Tradition of the Month: 8 ways to live OA unity every day

1Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

Is there anyone in our program who doesn’t believe in OA unity? In order to be a listed OA meeting, a group need only meet a precious few requirements. Primarily that it welcomes all compulsive eaters and that it follows the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions of OA. This is the most basic unifying principle of OA. It’s everything after that where things get tricky. After all, no one in OA believes in the power of factionalism to arrest our illness.

Whether it’s our disease talking through our pride, or it’s our zeal to share our experience with others, we sometimes get a little off the beaten path. As we do we may find ourselves feeling apart from other members and perhaps even recruiting others to help us make things “right” with our meeting or the program. Thus disunity emerges from a wish to do good.

Here are ways that we can ensure we don’t interrupt the unity of OA and jeopardize our recoveries and those of our fellows. There are many others, but these represent seven common situations that can arise in OA (and all human endeavors).

  1. Let others use the food plan of their choice.
    In the past, OA has been so divided by the question of what food plan is best that factions broke away and formed their own independent recovery program. When we advocate for a specific food plan, we may be making others’ plans “wrong” without even realizing it.
  2. Identify as a willing sponsor.
    The Steps and Traditions of the program are best learned from an informed sponsor. When we raise our hands for sponsorship at a meeting, we create opportunities to pass along the message of OA unity.
  3. Let other do the 12 Steps by whatever means they wish.
    We all have our own path to finding recovery through the 12 Steps. Just because one way works for us or many of us doesn’t make it right for all of us. Besides, it may be that a person needs to do it one way at first and will eventually try it your way. In which case, you may find yourself able to help them.
  4. Let others make mistakes.
    Decades after its inception, it should be clear that no one person can topple OA by making mistakes that violate a Tradition or a part of a meeting format. Take the opportunity to gently remind the mistake maker of the Tradition in play. Most of these mistakes arise from ignorance, not belligerence. Live and let live.
  5. Give those we disagree with the benefit of the doubt.
    Our OA fellows are not enemies or extremists. We’re all trying to get better together, and we’re all going to be sick with this disease for our entire lives.
  6. Keep speculations between our ears.
    When we begin to place motives on people or divine their true intentions, we engage in a form of dishonesty that can be harmful to our abstinence if we let it fester. But gossiping with others about those speculations can lead to rifts between members and lay groundwork for factionalism.
  7. Let God guide the group’s conscience.
    If ever we find ourself rallying consensus and counting votes, we’re politicking rather than seeking God’s will as expressed through our group conscience.
  8. Ask our Higher Power to open our minds and our hearts.
    If we are in intense disagreement with another member, perhaps we are clinging too strongly to our own beliefs. We can ask God to show us why. Better yet, we can ask our HP to show us the question at hand from the other person’s point of view. And even better, we can ask God to show us how to be loving to that person even when we are in disagreement.

In the end, we could surely sum up these and many other ways to adopt a unity stance this way: Practice OA’s 12 Steps and 12 Traditions in all our affairs. If we can embody those principles and practices, we’re going to feel great, our fellows will respond with greater kindness and respect to us, and we will be doing our part to keep OA unity healthy and strong.

Together we get better!!!

Tradition of the Month: God is an outside issue

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.


Believe it or not, OA does not have an opinion on the nature of God, even though we practice a program of spiritual recovery. To be effective, OA can’t have a stance on God, and Tradition 10 assures that we won’t, as a fellowship, tread that dangerous path.

To be accurate, OA does take certain positions on God. They are very few, very specific, and address as little as possible the question of the nature or identity of God:

A) Each member needs a conception of an HP to recover
B) To be effective, a Higher Power must be more powerful than the member him- or herself
C) Each member can have their own conception, and no one can tell them what the specific conception must be
D) The conception must be one whose will they are willing to surrender to then to trust and rely on for daily living.

OA only talks about God in relation to recovery. It only takes positions on what it knows: How a Higher Power enables us to get better. That’s because God is an outside issue.

How can God be an outside issue in a spiritual program? Here the previous traditions guide us:

Tradition 1 tells us that “personal recovery depends upon OA Unity.” Imagine trying to achieve OA unity on the question of what God is or isn’t. Millions, probably billions, of people worldwide have been killed across history over the question Which is the one true God? How could we each recover if we busy fighting amongst ourselves about the nature of our Higher Powers?

Tradition 2 tells us that God is the source of our group conscience. How many My God can beat up your god arguments would arise if OA took even a simple and vague position on God?

Tradition 3 denies us the right to exclude anyone who wants to stop eating compulsively. Religious and spiritual tests are, therefore, disallowed. We’re having a hard enough time with our own food trials to be putting anyone else’s beliefs on trial.

Tradition 4 reminds us that groups are all autonomous except in matters affecting the entire fellowship. If OA took a position on God, every meeting would have to accept that stance.

