Tradition of the Month: Specialness from inclusivity

3. The only requirement for OA membership is a desire to stop eating compulsively.

Remember those mens jackets from the 1980s that had the epaulet-like straps on their shoulders? No? What if I asked you to remember a Members Only jacket? Of course! Now you remember with ease. Those little bits of fabric served zero useful functions for the wearer of the jacket, but they sure did a lot for the manufacturer’s brand awareness. Why every time you saw one of those coats, you knew exactly what company’s jacket it was.

The name of the brand was chosen to give shoppers a sense of belonging to an exclusive club. Exclusivity in our culture tends to be held in greater esteem than inclusivity. If everyone can join, what makes a club special?

Tradition Three, however, turns that idea upside down. Instead of making OA a chummy old-boys network, a fraternity with hazing rituals, or an underground scene for hipsters in the know, our founders and AA’s founders before them, chose to accept members with open arms. People suffering from the misery of addiction don’t have time for secret handgrips, they need a solution now before the rest of their life turns into their death. When we are foggy with food, the window of willingness might not stay open long enough for us to learn arcane truths that allow us to pass onto the next level of mastery.

So in OA, we throw our arms around the whole world. If we want to stop eating compulsively, we41 can join. We don’t even have to want it all the way. Even a wisp or fleeting notion does the trick. Anything to get us into a seat at our first meeting.

We often hear members open their sharing by saying, “I want to claim my seat.” From the point of view of Tradition Three, we are never obligated to claim anything other than our desire to stop eating compulsively. And even that claim need only be to ourselves. No one in OA will be quizzed about that desire. The desire, though shared by many, is ours alone. The very act of sitting down at an OA meeting is claim enough on our seat.

While a desire to stop eating compulsively is all we need to get in the door, it’s easy to get off track and walk back out the door. Tradition Three ensures that when we return, we will once more be taken in lovingly and without question. We will not face a panel of questioners when we come back through the door. No one can tell us that by leaving we forfeited the claim to our seat. Quite the opposite! Typically, returning members find their seat kept warm for them by their OA friends.

Of course, this Tradition carries with it responsibilities. Individual members must uphold this Tradition so that future members will be similarly welcomed. To do so, we greet newcomers warmly and give them some sense of how OA operates. Just as was done for us. At the group level, when tensions arise at a business meeting or out of the behavior of a single member, we do our best to observe principles, not react to personalities. We remember that are all chronically ill, and that we once displayed behavioral difficulties, just as the disruptive member may be doing. We avoid legislating members out of our group or putting up psychological walls between “us” and “them.”

Because in the end, thanks to the imperative magnanimity of Tradition Three, we all have an equal claim on our seat, and no claim against anyone else’s.


Tradition of the Month: “Ever Reminding Us”

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our Traditions, ever reminding us to put principles before personalities.

Ever reminding us? Really? What kind of nag was Bill Wilson when he wrote this, anyway? Do we really need constant reminding that spiritual principles come before personalities? Well, all of the human history, and especially the collective Twelve Step experience, vociferously say Yes!

Human history is filled with good gone wrong. There’s the idea of “lethal mutation” where a good idea becomes popular and, like in a game of telephone, is turned into its opposite by excited people retelling and incorrectly or selfishly implementing it. Many helpful notions turn dark once other human beings discover how to leverage them for personal gain, or out of sheer ignorance of core principles.

These are lessons we OAers need to heed. If we are to overcome the killing disease of food addiction one day at a time, we must have OA to help us, and OA won’t survive if we don’t take special care to see that our spiritual principles are followed.

But “ever reminding us”?

Turns out we do need continual reminders. We addicts are prone to strange moods and twists of mind, and our disease is opportunistic. It will use our own sense of pride and our ego to kill us. We think we can sharpen up the spiritual principles that our founders presented. We’ll make them even better. Maybe discard this one in this situation to make that one better. We’ll add a little here and nip and tuck a little there to get it just right. Or maybe we’ll flout those principles all together because, hey, we got this. Next thing you know, it’s not OA anymore. Next thing you know, no one is recovering anymore, and meetings close. Next thing you know, we’re back in the food.

We need to be endlessly reminded because our disease doesn’t take vacation days. Instead it constantly works on us. Addiction is a chronic illness that cannot be cured. Our therapy is a one-day-at-a-time spiritual toolkit that leads us to our Higher Power who helps remain free. Are we so arrogant as to think that once we’re recovered we can start calling the shots for a program we were given and asked to protect?

Who among us forgets that the first bite leads to madness? We know this like we know our names. Yet, some of us nonetheless reach for it again, even after years of recovery. We absolutely accept that we need to be reminded of our vulnerability to food all the time. The same is true of our vulnerability to the emotional aspect of our disease. The control we like to exert and the egoic thinking that leads to the first bite lurks in even more nooks and crannies than the physical compulsion to eat. We desperately need to understand that our mind, even in recovery, can be a place where what we think is our best thinking is actually our worst.

Ever reminded? We can’t hear it enough. But thanks to Tradition Twelve we can easily remember how valuable this program is to us and how to put that value into action by upholding our traditions.

Tradition of the Month: Tradition 12

12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.

Many of us compulsive eaters do a lot of people pleasing. We share frequently about our dread of conflict, our willingness to do anything to avoid other people’s bad opinion. We seem in general to hurt ourselves with food rather than take it out on those who are hurting us.

The reasons why this might be the case are debatable, and we will each arrive at our understanding of those reasons as we take fourth-step inventory. What’s important as OA members is that we end people-pleasing behaviors, and the Twelfth Tradition points us in that direction.

Another way of thinking of people-pleasing, conflict-avoidance, and their many sibling behaviors is codependence. We don’t want to put anybody out because we feel overly responsible for their feelings. The reality is that we can hardly control our own feelings, so why in the world should we control another’s? Tradition 12 tells us that principles come before personalities, just as we learn in Steps 4 and 5 that feelings are not facts.

Tradition 12 is telling us something very, very important. When we deal with one another, we must put to use the most important life-strategy we learn in OA: Trust and rely on God. When we ask someone publicly or privately to keep the Traditions, we are taking right action and letting God handle the results. We are not in the results business. We can’t make anyone do anything. What we can do is speak gently and kindly about the importance of the Traditions and let the other person decide for themselves. Which is the other important aspect of all this. By letting people hear our suggestion and do with it as they will, we treat them as adults. We let them have their own feelings. We are not trying to shape or control those feelings like we used to. That’s old behavior we are trying to get rid of after all!

We need not worry that we’re being a “Traditions Nazi” or anything like that. What we are doing is safeguarding the program that saves our lives. Isn’t keeping OA going more important than our worries about offending or disappointing a single person on a single day? And anyway, we never know what can come of such an interaction. For example, that person may see the courage that making your suggestion takes as evidence that this program works.

Beside which, personalities are fickle. We addicts know that one day we can be hale and hearty and the next day fearful and paranoid. We can’t begin to know what someone else will be like from one day to the next. Our fellowship has survived not by trying to gauge one another’s moods but by giving us all structure and consistency within which to safely have those moods. That structure is the Traditions, and the consistency comes from the principles they embody.

Remember the old saying: The Steps keep me from killing myself; the Traditions keep me from killing everyone else.