Step Twelve

Having had a spiritual awakening
as the result of working these steps,
we carried the message to other compulsive eaters
and practiced these principles in all our affairs.




Step Twelve ~ Introduction

To Step 12a
Conclusion Step 12


My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive overeater. This is the twelfth week of the Third Quarter 2005 Step Study from a Big Book perspective. Today and next week weíll be discussing Step Twelve.

Once again, a reminder to go to:

http://www.therecoverygroup.org/wts/2005/cherniackstepstudy/index.html in order to download forms that will be of assistance in our discussion of the steps in general, including an outline of the Big Bookís approach to the steps, a checklist of promises for each step, and forms relating to Steps Four, Eight and Nine, and Eleven.

INTRODUCTION:

I ended last weekís essay with the following comments:

"Our main job, as the Big Book makes very clear, is to help others.

"The Big Book warns us at the end of the chapter on page 88: "But this is not all. There is action and more action. ĎFaith without works is dead.í The next chapter is entirely devoted to Step Twelve."

"We will discuss Step Twelve for at least two weeks. I want to discuss the specific instructions in Chapter Seven -- Working With Others. I also want to discuss the implications of those instructions for OA. My observations over the years have lead me to the conclusion, agreed to by hundreds of people Iíve spoken to in OA, that we in OA have become much too soft and are actually killing people with what we think is love.

"These are provocative comments, but I think the next two weeks will bear them out."

WHY WE HAVE TO CARRY THE MESSAGE:

On page 59 the Big Book tells us: "Half measures availed us nothing." Eleven-twelfth measures avail us nothing either. We can do the steps from One through Eleven, but if we donít get active and carry the message, we will die. Itís that simple.

Let me start with quoting Doctor Bob in Doctor Bobís Nightmare, the first story after the text of the Big Book. Doctor Bob, as many of you know, was the co-founder of AA:

"I spend a great deal of time passing on what I learned to others who want and need it badly. I do it for four reasons: 1. Sense of duty. 2. It is a pleasure. 3. Because in so doing I am paying my debt to the man who took time to pass it on to me. 4. Because every time I do it I take out a little more insurance for myself against a possible slip."

The Big Book expresses this last thought very clearly. The beginning of Chapter 7, devoted entirely to Step Twelve, says at page 89: "Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail."

If you look at the Step Three and the Step Seven prayers, you will see that they are really all about becoming fit to help other people. Look at the Step Three prayer at page 63: "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." We ask that our difficulties be taken away not for our own sake, but purely so that victory over our difficulties will show those whom we want to help the power of our higher power. And the Step Seven prayer at page 76: "I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows." We ask that those defects of character which hinder us from helping others be taken away from us.

Remember that at page 63 the Big Book tells us that when we follow the path of the steps, we have "a new Employer". Chapter 7 is basically a manual on how to do our job. Our job description is found on page 102: "Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others."

We are disabled people. Other -- "normal" -- people donít have to do what we have to do. They donít have addiction problems. They can spend their spare time doing things they want to do for their own comfort and enjoyment. But we cannot afford to do that. If we donít help others, we will relapse. We will go back to eating. And if we go back to eating, we will surely die. If you donít believe that by now, go back and think about Step One!

Dr. Bob says something else. He says itís a pleasure. Heís right! We find that carrying the message gives us a sense of purpose, a sense of direction, and a sense of usefulness, all of which we need in our lives.

Here are some promises of Step Twelve: "Life will take on new meaning. To watch people recover, to see them help others, to watch loneliness vanish, to see a fellowship grow up about you, to have a host of friends -- this is an experience you must not miss." (page 89) "Follow the dictates of a Higher Power and you will presently live in a new and wonderful world, no matter what your present circumstances!" (page 100)

So even though we HAVE to carry the message, it turns out that carrying the message becomes, for us, one of the most significant things that we do. I know that is certainly true for me. Iíve done a lot of things in my life that other people would and have said should be fulfilling; but I never felt fulfilled doing them. I was always judging myself against impossible criteria and finding myself wanting.

But when I carry the message, I donít even have to be good at carrying the message to feel good about myself. I know Iím giving of myself without hope of reward or gain. It is the giving that is important, not how well the recipient is receiving the message.

Letís not forget, though, the Big Bookís statement on page 164: "you cannot transmit something you haven't got." Itís important that we recover in order to be ABLE to carry the message!

With all that in mind, letís first of all look at the Big Bookís instructions for carrying the message.