Tradition 5 clearly states that OA’s primary purpose is carrying the message of recovery. We are not evangelists, but if OA took a position on the nature of God we would be. That would ultimately prove exclusionary, which would severely limit our ability to carry the message to all sufferers from this killing disease.

We could go on, but we needn’t. By taking a position on the nature of God, which is, perhaps, the most controversial question ever asked, OA would sabotage itself completely. There are programs sponsored by churches that attempt to use the 12 Steps in a specific religious setting, and those programs are not affiliated in any way with OA or any other 12 Step group. They can’t be if OA is to survive and thrive.

So when our members remind themselves and other members to trust and rely on God, we must always remember that while they may experience a Higher Power in a certain way, we each interpret that suggestion through the lens of our own concept of an HP. And even though the Big Book has a chapter devoted to the question of whether there is reason to believe in God, we are free to disagree with it always remembering the words we find in the famous promises: “This book is meant to be suggestive only.” No one can tell us that our HP must be a supernatural being. No one can tell us that our HP must have a personality of any sort. Or have a name. Only that we’d better something more powerful than we are that works for us. Because in the end, even God is an outside issue.

Tradition of the Month: Contributing to Our Own Recovery

7. Every OA group ought to be fully self-supporting, declining outside contributions.

We all know that Tradition 7 is why we pass the hat. But what’s in it for us as individual OA members? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

In order to be free from the monstrous  and insidious influence of fiduciary affairs, we are self-funding, and we only keep what we need to meet expenses. The rest goes onto service organizations that carry the message to the many out there who still suffer. We do our part as individuals to fund the rent and the literature. We are under absolutely no obligation to contribute, but we are strongly encouraged to do so. We are all responsible for OA’s health.

Yet for many of us, a lingering sense of unease comes with the Seventh Tradition. Simply put, many of us have a fear of financial insecurity. Virtually all of us have experienced this feeling. We may be on a fixed income and worried that the money will run out. We may be out of work and on unemployment. We may be over our heads in debt. Or we may simply have grown up impoverished and have trouble letting go of a buck or three. Perhaps several of these conditions and many others apply to us. Or none. Nonetheless, fear of falling of a financial cliff afflicts so many of us that it’s listed in The Book Book as an affect in the third column of our inventory of resentments!

As individual OA members, we can use Tradition 7 as a safe means to feel, heal, and deal with the fear of financial insecurity.

  • FEEL: When the hat gets passed, we can notice whether our fear arises, even a little bit.
  • HEAL: We then can say the fear prayer found in The Big Book on page 68: “We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be.”
  • DEAL: Finally, we chip in.

For those who feel scared to put in anything, any amount will do. For those who put in less than they could, adding a little more than usual can help. No matter what we put in, what we are really doing is expressing faith that our Higher Power will both change us by helping us with this fear and work through us and OA to help others.

What do we get out of it? A low-risk opportunity for instant spiritual growth. A healthier OA. Freedom from the bondage of self that the Third Step prayer talks about. One dollar buys about 0.4 gallons of gasoline: We might walk somewhere during the week when we usually would drive. One dollar buys a bottle of premium seltzer water: We might have tap water one day a week instead of the bubbly. One dollar buys half a cup of coffee: Is there a cup we could do without once a week? Heck, we used to use that dollar on penny candy or cheap snack cakes, and we would gladly trade that for relief from compulsive eating!

As often is the case in OA, when we take courage from our Higher Power and do the thing we don’t want to, we receive a reward much greater than what we hesitatingly put it. Each time we do so, we take another step toward serenity and another step away from a life of anxiety and worry.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition One, Unity

  1. Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon OA unity.

We OAs are often people of extremes. In our dealings with others we might be people-pleasers or narcissists. As the Big Book tells us, our disease includes “an appalling lack of perspective” (5). Both of these extreme types, and everyone in between, learn slogans like: “Program first,” “Go to any lengths,” and “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” We need to be willing to do whatever it takes to gain a one-day-at-a-time remission of our disease.

But how does that square with the first Tradition? What happens if another member does or says things that feels threatening to our abstinence? Or if someone wants to change a meeting that has helped us a great deal? What happens when potentially divisive issues arise? Do the old tapes start playing so that the people pleaser seeks dishonest harmony to avoid conflict, or the narcissist casts aside others’ opinions en route to getting their own way?

This is the whole reason for Tradition One’s existence. In a program full of selfish people seeking to better themselves, how do we keep the group from falling apart over the molehills, let alone the mountains, in the path of any human organization? Tradition One answers this by implicitly referring us back to the Steps, especially the last three. Step 10 tells us that we continue to take personal inventory. This allows us to assess whether our reaction to the OA issue at hand is really a manifestation of fear, resentment, or dishonesty. Step 11 prescribes prayers and meditation to know God’s will, which may not be the same as our will. Bill Wilson describes the combination of Steps 10 and 11 in his story, “I was to sit quietly when in doubt, asking only for direction and strength to meet my problems as He would have me” (13). Just as we would use these Steps in our daily lives, so we use them in program situations.

