Don’t Feed the Tomorrow Trolls

We addicts often talk about The Committee inside our minds. That collection of voices that shout a seemingly endless stream of corrosive negativity at us. When a good thing happens, they scream that we don’t deserve it. When a bad thing happens: See? They told us so.

These voices exert power over us. They drive us to eat compulsively, to act out, to conduct ourselves in the opposite manner of our most heartfelt values, and, worst of all, to believe the killing lie that we’re not good enough.

The Committee’s favorite pastime of all is predicting our future and judging how we’ll respond to it. It’s their favorite because they get to use every deception they have, and they get to use our memories against us. Over time, they have twisted and warped our perceptions of the past, and now they use those distortions against us as we contemplate the future.

The Committee is made up of Tomorrow Trolls:

  • The Dread Seer: Transforms any amount uncertain knowledge into an unfalsifiable vision of a future filled with pain
  • The Inferiority Complexor: Sorcerer with the spellbinding incantation, I’m not good enough, that traps us in our minds
  • Impostro: Who cuts through our external positives to reveal our inner weaknesses to us
  • The Mentalist: Reads others minds so we can know what they really think of us
  • Dr. Perfect: Uses the power of perfectionism to keep us from making mistakes
  • The Puppeteer: Creates unbeatable plans to keep control of the future by any means necessary.

Together this unjust league of evildoers have us ensnared in their web of powerlessness. We seem unable to escape their clutches. Every time we think we’ve finally gotten away, we hear their laughter around us and realize we hadn’t gotten very far at all. What’s left to us is reducing our suffering with the anesthetic called food. That’s right where the Tomorrow Trolls want us.

The only thing that can break The Committee’s crushing grip on us is the 12 Steps. It attacks the source of the Tomorrow Trolls’ power over us, our unwillingness to trust and rely on something greater than ourselves.

It’s true. These trolls exist inside us because we needed them at one time. They started out life as benign voices that helped us get through hard times, but they became twisted and evil as their megalomaniacal power over us grew. We didn’t know they would turn into monsters, and, besides which, we never learned another way to be.

The 12 Steps give us deeper perspective. We suddenly see that what bound us to these voices was fear. Fear of the past happening again. Fear of a tomorrow we can’t abide. But when we work the Steps, we discover that our Higher Power has abilities and authority that The Committee only pretends to have.

Our HP has the power to soothe us instead of scare us. HP can guide us forward instead of keeping us stuck in yesterday. God, as we understand God, can show us the innermost, light-filled truth about us instead of hiding it from us.

This is the essence of the phrase one day at a time. We fear pain in tomorrow. It prevents us from enjoying today and having real relationships with others. But when we live in today, when we make incremental progress instead of trying to go to war with the future, we do just fine.

We can be happy even if bad news looms. Trusting and relying on God is how that works. Today we step through our day with courage founded on faith. We leave tomorrow in the future. Today is where spirituality and abstinence live. Tomorrow is where fear and compulsive eating exist.

So our job in any given twenty-four hours is simple: Don’t feed the Tomorrow Trolls! Instead we do business with our Higher Power in the now. We don’t listen to the BS our brain tells us, we listen to the sound guidance from our HP that has come as a result of doing spiritual work on a daily basis.

Step of the month: Is my Higher Power strong enough?

It’s axiomatic that everyone enters OA doubting their Higher Power (if they have one). After all, we eat for ease and comfort from our problems, and if we had an HP we could bank on, we wouldn’t need to self-soothe with food.

The question for us compulsive eaters isn’t whether the conception of God we came to OA with had enough power to help us. Rather the question is whether the HP we develop during Step 2 is powerful enough.

The test for whether our Higher Power has the necessary strength to help us is pretty simple: Am I able to trust and rely on this God? If we continue to eat compulsively, if we balk at any of the Steps after the second, or if during our daily contact with God we feel like we’re talking to nothing, then we probably aren’t able to lean on our concept of a Higher Power.

When we find ourselves unable to trust and rely on our concept of God, we need to go back to Step Two and page through the HP catalog. It is crucial that we find a way to approach the God question honestly, thoughtfully, and practically. Remember we need to be willing to turn our will and our life over to this Higher Power! It’s a big deal.

Here, several different types of people may find difficulty. Stepping backwards and revising our idea of God might seem scary, heretical, or intellectually difficult to swallow. So let’s pick cautiously through some situations that commonly face our members.

