Guide. This locally produced collection of Seacoast OA members’  experiences with sponsoring is now available on our Recovery Resources page. Here’s three key ideas from it as well:

  1. Just do it! Get started right away whether you have doubts or not—it’s worth it!
  2. It takes courage to ask someone else for help: Tell sponsees what a privilege it is to work with them and that everything they say is confidential
  3. We’re there to be as helpful as we can, never to judge, chastise, or belittle.


Finally, we wrapped up with a wonderful Q&A that everyone in the room contributed their experience to. Here are a few questions, answers, and comments you may find helpful:

Q: How do we best help someone who is slipping?

A: Be gentle, we OAs are filled with enough shame. Tell them that hope is far from lost, and perhaps try offering this OA nugget, “simply resume.” It’s important to also help them trace the root cause of the slip so they can see the warning signs next time. For chronic slips, you might also try working with them on OA’s “Been Slipping and Sliding” worksheet or its “Strong Abstinence Checklist.”

Q: What do I do when a sponsee is constantly making excuses?

A: Remind them that this is a deadly malady that requires us to work hard for the solution. But we must remember that the motivation must come from within a sponsee, not from us. We are there to pass along our experience, not to enforce our suggestions, and everyone arrives at recovery in their own time.

Q: Do we continue to sponsor someone after they have completed the twelve steps?

A: Even when we have worked through all twelve steps, we remain chronically ill people who need the help and support of others. If we are “full” perhaps this sponsee will now require less intensive work, opening some time for you to work with others.

Wrapping Up

Everyone in the room had three things we seemed to all agree on:

  1. We will not be perfect sponsors
  2. Another’s inability to recover is not our fault, and another’s success is not ours to claim but God’s
  3. We cannot play therapist, nutritionist, or doctor to a sponsee—it’s not good for them or us!

If you couldn’t make it, we missed you. We’ll be doing this again in the fall, and we hope to see you then, and hear your experiences, too!

Tradition of the Month: Our Primary Purpose

5. Each group has but one primary purpose—to carry its message to the compulsive overeater who still suffers.

The fifth tradition reminds us to keep it simple, silly. When we get into grand planning and big ideas, we addictive personalities often go astray. We can overreach and find ourselves diverting our individual and collective energies away from what we do well and into what we think we might do well. And that gets us in trouble.

After all, we’re still living with the faulty mind that needed OA in the first place. When we write our fourth step inventory, we see how our mind can twist things around. We see how we can at different times be grandiose or unreliable, generous or selfish, well meaning or indifferent. With this kind of brain, we often take on projects we can’t deliver on, get resentful with our inability to complete them, and find ourselves frustrated that the fruits of our brainstorms don’t inspire commitment and devotion to our ideas in others. As the Big Books says, the addict is, “even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony.”

As individual OA members, if we don’t make it simple, we’re simply not going to make it. The same is true with our meetings and at the intergroup level. In our individual lives, when we focus, laser like, on what our Higher Power guides us toward, we usually feel purposeful. Inside we probably feel calm, or at least we sense a lack of conflicting emotions. When we act out of selfish interest and ignore our Higher Power, we will likely feel torn—our spiritual Spidey Sense will tell us that we’re not aligned with God’s purpose.

As a meeting or an intergroup, whenever we work to carry the OA message of hope, we feel assured. We are doing the work our Higher Power has set out for our organization at every level. When our motives and activities align with this goal, locating the group conscience doesn’t feel like grasping for the walls in a dark room. Instead it sometimes feels as though the answer was apparent all along, and we merely had to confirm it. In situations such as this, divisive votes need not be taken because substantial unanimity will be obvious to all participants.

Many situations, typically minor ones, arise that test the fifth tradition, and almost always with the finest intentions. Perhaps a book produced by an outside organization appears on the literature table, photocopies of a trusted (non-OA) food plan circulate during meeting time, or someone requests the intergroup to place an outside event on its website. In none of these cases has anyone gone about trying to harm OA or its members. But in such cases, it is the duty of our members to gently ask whether our primary purpose is reflected in these actions.

As the above examples suggest, tradition five is closely related to tradition six, which tells us to avoid doing anything that aligns us with an outside enterprise. Tradition five, however, goes a little further, by alerting us to potential dangers with inside enterprises. It is not, for example, our job to dispense nutritional advice or to host workshops on how to eat well. Most of us may well have the same trigger foods and dietary needs from our food plans, but we are not a diet-and-calories club. Those clubs have their job to do, and OA has its, which is to carry the message of hope.

We can make it simple for ourselves, our groups, and OA when we focus on carrying the message. When we sense division among members, we might lean on tradition five and ask whether everything we are doing is leading to the single goal of getting this message to compulsive eaters.