Step of the Month: Are you sure?

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Are you sure you want to experience a spiritual and emotional rebirth? Are you certain that you want to return to a healthy life and arrest this chronic illness one day at a time? Do you  really want to think about something else besides food and your own inadequacies? Do you really want to be freed from the personal baggage that’s owned you since you were a kid?

That’s what’s going on in Step Six. We’ve finished the long and courageous task of taking a moral inventory. We’ve told it to a sympathetic listener, hearing the mental soundtrack of our lives played back to us. When would be more ready to ditch our old ways of thinking for God- and others-centered ways of thinking?

At this point, even the skeptics among our ranks must feel some level of willingness to let go of all the mental and spiritual junk inside us that’s kept our disease in bloom and our lives in turmoil or existential peril.

Still, what are we supposed to be ready for? The removal of our defects clears the deck for our new way of life, but then what? We already know the most obvious change we will undergo: The obsession with food will be removed on a daily basis. That’s a big deal! And then what? If we hearken back to the Third Step Prayer, we’ll get a pretty good idea of where God will take us.

God, I offer myself to thee
to do with me
and to build with me
as Thou wilt.

 

Relieve me of the bondage of self
that I may better do Thy will

 

Take away my difficulties
that victory over them
may bear witness to those I would help
of Thy power
Thy love
and Thy way of life

 

May I do Thy will always.

We’re entering into an agreement with God. We give it all over to our Higher Power to run the show, and in so doing we will be restored to sanity and health so that we can help HP an others. So as we contemplate whether we are entirely ready, we can ask ourselves:

  • Am I entirely ready to let God run my life?
  • Do I want to be relieved of the bondage of self (that is, the emotional burdens that activate our eating and weigh us down)?
  • Do I want to better do God’s will?
  • Do I want my difficulties taken away?
  • Do I want to help others with the same difficulties I have and be a living representation of the transformative power of the Steps?
  • Do I want to be connected to my Higher Power always?

It’s OK if we aren’t willing. We just need to understand that we will not receive the gifts of this program until we are. We have to go all-in with God, or we go nowhere and stay stuck. This is the crucial turning point in the Steps. If we say yes, and proceed through Step Seven, amends are not optional. Prayer is not optional. Sponsoring is not optional. Compulsive eating is not an option. OA is not optional.

After this turning point, we will commit to living a life that we’ve never lived before. The great news is that we will not eat compulsively so long as we keep at it. As Step 10 promises, we won’t even have to do anything about that compulsion because God will lift it from us. Our Higher Power will also guide us through our amends. Those can feel scary to some folks, but we will receive all the courage and dignity and grace we need from our Spiritual Source. We will develop a spiritual sixth sense that will help our lives run smoothly despite our tendency to make them complicated and our need for control. We will still experience pain, but we will not cause ourselves to suffer needlessly and continuously. We will not be cured of fear, but we will be given courage.

Step Six is not like The Matrix. We don’t take the blue pill, have our illusions stripped away, and then suddenly wake up in a horrific world we would never have chosen to know about. Instead, we are waking up from a horrific lifestyle into a wonderful world we never knew we could choose. It’s good to be entirely ready.

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.

Pathways to a finding a Higher Power

The reality of Overeaters Anonymous is simple: It’s a spiritual program for people who are medicating their spiritual sickness with food. That means we turn to a Higher Power that we can trust and rely upon to live one day at a time without abusing food.

Bing, bang, boom, we’re done!

Well, if it were that easy, we’d have fixed the problem long ago. In practice, finding an HP we can count on is one of the most difficult trials we face in recovery, and most people fall into one of a few basic categories:

  1. The religious: We may belong to a religious organization already and have accepted its god figure as our own. Even so, religious knowledge isn’t enough, obviously, or those members wouldn’t need OA.
  2. The formerly religious: Lapsed church members have trouble because even though they want to be free of dogma, they seem unable to shake their religious upbringing.
  3. Atheists and agnostics: Those who believe there is no God or who are awaiting more evidence are immediately irritated by the necessity of a god in their life. As many others of us in OA can tell you, atheism and agnosticism are active stances in the same way that religiosity is.
  4. Those with no spiritual experience or inclination: In some ways these folks have it easiest since they may have no prior experiences or thinking to block their path, but they may also be the most dogmatic do-it-yourselfers in the room.

No matter which person we identify with the most, we have to find a way into spirituality…or else. We have to choose between dying miserably of our disease or trying out the spiritual solution.

