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.

Welcome Back Workshop, Nov 4th in York, Maine

Join us on Saturday, November 4th at 9:00 am in York, Maine, for Welcome Back to a New Beginning! If you are currently experiencing relapse or have been away from OA for some time, we hope you will join us. Our three person panel will tell us how they survived relapse and came to thrive in OA. Check out our Welcome Back Workshop Flyer for all the details. There is no registration necessary.

If you are not currently experiencing relapse, you are also welcome to join this fellowship opportunity. In fact, please consider inviting someone you haven’t seen at a meeting for a while. This handy guide provides some language for inviting someone to join the event. We know from experience, that there’s nothing more powerful for members who are out of the rooms than to receive a caring call or email from OA friends.

Together we get better. Join us to hear our speakers’ experience, strength, and hope, and enjoy fellowship with other compulsive eaters. Please share this flyer widely with OA friends from this and other areas, especially anyone in relapse. And please announce this special event at your meetings.

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.

Tradition of the Month: Is Abstinence an Outside Issue?

10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on out- side issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.

Previously, we’ve explored whether God is an outside issue in OA. Indeed, much about God and faith lies outside of the bounds of OA. We only know what a Higher Power does for us, not who or what the Higher Power might be. But here’s an even trickier one: Abstinence.

Overeaters Anonymous exists because folks like us need to abstain from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors. We need a solution to our problem with food. In the sense that our primary purpose is to carry the message of hope to those who still suffer, abstinence is very much an inside issue. We go to any length we must for relief from compulsive eating, and we go to great lengths to help others find it too.

At the same time, abstinence is a slippery topic. Whose abstinence is the right one? Do you have to be squeaky clean in every facet of abstinence? What about the differences between food substances and food behaviors? How about anorexia, bulimia, and other disordered eating? Fortunately, OA has a definition of abstinence that helps us all find common language:

Abstinence is the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program.

Regardless of the kind of eating or food issues we have, this definition includes us. We are all part of the OA tribe.

Beyond this, however, OA has no position on food and abstinence. We have no official food plan because it’s an outside issue. How can that be true when abstinence itself is central to recovery? Simply because OA isn’t the food police. If we spent our time hunting down food-plan heretics, we would not be spending time helping others get better. Instead, we encourage every person to have their own food plan and to seek medical and nutritional advice for creating one. We support their efforts to follow it as best we can and share helpful experiences as appropriate.

But more important than that is the fact that food plans aren’t just a tool. They are spiritual. When we commit to a food plan, we direct our willful selves away from our selfish impulses and toward something healthier and, ultimately, more spiritual. A food plan may be the first spiritually oriented move we make in OA…whether we know it or not. Initially or later in our journey, we may begin to ask our Higher Power, the universe, whathaveyou for willingness to follow our plan and relief from the obsession with food. From these small starts comes the willingness for more recovery, the willingness to surrender to the idea that we are no in charge. Never have been, if we’re honest.

If food plans and abstinence are, in fact, spiritual in nature, then they are our Higher Powers’ business. Each of us must find our plan on our own, just as each of us must do the Steps on our own. The Steps provide a framework for recovery, just like the OA definition of abstinence provides one for the food-based part of our journey. Although the pamphlets “Dignity of Choice” and “A Plan of Eating” give us helpful suggestions, they are not codes of food conduct. We cannot legislate the direction of someone’s first steps toward God. We can only share how we did it and help them to find the honesty, willingness, and spiritual connection to get going and keep going.

Step of the Month: Continue

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

On page 84 of the Big Book, Step 10 begins about halfway down the page. In one paragraph, Bill W. and company explain its mechanics:

Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code.

This little snippet begins with an important word: Continue. In the entirety of this paragraph, the word appears four times. It must be important:

  • Continue to take personal inventory
  • Continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along
  • Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness…. It should continue for our lifetime.
  • Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear.

Previously, in Chapter Two, “There Is a Solution,” we learned that we are in the grip of a progressive illness. We are never cured of our addiction. Like any chronic disease, it worsens over the long haul, and it must be managed one day at a time. Our disease continues to worsen, even as we work on our recovery. That means that if we discontinue the spiritual practices the Steps recommend, we are going to revert to compulsive eating. Why? Because we’ll stop getting better, and our disease will eventually catch up to us.

