The action of living one day at a time…today!

“One day at a time.”

It might be the most widely known and used slogan in any 12 Step program. It’s easy to understand, and it shines a hope-filled light on our difficulties. I don’t have to stop eating compulsively forever, just for this day. 

In the past we have been overwhelmed by the idea of permanently changing. We lose weight only to gain it all back. We try a healthy new diet on Monday, only to be cheating by Tuesday. Our new exercise program becomes a $35-dollar-a-month financial sinkhole after our diligent first week. We just don’t have it in us to change our lives. That’s why we need a spiritual solution to our problem with food.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a part to play. We, not our Higher Power, are doing the eating, so we draw strength from our God to take the action of abstaining from compulsive eating. We might think of it as a formula:

Our decision not to eat compulsively
+ Our will power
+ God’s strength and guidance
= A day of abstinence

We’ve always used the first two parts of the equation only, which has landed us back in the food, cursing ourselves as weak-willed or broken. Turns out that for people like us, we can exert all the will power we want to, but without God’s help it is not enough. As one member in our area says, “I’m a 40-watt bulb in a 60-watt fixture, so I need God to supply the other 20 watts.” We don’t have enough power to overcome both the physical craving and the mental obsession with food.

What does adding God’s strength and guidance mean when we are obsessing about food? It could mean any or all of these things:

  • Praying to have the obsession with food removed, for ease and comfort, and for guidance…then listening for a response
  • Making a phone call or texting someone in OA because spirituality flows through us when two addicts talk about their common solution
  • Dropping everything and get to a meeting, whether in person, on the phone, or online
  • Pausing to read a piece of OA literature whether a favorite pamphlet or a longer work.

Of course, that’s just the moment of crisis. To live one day at a time, we need to prepare each day to meet our challenge. The Big Book gives explicit suggestions for morning prayer and mediation (pages 85-87) that help us live in ways that are less self-centered. Thinking of others helps keep the obsession at bay because we aren’t focusing on ourselves and our own life problems.

Speaking of our life problems, they too can be addressed one day at a time. In fact, they have to be. Like the sports adage goes, when you’re behind by dozen runs, you can’t hit a 12-run homer. So, if we are in heavy debt, for example, we can’t pay back after a single paycheck. We work each day, cash our checks, and send payment to our creditors on a schedule. Similarly, if we have a looming deadline, we must do what we can each day to meet it, not try to get the whole darned thing done right now. If our family is in crisis, we will not solve the issue by perseverating all day on it. In every case, we must simply do the next right thing that our Higher Power suggests and move toward resolution of the situation.

A funny thing happens when we take this one-day-at-a-time attitude toward our personal problems. They often resolve themselves without our having to do very much! All the dreaded heavy lifting we thought we’d have to do ends up done by another. Or we suddenly realize it is unnecessary or less burdensome than we expected. Sometimes it is done by us with courage we didn’t know we had. OA members have walked through the most difficult circumstances with dignity, grace, and courage by taking it one day at a time and asking for their HP’s help and guidance.

We just can’t wrestle our problems with food or life to the ground by ourselves. We’ve tried and it doesn’t work. So have to add our Higher Power to the equation so we can lead happy, healthy lives. And after all, it’s just one day.

Memorial Day

Tomorrow we celebrate the sacrifice of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have given their life in service to our country. It’s a day of parades, wreath laying, and, of course, eating.

Many of us will attend picnics and parties where a spread of every salty, fatty, sugary, and floury food will be on display. And lots of it, free for the taking. We will be tempted, lured, attracted, and even admonished to eat things not on our food plans and in quantities no longer appropriate for our life in recovery. In our meetings this coming week, we will celebrate along with those who made it through cleanly, and we will encourage those who didn’t to get back on the horse.

Of course, the answer to how to get through Memorial Day is best talked about with a sponsor, but the same general guidelines apply to any similar occasion.

  • Ask God for help before, during, and after the event
  • Use the tools: have a food plan, use the phone if tempted, get to a meeting afterward if you still feel the compulsion.
  • Don’t go if you will be unsafe around the food.
  • Treat the day just as you would any other, not as an excuse to go off the wagon.
  • One day at a time!

But let’s take the conceit of Memorial Day and think of it in OA terms. We in OA have witnessed many who have died from this disease and its complications. In our own area, we know OA members who have died from heart maladies exacerbated by their physical condition as well as those who have taken their own lives from the desperation this disease causes. Among us now are those who count themselves as absolutely certain that without the benefits of our program, they would no longer be alive. Outside OA examples of the ravages of this disease show in the obituaries each day.