As we noted earlier, every person finds their own way to a Higher Power. The one common truth we hear about each person’s journey, however, echoes what the Big Book explains in the chapter title “To Agnostics”: We cannot know a Power greater than ourselves, we can only experience It. The human mind is limited. Were we able to comprehend powers greater than our own, we would already be a Higher Power. And, believe us, we learn in OA that we are not.

So how do we get onto the spiritual path? Here’s a few common reflections we’ve heard over the years that might be helpful. Most members find their experience relates to more than one of these.

Actively searching for God

Some members begin their journey by using activities such as writing, discussion, reading OA (and non-OA) literature to seek a Higher Power. As they work, they gain insight about what they want and need from an HP and can then come to a conception that works for them.

Passively searching for God

Those of us who aren’t verbal processors might ask others in the program to talk about finding God, listening carefully for spiritual experiences that resonate with us. We attentively tune in during meetings to hear others’ perspectives. As we listen, we take what we need to develop a spiritual path and leave the rest.

Get willing, then wait and see

The Second Step only says that “we became willing” to believe in a Higher Power. The Third Step only says we make a decision about trusting and relying on God, but it doesn’t say we are required to have nailed down our concept of an HP. So, some pragmatic members decide to adopt a stance of willingness, go through the Steps honestly and carefully, and see what happens to them spiritually as they go along. We have yet to hear about a person who assiduously went through with the Steps and did not have a spiritual experience.

If it worked for them…

Closely related to the path above. In this model, we trust the spiritual experience of those whose stories of spiritual recovery we’ve heard. We forge ahead through the Steps, knowing that if those people got a spiritual awakening out of it, then we will too.

The God catalog

If we already know what we want from a Higher Power, but we don’t know of One in common circulation that fits the bill, then we can “order” One up. If we know that we want warmth, unconditional love, and support from an HP, we start right there. Those initial ideas may be enough. We might consider other properties of a god we could trust, and also of a god we would not trust, taking the former, declining the latter. We needn’t add a beard, a robe, earrings, a gender, hair color, anything if it doesn’t suit our purpose. And that purpose must always remain firmly in our mind. We are constructing a concept of a god that we will want to trust and rely on.

Prayer and meditation

Not surprisingly, these well-worn paths to a Higher Power feel least intuitive to many of us. We’re used to eschewing prayer, and we may only see meditation as a means of relaxation. These might feel to us like new-age mumbo jumbo or the long-rusted tools from a less scientific age. But after all, prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. We’re trying to find a God we can work with, so we might as well just go right to the source. “A little spiritual help here? Can you give me some clues?” Or why not just relax, close our eyes, connect with the quiet inside of ourselves, and see if any spiritual insights arise. The worst that might happen is that we have a quiet few minutes or fall asleep.

Try any of these or all of them. Adopt a stance of honest curiosity, and experience shows us that nothing can stand in our way. It’s been proven time and again among the ranks of Twelve-Step groups everywhere that we cannot fail to find a spiritual solution if we have honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. We don’t have to be perfect in all of this. We’re just looking for a spiritual light to lead us out of the darkness and toward the life we’ve always wanted to lead.

10 questions to ask while developing a food plan

Overeaters Anonymous has no official food plan. This baffles some newcomers because they have experienced dieting programs that supply paying members with plans of eating and sometimes offer foods to purchase for those plans.

In OA, every member is encouraged to develop their own food plan. But just because there’s no single food plan doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tried-and-true guidelines. Many of these can be found in the pamphlets “A Plan of Eating” and “Dignity of Choice” (both of which are included in the OA newcomers packet and are available individually at OA. org), and some local member experience adds some ideas as well. Here are 10 questions we often ask ourselves when coming up with a food plan.