To understand better, here’s an extended metaphor:

You are running in a head-to-head marathon. At the outset, your opponent bolts out to a big lead. You think about quitting the race altogether as you plod along. How will you ever catch up? It’s hopeless. But you realize that this is one of many tactics your opponent uses to psyche you out. Finally, you get a bolt of energy, and you catch up! In fact, you pass your opponent.

The other runner appears to be flagging. But you’ve studied your opponent’s clever tactics. Your rival is also known to hang back, just a few steps behind, letting you set the pace, then pouncing at the first sign of an opponent’s fatigue. So now you have to continue at your pace, lest you be passed again. You have to remember all your training and preparation every step of the way during the rest of the race.

But the further you run, the more tired you get. It seems easier to forget that the other contestant is nipping at our heels. Just as you think you’ve got it made, your foe resorts to a new tactic that you hadn’t expected. Your rival runs up beside you, but just outside of your peripheral vision. You hear their footsteps beside you, and worse, you hear whispers: “Don’t you think you deserve a little rest? You’ve run such a good race so far.” The other runner then drops back to where they were and watches for weakness in your stride. They periodically repeat the tactic, especially on really tough hills. But you know that if you just keep on like are, you’ll win out.

It is not only easier to get abstinent than to stay abstinent, it’s easier to continue living by spiritual principles than to take a break and try to resume them later. If we stop working Step 10, then we will stop growing spiritually, and our opponent runner will pass us. Worse yet, there is no guarantee that we will have the willingness to get back in the race if we stop for a breather. The resentments, fears, dishonesty, and selfishness that build up inside us when we don’t do Step 10 are like the lactic acid that builds up in a runner’s legs. If we keep running, we can get through the discomfort, but once we stop, we’ll likely cramp up or be unable to get back to the pace we’d set before.

Good news: If we keep going, keep doing Step 10, we will keep our focus clear on the race. We also discover that there are people lined up to help us alongside the race course. They shout encouragement, they provide water and even energy bars as we go. Best of all, we discover to our astonishment that two other runners have joined us. They don’t wear a number, so they just decided to run on their own. One is our running coach, and they keep stride with us and give us practical suggestions to keep us going. Better yet, a mysterious fourth runner stays right beside us, pats us on the shoulder as we’re going, tells us how well we’re doing, and provides quiet encouragement to drown out our foe. Each time we hear from that mysterious runner, we feel like a gust of wind is blowing us toward the finish line.

So all we have to do is continue. Continue, continue, and continue, until we hit the tape.

In a Word: Miracles

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, the founders of AA used the miracle frequently. Why wouldn’t they? They saw many of the most hopeless drinkers recover, and quickly, through the application of spiritual principles. Even those who didn’t believe in a religious God, or necessarily any God, received this miracle.

Miracle has several related definitions, some of which don’t include divine operation. Here are three from a simple Google search for “definition miracle”:

  • A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is therefore considered to be the work of a divine agency.
  • A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.
  • An amazing product or achievement, or an outstanding example of something.

These three usages encompass a lot of possible Higher Powers. If we bring a particular religious sentiment to our OA program, the first definition has application for us. The latter two definitions allow other members to interpret the word in a way that works in the system of belief they have arrived at during the Steps.

Miracle has its roots in Latin from the word for wonder. And wonder we do at the good fortune that OA brings us. As we work our way through the journey of recovery, we come face to face with the miraculous each time we look in the mirror. We may see the difference in our eyes first, as the food fog lifts and our minds clear, the sharpness returning to our gaze. Soon we see the physical change in our faces and shape that has allowed us to live in a normal sized body. Eventually, we see the spiritual change reflected not in mirror glass, but in the eyes of others as we live a more peaceful and loving life.

At each of these stages, we sense that something “highly improbable” has happened within us, and that its occurrence is, indeed, “very welcome.” If we take a moment to pause and make a quick count of the behaviors we’ve been relieved of, we can see rapidly just how amazing the change in us is. We never thought we’d be able to shed our compulsive food behaviors and the cravings that accompany them. Nor our hair-trigger eating response to even our least potent feelings. But they no longer dominate us as they once did.

It is important for us to remember, however, that we have been given this miracle, by whatever spiritual mechanism we understand. Yes, in the Steps we make some decisions, write some inventory, speak it out, make some amends, but we remain unable to actually change ourselves. After all, if we could have done so all along, we wouldn’t need OA. Whatever our Higher Power is, we asked for recovery, did a little work, and then the miracle just happened to us. It is not of our making, but it does require our participation and acceptance.