HOW TO CARRY THE MESSAGE THE BIG BOOK WAY:

If you look at the early history of AA, you will see that carrying the message was almost a full-time occupation for AA pioneers. They would go to psychiatric wards or to hospitals for alcoholics and talk and talk and talk to the alcoholics who still suffered. And after those alcoholics were released, they would take those alcoholics home and talk and talk and talk.

Yet the Big Bookís instructions are actually quite different. Hereís the outline of the directions:

Pages 89 to 91: Finding the alcoholics to give the message to. Remember that the Big Book was written when AA was only in New York, Akron, and Cleveland. It was written as a textbook for those who did not have contact with AA and who did not have meetings to go to. So there necessarily had to be instructions for finding the right person. Weíre lucky in OA and in the other twelve-step programs -- people come to us, and we don't have to find them. But if I moved to a place where there was no OA, I would follow the instructions on these pages. I wonít discuss these pages any more, but for those of you who donít have OA in your area, these pages might come in very handy!

Pages 91 to 95: The first meeting. The actual instructions for explaining the program to the person who still suffers. Iíll analyze this in some detail below.

Pages 96 to 98: guidelines for dealing with a sponsee. Iíll spend a bit of time dealing with this.

Pages 98 to 100: general issues and the family of the person who is working the steps. Iíll only deal with a few points here.

Pages 100 to 102: what recovery is like for us. I want to emphasize this area.

THE FIRST MEETING (91 to 95):

The instructions are quite clear. (Iíll translate them to compulsive eating.)

Tell your eating stories in such a way that the other person understands. Donít say anything about what you did to stop. Just tell your stories. (I will often start of by saying that I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story, because it helps me in my program. I then tell stories similar to the ones I told back in the first step -- the hand going from food to mouth, from food to mouth, and not being able to stop it; my most disgusting eating stories; and my various attempts to lose weight, always undercut by my return to overeating. )

Then describe yourself as a compulsive eater. Never comment on the other person. (I will often say something like, "Youíre probably nothing like me, but I realized that I was a compulsive eater.")

You talk about this from the basis of recovery. (I talk about how freeing it has been to be able to have ice cream in the house and not to want to eat it, to watch other people eating foods that I used to binge on and be happy for them and not regret the fact that I canít eat that stuff.)

Then talk about "how you finally learned that you were sick." (92) Talk about how you tried to stop but couldnít. (I go into details on the many reasons I always slip. "Iím standing up so it doesnít count. I feel depressed. Iíve been good the last year/month/week/day/hour. Iíll never have this taste again. Itíll go to waste. Etc., etc.")

Ultimately, talk explicitly about the allergy of the body and the obsession of the mind. (I have worked on telling my story that way. I now tell my eating stories in such a way that they illustrate the two-fold nature of the problem. I first tell the stories of my uncontrollable binge eating and my complete inability to stop once Iíve started. Then I tell the stories of my yo-yo dieting and my complete inability to stop from starting again. These are the two problems -- my physical cravings [allergy] and my mental obsession.)

At this point the person will almost certainly be sharing his or her stories.

Then "begin to dwell on the hopeless feature of the malady." (92) This is extremely important. You tell your story in such a way that the other person understands that you -- not him or her but you -- were in the grips of a hopeless illness. (So I will say something like, "I donít know about you, but I began to see how hopeless I was on my own, how I couldnít ever solve this problem on my own. I couldnít stop once I started to eat my binge foods, and I couldnít stop from starting again even if Iíd managed to stop for a while. That explained my yo-yo dieting. It explained why I felt so defeated.")

If the other person doesnít show interest, donít try to convince him or her. Just tell your story the best you can, than the other person for letting you tell your story, say that if you can ever be of help, youíre available, and then leave.

We donít try to recruit anyone. We donít tell everyone that OA is for them. It may not be. Nor should they come if they donít feel desperate. Theyíll come to meetings as hangers-on, but not as real members. They have to feel desperation, and itís our job to talk about that desperation.

So if the other person isnít interested, just leave.

But if the other person has ANY interest, that person will ask you how you recovered. Then tell that person about the steps and how they worked for you. The Big Book is clear that you donít hold anything back, that you donít sugar-coat the steps.

The Big Book talks about how to deal with the higher power issue with both agnostics and religious people on page 93. Itís pretty blunt stuff. For the agnostics you tell them thatís no problem -- itís their own conception of a higher power. For the religious people you tell them that their religion certainly hasnít helped them at all, and theyíd better remember that "faith without works is dead". And you go into detail about the inventory.