Step 12 tells us that we should demonstrate the principles of the program in all our affairs and carry the message to the newcomer. Sometimes we hear the saying that “we are the only Big Book a person might ever read.” We are the message, and our conduct says as much about the power of OA as any words or literature can. When we encounter disagreement in OA, we must consider the other person’s point of view honestly and objectively. We try to see it from their side. After all, we’ve found out through the Steps that we really don’t know even half of what we thought we knew. We also try to see issues through the newcomer’s eyes. What’s best for the person walking in the door for the first time. How do the potential solutions to a situation help them?

When we stop, ask God for help, try to see things from another person’s perspective, and seek out the fear and resentment in our own approach to the issue, we can detach from the outcome. We remember that we are just another person in OA, and that God and our fellows will support us regardless. We let God’s will flow, and when a decision is reached, we do not hold grudges. Instead we see how we can be helpful and keep an open mind as it is implemented. If something doesn’t work out, we don’t wag fingers or roll eyes, or tell anyone that we told them so. We can instead calmly suggest returning to prior practices or seeking another alternative.

In any case, we have to remember that dissension begins in our minds, which is where our disease has its greatest hold on us. Our addiction is always trying to get at us and never stops trying. Without fellowship, we have little to no hope, and a house divided will fall. We need each other to get better, so we need unity to stay alive. Whether we are people pleasers or narcissists by nature, we should only listen to our minds with extreme caution and after prayer. Instead, we might turn our thoughts to how we can support the fellowship and how we might reconcile opposing viewpoints in contentious matters.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 10

10. Overeaters Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the OA name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Imagine this scenario:

May 25, 2016

Overeaters Anonymous, the nation’s largest food-addiction support group has entered the increasingly divisive debate around whether sugar is addictive. OA’s World Service released a statement which indicated its position. “A vast majority of our members claim sugar as one of or the major food substance to which they are addicted. We are sympathetic with those who argue for increased attention to its addictive qualities.” Sugar industry representatives called the statement “irresponsible,” and one shrugged off the statement, wondering whether OA would have the government classify sugar with cocaine or heroin. Medical and nutritional leaders told reporters that the organization was overreaching its mandate by commenting on the controversy and suggested that OA’s recovery program is not scientifically based.

In this entirely fictitious scenario, we can understand the motivation for OA issuing a statement about sugar like this. It would raise awareness of the problem, provide an avenue of hope for those who read it. It would be a way to carry the message to those who are suffering.

Our fifth tradition tells us we have one primary purpose, to carry the message, and anything that might keep us from that purpose is probably a bad idea. How could telling the world about the addictive properties of a substance that many of our members know to lead to compulsive eating damage our primary purpose?

For one thing, internally, OA is not exclusively composed of people who identify as sugar addicts. By sending a message to the world about what part of our fellowship experiences, are we excluding others? Would that affect our OA unity (tradition 1)? Why would we even want to find out?

For another, once we enter any fray publicly, we are stepping into advocacy. When we take a side, we tell others they are wrong. Wouldn’t that possibly limit our ability to attract newcomers?

As the scenario above suggests, when we take a position, we also open ourselves up to being stigmatized by others who have a differing agenda or those who are simply ignorant of OA’s program and principles. Many people and organizations in the world are far less principled than OA is, and when we oppose them, we are providing opportunities for them to spread misunderstandings. Clearly, negative press coverage or publicity could inhibit our ability to carry the message of recovery to those swayed by news reports.

Perhaps most importantly, getting involved in controversy takes our focus off of recovery. If we are busy debating the merits of OA’s position on an issue, we aren’t busy getting better or helping others get better. If we are busy crafting position statements, we aren’t busy setting up workshops and other valuable events. Then there’s the whole issue of managing public relations in the face of public position statements. What a vortex of time, work, and personality!

The whole point about controversy is that it separates people. If, as Bill W. wrote, we are an ever widening circle of peace on Earth and good to will toward our fellow man, then why would we allow divisiveness into our fellowship? Even if it seemed like it was for a good cause.



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.

Tradition of the Month: #4 Autonomy

  1. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or OA as a whole.

What’s this mean in our meetings? Well for starters, Bill W. explains it this way in the AA 12 and 12:

Autonomy is a ten-dollar word. But in relation to us, it means very simply that every AA group can manage its affairs exactly as it pleases, except when AA as a whole is threatened.

