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.

Friends you keep

OA friends are like few others in our lives. We may know one another only a short time yet feel as though we’ve known one another for years or decades more. It only makes sense. We watch one another get better. We ask one another for help. We share a number of intimate secrets with one another.

Perhaps most importantly, we hear our OA fellows talk about our problem in the same way that we’ve thought about it. We thought these incessant, dishonest, and overpowering thoughts and feelings belonged only to us. We thought that somewhere, sometime, our circuits got fried, irreparably damaging us, and we knew we couldn’t tell a soul. Yet when we arrive in the halls of OA, our story gets told to us time and again. Oh, the details differ, but we recognize that it’s nonetheless, the same tale of woe and misery. That is, until our new friends tell us about the solution they’ve found in OA’s 12 Steps.

Our pals show us that the impossible is possible. We believe them because their experience matches ours. Their renewal shows us that a new path can open up for us if we care to follow them on it.

As tough as things seem at first as we struggle toward abstinence and do the Steps, it’s when things go awry that we find out how much our OA friends come to mean to us. If we stumble in our program, we discover more helping hands extended to us than we could have thought. Sympathetic ears lean toward us. We learn more about the experiences of others than ever and know that if they’ve skinned a knee on the broad highway and are still walking, so can we.

If it is our new friends, instead, who miss a step, we discover the power of listening to and helping others. We feel honored by their willingness to confide in us, and this increases yet again the tightness of our connections. When they rise again to their feet, we rejoice with them, clap them on the back, and admire the courage they’ve shown. Because we know: this thing ain’t easy.

The OA fellowship is powerful. It is not a foundation stone of recovery, instead it is the cement between the stones. While it is not enough to get us abstinent, nor keep us abstinent, it helps us to see how each stone fits into the ongoing work. It helps us stay together if some pieces loosen.

In all of our lives, friends will come and go. OA will always be here, and we can be assured that our OA friends, new or old, will understand us and help us in a way that few others in the world can.

3 Questions for Finding a Higher Power

OA makes no bones about it. You’re gonna need a Higher Power if you want to recover from compulsive eating. Why? Simple, because if we can’t do it ourselves, and if no human being can do it for us, then by process of elimination, we need something more powerful than we are to do the heavy lifting for us.

Notice, we didn’t say God in that last paragraph? That’s because we needn’t define a Higher Power in those terms if we don’t want to. For some of us, it’s best if we don’t because that word rankles us.

On the other hand, for those used to religious worship, the term Higher Power may feel unspecific. Folks with a current conception of a God figure might well want to stick with it.

In OA we don’t have a horse in the gods race. Or lack of gods race. It’s about getting us through the 12 Steps so that we can enjoy a happy, joyous, freedom filled life. That’s why we encourage every member to define their idea of a Higher Power on their own. This is a program of action, and when you boil it down, a Higher Power must have just two attributes:

a. A willingness to free us from our obsession with food.
b. The ability to do so.

Of course, for us to get better and stay that way, the program instructs us to trust and rely on our HP for everything, not just food. So in reality, we need to add another trait to the mix:

c. Trustworthiness and reliability.

But we probably also need to add another ingredient. None of us wants to count on a crumb-bum Higher Power of dubious merit. We don’t want to get in with a HP that’s just doing tit for tat and wants us for its own creepy gains. Just because It can help us and does, doesn’t mean that Higher Power is worth following. So a fourth attribute would be

d. Worthiness of following.

After that, our concept is up to us. What do we want “a God personal to us” to be like? Here’s a few questions that can help us track down the answers.

1.) Do I already have a Higher Power in my life that I’m comfortable with?

We might have spiritual practices in place that can help us. If so, great! We will soon find that we can access this HP more than ever, once we have unblocked ourselves via abstinence and the 12 Steps. If not, we move on. We don’t want to get stuck in this spot. Feeling shame or guilt because we think we should believe in a certain Higher Power that isn’t comfortable for us will retard our progress. We have to keep asking questions.

