Step of the Month: Once You Know…

There’s a 12-Step slogan that takes on a variety of wordings, but boils down to “Once you know, there’s no not knowing no more, don’t you know.” Usually, it’s an alternative to the also popular, “OA ruins your eating.”

Once we learn the truth about compulsive eating, we cannot unlearn it. Forever more, every time we take a compulsive bite, we will know exactly what we are doing. We will know that we are activating the physical craving and the mental obsession as well as dooming ourselves to food hell.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg for us because in Step Four, we come face to face with the rest of our compulsive self. Many of us discover that our coping skills consist of eating and a motley assortment of esteem-squashing other behaviors that we didn’t realize we used to medicate ourselves.

Gossipping is a prime example. We may have used gossip to reduce our anxiety about a situation. We think that if we control certain information, then we control a situation. We can’t be blindsided. So we gather intelligence. We reconnoiter. We gather up every scrap of intelligence we can from our carefully developed network so that we can’t be ambushed.

We might also use gossiping to feel better about ourselves. If our allies see the predicament the way we do, we are validated in our righteous anger or our victimhood. We can get an outside of assessment of how good or bad we are in comparison to others.

And we can run our enemies down so that we feel superior.

We prescribe ourselves a cocktail of food and gossip when we feel insecure in our position in a situation. We might add some other off-label meds as well, for example self-pity, complaint, binge-watching television, people-pleasing, isolating. Bring ’em all to our pot-luck pity party!

When we get to Step Four, we have a lot of untangling to do. We think food is the big, hairy monster, when, in reality, the monster is inside our mind. Food is but a symptom, and so are all the other behaviors that we lean on. But until we write out our inventory and see how it has affected both ourselves and those around us, we don’t even realize how badly the disease has us.

Our addiction-addled brains will do anything to take the edge off of. Our disease has grown tentacles that weave themselves into our neurons. We can no longer tell where our personality begins and the addiction ends. All we can think about is how we will relieve our pain and anxiety, and so we use food and any other behaviors we have at our disposal to feel a little better. A little more in control or a little more numbed.

In Step Four we must see these other behaviors in black and white. And not just once. We’ll see them again and again, if we do an honest and thorough job. In fact, the repetition of these defective behaviors is part of the magic of doing inventory.

First, we have to know what behaviors are killing us spiritually so we can avoid them. Second, many addicts tend to cling stubbornly to their defects of character, so if we don’t seem them numerous times, we may gloss over them. Third, until we understand the hurt we cause to ourselves and others by practicing those behaviors, we may not feel much impetus to ask our Higher Power to remove them.

So we do our inventory, discover the damaged and damaging goods in our stores, and we  ask for their removal. And then we practice living without them. They may well come back. Our disease is cunning and never cured. It will try to loose our grip on God’s hand by whatever means it can, and that may mean a slow, nearly imperceptible slide back into some secondary behaviors like gossip.

But once we know we can’t not know. We remain vigilant. We ask others for feedback. We listen to the voice in our gut that tells us to avoid doing what we used to do. Most important, if we find ourselves resuming those old behaviors, we must stop them or ask for help in stopping them. They are a pathway to the first bite.

There’s No God in Gossip

Today a guest poster takes on a topic of subtle importance.

There’s no God in gossip. I learn this at work, at home, among friends. Sometimes by positive reinforcement (I don’t gossip, and I feel better for it), sometimes by negative (I gossip, and I feel worse for it or confused by it). When I gossip, it’s because I want control. By pulling the information I want out of others and by doling out morsels as I see fit, I feel like a master spy orchestrating events to come to a conclusion of my devising. The reality is, in fact, humiliating.

You see, when I’m gossiping and trying to gain control, it’s usually of situation that doesn’t exist now and probably won’t ever. Or it’s of a situation I can never control. It’s all a fantasy world ordered by my ego, designed by my mind, and shaped by my fears. When I gossip, I am trying to dictate the flow of information to fill in the missing parts of the fantasy world in my head. Is this person my friend? Who is allied against me? What can I count on happening? What surprises lay in store for me? What’s the real scoop?

The sad part about it? I’m wasting all my creative energies by taking bad things that happened before (and maybe not even to me) and projecting them into the future. What if instead of gossiping and indulging these dark fantasies I simply applied my focus to the task at hand? My work. My marriage. My friendships. To helping others, in other words. That’s where the program tells me God is. Not in controlling.

In fact, gossiping can be harmful not only to me, but to others. Obviously, I’m wasting others’ time to begin with. But by gossiping, I’m yanking people out of reality and into my projections. I’m potentially filling them with misinformation that they might act upon or that might negatively impact their perception of another person or a situation. After all, slander is gossip’s frequent traveling companion. I’m sowing seeds of confusion or even enmity.

At its most reductive, when I’m gossiping, I am substituting gossip for God. I am not trusting and relying on God, I am trusting and relying on my smoke-filled back-room skills. Just like I substitute food for God when I’m eating compulsively. The hit from food doesn’t last very long. It’s a poor and short buzz. Gossip is little better. I want to know more and more, and I like the surge of power that comes from sharing it with furtive declarations such as “This has to stay between us….” But anything that gives me that surge is suspect. It’s always my self-centeredness trying to wrest control of me from my spiritually awakened self.

There can be a fine line between gathering necessary information and gossiping. Anyone who has worked in middle management knows that when you are trusted with the care of others’ professional lives, it’s important to know what changes may be coming or what tensions exist between departments. The question is how to know the difference between necessary discussion and gossip.

It seems that, for the most part, my intuition signals me. When I’m about to cross the line from legitimate water cooler talk to gossip, I tend to get a strong gut-level indication. A wincing of my conscience, perhaps. Sometimes I listen to that signal, sometimes I don’t. When I do, I feel freer. As I write, I realize that the best way to handle these situations is to enter them with God. If I ask for help and guidance before beginning to speak with someone, I stand a better chance of listening to that intuitive thought. If I listen to that thought, there’s no doubt I’ll have a better day.

In the end, the biggest of the big pictures is that God will help me no matter what the outcome of any situation. I can count on that, so the need to control doesn’t exist. Literally does not exist. It only seems real, but it’s a figment of my addict mind’s imagination. Just like the magical powers I give to food when I eat compulsively.