Patience is gratitude

Why do we eat compulsively? One reason is that we are impatient to take the edge off of our feelings. We can’t sit still with discomfort. Whether it arrives with words or by an urge, inside we feel that I’VE GOT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS.

In “The Doctor’s Opinion,” Dr. Silkworth explains that when we don’t have our substance, we feel “restless, irritable, and discontented.” Even before a triggering feeling or event occurs, we’re emotionally primed for self-sabotaging action because of the general uncomfortableness of our disease. It’s like prickly heat of the mind. So when we can’t stand it anymore, we eat, or we yell at our loved ones, or we blast out of the room we’re in, or we slam the phone into the cradle.

One thing that people routinely discuss in meetings is how much more patient they feel in recovery. We might hear that “those things my husband does don’t bother the way they used to.” Or someone might say that “I don’t have to go to every fight I’m invited to.” A great old saying that gets bandied about: “Do I want to be right? Or do I want to be happy?” Much of this increase in patience comes about by the simple action of abstaining from our trigger foods. When these substances are no longer in our bodies, physical cravings cease, removing one of the factors in our general impatience. But the feelings of restlessness, irritability, and discontent only clear up once we have experienced the Twelve Steps.

The Steps remove many mental and emotional barriers to abstinence and spirituality. Every trigger we encounter reminds us of some past bruisings of our ego. Just another piece of evidence against us in the court of mental law. But once we do the Steps, these feelings either disappear entirely or they ease so far back that we can gain perspective on them and deal with them in an adult manner. What a relief! The restlessness, irritability, and discontent are not permanent features of our mentality.

We also, however, gain through the Steps the ability to draw upon the support of a Higher Power, however we might define our HP. Infused with spiritual energy, our hearts and spirits soften and we become more open minded. We find that our need for immediate relief has slackened. We can make an appropriate decision or ask God for help. And that pause is beautiful.

When we take a moment before acting, we can reflect, even if just for a moment, on our situation. Are we amped up emotionally? Has anger risen up to our eyeballs? Has a gaping pit of despair opened in our stomach? Have we become so excited that we’re hyper? Pausing to recognize these conditions helps us come down from our emotional high.

Its turns out that applying patience to a situation is also an act of gratitude. We are so thankful for a new lease on life. We may find ourselves reminded that as people in recovery we can demonstrate our gratitude by turning to love and tolerance. We committed in the Third Step to building a better world by helping others:

God, I offer myself to Thee

To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt

Relieve me of the bondage of self

That I may better do Thy will

and take away my difficulties

that victory over them

may bear witness to those I would help

of Thy power, Thy love, and Thy way of life.

May I do Thy will always.

The bolded areas indicate that our HP wants us to engage in constructive action and help others. It’s the contract we made with God: Save me, and I’ll help You and others. If we react to our emotions (especially the negative ones) instead of pausing, then we risk destroying rather than building. We risk alienating others whom we might help.

So pausing is an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude. We’ve been saved from the doom of compulsive eating, and we return the favor by not going off half-cocked for selfish reasons. We wait as long as is necessary, perhaps a lifetime, perhaps a second. But we wait, sometimes gritting our teeth in gratitude, so that we we can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

(Un)justified anger

No fair!!! That’s one of childhood’s classic refrains. As kids we do recognize right from wrong, and we call it out when we see it. But as we age, we learn that, in fact, life and the world are not fair. But on the inside we’re still six-year-olds turning red in the face.

As adults we have words for various kinds of unfairness: nepotism, favoritism, corruption, taxation without representation, illegality, disparity, classism, racism, sexism, ethno-centrisism, bigotry.

Our disease loves all flavors of unfairness.

The disease of addiction can’t wait to get hold of something that we perceive as unfair and turn it into justified anger. That’s the best kind of anger, right? It’s the motivator of all the raging arguments, debates, fisticuffs, revenge plans, courtroom scenes, and showdown fantasies that play in our heads. On repeat. Until we interrupt the thought with food.

As usual, we want to take the edge off, and why wouldn’t we with all the exhausting fights going on behind our eyes. The thing about justified anger is that it lingers much longer than the flashing anger we feel when we get cut off in traffic. Justified anger spins up and up, becoming increasingly complex as we tease out its nuances, assemble evidence for our prosecution, and revisit the subject ad nauseum. It starts to spill out in bad, then hostile moods as well as depression. But most of all, we just can’t get it out of our minds. So we think the only thing we can do is bury it alive with food.

As human beings, justified anger is going to happen. We are afraid of our own anger, and we know that we must do something to avoid letting our spiraling rage take over us like the Incredible Hulk. So we eat because we don’t know better. Once we have joined OA and worked on the Steps, however, we discover a third way. We learn to use spiritual principles to defuse our red-hot emotions.

To start with, we can go to meetings and talk about the situation with others. We need to reach out to the fellowship because justified anger is a great way for terminal uniqueness to spring up. No one can understand my anger because they don’t know my [family member, friend, boss, coworker, opponent] and what they’ve done. That kind of thinking is just our brain trying to kill us. It’s been waiting for something to come up so it can steer us back to the misery of compulsive eating.

We can pick up the 1,000-pound phone and talk to others. We can lean on our sponsor. We can read OA literature. We might write a letter to God about the situation. Because this is a spiritual program, we can trust and rely on our Higher Power by praying like crazy for removal of our anger. The Serenity Prayer and the Angry Man’s Prayer from page 68 in the Big Book are helpful here. The latter goes like this:

This is a sick man. How can I be helpful to him? God save me from being angry. Thy will be done.

If we must confront the subject of our anger, we should do so only after prayer, meditation, and quiet deliberation. When we talk to this person or persons, we should do so carefully. It may be helpful to remember a bit of wisdom from a book of wisdom:

The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious, and the lips of a fool swallow him up.

We are here to do good on this earth, not to pick fights. If we feel we have been treated unfairly, we may take action or we may choose to accept the situation. In either event, however, we must use spiritual principles and action so that we don’t sow seeds of anger in others. We don’t have the luxury to go off half-cocked because if we do, our disease might put us back in its full nelson.