Step of the Month: Becoming willing

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

There are two parts to Step 8: make a list and become willing. We’ve talked extensively in a previous post about that list, so let’s focus more on the willingness. What we’re really becoming willing to do is ignore our pride and our fear.

Our pride may tell us that this is all too much. It will imagine forward into the ninth step. It may tell us that the process will feel humiliating, like begging forgiveness on our bended knees or like prostrating ourselves before another person. The Big Book gives sound advice. We are never to be “scraping or servile” it says. We are absolutely not making amends to gain forgiveness. That’s selfish thinking—as in What can I get from this encounter? In fact, we are not aiming to gain anything, only to do what we can to put as square as possible the relationships we’ve skewed through our behavior as food addicts.

Rather than listen to our pride and its imaginings of the future, we keep it in the present and just pray for willingness.

Our fear is more potent yet. It may tell us that making amends threatens our emotional or even physical well-being. Or that we just can’t do it. We are likely afraid of encountering anger, rejection, or bad feelings. We may also be afraid of letting the words fall from our mouths, for shattering the idea that we’ve been perfect or never wrong. Again, fear is projecting a future that is unlikely to occur. Most amends go smoothly, some go delightfully, and, yes, some don’t go well. It doesn’t matter. Right now, we are merely becoming willing to go through with them. If someone becomes angry at us, they have every right. After all, we harmed them!

Rather than listen to our fear and its imaginings of the future, we keep it in the present and just pray for willingness.

If we remain unwilling to commit to this path, we pray until we become willing. But we don’t need to sit passively by either, awaiting spiritual dew drops of willingness to fall onto our foreheads. Instead, we can talk to others about what’s blocking us. Having just put down the food, taken inventory, and had our defects of character removed, we can test the new clarity our HP has given us to consider the costs and benefits of moving forward or staying at Step 8. Let’s look at them.




  • I’ll eat again because I’m not growing spiritually and I’m not completing the program of action that’s known to work
  • My relationships won’t improve or change
  • I’ll still feel discomfort about the harms I’ve caused


  • I won’t have to admit I’ve been or done wrong
  • I won’t have to face fears or anger and rejection
  • I won’t have to give up control of the situation



  • I’ll have to swallow my pride
  • I’ll have to summon courage from HP to face my fears
  • I’ll have to accept the outcome, whatever it may be


  • I’ll be growing spiritually and taking out insurance against eating again
  • I’ll feel freedom from self-resentment about the harms I’ve done
  • My relationships and life circumstances will improve
  • I’ll feel self-esteem for following through on something difficult
  • Other peoples’ lives may change for the better because I’ve have broken the negative cycle between us

Seems pretty straightforward. We exchange a little discomfort for a truckload of blessings. This is exactly why the promises we read at most meetings are found in the ninth step—because we can’t get those promises without cleaning up our side of the street. Only then do we receive the entirety of the spiritual bounty that OA promises us.

Emotions are very, very powerful. They are often also misleading. As people in recovery, we understand that we’ve let our emotions run our lives into the ground. As we become willing to make amends in Step 8, we are reminding ourselves that our Higher Power runs the show, not our feelings. We still have our feelings, but we now have Steps 10 and 11 as well as the nine OA tools to safely deal with them. They needn’t block us from taking action that will save us instead of action—or inaction—that will kill us.


Fear and self-pity: a deadly combination

Go to any OA meeting, and you’ll hear about fear. We hide out from the world and seek the companionship of food because we are afraid to face what’s out there. If we restrict our eating, it’s often because we are afraid we weigh too much and that people will judge us. No matter the fear or its origin, we have developed eating behaviors as a coping mechanism. And if that weren’t bad enough, fear has a nasty relationship with self-pity that speeds along our demise from this disease.

In the Big Book, we read that “resentment is the number one offender.” When we take inventory of our resentments, we list how it affected us, and, as in the example on page 65, we always list “(fear)” among them. Of course, we don’t stop at what the offending person did. The Big Book instructs us on page 67 to also ask ourselves where we were selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. As we write all these resentments, we come to see the massive power that fear had over us. We acted selfishly, lied to ourselves, and behaved out of self-concern because of our fears. So, the Big Book then has us inventory our fears, starting with those we analyzed in our resentments and then those unconnected to a resentment. Fear is a big deal.

The thing about fear is that our disease uses our past experience to create fear about our future. If we were told something negative in the past that hurt us, our addict brain tells us that we will suffer the same humiliation or heartache whenever a similar circumstance occurs. It uses our past as a lever to make us eat. This is a big part of why it is that the cycle of addictive behavior always begins with a feeling before we are activated to eat.

If fear is the transferring of past experience to an unknown future, then self-pity is staying stuck in the past and being unwilling to see a different future. Our disease loves to tear down our defenses with self-pity. We feel a strong urge to stop eating compulsively, and then we have an encounter with someone at work that didn’t go well. That encounter reminds us consciously or subconsciously of another time we had a bad encounter with someone. And another. And another and another. Until this small but painful encounter today feels freighted with the emotional weight of our whole inner world. Because we have a disease that warps our perspective, we can only see this tunnel-like vision of bad encounters, forgetting or ignoring all the positive relations we have in the world. And we are activated to eat.