Strongly religious members: Those with a deep experience in organized religion may find difficulty revising their ideas of God. Years of training may cause them to feel unsettled by the thought. We wish to quell those fears by first noting the fact that religious fervor and compulsive eating together indicate spiritual, if not religious, disharmony. Second, we note that even a very small adjustment can make a big difference. Even an adjustment as simple as exchanging a deep, paternalistically-toned idea of God’s voice for a more soothing version can have profoundly positive effects on our ability to trust and rely.

Lapsed religious members: Many members feel scarred by a heavy dose of religion in their youths. Yet these powerful lessons in dogma remain as fixed ideas in their present mind. It is important for us to remember that religion and spirituality are not the same. OA has no position on what Truth with a capital T is, but we do believe that everyone requires their own concept of God to recover. Sometimes, we fear the inculcated consequences of loosening our grip on a concept that hasn’t worked for us, and that has caused us spiritual pain. But here we must adopt an inquiry stance and simply find open-mindedness. We have often thought in terms of a binary system: The religion we were born into, yes/that religion, no. But there exist many paths to faith in the world, some of which are not organized or dogmatic at all because they come from within our own hearts.

Intellectual arguers: Other members have evaded a full-on confrontation with the question of a Higher Power for decades through argument. This is especially attractive to those who want a spiritual life and have lived for a long time among family or friends who deride spirituality as intellectually dishonest, weak, or undesirable. One day, these members hope, they can be argued into faith. For those of us who have trod this wearying path, we recognize the moves of talking about cosmology, asserting the power of reason, and even of thinking we have it all figured out. In fact, there’s a simple question that we have avoided like the plague: Whom am I to say there is no God? The core of this question isn’t an argument of one’s own intelligence, of the degree of one’s expertise, nor of the form of the reasoning necessary to prove something unprovable. Instead, it is a question of humility. Do I have the computing power in my brain to truly understand the world, the universe, and everything? Whether there is a God in it or not? Am I truly so arrogant as to think that I could understand something more spiritually powerful than I am? Have I given the Steps my best shot, or am I simply brushing aside the experience of the hundreds of 12-Step people around me who have had a spiritual experience and show evidence of the change that’s come over them? If we take a experiential approach rather than an arguing approach, we may learn something very, very deep that was inaccessible to us previously.

Principled atheists: For those with strong atheistic principles, OA appears to present nearly insurmountable problems. And yet many OA members with recovery will tell you that they don’t subscribe to any kind of supernatural being or intelligence. Instead, they may believe in the power of certain ideas to shape our lives: trust, justice, beauty, love, respect, compassion, empathy, altruism, and others. They may have their own, unique believe, such as one member who believes that music is the expression of a single, harmonious idea in the world, and that when we are out of synch with that music, we eat compulsively. Still others rely on the idea of nature, goodness, or some other ideal.

If all else fails: Try this one: The God of my not understanding. Because for some OAs, even the attempt to define a Higher Power creates pain. For those folks, that simple statement can open the doors wide to a spiritual experience. Why? It’s similar to Step One. Many of us feel great relief when we finally admit to ourselves that we cannot stop eating compulsively. When we admit we cannot understand God, we can stop fighting the urge to do so. We needn’t struggle any longer.

Remember, at first, we must only be willing to believe in a power greater than ourselves. Willingness is everything, and it can be simple. More will be revealed to us as we progress through the Steps. After all, that’s what they’re for! So if we find ourselves stuck on a step, just step back. We revisit our conception of God to see if there’s something about it that keeps us from trusting and relying. We update our understanding. Then we keep moving forward. Eventually, our hearts and spirits will win out, and we will have the vital spiritual experience we need. If we are willing.

3 OA ways to avoid the big blow-up

Here’s a classic couples argument.

You’re in the car with your spouse. You realize that you got off at the wrong exit and you mention it. Your spouse asks, “Did you look at a map before you left?” You spit back that you don’t need a front seat driver, and why didn’t they speak up earlier?

Or maybe it’s an argument with a coworker about why a project went pear-shaped. Or with a sibling about what to do about Mom and Dad’s estate. Or, or, or….

There’s millions of opportunities each day for a spat or even a big blow-up with loved ones, colleagues, and, even, complete strangers. So how do we use OA principles to lead with kindness instead of anger? Here’s three ways.

1. Pray!

OK, that’s pretty obvious. OA is a spiritual program for people who haven’t done much spiritual business in their lives. We need guidance in difficult situations, so prayer should probably be our number one move when we need stillness of tongue or pen/keyboard/device. In fact, Step 10 suggests we pause when agitated or doubtful and ask for the right thought or action. ***SPOILER: An emotional fireworks display doesn’t promote love and kindness.*** “God, please help me” is enough. We don’t need to go into a lengthy monologue with our HP, especially in the heat of an emotional moment.