Here are some very important words on page 94: "Outline the program of action, explaining how you made a self-appraisal, how you straightened out your past and why you are now endeavoring to be helpful to him. It is important for him to realize that your attempt to pass this on to him plays a vital part in your own recovery. Actually, he may be helping you more than you are helping him."

"He may be helping you more than you are helping him!" Of course thatís true. I get something out of talking to the other person whether or not that person gets anything out of me. So Iím thankful for the opportunity to talk, to tell my story.

Then basically, after pleasantries, you leave! You donít continue the conversation, you donít try to be a friend, youíve conveyed information about yourself and told the other person that if he or she is interested "you will do ANYTHING to help" (page 95).

If the other person is interested, you give him or her some homework -- read the Big Book -- and let that person initiate the next meeting. The Big Book cautions us against pushing the person at all, trying to rush that person into the program.

The Big Book thus describes a pretty short conversation -- maybe a few hours at the most. Then itís up to the other person. Page 96: "We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy."

This is pretty different from other methods of carrying the message Iíve experienced in OA, and actually quite different from what AAers did for the years prior to the publishing of the Big Book.

Basically, the initiative is up to the other person. Youíve made yourself available, and itís up to the other person to make use of your knowledge, IF he or she wants!

OTHER ISSUES:

Once we begin to sponsor a willing sponsee, the Big Book makes it clear what our role is. Weíre there to share our experience on how to do the steps. Thatís it. A person who wants to follow the path we took is not following us, he or she is following the path we were taught by others.

The Big Book cautions us about having the other person become dependent on us. Page 98: "The minute we put our work on a service plane, the alcoholic commences to rely upon our assistance rather than upon God. He clamors for this or that, claiming he cannot master alcohol until his material needs are cared for. Nonsense. [For Big Book trivialists, this is the shortest sentence in the Big Book!] Some of us have taken very hard knocks to learn this truth: Job or no job - wife or no wife - we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God. Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house."

This is an important message. Itís not up to us to help the individual. We have to make certain that the people we sponsor do the steps. We have to make certain that they donít rely on us. I take that very seriously.

I sponsor by working through the Big Book. I donít do much phone-call sponsoring. I meet with my sponsees face to face. I donít REQUIRE them to do anything. They donít phone me every day, they donít check in with me. Iím there to help them work through the steps, and they can work through those steps however quickly or slowly they want to. (I caution them from my own experience how dangerous it is to work the steps slowly, because relapse is just around the corner.)

I work with them to develop a plan of eating that makes sense to them. I tell them that between the time they adopt a plan of eating (become abstinent) and the time they finish Step Nine, they are in a race to finish Step Nine before their mind persuades them to relapse. I tell them Iíll do anything to help them keep abstinent. If that means they phone me every day, or phone me at 4:00 a.m. BEFORE they eat that doughnut, they can do that. And they can be assured from me as much support as necessary. But whether they do phone me every day, or whether they phone me at 4:00 a.m. (no one ever has!) is up to them.

They do the work. I donít. Iím just there to share my experience. They sink or swim on their own, and I donít feel guilty if they sink. Thatís their problem and their responsibility, not mine. If they sink, maybe theyíll get more desperate the next time and work harder.

That makes for pretty efficient sponsoring. In the last eleven years since Iíve been in recovery, I donít think Iíve ever turned down a sponsee. (I turned one down once before I really studied the Big Book, I think.) It has made for some work, but generally it works itself out, because I donít end up spending a great deal of time with my sponsees. I show them the way I was taught, and let them do the work.

When you come down to it, this method of sponsoring really means having the sponsee read the Big Book, and then meeting with the sponsee and leading the sponsee through what he or she has read, pointing out the directions contained in the book, and having the sponsee follow those directions. Depending on the individual sponseeís ability to read and to retain what he or she has read, the actual total meeting time can vary betwen five and fifteen hours, spread over three to six meetings. The longest time is usually spent on Step Five, but even then the approach Iíve described doesnít usually take more than three, maybe four, hours.

Iím not suggesting that everyone should sponsor the way I do, but I am suggesting that, if you find yourself overloaded as a sponsor and unable to sponsor other people, you begin to analyze how you sponsor to see if there is a more efficient way.