2.) Am I OK with an anthropomorphized Higher Power?

In other words, do we want to picture God in our lives as having a human-like presence, or appearance? If so, we might ask ourselves additional questions such as

  • Do I need to know exactly what this Higher Power looks like to relate to it?
  • Does it need to be gendered for me to accept It?

If we aren’t interested in a human-like Higher Power, we can ask ourselves this: Am I OK with the idea of any kind of Being as a Higher Power? If so, we might ask ourselves the same two questions we just mentioned.

But if neither of these concepts works for us, then we need to get to the bottom of things. It’s not prohibitive for recovery if our HP isn’t a Being or even isn’t precisely sentient. Here are examples of Higher Powers we’ve heard about in meetings that had a decidedly non-standard flavor:

  • The fellowship of OA: When we choose the fellowship as a Higher Power, we may be able to relate when members use the G-word by in our minds hearing an acronym such as Group Of Drunks or Good Orderly Discipline.
  • An ideal such as truth or love: We may believe that universals like these or others are shared by us all and can lift us from our misery if we can tap the energy behind them through the Steps.
  • Nature or the universe: Thinking of the amazing vastness of our universe or the incredible living diversity, many of us can’t help but feel awe, wonder, and a sense of power that can help us.
  • “The Force”: While we don’t necessarily adopt this Star Wars idea for our HP, many of our members do use a similar idea, namely that we are bound to one another and the world and the cosmos through a positive, animative energy source that may not have intelligence but does possess great helping strength. We can then use the OA program to focus its healing power on our illness.

This question of what a Higher Power is or isn’t can also be a trap, if our stinking thinking gets wrapped around its axle. So some members have simply thrown up their arms and said, “I don’t know! But I believe!” They’ve considered what the minimum attributes for their Higher Power are and then let that simply be enough. The so-called “God of my not-understanding” can be an effective way out of analysis paralysis.

3.) What other traits do I want in a Higher Power?

Once we have an idea of what sort of Higher Power we will work with, we can consider the characteristics we want in our God. This is when we imagine ourselves looking through the God Catalog.

A plan for every single thing that is happening in the world? We can have that in our Higher Power. Or we can have a Higher Power that keeps its hands out of things.

Logical, rational, and consistent? Those are all available. So are sympathetic, cheerleaderly, and parent-like.

Talkative or intuitive? Leading or nudging? Whispering or shouting? If we’re going to listen to our Higher Power, how do we want to do so?

And just like how the typical American changes jobs seven times and careers three times during their working lifetime, we OAs are likely to amend, update, revise, or overhaul our concept of a Higher Power during our journey through recovery. The important thing is that we develop a conception that works for us. Because after all, if we can’t work with our Higher Power, how will our Higher Power work on us?

Tradition of the Month: A race to the bottom

6. “An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose.”

In a speech on November 13, 1969, then Vice President Spiro Agnew opined that “Bad news drives out good news.” His theory said that the news media prefer to cover salacious, scandalous, or confrontational news because the excitement it generates sells papers. And monotony doesn’t.

Agnew stated a “race to the bottom” argument. We observe this same line of reasoning used in many other fields. For example, when seemingly artistically principled musicians make an album designed for wide appeal, they are called sellouts. The same holds for filmmakers who appear to be trying to make a hit rather than a cinematic statement. Folks or organizations in any industry or endeavor that has important, mission-oriented goals or publicly places high value on quality is vulnerable to this kind of accusation.

What do people say about those accused of engaging in race-to-the-bottom tactics?

  • They are appealing to the least common denominator.
  • They lost their integrity.
  • It used to be about the music.
  • They put the bottom line ahead of quality.
  • I can’t trust them anymore.
  • I might as well buy anything in their market now.
  • I wish they’d go back to doing what they used to do.

If there’s a common theme underlying all of these complaints and others like them, it’s an adaptation of Agnew’s line: Bad money drives out good money.

What’s this got to do with us in OA? When it comes to Tradition 6, everything! Because when it comes to our primary purpose virtually any money is bad money.