2. Use OA’s tools

Program literature tells us that the OA Tools exist to support living and working the 12 Steps and 12 Traditions. In our driving example, it can be hard to break away from an argument in the cabin of a moving vehicle. But in many instances, we may be arguing over the phone, over email or text, or in an online discussion thread. In each of these instances, we have opportunities to put down the conversation (“Let me call you back” or to literally step away from a computer or device). That’s when we pick up the Tools. If we need to deescalate immediately, the Tool of Telephone (or text) probably works best. If we have some time, the Tool of Meetings or Service can help shift our minds onto others and away from the source of our conflict. That pause from the fight is often enough to help us regain perspective.

3. Ask ourselves what our intentions are

Truth-telling is hard, but often super rewarding, especially in a situation like this. Is fear driving our side of the argument? Does pride demand we avoid losing face? Is there something we badly want or need that the other person is getting in the way of? Are we just trying to control our little world or avoid losing control of it to the other person? We often find once we ask these questions that we lose to the urge to counter or to even reply because we recognize the self-centeredness rearing up in our mind.

Let’s go back to the navigational argument we started with and apply each of these 3 techniques.

1. Pray!

As the driver, we’ve stated that we goofed up. Even if our spouse is being as snarky as can be in their response, why should we take the bait? We can ask God to remove our anger and to show us how we can be helpful to our spouse. Maybe there’s something going on inside them that needs to come out but hasn’t yet found its way. At the very least, the rest of the car ride needn’t be spent on razor’s edge.

2. Use OA’s Tools

If we are the non-driving spouse, instead of asking about the map, we might pull out our phone and text a program friend about our frustration. If we happen to have a For Today in the car, we might grab it and open to a favorite passage. Even as the driver, we might choose to remember a favorite passage such as the Acceptance Page. In situations such as  online interactions, we have time to step away and do whatever is necessary to restore us to civility.

3. Ask ourselves what our intentions are

The questions we provided above, and others, lead us back to our selfish instincts. All humans have them! Ours just happen to be more intense as a symptom of our affliction. Here’s the amazing part, though. Often when we stop the flow of the angry conversation and talk about our intentions openly and honestly, we get to the most intimate, productive, and/or satisfying results. We might have been assuming that our spouse was responding in sarcasm, when, in fact, their response might have been a genuine question because they thought we’d read a map before leaving! If we’re afraid of losing face, and we respond by describing how we are afraid of letting them down or looking weak to them, we might end up learning that we needn’t ever have that fear again because their love isn’t conditional. The possibilities are many here, but when we dig a little deeper and reply with the truth about ourselves, we open new opportunities for love, kindness, and tolerance, not to mention service to others.

OA is a flexible program that really works in rough going. In a car, in the boss’ office, at the family dinner table, at a party, at a funeral, while buying a car or a house, during an audit, a court case, or dental visit. It works when we work it.

 

Tradition of the Month: A House Divided

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

One hundred sixty years ago this June 16th, Abraham Lincoln delivered one of his best known speeches. It included this famous line:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

In distilling the experience of thousands of groups across the world into twelve pithy traditions, Bill Wilson recognized that any organization that included human beings as members would find itself factionalized. That’s just how people are, and it’s especially true of addicts. In the chapter of the Big Book titled “How It Works,” we are told exactly this about ourselves. We are reminded that we seem to constantly try to wrest happiness and satisfaction from people, places, and things regardless and generally don’t care all that much about their welfare as long as we get ours. Why would a 12-Step group be different?

So the founders went to great lengths to create something new that didn’t look like most other human endeavors. For one thing, they called it a fellowship. Not an organization. The trouble with organizations is that they need leaders, officers, board members, all the usual trappings of authority. Leadership roles convey status, power intoxicates us and can divert us from our primary purpose. More important, our Higher Powers are the leaders of OA, not limited individuals like us.

At every step, AA’s and OA’s founders sought ways to block the way toward infighting. Make it a fellowship. Let it be anarchic in nature. Place authority in God’s hands, not people’s hands. Let every member choose their own conception of God so that there can be no fighting about which is the “right” Higher Power. Invert the service structure so that local meetings are served by World Service rather than vise versa. Make the primary purpose altruistic and disallow outside enterprises and influences. Give every member the right to adopt whatever plan of eating works for them so that we avoid food-plan factionalism. All geared toward the combination of ego deflation and dependence on spirituality so that we don’t let our pesky opinions of how things should be run get in the way of others’ recovery.

