Tradition of the Month: Paid Support

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.

Tradition 8 probably seems obvious to us in retrospect. We understand that the power of OA’s fellowship emanates from one addict identifying with another because we experience it all the time. We know that the power of a sponsor-sponsee relationship comes from one addict sharing their experience in recovery with another.

That may not always have been so obvious. Early in AA’s history, medical doctors and psychologists played an important role in the fellowship’s development. “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book and Bill’s own story show us how Dr. Silkworth’s support of Bill’s wild idea of one alcoholic sharing with another enabled the fellowship to get off the ground and gain credibility in the medical community. Other members of the medical community were helpful in its development as well, including Dr. Harry Tiebout, one of the earliest psychologists to describe alcoholism as a disease and recognize the importance of ego-deflation in recovery.

With so much psychology involved in our desperate attempts to change our moods or feelings, push down our memories, and escape our minds, many groups in AA’s early days may have been tempted to bring in a psychology professional to support members’ recoveries. We can easily imagine such a person leading a meeting, because recovery counselors do just that in addiction treatment centers nationwide. We can easily imagine such a highly trained individual administering careful, thoughtful advice to an individual member going through the Steps. Who better to help us uncover the “hidden springs” of the mind that Bill writes about?

These genuinely helpful professionals could be difference makers to many members of OA. So, too, could dietary professionals. We might have meetings organized around developing a food plan that include these highly skilled people.

But we don’t. And the reason why is obvious when we step back and look at our own pasts.

How many of us went to see a counselor for help with our emotional issues or our food? How well did we listen? Did we really want to take the recommended actions? How about a nutritionist? Did we give them a fair hearing? Did we listen closely to our family doctor when they said that we should watch our eating because we were showing signs of Type 2 Diabetes?

We don’t listen to anyone but our disease when we are in the throes of addiction. Oh, we might take the advice for a week or three, but inevitably, we’re back into our stinking thinking and our unhealthy food behaviors. We certainly weren’t going to listen to someone we couldn’t relate to. Or who we thought was probably dispensing the same advice to us terminally unique addicts as they did to everyone else.

Yet, when we walk through the doors of OA, our ears open up because we hear our story told to us again and again. We see people in normal-sized bodies, people who are on the journey to a healthy body weight, and others who are just getting going. We hear in each of them an aspect of what we want, and in their experiences we hear echoes of our crazy food thinking and our general unmanageability. And these people are dishing out the straight dope without any expectation of payment. We see that they are so grateful for the gift they’ve received that they want to pass it on so others may share in it.

All of that hits us in our first few meetings. But would it if professionals ran the meeting instead? If OA groups set up a professional as their leader, we would learn to trust and rely on the pro rather than to lean, at first, on the fellowship and, later, to trust and rely on God. The Big Book tells us that “no human power could relieve our” addiction. But bringing in professionals would interpose them between us and the Power we come to know.

Wouldn’t we be likely to resent that professional too? What do they know about my life? My mind? Have they ever experienced cravings and mental obsession? Even if that professional were an addict, we would still see the profit motive at work. Do they give more time to one member versus another when we’re all chipping in for it? OA would never have gotten off the ground if it included professionals.

So we don’t include them. They are welcome to attend any open OA meeting, especially if they are, themselves, an addict. But for us psychology is an outside issue. Many members support their recoveries by seeking these talented and helpful individuals outside of their OA program, but OA recovery resides in the 12 Steps.

Tradition of the Month: Controversy

8. Overeaters Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers.


Tradition 8 ain’t sexy. It seems like a throw-in. “Hey, guys, by the way, don’t hire anyone to carry the message or run the joint.” But Tradition 8 is vitally important to OA for reasons that become clear when we think about how controversies play out in the fellowship.

One such controversy that pops up from time to time is who is allowed to share during an OA meeting. Some meetings may create restrictions on sharing based on presumptions about a member’s quality of recovery. These restrictions may violate OA’s Traditions and bylaws, and that’s where things get testy—and where Tradition 8 saves us.

Unlike most organizations where all the power rests in the hands of a few (a CEO, a board, or a presiding committee), in OA, the power rests with the many. Our service structure looks like an upside down triangle, with meetings at the top, intergroups serving them, the regions serving the intergroups, and the World Service serving the regions. This structure is counterintuitive to a hierarchical society like ours that often opts for centralization as a means of creating economies of scale. But OA would have withered and died were that the case.

That said, those who take on increasing responsibility in our service structure are asked to deal with controversies like the example above. A member complains to the Intergroup about the situation. The Intergroup appeals to its Region trustee for guidance, and that trustee may well consult with World Service for expertise on interpreting whether the situation demands action. And when it does demand action, things get dicey. The Region trustee may tell the local Intergroup that this represents a violation of Traditions. The Intergroup can then inform the meeting that its practices are not sanctioned by OA. To be considered part of OA, a meeting must agree to abide by OA’s Traditions and bylaws, and if it is out of compliance, it’s reckoning time.

In the business, government, and non-profit worlds, showdowns like this are filled with game playing, leverage taking, and personal agendas. Professionals typically have competing incentives as they negotiate a situation: Is what’s best for the organization in my team’s best interests or my own? Will I get noticed for promotion if this thing comes out in our favor? How can I gain power of a rival in this situation? How can I avoid being fired?

Because OA is nonprofessional, we don’t have those kinds of worries. Wherever in the service structure we may find ourselves, from a meeting to the World Service, we are still just another bozo on the bus. We pray for the right answers, we seek common ground in the OA principles represented by the Steps and Traditions, and we leave aside petty questions of pride, position, and power.

In fact, nonprofessionalism allows us to take a more kindly view in our example situation. If we carry anger over the World, Region, or Intergroup-level service person asking us to consider changing our meeting format, we can ask ourselves whether we honestly believe they are trying to harm us or our meeting. Could they instead be trying to safeguard OA’s Traditions? Is it possible that we have a difference of opinion over which Tradition supersedes another? Are we all working toward the same goal of helping others? When we ask ourselves Who are they to tell us what to do?!, could the answer be that they are OA members just like us?

Is it possible that they have ulterior motives? Of course. Pride gets in everyone’s way. But when it comes to OA, what’s there to be gained by exercising power over an anarchic organization?

If those in the service structure were professionals, we’d be questioning their motivations constantly. We’d wonder what power game they were playing. We’d ask ourselves if they put OA principles after personal gain. When we asked ourselves Who are they to…?!, our answer would be someone from outside who doesn’t really get OA. But because OA service is done by us, without compensation, we can perhaps take a more charitable view of the matter and consider the other party’s perspective with an easier mind.