Step of the Month: Honesty

Honesty, it turns out, doesn’t have to be a lonely word. In OA, we need to get honest about our food and our lives as quickly as possible. It’s imperative that we can stop killing ourselves with food, of course, but that longer life will be much happier and free if we can be honest with ourselves and those around us. Step Five takes us a long way toward our new ideal of complete honesty.

The moment that we cross the line into addiction, we became liars. Our diseased minds may tell us that we are honest people, but we’re not. We have lied to ourselves daily about food. “This time I’ll get control.” “I can eat this without repercussions.” “Screw it. I’m going to eat because I’m not worth saving anyway, and food is my only proven source of comfort.”

Meanwhile, we’ve told half-truths, dissembled, obfuscated, omitted, prevaricated, stolen, stashed, and out-and-out told baldfaced lies to ourselves and others about our food, our feelings, and our life. With the best intentions, we’ve said to spouses and children that we’ll stop eating so unhealthfully. Maybe we even lose a few pounds. Then we pick up that disastrous first bite again. All along, we ignore our history of continually failing to control our food. We ignore the lingering feeling that it won’t work anyway. We do it for them instead of doing it for ourselves.

Another common source of dishonest around food is stealing. We put our hand into someone else’s candy stash at work. We eat a roommate’s food and hide the evidence. We may even shoplift, including eating out of bulk food bins without paying first for the “sample” we’ve taken.

Perhaps the very worst lie our illness perpetrates on us is the one that says “I am not good enough.” That little sentence is food addiction pulling the trigger on the eating gun that’s destroying us. We who have experienced this disease and found recovery know now that this is, indeed, a huge lie. All of us are worth being saved from the oblivion of food addiction. But try to tell anyone who’s in its grips.

In fact, they have to tell themselves. That is what Step Five is all about. In Step Four, we wrote a fearless and searching moral inventory. But what good is the inventory if we don’t do something with it? A business that takes inventory doesn’t just file it away. It then decides what to keep, throw away, or order. In our inventory we have learned much about our dishonesty. We’ve also learned how to be more honest with ourselves. Now in Step Five, we’re going to use that inventory and the connection with made with our Higher Power to reach a new level of honesty by sharing it out loud, omitting nothing.

At this point, some members feel awkward or frightened. Of course we do. We are always thinking of ourselves, so we fear how will the person who is hearing our inventory judge us. But we go ahead anyway. We have to or else.

We read our inventory aloud to our Higher Power and another (carefully chosen) person (who is likely our sponsor). As we read, we discover a few things. First that holding all this crap inside of us has been exhausting. We’re relieved to just get it out. Second that if our listener is an OA member or familiar with the Twelve Steps, they completely understand. They nod their heads and remind us that they and many others have done the very same things we have. Third that when we are done, we have just done the most honest thing we’ve ever done. We can meet anyone’s eye without blinking because we have told the whole truth, and it made us stronger and didn’t kill us.

Some of us may experience the aftermath of Step Five as a refreshing breeze that blows across us. Others may simply feel quiet and grateful. Still others report that it took them a few days or weeks to notice a difference in themselves. But inevitably, they eventually feel a remarkable difference in their feeling about themselves and in their ability to be honest.

Thanks to our Higher Powers’ willingness to help us recover, we come face to face with our dishonest past, and we sweep it away by being utterly honest about it and by then following Step 5 with more action in the middle Steps. And we learn the big truth: That we are OK on the inside. We move from hope for a better life toward a certainty we will find it with God’s help. Honesty in OA isn’t lonely. We find it by working with our Higher Power, our sponsor, and the fellowship. In fact, as we discover that honesty really is the best and simplest policy, we find that we feel closer to others in lives because, finally, we can be real with them.

What to do as a sponsee

The Big Book devotes a chapter to working with others. OA has a pamphlet just about how to sponsor. Many meetings ask for active sponsors to identify themselves. Members speaking at a meeting or generally sharing often talk about how they work with others. But when it comes to being a sponsee, we hardly hear more than “I did what my sponsor suggested.” That’s great advice, but what exactly does it entail?

Once we’ve gotten up the courage to ask someone to guide us through the program, the real work begins. We often talk about HOW in our meetings: Honesty, Open-mindedness, and Willingness. These form a strong foundation for getting the most from our sponsor/sponsee relationship.

Honesty is obviously the most important attribute we can bring to our work with a sponsor. We are used to being dishonest. We minimize, overdramatize, fantasize, and downright lie about our food, our feelings, our relationships, and our life circumstances. With our sponsor, we have an opportunity to finally be absolutely honest about ourselves. We can tell them exactly what’s happening outside and inside us, and particularly about how the illness of compulsive eating is affecting us. There’s no point in bs’ing our sponsor. They’ve encountered people just like us so many times, and they see right through us. We don’t worry about what they might think of us, we just tell the truth. All of it. We can’t get better without it.

Open-mindedness buds from the branch of honesty. When our sponsor suggests an action to take, do we instinctively react negatively? Do we immediately shut down the possibility of taking that action? When our sponsor suggests considering the idea of a Higher Power, do we put it in our mental shredder because we know there is no god? Do we insist to ourselves that even if a god exists, it won’t help us? Or do we belay the orders our mind wants to give us and pause to examine the fact that a spiritual solution has worked in our sponsor’s life? We have for years and years been closed-minded. We have thought we had all the answers. We have thought that we must take the edge off of life with food because our feelings were too much for us. We have thought that we were broken and unfixable, unloveable, and unredeemable. By being honest with someone for the first time, we see that our thinking is unreliable. By being openminded, we become able to receive truths we had denied and apply some of those new truths to our lives.