It’s amazing sometimes that 12-Step groups have enough organization to even have a meeting each week, and yet that’s precisely how unity works in OA. The more rules there are, the more interpretations of the rules there are. The more interpretations there are, the more we argue, parse words, and find ourselves in opposition with our fellow sufferers. How does that help a newcomer?

In an important way, Tradition One parallels Step One. We might say that, “A mind divided against itself cannot stand itself.” Self-recriminiation seems to haunt all us compulsive eaters, and it easily overcomes our weak resistance to self-flagellation. Our best selves, unsupported by other sufferers and not yet connected to a Higher Power, can’t stand up to the onslaught of negativity that comes from the part of our brain controlled by our disease. So we eat to quiet the arguing inside, and we slowly slip further and further into the grip of addiction.

The more our addition overtakes our personality, the more unmanageable life becomes. Problems feel bigger and more intractable. We despair of ever returning to a life of normalcy let alone happiness. Friendships feel like obligations. As we observe these phenomena of unmanageability happening to us, we feel worse and worse. Eventually our metaphorical house can no longer stand, all because this disease leads us to think that we can’t stand ourselves.

Just as Tradition One helps us to bring a recovered sense of kindness, love, and tolerance to OA affairs, the Steps help us find compassion and redemption in our personal affairs. Just as Tradition One implores us to consider the welfare of the group instead of just our small selves, the Steps help us see that we’ve always been out for number one, even when we did things with good intentions. Then the program changes us so that we can practice selflessness and self-care.

Together we get better. If there is no fellowship, we will suffer and die alone and without hope. But when we seek OA unity, avoid petty infighting, resist gossiping about others’ recoveries, and find ways to bring our members together, we all have a chance at serenity, happiness, and a life second to none.

 

Finding ease and comfort

It’s said that addicts are relief-seeking missiles. We don’t like feelings: happy, mad, sad, glad; hungry, angry, lonely, tired. We’re always either disappointed in what we didn’t get or frightened that the other shoe will drop and take away what we’ve gotten.

So, we constantly search for something that will provide relief from our ongoing misery. In the front matter of the Big Book, in “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth tells us that addicts use their substance to regain “the sense of ease and comfort that comes at once” when we do our addict voodoo. We use because when we don’t, we are “restless, irritable, and discontent.”

In other words, we’re uncomfortable.

We hate it when others reminds us that “such is life.” We are human, and so we are subject to pain, uncertainty, fear. Where other, normal, eaters may have coping skills for the tribulations of life, feelings trigger the mental obsession with our substance, and soon enough we feel an overwhelming desire to eat that is beyond our control.

When we join OA, we learn that in these moments, we substitute food for God. We believe that food will bring us the serenity that only a spiritual experience will give us. It never does. It numbs us for like eight seconds, then the feelings return. In addition we now have the shame emotions associated with compulsive eating, making the situation worse. We’ve once again traded a few seconds of mental analgesic for a lifetime of compulsive-eating misery.

That’s the why the first bite is a sucker’s game. We think we will beat the odds this time. If we just do what we see normal people do, we will be OK. We’ll get our relief for a few seconds, enough to still our feelings, then go back to living like a normal person. Nope. It’s as though we’re playing poker against someone whose hand is lying face up on the table and has us beat. The truth lay right in front of us, but we keep betting on a losing hand anyway. In fact, we’ll bet it all the way down to our last dollar.

There is another way. In OA, we learn that the only way to win is not to play. We must abstain from our compulsive eating. Only by keeping troublesome foods out of our system will the physical craving for them leave us. But even with the craving gone, if we don’t learn to deal effectively with our feelings, we’ll end up taking the first sucker bite again. We have to learn how to feel, deal, and heal? But how?

Of course, we must do the 12 Steps of OA. These are the program. They bring us into meaningful contact with something more powerful than we are. Something that can do what we want food to do for us. What exactly does that mean? It’s simple, when we are faced with emotional discomfort, we can pray for what we want:

God, please give me ease and comfort.

We keep it simple. We accept that we will feel discomfort. We take solace and strength in the fact that others with our disease have faced down the most painful situations without resorting to food. But most important, we use prayer when discomfort threatens our sense of emotional well-being.