 

Greed is one of the deadly sins, warned against in every culture. Like our inhuman compulsion toward food, greed can transform well-meaning people into money monsters by playing on our fears and our self-esteem. It is a defect of character, and it has the ability to tear people apart. Tradition 1 tells us that OA unity is crucial to our recoveries and our ability to carry the message. Money can disrupt that unity very, very quickly. Alarmist? Perhaps, but consider that in recent history, a high-ranking OA treasury official in our region made off with the funds under their control.

So we have a duty to keep money out of the fellowship except as a carefully guarded tool for reaching sufferers. That goes for the money we donate as well as money from outside enterprises. We don’t want to be engaged in competition or cooperation with diet programs, food rehabs, or any other kind of organization lest we get dragged into a race toward profitability. Once that happens people will start talking about us, too:

  • What’s the difference between OA and one of the diet companies that never worked for me anyway?
  • I remember when OA was about recovery.
  • Gee, whatever happened to OA, anyway?

Step of the Month: 12 Big Fat Lies Compulsive Eaters Tell Themselves

We compulsive overeaters are dishonest by nature. Really! For decades, our brains have been telling us lies about our eating to keep us eating. The truth about compulsive eating is that it is an illness. We are not like other people. We have a physical allergy to food that creates systematic cravings, a mental obsession with food, and a downward spiral of our spiritual well-being. But some of us are so wedded to our lies that we either don’t realize they are lies or are too afraid of failure to address them.

Here are 12 of the lies shared retrospectively by people who have experienced recovery. Lies that keep us stuck in our disease when we accept them as truths.

  1. I’m a bad person because I can’t stop eating compulsively.
    We’re sorry to burst this bubble, but we aren’t bad people. What we are is people with a chronic, progressive illness that we cannot control.
  2. I don’t care anymore. I might as well keep eating.
    If we truly didn’t care, we wouldn’t be preoccupied with our bodies and the pain the disease causes us. Experience shows that we eat precisely because we care desperately.
  3. If I could eat like a normal person, everything would be better.
    An insidious lie if there ever was one. What we’re really saying to ourselves is that we wish we could eat as much as we wanted and not gain weight so that we could keep eating compulsively and not face any consequences.
  4. I’m only hurting myself.
    We bury feelings with food, and in our more lucid moments, we recognize that the people who love us are deeply concerned by the slow suicide our food behaviors appear to be.
  5. All I have to do is eat in moderation.
    Sure, and while were at it, we can build a time machine, be in two places and once, and bring peace and harmony to the world with one magic word. Controlling our food is no longer possible for us. By the time we learned about OA, that ship had sailed a long time ago.
  6. Life wouldn’t be worth it if I couldn’t have my favorite foods.
    Really? And how’s life going with those favorite foods?
  7. Depriving myself of my favorite foods is just a way to punish myself.
    Perhaps abstaining from those foods is a way to give ourselves the gifts of freedom, joy, and happiness?
  8. I’m just an emotional eater.
    Maybe true. If so, try this experiment just to make sure: Put a serving of your favorite food in front of yourself, but keep the rest of the contents of its original container within arm’s reach. Now sit in front of that one serving and see if you can not eat it. Try it for 5 minutes. 10 minutes. An hour. Try it a couple days in a row. In our experience, few if any compulsive overeaters can keep themselves from not only eating that serving but from getting into the rest of the container as well. It’s because our emotions are only a trigger for our eating, not the root cause.
  9. I eat because of what someone else did to me or how they treated me. You’d eat too!
    In other words, we take the poison we intend for the other person.
  10. I know myself, and I can’t change.
    Do you really know yourself? What we find out in OA is that underneath the highly-defended face we present to the world is a person we don’t know very well. We haven’t let anyone, including ourselves, get close to that person for years, perhaps decades, because of pain and fear. We’ve discovered that our outward behaviors can indeed be changed if we let go of what we think we know about ourselves and adopt an attitude of rigorous honesty, openness, and willingness to try what millions of others have used successfully to arrest this killing disease one day at a time.
  11. I just need to get through ____, and I’ll OK.
    In our experience, addiction doesn’t care what’s going on in our lives. We can eat over a broken shoelace, a broken heart, a broken arm, or a broken home. There’s always some reason to eat.
  12. I’ve tried everything else, and OA won’t be any different.
    OA isn’t like anything else. Come in, stick around, you’ll see.