THE PROMISES OF RECOVERY:

The Big Bookís promise of recovery is quite clear and quite unconditional:

"Assuming we are spiritually fit, we can do all sorts of things alcoholics are not supposed to do. People have said we must not go where liquor is served; we must not have it in our homes; we must shun friends who drink; we must avoid moving pictures which show drinking scenes; we must not go into bars; our friends must hide their bottles if we go to their houses; we mustn't think or be reminded about alcohol at all. Our experience shows that this is not necessarily so. We meet these conditions every day. An alcoholic who cannot meet them, still has an alcoholic mind; there is something the matter with his spiritual status." (pages 100-101)

THIS is what the compulsive eater who still suffers wants to hear! There is no longer any fear. This is what distinguishes a Twelve-Step program from any other program that deals with addictions -- the actual freedom to be around the addictive substance or behavior and not want to indulge in it!

And the Big Book gives us guidelines for going to places where there is eating. We ask ourselves if we have "any good social, business or personal reason for going to this place?" (page 101) If we do, then we attend to that reason. If we donít, then weíre shaky and weíd better find another compulsive eater to talk to!



QUESTIONS:

Here are a few questions for those who are ready to carry the message:

  • Imagine youíre meeting with a newcomer after a meeting who has only a few minutes to talk. How would you carry the message to that person?

  • You may be the only example of the program someone who still suffers ever meets. How do you impart your recovery?

  • How do you sponsor? Are you overwhelmed and arenít available to those who still suffer? Are the people you sponsor more dependent upon you than upon the steps and their higher power?




CONCLUSION:

We are reaching the end of this step study based on the Big Book. Next week, September 19, I want to talk about OA in general, how we carry the message in our meetings, the distinction between "service" and Twelfth Step work, and the necessity for each one of us who has recovered to achieve a healthy body weight.

By the end of these step studies, I hope I will have shown that the Big Bookís approach to the Twelve Steps make the following twelve propositions, which sound startling to a lot of people in OA, good sense:

1. I am a RECOVERED compulsive eater, not a recovering one.

2. Abstinence is NOT the most important thing in my life without exception; the consciousness of the presence of God is.

3. Although a sponsor, if available, is very important for recovery, a sponsor is not NECESSARY to recover.

4. You can recover in WEEKS.

5. The Tools of Recovery are NOT an essential part of the OA program.

6. You DONíT take Steps One and Two.

7. Steps Three, Six, Seven, and Eight, should NOT take a long time to get through.

8. You DONíT make amends to yourself.

9. You should NOT sponsor until after you have completed Step Nine.

10. Service is NOT slimming.

11. Food CAN be discussed at meetings.

12. Some people who come to OA should consider NOT coming back!

Some of these statements might not startle some of you, but I can assure you that in my travels in OA I have found that each one of these statements is quite startling to some members of OA. I will explain them next week!



ONE FINAL NOTE:

The week after next, September 26, is the last week of this step study. Iíd like to end this step study with the opportunity to correct any mistakes Iíve made or clarify any misunderstandings Iíve created.

So I would appreciate it if anyone who has any questions or concerns about what Iíve written would e-mail me personally at cherns@mts.net with your questions or concerns.

Iíll respond to all of them personally (in time). But Iíll also pick those that would be of general interest to discuss in the last posting on September 26. This will give me an opportunity to get some feedback, clarify any issues, and respond to any concerns. Thanks in advance.

All my best,
Lawrie Cherniack





Step 12a

My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive overeater. This is the thirteenth week of the Third Quarter 2005 Step Study from a Big Book perspective. Today weíre be discussing Step Twelve.

Once again, a reminder to go to:
http://www.therecoverygroup.org/wts/2005/cherniackstepstudy/index.html in order to download forms that will be of assistance in our discussion of the steps in general, including an outline of the Big Bookís approach to the steps, a checklist of promises for each step, and forms relating to Steps Four, Eight and Nine, and Eleven.

INTRODUCTION:

As the Foreword to the First Edition says, "we have recovered from a seemingless hopeless state of mind and body." And the promises of this recovery are the freedom from the bondage of self and the freedom from the bondage of food. As the Big Book reminds us, howeer, "it is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels." (page 85) Although we have recovered, "we are not cured of alcoholism. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition." (page 85)

The first two bulwarks of this reprieve are continuing to clean house (Step Ten) and trusting in our higher power (Step Eleven). The last bulwark is our job in life -- to "be of maximum helpfulness to others" (page 102). Thatís what Step Twelve is about.

I ended last weekís study with the following:

"We are reaching the end of this step study based on the Big Book. Next week, September 19, I want to talk about OA in general, how we carry the message in our meetings, the distinction between "service" and Twelfth Step work, and the necessity for each one of us who has recovered to achieve a healthy body weight."