  1. Am I working with a sponsor?
    We start here because if we aren’t working with a sponsor, we’re just trying to control our food on our own. That’s never worked for us before, so involving our sponsor is an important, new difference between OA and our best efforts.
  2. Do I need to consult a medical or dietary professional?
    Before we think specifically about our food plan, we need to know whether there are any foods our doctor asks us to avoid eating due to physiological (allergies), medical (diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, diverticulitis) or medication-interaction issues. Similarly, our doctor may ask us to add certain foods to promote better overall health. A dietary professional may also recommend foods to rebalance our nutrition.
  3. What are my red, yellow, and green foods?
    This simple metaphor comes in handy. Red foods are specific foods or food groups that we obsess about. We can’t stop eating them once we start, and we can’t stop from starting to eat them. Yellow foods are ones we should watch because they creep up on us. They may also be foods that prime the pump for red foods. Green foods are the ones we can eat in safety.
  4. What about alcohol?
    Many people find sugar- and flour-based foods go in the red category. Sugar and flour are simply highly-refined grain-based foods. There’s something about the process of refining foods that many members’ bodies cannot resist. Alcohol is a liquid form of highly refined grains that are fermented in the presence of sugar. Are we clinging to alcohol? If so, it may be wise to eliminate it.
  5. How much food do I need to eat?
    OA’s statement on abstinence includes not only avoiding individual binge foods but also “working toward or maintaining a healthy body weight.” In OA it’s not enough to simply stop eating our binge foods if we are replacing their high with another kind of high that comes with high-volume eating. It is wise to ask a doctor or dietary professional to recommend the amount of food to eat to lose weight safely and effectively.
  6. How often do I need to eat?
    While a good rule of thumb to get started is simply eating three square meals a day, every member’s metabolism is different. Some of us may need to eat smaller meals more often during the day. It’s OK to eat at whatever cadence works for our own bodies so long as we are not eating more than our body needs as a result.
  7. Do I need to avoid any specific eating behaviors?
    Our bulimic and anorexic friends recognize that this question addresses binge-and-purge symptoms and starving. In addition, we might ask ourselves about more subtle symptoms. Some of the behaviors that members in our meetings discuss are eating directly from packaging or containers, eating anywhere other than a table, and eating standing up. We need to identify any such behaviors to avoid, and they are different for everyone.
  8. Do I need to avoid any specific eating situations?
    Here we need to suss out whether we need to keep away from scenarios that trigger compulsive eating. For example, eating at restaurants, parties, or in the car on long trips. Do we need to avoid eating in front of the TV, in bed, or when we are reading? What about at night when we are alone in the house? In a certain room of the house? With certain people? Or at the grocery store? When we are mad, sad, or glad? The list is as long as there are OA members because we each have our own triggering events or situations.
  9. Does this plan fit my life circumstances?
    There’s not much point to to committing to a food plan that involves preparing five-course, preparation-intensive meals if we are a single mom of three working two jobs. It’s setting us up for failure. We need to be sure that our food plan matches the time and energy we have available instead of trying to live up to some lofty ideal and drowning in a sea of chopping, shopping, and sobbing.
  10. How honest am I willing to be?
    This is the toughest question of them all. We’ve spent a lifetime denying our problem, minimizing it, or ignoring it. So how’s this food plan thing going to work if we’ve been inherently dishonest about our eating since forever? It starts with willingness. Are we willing to trust another person to be an accountability partner each day? Are we willing to trust the folks at my meetings when I need to talk about how my food is going? Are we willing to endure the initial turbulence as our body and minds detox? Are we willing to work the 12 Steps in order to insure against relapse? Lastly, are we willing to begin leading a new life that’s really worth living in all the ways our life isn’t when we walk through the doors of OA? Take it from those who have experienced the miracle of healing. It’s all worth it, and so are we.

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.

 

STAYING PUT

Costs

  • 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

Benefits

  • 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

MOVING FORWARD

Costs

  • 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

Benefits

  • 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.

 

Step of the Month: Step 8

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

Step nine, the making of amends, gets a lot of air time, but in some ways, it is step eight where the truly hard work of amends gets done. Think of it like exercising. The hard part isn’t the actual exercise! The hard part is walking out the door to go to the gym. The big roadblock is not in the action itself but in our minds. In step eight, we are stepping out this proverbial door en route to the spiritual gym known to us as…our lives.

In the first seven steps we have spent our time on a solitary path toward recovery. We are supported by OA and our sponsors, perhaps even by family and friends, but no one can go on our spiritual journey for us; it is ours alone. But once step nine rolls around, we return to the world having undergone a massive psychic change. Our amends will demonstrate to those in our lives, most of whom we’ve probably not told much about our move toward spirituality, that we have changed and that a Higher Power can make change in us. But we have to know who to make this demonstration to, and sometimes when we recognize the who, we find ourselves wanting for willingness to walk out that door.

We have to be specific to make any progress. As we did in step four, we make a list in step eight. But this time, that list is who we harmed, not who harmed us. To review step four for just a moment: Page 65 of the Big Book shows us three columns to write out: who we were resentful at, the cause of the resentment, and what it affected inside us (how it harmed us). In that second column, we described what burned us up about another person. Then on page 67 we are asked to write a fourth column of inventory for each resentment: where were we selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid? Now in step eight, we are again asked to look at our inventory from the other person’s point of view. The self-seeking we wrote about in the fourth column of our own inventory is what we did to other people to get our way. We might imagine them writing inventory that includes us, and it turns out that our self-seeking behaviors are their second-column resentments! So we can start right there at making our list, and then we can ask God to show us other folks we may have harmed who were not in our inventory.