All we’ve ever wanted is to feel better. It’s only human. But until OA, all we’ve ever done is use food as a drug, in an ineffective, off-label manner. But once in OA, we learn that we can pray for ease and comfort, and that we can follow that prayer with useful actions. We learn that after a simple prayer that opens us up to redirection from our Higher Power, we can use OA’s tools and, especially, Steps 10, 11, and 12 to stay out of the food trouble that dogged us for so long.

Because there’s far more ease and comfort in abstinence than there ever was in anything that came out of a box, can, bag, jar, or wrapper.

 

Tradition of the Month: How’s your business-meeting self?

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

“You want to know how recovered someone is?” an old program slogan goes. “Watch them in an OA business meeting.” If a member is truly putting OA principles before personalities then they will be kind, loving, and tolerant, even during difficult conversations. They will seek constructive action rather than evade service. They will not try to control the whole meeting.

Control is a topic we OAs know well. It’s one of our favorite self-seeking behaviors. Like the actor in chapter five of the Big Book, when we’re in our addiction, we love to control everyone around us so that we can feel as little pain or discomfort as possible. We don’t want surprises, uncertainty, or doubt to plague us. We try to gain serenity by wrangling others to do it our way.

How’d that work for us?

So now that we’ve got some OA experience under our belt, what’s our business-meeting self like? Do we dominate proceedings? Do we talk without being recognized by the leader of the business meeting? Do we interrupt or cut off others before they finish their thoughts? Do we try to push the agenda along even though we aren’t chairing the meeting? How we doing with that kindness, loving, and tolerant stuff?

Here’s a truth: We’re human, and our defects of character won’t disappear the day we finish our step work. We have to work at them every day, slowly sanding down our burred or jagged edges. Some days we do well, and others, we struggle.

Here’s another truth: Even when we struggle with those defects, the answer is always the same. We must trust and rely on God rather than on ourselves and our broken-down life strategies.

At our business meetings, if we act irritable or curt, aren’t we taking back our will? We are substituting control of others for letting go and letting God. If someone goes on at unnecessary length (in our opinion), so what? How are we being harmed? Instead of getting impatient and testy, can we ask God to give us ease and comfort? To help us extend the patience and attention we demand from others when it’s our turn to speak?

If we are trying to run the show (especially if we aren’t chairing the meeting), we may need to take a time out. What’s really bugging us in this situation? Are we afraid that a proposal will kill our meeting or OA? Nothing can do that if it hasn’t happened already. No proposal taken with spiritual intention and guided by the twelve traditions will destroy OA in one fell swoop. But what about the newcomer? And how do we know precisely what every newcomer needs? We don’t. We only know what we needed.

If we are to do service work well in OA, we must bring humility to it. We must accept that we don’t know the best way to do things. We must ask God to make it happen instead of trying to force it ourselves. Otherwise, we’re just practicing our character defects instead of OA principles.

Step of the Month: In all our affairs

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to compulsive eaters, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The hard part of Step 12 isn’t helping others, sponsoring, or doing service. It’s the last prepositional phrase that’s difficult.

The word all doesn’t provide any wiggle room for us to take our will back. Step 12 tells us that we have to live in the solution every day, no matter what. Boss is making things awful at the office? Still have to be kind, loving, and tolerant. The hubs is making you crazy? Still aren’t allowed to try the old control tricks. Feel uncomfortable? Still can’t eat over it or take it out on others. In other words, we have no where to go but our Higher Power.

Now, that doesn’t mean we have to do everything perfectly. We’re after progress, not perfection. It is recommended that we practice these principles. When we practice something, we are attempting to master it through close study, exercises, play, and repetition. But can we master the art of living a good life? Probably not because no one yet has. We can, however, improve, but as human beings we cannot expect ourselves to always make the right decisions.

What’s important is that we make an honest effort. We fake it til we make it. We don’t pick and choose when to use the principles OA’s steps reveal to us. We make use of them as frequently as possible. Or as frequently as we remember. We hope that the further along in recovery we are, the less likely we are to forget.

We get swept up in events, or we feel like things are humming along smoothly, and our mind wanders away from OA principles. It happens to every single one of us, no matter how high we’ve climbed toward the spiritual mountaintop. The question is how quickly our focus on living a more spiritual life returns when we stray from it.