So we can all do pretty much whatever we want, however we want, right? Well not quite. After all, the traditions, themselves, represent guidelines of conduct for meetings just as the steps do for individuals. The OA 12 and 12 says it pretty clearly:

Groups which ignore one or more of the twelve traditions bring discord to the fellowship.

But how can it be the business of one group what another does when we are autonomous? Think, for example, of the kind of heated discussion that what would happen at an intergroup meeting or just over the phone among friends if a local meeting started insisting its members use the diet regimen of an outside organization. This isn’t so hard to imagine for many of our program elders who witnessed the schism of OA over food plans. To this day, the wounds of that time affect how long-time members view their progress through OA.

How do we deal with groups that stray a little off the reservation? “An infraction of an OA tradition does not result in a group being summarily ejected from the Fellowship,” says the OA 12 and 12, ”we might not have any OA Fellowship at all if that were the case!” Groups that consistently ignore a tradition are usually, the 12 and 12 reminds us, not doing so out of hostility to the traditions, but more likely out of ignorance of them. Those well versed in the traditions have a responsibility to bring the matter to the group’s attention at a business meeting, lest the meeting lose its connections to the traditions and cease being effective at helping its members find recovery.

But what about the group that flaunts the traditions? The one that tells the traditions to stick it in their ear? Again, the OA 12 and 12:

In extreme cases…the group may be dropped from OA meeting lists which are published by intergroups and other OA service bodies. However, the service body taking such an action should do so only after much soul-searching. It is far too easy to use the power of the majority against groups in in the minority.

In other words, even service bodies need to recognize that their actions affect other groups and OA as a whole! The traditions and the steps counsel patience and dialog, not carrots and sticks. The offending meeting is likely to disappear if it doesn’t stick to OA principles because those principles are founded on the hard-won experience of twelve-step groups worldwide—they represent the collective wisdom of 75 years of helping addicts recover.

What about in our personal lives? How does tradition four help us live happy, joyous, and free? The slogan “live and let live” is embodied in this tradition. If someone doesn’t do things the way we think they should, we don’t have to resent them or release our anger on ourselves or others (through food or misbehavior). We don’t control anyone, and when we think the next right step is demanded, we might pause and talk the matter over with a trustworthy person and our Higher Power before taking any action.

Food addict or compulsive eater?

Hi, I’m _______, and I’m a _______. That’s a staple of 12-Step culture. It’s one of the ways we remain equals in our meetings and put principles before personalities. In some fellowships, the second blank probably doesn’t have much variation: alcoholic for example. OA is a little different in this way because there are as many food compulsions as there are members. Here are a few of the many self-descriptions that members in our area and elsewhere use:

  • Compulsive overeater
  • Compulsive eater
  • Food addict
  • Compulsive eater and food addict (or vise verse)
  • Binge eater
  • Sugar addict
  • Sugar and flour addict
  • Anorexic
  • Bulimic
  • Exercise bulimic.

It doesn’t matter what we call ourselves, we still get to be members as long as we have a desire to stop eating compulsively. The important thing is that we are in a meeting, seeking a solution, and no longer in denial about what our problem is. There are as many names for this disease as there are members. No matter what we call ourselves, we all belong, we can all be loved unconditionally by this fellowship, and we can all find a path to abstinence that meets our own personal needs if we keep coming back. That’s what OA’s new Unity in Diversity Checklist is all about. In OA we’re all the same, yet we’re all different. It’s what gives us strength and the ability to help members with a wide range of compulsive food behaviors. The Unity in Diversity Checklist is now linked on our Meetings Resources page.

May’s Tradition of the Month

PurposeIn our Year of Abstinence, we want to be sure we examine everything that contributes to our ongoing, one-day-at-a-time recovery. The OA 12 & 12 tells us that the Twelve Traditions show us how to safeguard OA so that it will be here for us always, helping us get and stay abstinent. They connect directly to our personal recoveries by helping us keep our meetings focused on what’s most important. Which leads us to this month’s Tradition:

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

How does this relate to one person’s personal recovery?

When I arrived at OA, Tradition Five ensured that whatever room I walked into, I would hear the solution we have to offer and, if I chose, I could start turning my life around right away.

As I’ve gained experience in OA, Tradition Five has connected directly to working with others. The Twelfth Step tells us that “having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters….” Now Tradition Five tells us that a meeting’s primary purpose is also to carry the message. The connection with my personal recovery is direct and clear. I need to “pass it on” to stay sane and happy, and the Fifth Tradition ensures that our meetings remain a place to do so.

As the OA 12 & 12 says, “we who have found a sane way of eating and living have a responsibility to make sure OA doesn’t become sidetracked…OA will always offer recovery to those suffering from our disease as long as we remember that this is our primary purpose.”

This post represents one member’s experience and not necessarily the opinion of OA or Seacoast Intergroup.