Once we are openminded enough to actually listen to our sponsor, we can get willing to take action. OA is all about taking action. We can’t think and feel ourselves out of this disease. if we could, we would have done it already! So it’s time for action. If we have open-mindedly heard our sponsor’s suggestion to attend a meeting, we use our willingness to get our butt into a seat. If our sponsor tells us that they see a food becoming problematic for us, we can try going without it and observe how our mind and body respond. Willingness is indispensable, because it is a decision maker. We have long responded to invitations with “I’ll think about it” or “maybe I’ll try that.” We’re only lying to ourselves because everyone on the green Earth knows that’s code for “I’m too scared to use the word no.” When we adopt willingness, we can say yes or no. If we are willing, we say yes. If not, we say no thank you. With our sponsors, we probably need to be extra willing. If they recommend an action, it’s likely because it works.

Taking the HOW framework further, we might also consider making a commitment to thorough action in OA. We’ve many times made decisions and been willing to do something about our food then failed to take action, follow through, or do the job completely. In OA, our sponsors remind us that the program is only effective, if we finish the job. This means doing the Steps, observing the Traditions, and using OA’s tools. It means doing something even if we don’t want to or are scared to. If we commit to an action, we need to stay honest about it. We addicts are often unreliable, so when we agree to do something or be somewhere, we do it. We have to walk the talk of honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness if we’re going to get anywhere, and when we’re in the food, blowing things off or canceling at the last minute is one of our favorite moves. We are developing integrity, something we may have elsewhere in our lives, but not around our food and personal well-being.

Being a sponsee is kind of simple. We need to adopt a teachable attitude that’s encapsulated by HOW. Then we follow that up by doing what we say we’ll do and saying to our sponsor what we do. It’s we, ourselves, who make things complicated.

Step of the Month: Step 4

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Perhaps nothing in OA’s program of action inspires more dread than writing a fourth step inventory. We’ve been eating over all the hurts we’ve accumulated, trying to avoid them. Now OA tells us that we have to allow them out of the cage inside that barely keeps them under control.

Well, we’re fooling ourselves, of course. We don’t control our fears, resentments, bad memories, and feelings. They control us! Truth is that until we look at them, all of them, they own us. Every time we feel any kind of feeling, we are driven back to the food because every feeling we have reminds us of the ones we are covering up with food. Yes, even happy feelings, because they remind us of how awful we generally feel.

When we write an honest and thorough inventory of ourselves, however, we discover that we have not been victims of others so much as victims of our own thinking. Our disease has taken control of our thoughts and used them as a weapon against our better judgment. We see through an inventory that we are human beings being human with all the same flaws that everyone else has. That we take personally what is not ours to take. That we have little ability to distinguish feelings from facts. That we have precious little accuracy in our self-reflections…if we’ve bothered to be self-reflective.

In some cases, we learn that we have been victimized by someone at one time, but that, even though it is not our fault, we have to claim what’s ours: we carried around that victim mentality for years; we are the ones replaying the past over and over again and using it as a reason to eat.

Anyone who has done a thorough fourth step will tell you a few things:

  1. It is simple, but not easy
  2. It is life changing
  3. It us utterly necessary for recovery.

The third point is the one that we must all pay attention to in OA. If we don’t do the work, we will not get the results our program promises. It’s like staring at the aspirin bottle in hopes a headache will go away. We’ve got to take our medicine. Hanging around in meetings and waiting for the “right” time to do an inventory just prolongs our agony. It gives our disease time to reassert itself inside our minds. Our window of willingness is only open for so long.

We may be afraid of digging too deep, of reliving past episodes we’d rather forget, and of seeing the worst of ourselves. But we aren’t writing to be published in The New York Times. Our inventory is ours and will only be shared with one other person (in our fifth step). We make it objective. We don’t lard every resentment with the whys and whatfors. We keep our writing concise so that our disease doesn’t have room to turn us toward excuse making. We only want to record those things that our illness uses against us. That way in Steps 6 and 7, we know exactly what it is we are asking God to remove from us.

The Big Book has very specific suggestions for structuring an inventory. They have proven over 80 years to be immensely powerful and helpful. There are other means as well. In the end, however, the most important things are honesty, fearlessness, and thoroughness.

Honesty: We must be wiling to be completely and utterly honest about our part in what we write about. No excuses, no stories, no bullshit.

Fearlessness: We must not shrink at writing about the most difficult aspects of our lives. For example, many, many survivors of physical, sexual, and mental abuse have written fourth steps about them and found the inventory transformative as a result.

Thoroughness: We must get it all out—everything that keeps our true selves at bay and allows our illness to run the show. If we hold onto something we may not recover. Like one rotten apple spoiling the whole barrel.

This is our course then. In Step 3, we’ve told our Higher Power that we’ll go to any length for recovery. Now we put pen to paper to start the process of getting rid of what separates us from God’s love. Then we’ll have it removed so we finally have the slate cleared and into the business of living a useful and productive life.

KEEP WRITING!