So we’re practicing in all our affairs. But what exact principles are we practicing? This is interpretable in many, many ways. At the most basic level, however, we practice trusting and relying on our Higher Powers. When we do not eat no matter what, and when no matter what we don’t eat, we trust our Higher Power to see us through whatever difficult emotion we feel. When a situation frightens us, rather than run away, we trust and rely on HP to get us through it. When our problems get to be too much, we trust and rely on God as we share them with an OA friend. When we admit our wrongs to others and make amends, we trust and rely on our Higher Power to help us swallow our pride. And when we are willing to go to any lengths to stay in recovery, we most definitely are trusting and relying on God.

We can look at page 67 of the Big Book to see what the principles of a spiritual life look like. They are the opposite of the questions asked on that page. Instead of Where had we been selfish? we think of how we can be helpful to others. Instead of Where had we been dishonest? we act with honesty and integrity, not telling people what we think they want to hear or out and out lying to get our way. Instead of Where had we been self-seeking? we stay our hand, back off of our worst impulses, ask God for the next right step, and go help someone else. Instead of Where were we afraid?, we give our fears to our HP and continue forward despite our worries and anxieties.

And we do this for the rest of our lives, to the best of our ability. If we don’t do this, the rest of our lives will likely be shorter than if we keep it up—and the quality of that time will stink. But if we stay the course, life will reward us with a serenity, even in hard times, that we didn’t think we’d ever find. New doors will open that we thought had closed forever. And we will find new meaning in a life that once went nowhere.

21 Tips for Getting Through the Holidays Abstinently

These 21 tips originally appeared at an OA Workshop in October, 1997 in Port Chester, NY.  They may be twenty years old, but good OA experience never goes stale. This list appears here at SeacoastOA.org thanks to the good folks at the Region 6 IGOR Google Group. This list has been very lightly edited for emphasis by us at SeacoastOA.
  1. Focus on the true meaning of the holiday or event rather than the food orgy that sometimes accompanies it.
  2. Don’t set yourself up to feel bad because of unrealistic expectations of what the holiday will bring. Sometimes we’re with family, sometimes with friends, sometimes we are alone. Face the reality of the situation beforehand. For example, if a family occasion almost always turns unpleasant, plan not to be part of the unpleasantness. If you’re going to be alone, face that you may face sadness. Plan to deal with it, without excess food.
  3. Build up your recovery bank account before and during the holidays by attending lots of meetings, working extra hard on your 12-Steps and using all the tools, especially service. Keep in constant contact with your sponsor. The disease doesn’t take holidays. Nor should our recovery.
  4. Keep your OA phone numbers with you at all times. Use them.
  5. Know the limits of your recovery. When in doubt, avoid persons, places and things that have in the past triggered overeating. The party is not worth it. Choose not to attend if you feel it may be a major problem. Remember that abstinence, one day at a time, has to be the highest priority in your life. Without it, all other things suffer.
  6. From the perspective of food, treat the holiday like any other day.  Our disease never takes a holiday.
  7. Plan something special for yourself when other people are eating sugary desserts that you choose not to include in your food plan.  Special teas, hot water and lemon, fruit, anything that’s a little special for you.
  8. Whether a holiday gathering or ordinary party, choose to focus on the people rather than the food. Pick out people and engage them in “real” conversation. If they don’t want to play, go to the next one. People like to talk about themselves. Ask them about themselves, their life, their work—and really listen.
  9. Try to really connect with people at the holiday table. Make food a secondary thing.
  10. At Halloween there is no law that says you have to give out candy. We’re not doing these kids a favor by giving them junk food. Give nutritious things or money. Do not give out things you would not consume yourself. Then there’s no problem with leftovers.
  11. Set an extra place beside you (in your mind or for real) at the table for your Higher Power.
  12. Remember Step Two. It says that with the help of a Higher Power we can be restored to sane eating behavior. Call on your Higher Power. HP can keep you sane, one day at a time, one meal at a time.
  13. During the holidays get out of yourself by giving service, any service, whether it’s to Program, to needy individuals, or to the community. Do something that may be a little hard for you, but that you know you will feel good about later. Give yourself something to respect yourself for.
  14. Plan!  Plan!  Plan! Be proactive toward the holidays and the meals. Don’t just lay back and hope for the best. Rehearse in your mind over and over exactly what you will do, particularly what, where and when you will eat. Pray just before sitting down to the meal.
  15. Just before sitting down to eat, or just before being served, go to a private room somewhere in the house or restaurant, call your sponsor, and commit what you are about to eat, as well as what you will choose not to eat. It makes no difference whether you get your sponsor or an answering machine. It’s your commitment.
  16. If you’re visiting others for a holiday dinner, it’s up to you to know what is being served and whether it is something that you choose to eat. Call the host. Plan accordingly. People understand others’ food limitations. Even people without our disease have foods they don’t eat for one reason or another. Volunteer to bring something that’s good for you. The host thinks you’re gracious and you’re taking care of yourself!
  17. Remember that you are responsible for what you eat. It’s easy when sitting with family to slip into old childish roles where you feel you must eat whatever you’re given. It’s not true. We are adults and responsible for our own choices. It’s up to us to take care of ourselves. It’s up to us to set whatever parameters or boundaries we need to set with our families.
  18. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. There is nothing as good for staying abstinent—particularly during the Thanksgiving season—than focusing on the many things we have, rather than what we don’t have. Do gratitude lists frequently.
  19. How about writing a little card/note to each person who will be at the Thanksgiving dinner table telling them why you’re grateful to know them? Leave it at their dinner place. The focus will quickly get to the real meaning of Thanksgiving rather than on the food.
  20. For many of us the most dangerous period for our abstinence is after we have successfully gone through a difficult occasion. The insanity of our disease subconsciously or consciously tells us to reward ourselves with food because we did so well yesterday. Or, we suffer some kind of letdown about the occasion. It didn’t meet our expectations. Some of us feel an emptiness after holidays that in the past we have tried to fill with food. For these reasons, plan to go to meetings the next day after the holiday.
  21. A holiday is not a crisis. Holidays come every year. They are simply calendar times set aside to honor certain things. We deal with the holidays just like we deal with the rest of the days in the year. You can do it. Relax and work your program the way you know how.