THE Cause versus Because

Here’s an obvious statement: We OA members eat over our feelings. Our program literature tells us that the cycle of addictive behavior begins with a thought. We are activated before the first bite. A primary emotional trigger for addicts of any stripe is resentment.

The Big Book describes resentment as “the number one offender.” We eat because we are pissed off at the world, at people, at situations. When Bill Wilson and company put together the Big Book in the 1930s, they very carefully selected their words. They knew that the addicted brain manipulates us by turning our feelings into powerful language. So when they wrote down how they inventoried resentment, they used precise language that doesn’t give our brains wiggle room to make excuses.

Look at page 65 in the fourth edition of the Big Book. It lays out the first three columns of resentment inventory (the fourth column, or “turnaround” appears in the middle of page 67). The first column is headed “I’m Resentful At.” The second: “The Cause.” Notice they didn’t say “BEcause” but rather “The Cause.” There’s a world of difference.

Our addict minds are like little lawyers, always seeking to parse language in ways that justify or excuse our behaviors and let us keep eating. Among trial lawyers, there’s a well-known axiom about questioning a witness. Never ask why [unless you’ve personally coached the witness’ answer]. Lawyers frequently ask leading questions that begin with WhatWhoWhen, Where, or How. These are all closed-ended questions with a single answer: “I saw Joe”; “I was cleaning the barn”; “8:19 PM”; “He opened the door with a lock pick.” But why is open-ended. It allows a witness to pontificate and deflect blame elsewhere. It allows opinion to enter the record. It may also give a witness license to build sympathy when sympathy is the opposite of what you want to elicit.

In a similar way, “because” is a weasel word for us addicts. We use it as a way to keep on destroying ourselves with food. Why do we eat? Because blah blah blah. If someone asked us why we were burnt up, we’d give them a litany of because statements. Insidiously, what because” does is shift the blame to someone else.

Because Mom said I was fat, I am resentful.

This is far different from the language the Big Book recommends in that second column: “THE Cause.” To get grammatical for a second, “the” is the definite article. It indicates singularity or specificity. It reduces confusion and ambiguity. To use it in a sentence related to resent would sound like these examples

The cause of my resentment is Mom’s saying I was fat.

 

We can see that when we use “the cause” instead of “because” we turn a statement of blame into a statement of fact.

Here’s a big difference between these two ways of talking about resentment. “Because” creates slippery slopes. We’ve all heard someone talk about how their mind will create a chain of because statements that leads to eating:

Because Mom said I was fat, I must not be good enough. Because I’m not good enough, I feel pain. Because I feel pain, I need to get rid of it, so I eat.

The struck out text is a reminder of how over time our brains skip over the “reasoning” and go straight to the food. But “THE cause” doesn’t easily lead to that slippery slope.

Mom said I was fat, so I must not be good enough….

Here we can see that when we put “because” ahead of Mom, she bears the blame for our believing her. If we put “because” instead of “so” it wouldn’t even make sense. When we put “so” in front of “I,” we start to see that we are taking someone else’s words and turning them into a reason to eat. Why should we believe that we are not good enough just because Mom says we are fat? Unless we, of course, we, ourselves, are complicit in that belief?

We don’t have to be linguists for OA to work. But the folks who wrote the Big Book used “The Cause” instead of “Because” because they knew from personal experience that blaming the rest of the world for their drinking predicament didn’t work. We have to own our part of things. We’re the ones holding onto the hurts, big or tiny. We’re the ones eating ourselves to an early grave. After all, it’s our inventory, and no one else’s.