We are walking miracles, but let’s not get cocky. We’re still human beings, and we still have this chronic disease. It continues to worsen while we continue to grow in OA. To keep this miracle alive, we must stay in touch with the program and continue to cultivate a deeper relationship with the our HP. If we do so, then we will stand as examples for those who need help with compulsive eating. By helping them, our recovery will be further strengthened!

So we needn’t every worry whether we will receive the “welcome consequences” of OA. Each one of us is a miracle. Each one of us, no matter where we are in recovery, represents one more person whose life is not claimed by compulsive eating while in ignorance of its solution.

Tradition of the Month: Keeping OA Homey

9. OA, as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.

As OA members, the organization of our lives comes from the actions that are suggested we take each day to stay on the beam:

  • Pray and meditate in the morning, and keep in touch with our Higher Power throughout the day (Step 11)
  • Review our conduct in the moment and at night and be ready to set right any wrongs (Step 10)
  • Do our best to keep in mind how we can be helpful to others, and then actually help them
  • Help others, carry the message to those who still suffer from compulsive eating, and live the principles of the 12 Steps as fully as we can
  • And of course, not eat compulsively.

But beyond these overarching ideas, OA doesn’t get specific. We addicts with our controlling ways love to make rules, get angry when others break them, and then break other people’s rules to boot. There’s no need for all that fuss. After all, our HP will gently show us how to live, provided we relax our grip on the world and our life.

Like its individual members, for OA to stay on the beam it too needs some little bit of organization, but not too much. Who has time for niggling rules when the important business of helping others is afoot? We can’t be waylaid on this mission by protracted discussions of who does what and when. And why. And how. And by whose authority. And how many votes it takes to make that authorization. And how to remove people from authority whose actions we don’t like.

In this way, organizations are somewhat like houses. Perhaps we start with a comfy, cozy little home. We decide to add onto it to just a little more space. But we need permits to do that. We need to be careful of the easements for our property, and also where the sewer, water, and gas lines are buried. Oh, and we’ll need to ascertain whether our circuit breaker can handle enough of the additional load or whether we need a bigger box. We’ll need to figure out the plumbing if we want a bathroom, and code may demand one if we increase to a certain square footage. Of course, our taxes will go up what with the additional room in the house and all making its assessment go up. Things get complicated fast. Now imagine taking care of a mansion. All seventeen rooms need upkeep. Just cleaning them all would exhaust a person. The gardens need tending. Make it big enough and a home turns into a house.

OA is our home. The more we put additions on it, the more we’re going to be dealing with the management of organizational structures. We’ll spend time worrying about how to keep nonessential things going to the detriment of our one primary purpose: Carrying the message to compulsive eaters.

We can look to our current or former workplaces for further examples. Most people at some time complain about the bureaucracy of their workplace. It takes so long to hire someone due to the layers of approval. It takes so long to get product to market because of design-by-committee. There’s too many managers and not enough people to do the actual work. Everything has a required form. Can’t just go across the hall to ask a colleague to help with something without first asking their boss who then has to ask their boss….

So OA as a fellowship needs to keep it in the day just as we members do in our daily lives. We have no choice. If OA were to fall apart, so would we. We need the support of the fellowship, and we need to support the fellowship in order to stay alive. We’re just a bunch of food-drunks trying to stay free from compulsive eating, we’re not organizational geniuses. It’s like Dr. Bob’s said the last time he saw AA cofounder Bill Wilson: “Remember Bill, let’s not louse this thing up. Let’s keep it simple.”

Step the Month: Everyday Amends

9. Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

We are often inspired to hear the stories of difficult amends made with the courage that comes from our Higher Powers. Families reunited, large sums repaid, hatchets as big as a house buried, friendships resumed, feuds resolved. We hear about these from our fellow OA members, and we hope to do as well by those we have harmed as they have.

But like so many things in recovery, size doesn’t always matter. Quality matters as much as quantity and consistency matters as much as that one big moment.

We cannot undo the past, but in making amends, we commit to taking responsibility for the messes we’ve made. Maybe we haven’t done something as “glamorous” as getting arrested or maiming our selves or others. Maybe, instead, we’ve slowly eroded relationships with others through the million paper cuts we’ve given them in our addiction. And the gallons of lemon juice and tons of salt we’ve added to those wounds.