Step of the Month: Prayer between the bookends

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.

On pages 85 through 88 of the Big Book, Bill W. and friends tell us a lot about what to do when we arise in the morning and retire at night. Plenty of good advice in there for bookending our days spiritually. As to how we go about our business in between, we get scant instructions:

As we go through the day we pause, when agitated or doubtful, and ask for the right thought or action. We constantly remind ourselves we are no longer running the show, humbly saying to ourselves many times each day “Thy will be done.”

Doesn’t sound like lots of specifics, does it? Especially considering how many decisions we face, interactions we have, and actions we take between sun up and sun down. Yet, if we look closely at this, there’s a great deal of sound, if pithy, advice. First of all, what actions are recommended to us?

  • Pause
  • Ask
  • Remind
  • Say

Although perhaps not intended this way, we could use this as a protocol for our moment-to-moment lives. After all, if we are planning, talking, or doing, it’s probably for good reason. If we are in doubt over the subject or substance of these actions, we may benefit from this little structure. By pausing, we don’t act hastily. By asking our Higher Power for guidance, we bring spirituality to the situation. By reminding ourselves that we aren’t in charge, we lower the stakes and can breath more easily. Then, finally, we say what we’re going to do and go do it, keeping God’s will in our thoughts as we do.

That’s a heckuva lot better than our old way of doing things. Our previous strategies for dealing with life included taking charge before someone else “screwed things up”; trying to control those around us to get what we want; people pleasing to get our way; obsessively plotting and planning; gossiping behind closed doors; yelling at others in public; crying; going stony-faced; getting into others’ business; shunning; and, of course, eating compulsively.

The old way kept us in the problem and away from the solution. It also swept others up in our wake, creating additional fear and resentment for us. But OA way helps us stay neutral. We discover that when we keep our nose out of things, we keep our nose cleaner, and we aren’t as hungry.

Still, none of us smells like roses all the time. We remain human beings, even if we are changed. We must stay vigilant that we don’t lose our spiritual mooring during the hectic events of the day, but we also must stay vigilant against those old recordings in our mind about perfection. “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” We are allowed to make mistakes, and if we’ve found out anything about ourselves from the 12 Steps, it’s this: We learn best by making mistakes and then asking God to help us remedy them.

If we have journeyed all the way through the Steps, we have found a Higher Power and are ready to put our trust and reliance in Him/Her/They/It. If we haven’t yet established that relationship with God, we might begin practicing to get there. “Help!” is a good prayer to try out. We might simply try it and see whether things go differently than usual or than we expect. We might also try out the serenity prayer that we hear so often in OA meetings. Those of a more religious nature might choose something pertinent to their particular customs. It likely matters little what prayer we choose so long as it expresses the foundational ideas that I can’t and God can and will.

We don’t stop living life just because we’ve stopped eating compulsively. We can’t jump off the merry-go-round. But if we want to avoid eating compulsively over the events of the day, we need to do our best to stay in contact with our HP throughout the sixteen or so hours each day we are awake.

What do I do about night-time eating?

