Why spirituality requires a sponsor

In OA, when we hear about sponsors, we often hear primarily about food:

  • I give my food to my sponsor every day.
  • My sponsor helped me develop a food plan.
  • I’m honest with my sponsor about my food.
  • My sponsor helped me get back on track food-wise.
  • I was having cravings, so I called my sponsor.

We can’t get abstinent without a lot of help, so it’s no wonder that these common themes emerge about sponsors!

In OA, although we sponsor up to our level of experience, a sponsor is ultimately someone who guides us through the Twelve Steps. That’s because the OA program is the Steps. Without them, we are supporting one another on a diet. With the Steps, we each can have the spiritual experience that leads to lasting recovery.

The writers of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous included an appendix called “The Spiritual Experience.” In its one-and-a-half pages, they make sure we’re really clear what this experience means. They use a form of the word change five times, upheavals once, transformations once, and alterations once. That’s about once in each paragraph in this brief appendix.

This repeated usage of these carefully chosen should make clear to us the idea that change and spiritual experience are inextricably related. They may even be synonymous in the context of recovery.

So what’s that got to do with sponsors? Plenty as it turns out. If we could have changed ourselves to end compulsive eating, then what are we doing in church basements, hospital rooms, and community centers on a weeknight or weekend morning? We’ve tried and tried and tried to make the changes necessary to bring about normalcy around food and to solve our lives. No dice.

The Big Book goes to great, gentle lengths to show us why we can’t do it ourselves. In a nutshell, our brain has been compromised by the disease of addiction, and we are defenseless against it. Many of us even tried using religious means to beat our compulsion without success. What we didn’t know, and what the founders of AA want us desperately to know is this: We are powerless and cannot change ourselves by any act of willpower on our part.

Here’s where we stand: We have to change, but we can’t do it for ourselves. We’ve tried asking others to change us. Doctors, counselors, family members, food clinics, diet professionals, celebrity physicians, or just plain celebrities. We know from these experiences that no human power can save us from compulsive eating. So, we can’t do it. Another person can’t do it for us. That means it must come from a Higher Power. And that is why we must have a spiritual experience to change.

But what do we know about spiritual experiences? Not much, really. So if we can’t do it ourselves, that means we’re going to need someone to show us the way. We must find someone with experience doing and living the Steps. If it’s worked for them, then they can pass on their experience, and we can enjoy the fruits of the spiritual experience as well. A sponsor cannot change us, but they can show us the path they took and give us suggestions for how to pick our way along that path. They can also provide us with encouragement if our spirits flag.

The change in our food is merely one of many changes that must be made for us to outlive our disease, but it’s just the first one. For the full effect, we’ve got to get spiritualized too, and for that, we’re going to need our sponsor very, very much.

Updates Available

Sometimes it feels as though we get a notification every day for our desktop, laptop, or device that says “Updates available.” So many, in fact, that for some people these notifications can feel paralyzing:

  • Didn’t I just update?
  • Is this real or some scam?
  • Why do I have to “fix” something I already like?
  • What happens if I don’t do the update?
  • What am I updating anyway?

Yet others may view it more positively:

  • What new features will be available?
  • Will my device run better now?
  •  I bet this will fix some of the buggier features.

But we can find ourselves on both sides of this question. We may not, for example, want to learn a new user interface, but at the same time we may want our operating system to drain the battery less often.

Our OA program can feel much the same. Anytime we go to a meeting, there’s a good chance we’ll hear the equivalent of “Updates available.” Not an explicit request to change, but the implicit suggestion that “this helps me, and I’m sharing in case it helps you.” In fact, it’s part of why meetings help us make progress. We may hear about:

  • an interpretation of OA literature that we’ve never heard before that challenges us spiritually or attracts us
  • a food plan that sounds too loose, too tight, or absolutely amazing
  • a speaker that hits us upside the head with their experience or that gently leads us to a new understanding.

The same is true of our sponsor. They might offer us a radical suggestion or a subtle prompt for reflection that gets under our skin. (Sponsors are good that way!)

Like with our update notifications, we can hear or read so much that we feel as though we have to throw our program away and start over. Or that we have to hold onto it ruthlessly. One of the foundations of how we work OA may suddenly feel ready to buckle. Or we might feel energized and look forward to jumpstarting our journey.

No matter what, we have to evaluate what we hear and be ready to make change if it’s called for. We needn’t take hasty action either. In the past, we’ve often acted impulsively. We’ve made hasty decisions because we wanted to feel better, or at least different, fast. Many times, those decisions came back to bite us in the backside. So we should well consider the things we hear about. We can ask our sponsor and trusted OA friends whether what we’ve heard seems like a good idea. We can, and should, ask our Higher Power for direction. But we probably shouldn’t just go barging ahead with a new idea without careful consideration.

On the other hand, if we’ve asked our Higher Power for a direction or an intuition, we might well be on the right track. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should act with abandon. We should still proceed with care before making adjustments to our OA action plan.