We have a life and death illness. It doesn’t go away, but it responds to the treatment known as OA. We survivors, however, are left with reminders. Those reminders might even help us get through Memorial Day weekend without eating compulsively. In OA our defects are turned into assets for helping us and our fellows recover. Our Higher Power uses these reminders of our disease when we remember how miserable our life as compulsive eaters was. Here’s some examples of those reminders:

  • loose skin
  • stretch marks
  • pitting in our skin from weight-related edema
  • limping caused by damage to our hips, knees, or ankles
  • surgical scars from joint replacements, organ surgeries, and other procedures
  • missing toes due to type 2 diabetes
  • dental work caused by eating too much sugary food or by throwing up
  • chronic acid-reflux or heartburn
  • breathing issues
  • sleeping issues
  • clothes we can no longer fit into—too big or too small
  • photos from the bad old days
  • wedding rings we no longer can wear because our marriage dissolved before the food problem was solved.

For us overeaters, it’s not a question of whether we are scarred by this disease, only where. Even if we can’t see or feel the scars on or inside our bodies, we probably also have many, many emotional scars in our psyches related to this disease. Shame, guilt, a feeling of unworthiness, depression, anxiety, remorse, regret, and loneliness, run rampant among us food addicts. Our disease may try to trigger us with flashbacks to traumatic, embarrassing, or merely difficult events in our lives. Like picking at an infected scab.

Instead of seeing all of this as pain to number with food, we have an opportunity to see them as the reason not to eat. Reminders of how lousy life can be when we eat compulsively and don’t stay in touch with God.

Unlike a war in the conventional, real-world sense, we OA members don’t get leave time, and our war never ends. The good news, however, is that we don’t have to fight the battle. In fact, when we surrender, we win! So on Memorial Day, we can enjoy peace by letting God do the fighting for us and by using what we know about the fellowship, the Steps, and the Tools to keep this disease from turning us into another casualty statistic in the war for our bodies, minds, and spirits.

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.

12 Abstinence Strategies for the Holiday Season

holiday handsThanksgiving and Christmas are bad enough for compulsive eaters. But in between them are five weeks of office parties, boxes of holiday candy, cocktail parties, and more. OA’s Steps, Tools, and Traditions are our keys to success. Here are 12 specific ideas for using them to get through the holiday season.

12. Use Step One: Remind yourself that you are powerless over food, of the pain, suffering, and unmanageability of your life when you eat compulsively. Abstinence is sweeter than any holiday confection.

11. Live One Day at a Time!: Don’t think about getting through the entire holiday season, instead focus on staying abstinent until you go to sleep tonight.

10. Sponsor and Be Sponsored: Turn to your sponsor for support and then check in with any sponsees to see how they are doing.

9. Make a 12th Step Within Call: December 12th is OA’s 12th Step Within Day. Get out of your head by calling someone you haven’t seen at a meeting lately or drop in on the 12th Step Within Day phone marathon.

8. Assess Your Abstinence: If you’re worried about whether you can make it through the season, take a look at OA’s Strong Abstinence Checklist for suggestions that are proven

7. Inventory Any Slips: If you do stray from your plan, use OA’s Been Slipping and Sliding to learn how you can avoid a future slip.

6. Ask Other Members for Help: If you don’t have a sponsor, get one. Even if you do, ask other OA members how they cope with the holidays.

5. Don’t Forget Service: At your meetings, raise your hand for any service opportunities available and do them cheerfully. Read the Promises, put away chairs, order the literature: It’s a holiday gift that you’ll want to keep on giving.

4. Take Some Quiet Time: Whether as part of your daily spiritual activities or right before a holiday get-together, take some quiet time, relax, read some program literature, and get into a frame of mind where your Higher Power can help you.

3. Make Meetings: Don’t let them slip away. If the holiday season is messing up your meeting schedule, supplement with phone meetings or online meetings. Or attend one of OA’s holiday phone marathons.

2. Talk to the Newcomer: Nothing so ensures immunity from compulsive eating as working with newcomers. Greet them warmly, make them feel welcome, and give them a buzz during the week.

And the most important support for abstinence during the holidays or anytime:

1. Trust and Rely on God: As powerless people, we must seek the power to abstain from a source greater than ourselves. Ask your Higher Power, however you define It, for ease and comfort, the willingness to avoid compulsive eating, and to focus your attention on how you can bring others good cheer during this season.