Many OAs report in meetings that they struggle the most with their abstinence at night. Not necessarily during the day when a stressor occurs, but at night when it’s not right in their face. They tell us that the time after dinner and before bed daunts them most of all. Why do the wheels fall off at night? And what can we do about it?

Why night-time is the right time…for our disease to attack

Food addiction is an insidious disease that uses our minds against us. So let’s step back to the light and ask why the daytime might pose fewer problems for some compulsive eaters.

  • We may connect with our Higher Power and fellow OAs in the morning or during the day
  • We may have gotten some sleep and so have some level of alertness
  • We may have alertness from a stimulant like caffeine in our blood stream
  • We may be focusing on engrossing problems or important interactions at work
  • We may not want our office mates, friends, or loved ones to see us eating compulsively
  • We may not have access to our favorite binge foods until we get home.

In other words, we might have enough distractions, structure, and program disciplines to get us through dinner. Then all hell breaks loose, food wise. So what’s different about that witching hour between roughly the moment we clean the dishes and the moment our eyelids droop shut? Quite possibly, everything.

  • It may have been hours since we talked to our Higher Power or an OA person, or hours since we did any OA disciplines…and we may feel awkward calling someone during what we perceive as their “family time”
  • We’re tired, which puts us in that well-known danger zone called HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired)
  • Similarly, the events of the day may put us in the angry part of HALT, and if we live alone (and sometimes even if we don’t) we may be lonely.
  • We may still have stimulant in our blood streams, propping open our eyes yet keeping our mind spinning on the day’s events
  • Many addicts have no hobbies, or we are too tired too work on them, and with less structure at home, we may have nothing to occupy our minds except TV, which is a notorious tag-along to binging for many compulsive eaters
  • If no one’s around, we don’t have to hide our eating
  • We have lots of access to food, and we likely have a stash of our favorite binge foods nearby.

Of course these are just a few of the reasons why day may be easier and night more difficult for food addicts. We each have our own set of circumstances. Nor is caffeine problematic for all of us, and this shouldn’t be taken as an exhortation to abstain from it. But it’s clear that our disease has a lot more opportunity to get us at night than during the day.

So what do we do about night-time eating?

There are many, many things we can do at night. But for any of them to work we need two things:

  1. Willingness to go to any length to avoid the first bite
  2. Trust that we won’t die if we don’t eat, that our discomfort is temporary, and OA will help us through our toughest moments

Without willingness, we are merely wishing and wanting. Without trust, we have no alternative to the lies our minds tell us. But with willingness and trust, these actions can get us through the night:

  • Pray to a Higher Power: We don’t even have to know what It is, we just have to be willing to believe in one, we just have to say Help! or Please remove the obsession with food! Here’s a few OA prayers. But even if we don’t yet have belief in a Higher Power, we can use the rest of these ideas.
  • Meditate: We are often shocked when we first feel the amazing calm that comes from sitting quietly and emptying our minds of the worry of the day. There are many ways to meditate, google it, pick one that’s simple and fits you, then try it. It needn’t require a belief in a Higher Power, and a minute or five may be all it takes to quiet the urge to eat.
  • Call another OA member: OAs are willing to go to any length for recovery, and that includes taking phone calls or even texts at any hour. OA members would rather be roused from sleep than wake up to hear that another member has eaten compulsively. If we have a sponsor, we might start there. Don’t forget to ask how they are doing!
  • Attend a meeting: Hit a face-to-face meeting during your difficult hours of the night,  and if there isn’t one at that time, attend a phone meeting or an online meeting.
  • Listen to an OA podcast: There’s little more inspiring than hearing the powerful story of how others members found recovery.
  • Use the rest of OA’s tools: Reading some OA literature. Writing in a journal, writing a letter to our Higher Power (if we have one), continuing our Step 4 writing, or writing down our 10th Step. Working on any OA service projects we are involved in. Doing anything that falls within our OA Action Plan.
  • Remember OA slogans: Nothing tastes as good as abstinence feels. One day at a time. Take it easy. Here’s a page with hundreds of these helpful sayings!
  • Go to bed: An underrated by simple and effective way to avoid compulsive eating. Not only do you avoid the first bite, but you get a little extra sleep to help strengthen you for the next day. It always feels good to wake up abstinent.

These are just some of the many ways to support abstinence, even after our worst days. We know it’s possible because we know members who have long-term food-sobriety. So we simply find what works for us, work it as well as we can, and trust our Higher Power and OA to help us through the dark night.