Our disease skillfully plays fear off of self-pity:

  1. We have a painful encounter
  2. It reminds us all our other painful encounters
  3. We feel self-pity
  4. We realize that we’ll have to deal with the person or situation again in the future.
  5. We fear that the next encounter will be as painful as this one…or worse.
  6. If we haven’t already eaten, we’re primed to do so now.

If we are truly addicts, we have lost the power to control ourselves around food in part because our minds act against us in this and many other ways. We cannot change ourselves. We’ve tried! We’ve told ourselves we won’t take ourselves so seriously, or that we’ll go on a diet, or that we’ll let these hurtful things roll off our backs, or that next time we just won’t eat over it. But it never works. We always return to our old ways of thinking and our addictive eating.

The whole point of the 12 Steps is to create inside us the conditions for change. We prepare ourselves to be changed by inventorying all the yucky stuff so that we can then ask God to remove it all and enter into our hearts. The Big Book tells us that we must let go of “old ideas” in order to be changed. These fears and self-pities are some of those ideas. We may have suffered in the past, but now we replace the fear of the future with trusting and relying on God to get us through whatever may come. We may have continually felt sorry for ourselves, but now we see that God is using those old hurts as ways that we can win the confidence of other suffering compulsive eaters and help them find the recovery we’ve been granted.

In other words, God turns these defects of character into assets that help us to be of service to others. Fear and self-pity are an insidious part of the human condition, a killer for people like us, but OA and our HP give us a special power to combat them and help the world be a little better place. And that’s nothing to be afraid of!

One Day at a Time in Everything

One day at a time is an awfully powerful concept. For us compulsive eaters, it means that we can only behave abstinently today, in this 24 hours. The past is done, tomorrow isn’t here yet. Which further means that we don’t need to worry about our abstinence in any moment but this one. And with our Higher Power’s help, we don’t worry, we just do.

But as we work this program of spiritual action, we come to find out that one day at a time works in every aspect of our lives. For example, if we have 100 pounds to lose, it won’t come off in one day, so today all we can do is eat abstinently and let the weight fall away in its due course. We may have fear of financial insecurity. But that next paycheck isn’t coming for two weeks, so if we can’t pay our bills until then, we ask God how to manage what we have today. Illness in our family? We can’t spend our time worrying about if someone will get better tomorrow when they need us today.

We must stay centered on today. Today, today, today!

Many of us worry about tomorrow because we’re afraid it will look like yesterday. We’re afraid of a rerun of prior events, so we skip right over today and project the past into the future. When we do this, we’re forgetting that our Higher Power is available to us, not only for soothing our fears but also for giving us strength and courage to do differently than we have before.

In some spiritual traditions, we are told explicitly that everything is always in motion, forever changing…sometimes rapidly, sometimes imperceptibly. In ourselves, we sometimes don’t see this. When we are out there eating, we might confuse hopelessness with unchangingness. In fact, we are changing into increasingly sick people. Our disease is always getting worse, never better. This is the progressive nature of our disease.

But when we enter the halls of OA, our hopelessness is eased and then removed. We see amazing personal transformations that show us how the steps and a relationship with a Higher Power upend our well worn idea that we can’t change toward the positive. Of course we can, but because of our disease, we can only do it with help from our fellows and the God of our understanding. This is where the idea of constant change, one day at a time, becomes our friendly companion. We progress each day that we practice the OA program, and when we understand this more fully, we get more and more hope. And eventually that hope itself changes into certainty. A certainty that there is a solution and that it works when we work it.

Sometimes we see the idea of one day at a time play out in less spiritual places in our world. For example, how many times do we hear a ballplayer say something like, “I’m just trying to take it one day at a time and stay focused on today’s game.” We especially hear this when they are asked about whether their team will make the playoffs or what they think about their own hot or cold streak. Keeping focus on what’s important (today, doing the work that needs done to stay on top, letting go of what’s outside our control) are the hallmarks of smart athletes and of strong OA programs.

This idea even plays out in popular culture. A certain famous, small green space person once said two things that resonate with the idea of one day at a time:

  1. “The future always in motion is.”
  2. “All his life he looked away…to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was…. What he was doing.”

While these are certainly not OA approved literature, they point out again that the world out there is also aware that we human beings have a tendency to forget that we change, others change, everything changes. That what we see one way this Saturday, we may see differently the next. That our enemy today may be our friend next month. That as we look toward the future in eagerness or fear, we forget ourselves and our Higher Powers now and become susceptible to the temptations that wreck us today because we’re trying to bring about happiness or avoid sorrow that may never come.

Maybe this all sounds a tad philosophical, but isn’t it actually life-and-death for us compulsive eaters? When we are eating our brains out, are we eating because something is happening to us RIGHT NOW? Of course not. We are eating because something happened a moment ago, a day ago, a lifetime ago. Or because we worry about something happening tomorrow, the next day, or the next decade from now. In this moment, the only trouble is with our thinking. And one day at a time, we’re working on that with the help of OA’s fellowship and steps and the Higher Power we are coming to know.