So instead of comparing our recoveries to others’ experiences with amends, we can compare our own befores to our own afters. What was our home life like before we began making amends to our loved ones? What is it like now? What was our work life like before we began making amends? What is it like now? Same goes for any relationship we are in, even our relationship with the world at large.

But notice the phrasing there: “before we began making amends.” In many respects, we are never done making amends. To amend something is to change it. When we make amends, we don’t merely say I’m sorry. We tell the other person that we’re changing our behavior. And then we trust and rely on our HP to help us live in a changed manner and to become the changed person we commit to.

That means that each and every day, we are making amends simply in how we conduct ourselves. If we used to passively watch as our spouse did everything around the house, we pick up a sponge and start doing the dishes. If we gossiped and schemed our way through the work day, we cease self-serving conversations and ask how we can help a coworker. If we used to ignore our far-flung family, we pick up the phone. These are everyday amends. The little things we do.

Those around us may or may not be impressed that we’ve lost weight and stopped filling our faces. But they know us, and they know that if we don’t change as people, our compulsive eating will return, just as it always has. These folks have been on the receiving end of a lot of our anger, isolation, depression, and/or volatility. Skinny or fat, they know the score with us. They know we’ve never been able to change. We can’t prove them wrong. Only our Higher Power can. Like the Third Step Prayer says, “Relieve me of the bondage of self/that I may better do They will/Take away my difficulties/That victory of them may bear witness to those I would help…”.

But just because we ask our Higher Power to work through us doesn’t mean we just sit around waiting for inspiration to strike. We do things for others, we help where we didn’t used to, and we fake it it until we make it with HP’s help. Because while the big things make great stories and are very important to our healing, it’s the little everyday amends that, moment to moment, help us stay on the broad highway of recovery.

Discipline

For many of us addicts, the word discipline conjures up nightmares of boot camps, childhood spankings, and a general sense of punishment that flies in the face of our willfulness. Indeed, the first definition for discipline in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary reads ominously, in all caps, and in red:

PUNISHMENT

On the other hand, we often find ourselves wishing we had the discipline to stop eating compulsively! The same source’s fifth definition surfaces what we’re looking for:

5 c: SELF-CONTROL

When put through the filter of our diseased thinking, we may regard controlling of our food as both a punishing restriction and as a sign of good moral character. Our illness wins out every time, and as we watch normal eaters take or leave food and lament that we can’t be like them, we feel burnt up. Which makes want to eat even more.

But maybe we’ve got it backwards? What if we thought about compulsive eating as punishing ourselves? What if we recognize that because of the disease of addiction, we can’t control our eating? What if no amount of thinking, no surge of willpower, and no diet regimen will save us because we are different than normal folks?

That’s exactly what Bill W. and Dr. Bob realized. When they tell us in the Big Book, “never talk down to an alcoholic,” they recognized that we addicts struggle with authority as well as self-control. We don’t respond to the carrot-and-stick approach. But as we get into the program, we see that those members with strong recovery have some semblance of that discipline we always wanted. It may manifest in “squeaky clean abstinence,” or in a general demeanor that demonstrates a level of self-control that we don’t possess, but we see it. How did they get it?

Now we are ready for another of the definitions of discipline:

5 b: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior

We may think of “military discipline” or monk-like behavior, but don’t we see this in everyday people in our lives? That person we know who works out three times a week no matter what. Or the one who always has wonderful gardens because they weed regularly. A music student who practices frequently and without prodding because they want to improve. And in our case, the OA member who uses the Steps, Traditions, and Tools to gain abstinence and see a turnaround in their lives.

So how did those folks get that self-control, the orderly behavior? We’re desperate to know when we first join OA. The answer is, not surprisingly, one more definition of discipline:

4: training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character

That’s exactly what we are after in OA. We go about it a little differently than most of courses of study. Typically, when people follow a discipline, they practice the thing they want until they become proficient at it. Well, we do some of that. But the thing we really want, the change in our spirits and our mentalities isn’t of our own making. We do our step work and learn some wonderful insights and coping tools for life, but we have no more ability to change ourselves than we did before OA. Our Higher Power changes us. The disciplines we attend to are designed to get us ready to be changed and to maintain the change, but we never arrive at proficiency at controlling our food and having a spiritual awakening. Instead, we are granted another chance at the life we always wanted.

“We alcoholics are undisciplined,” the Big Book tells us, “so we let God discipline us.” And we remember that this discipline isn’t about punishing but about forgiving and healing.