For example, someone else’s food plan may sound amazing. But it’s their food plan, not ours. Their enthusiasm at how well it works for them may feel irresistible, but it might not be right for our particular needs. Or it might be! But updating our food plan is not a small matter because it keeps us in balance with food. If our food plan works for us, we might think through changes very carefully.

Of course, the opposite may be true. The new food-plan idea may elicit a repellent response from us. If our hackles go up merely upon hearing about it, we might ask why we respond so strongly to what’s not our business. Is there something we fear? Do we have an axe grinding away in the background of our brains?

If we hear something powerful in a meeting that’s unorthodox or unusual, does that mean it’s problematic? Of course not. It only means that we haven’t experienced it. But we might also want to consider how the substance of what we’ve heard matches up with OA’s literature and the experience of those around us. If we hear about a miracle new way to write our Fourth Step that only takes ten minutes, we should surely be skeptical. Don’t we read in the Big Book and hear from OAs with strong recovery that the Steps require diligent and thorough work? But if we see that it has worked for the speaker, there’s likely no harm in trying it, and yet, why would we toss aside what’s worked for so many for the experience of many fewer? This stuff gets complicated fast, and that’s why sponsors and our Higher Power are so important for helping us know whether something is right for us.

Doesn’t it come down to honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness?In our meetings and all our OA interactions, we are listening for our Higher Power’s will. Simultaneously, we have a disease that uses our own minds to harm us. We listen, we evaluate, we reflect and question ourselves. But we also have to seek other’s feedback. We can ask our HP if what we heard is “right” for us. We can talk it over with our sponsor and our trusted OA friends. Because in the end, if we choose to update our OA program, we have to remember one key question: Will this help me to grow spiritually? If we can honestly say yes, then we are probably on the right track.

Member Experience #7: Food: As Vivid, yet as Elusive, as My Dreams

This morning, after eating my fabulously satisfying, abstinent, and now “usual” breakfast, I found myself looking back at some of my relapses and how they happened. I wondered, almost aloud, “Why this is now so easy?”

Abstinence hasn’t always been like this? So how is it that I am feeling at peace with my relationship with food almost as though by accident? What is different this time?

I’ve long known that my four trouble foods are sugar, starch, salt, and grease…preferably in combination! I would announce this at meetings, laughing at myself, and people who could identify chuckled with me. But I knew it wasn’t funny because even after surgery those foods called my name as clearly as the voice of my mom when I was a child. Come to think of it, my Mom’s voice and my memories of her seem permanently blended into my relationship with food. I couldn’t remove them any more than I can remove the caffeine from a fresh pot of coffee. Anyone with food memories knows that they evoke feelings, seemingly out of nowhere, and they need not make sense.

With OA’s help, though, we don’t have to eat over them anymore.

Someone who knows me and at least part of my history might read this and say “but she had weight loss surgery, shouldn’t her relationship with food been changed by it?” A valid question. I had sleeve surgery where ¾ of my stomach was removed, I can no longer eat a lot of food at once. My surgery was in 2013, and I lost a great deal of weight. Yet by 2016 I had regained all but a few pounds. For me, food addiction and compulsive eating are about more, next, and else. My surgery removed the MORE component of any particular meal…and yet I found I could eat compulsively in smaller quantities. The NEXT and ELSE aspects of my lifelong relationship with food were still alive and thriving inside my mind. If I waited 20 minutes or so after eating my small meal, I was hungry again, and hungry or not, I would find myself grazing again.  And, sadly, gaining weight AGAIN.

I hated being 280 pounds. I hated being 250 pounds. Nonetheless I found myself having weight loss surgery at nearly 70 years old, going from 280 pounds to 139 then back up to 246. I suffered with daily pain in my knees, hips, and feet. I had shattered my right ankle in a fall in 2008, and still have screws and a plate in it. As I gained and gained, the pain in that ankle grew and grew. All this after bariatric surgery! Was I hopeless?

I was hopeless without OA, but I returned and found the hope I’d lost.

I’ve shed 92 pounds since the summer of 2016, this time in program. It seems impossible that I was once 279.75 pounds—that I was once bulging out of size 3X clothing but now wearing clothing in single-digit sizes. I know I don’t want to relapse again, but I didn’t want to relapse in the year 2000 either. So as I reflected after my abstinent breakfast, it seemed like a good idea to look for the common denominator, the thing that seems to block me from understanding of the concept that my choices have consequences.

It turns out that I have been the personification of the Jaywalker in the Big Book. I have repeatedly tried the same, desperate, fatal action of compulsive eating, hoping that this time it would work and solve all my problems. Now, after relapse, surgery, and a lifetime of experience with compulsive eating, I know that I must replace compulsive eating with a relationship with a Higher Power if I’m going to be happy, joyous, and free in OA.

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.