A question worth asking is what exactly is harm? Harm is usually defined as injury whether physical, emotional, or financial. In step eight we needn’t get overly specific about what harm we did to another, only that we caused it. For now, we are simply making a list of those we harmed. If we can answer yes, then their name goes on the list. If we aren’t sure, we pray for the truth from our Higher Power.

We need to be careful at this point that we don’t tell ourselves that we didn’t harm someone only because we know step nine is coming. Just because we don’t want to face someone doesn’t mean we didn’t do them harm. We might recognize that they did us a terrible harm, far worse than we did them. So what? That doesn’t negate the harm we did. And isn’t a willingness to proceed with an amends to that person a reasonable exchange for our abstinence, our happiness, and our freedom from the horrors of compulsive eating? Here our minds may place our pride and fear ahead of our recovery. If we listen to them, we will be troubled again. If we ask God to help us with them, we will make gains spiritually.

Step eight is not an overnight step. We may make a list of those we have harmed and find ourselves requiring time and prayer to achieve willingness for all the names on it. That’s OK. We become willing. If pride and fear put a wall up between us and willingness, we use the tool of prayer to chip it away. We will know when we are ready not because the fear and pride are gone, but rather because the way through them will seem passable, if not easy. In the meantime, we have made our list and are willing to be willing. We can move on to step nine and make the amends we are willing to make as we continue to pray about those we are unwilling to make. In other words, progress not perfection.

 

 

Step of the Month: Step 6

  1. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

The leader of our workshop this past weekend helped us understand the action steps, 4–9. Step 6 doesn’t seem like an action. After all, it’s not even phrased as an action verb: “were entirely ready…”.

So what action are we taking, and why? Well, it’s this simple: We are approaching what might be the most important decision we will make in recovery, the decision to finally stop living our lives on self-will and to start living by God’s will.

As our workshop leader told us, there’s a blurry line between steps 5 and 6. The Big Book tells us, just before step six, that once we’ve read off our inventory we spend an hour with our higher power. Reading that inventory is like watching a slow-motion movie of our life. If we’ve been completely honest and thorough, we will be ready to have all that’s objectionable removed from us. But will we be willing?

On page 76, the Big Book asks, “Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all—every one?” In other words, do we want to keep holding on to a few things? A resentment against someone who wronged us deeply? Justified anger? A comfortable old way of looking at the world that we think keeps us safe from its ups and downs? The way we talk to others? The way we listen, or don’t? Aggressive driving? The need to be right? The need to control? The idea that we can rely on ourselves? Eating compulsively to quash our feelings?

These and a hundred-hundred worn out ideas and ways of conducting ourselves in the world have to go. Otherwise we will eat again. Think of our lives like a damaged ship. We wouldn’t go back to sea having repaired the boat save for one little hole in hull. Even if the hole measured just a few inches across, eventually enough water would stream in that we would sink. It is the same with our recovery. We are about the business of giving ourselves to our higher power so that we can be fully repaired—by God—and sent back into the world to help others. If we deceive ourselves into hanging onto just a couple little things, then, like the ocean filling the ship, our ego will find that weak point and fill our souls back up with the very kind of junk we’d just read about during step 5. The stuff that makes us want to eat.

Yet, despite the fact that we didn’t come into OA on a winning streak, we have this uncanny knack for hanging onto behaviors that have proven again and again to cause us pain and suffering. Step 6 is about getting honest on this account. About finally getting ourselves fully and unquestionably ready to abandon the stuff that doesn’t work in our lives. And because we are probably the worst judges of what does and doesn’t work in our lives, we have to give it all away to God, the good and the bad. That’s how we avoid even the potential for hanging onto to something objectionable that can lead us back to eating again.

Steps 6 and 7 get very little airtime in the Big Book, but they are the turning point in our recovery. Up until then, we’ve been dealing with our problems. Once we get through step 7, we restart our lives in the solution. But for step six, the good news is that we are only becoming perfectly willing, not perfectly able. It turns out that giving away our character defects is a lifelong process, and one that brings us closer and closer to God. So in step 6, we have simply to tell ourselves, that, yes, this is something I’m signing up for. From here on out, I’m going to get out of God’s way by not trying to do it my way.