Letís talk about each of these issues. Today I might be kind of provocative. If I am, please just remember to take what you like (and maybe what you donít like!) and leave the rest. Take a Step Four through Nine and call me in the morning! :) Itís all fun from here on in! Weíve recovered, and weíre happy, joyous, and free.

THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR ACHIEVING A HEALTHY BODY WEIGHT:

If we are to be of maximum helpfulness to others, we must carry the message to the compulsive eater who still suffers, and we must carry that message to the best of our abilities. What kind of a message to the newcomer in our room, or the person who has been coming for some time but hasnít yet worked the steps, if we are not working towards a healthy body weight?

The compulsive eater who still suffers wants one thing -- normalcy. Now normalcy has two parts.

The first is the practical one -- the certainty that working the steps will allow that person to look normal, to lose weight if he or she is overweight, and to gain weight if he or she is underweight.

The second is the one the compulsive eater who still suffers has never had from any other diet program -- the spiritual sanity that provides freedom from food.

We have to model both of those if we are to be of maximum helpfulness to others. We should neither be living in fat serenity nor be white-knuckle abstaining.

We have to be thin to sponsor? Not at all. A person who has 300 pounds to lose/release and who has recovered within months, and is losing weight, is a tremendous inspiration, even if still morbidly obese. There are people whose medical condition is such that they can lose no more weight.

What I am talking about, however -- and I have been an example of this problem -- are people who talk about how they have been members of this program for a long time, how they have recovered, how food is no longer an issue for them, but who do not appear to have a healthy normal weight. The question they must ask themselves is how well they are carrying the message. I know when I was among them I was not carrying the message well.

On the other hand, being a healthy normal weight does not necessarily provide the message either. We have to have recovered from the freedom of the bondage of food and of self. We can use OA as a diet support group without doing the steps. We can be the OA equivalent of dry drunks -- white-knuckle abstainers. That isnít a very effective message either.

SERVICE IS DIFFERENT FROM TWELFTH STEP WORK:

Step Twelve tells us we have to carry the message. That is sponsoring. That is speaking at meetings about our recovery. That is speaking to newcomers or members who are still suffering after the meeting. That is phoning people and meeting people between meetings. That is speaking at workshops. That is leading workshops.

Then there is the work of keeping OA alive. That is unlocking the door, setting up the chairs, making the coffee, publicizing meetings, getting involved in Intergroup, Region, or World Service. Because the primary purpose of every meeting in OA and of OA itself is to carry the message, keeping OA alive through the meetings and the structure of OA is vitally important. But in and of itself it is not carrying the message; it is merely helping to keep alive a structure in which the message CAN be carried. Thereís a big difference. Let me give you an example.

When I was relapsing, I was responsible for a meeting. I unlocked the door, put up the signs, arranged the chairs, kept the meeting record, paid the bills, etc. But I was in relapse. I was carrying the wrong message. When it became clear that the meeting was in trouble (I was the only constant attendee) I began to look at the reasons; and it wasnít far off -- I simply had to look in the mirror! Sure, I was frantically doing service to keep the meeting alive, but the meeting was of no value because its only constant attendee was not carrying the message of recovery. As a matter of fact, by talking the talk but not walking the walk, I was carrying a message of hopelessness.

I was doing harm to OA, when you come down to it. I was talking about how wonderful OA was, when it was apparent to everyone except me that OA wasnít working for me. Really, I wasnít working the steps, so of course OA wasnít working for me. So newcomers who came to the meeting were scared off. Not just from that meeting, but probably from OA as a whole. My service work was not getting me slim, and it was scaring away prospective members.

So thereís a big difference between service and Twelfth Step work!

HOW DO WE CARRY THE MESSAGE IN OUR MEETINGS?:

On page 133, the Big Book tells us: "We are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free." On page 160, the Big Book describes how a newcomer sees an AA meeting: "He succumbed to that gay crowd inside, who laughed at their own misfortunes and understood his."

Are your meetings happy and joyous and free? Do they talk about recovery? Are they meetings where the very format itself discourages crosstalk and whining? At a break, or at the end of the meeting, are newcomers surrounded by people who want to help them, or are they ignored because longer-term members are talking to each other? Does the format stress doing the steps to reach recovery? Are there enough sponsors for the newcomers? Is there laughter? Is there a sense of recovery? Do people willingly pitch in?

Tradition Five tells us that the primary purpose of every OA meeting is to carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer. A proper study of that tradition would put an end to a lot of debate that goes on in OA about "Tradition Violations". The real issue in so many of those debates is whether or not something helps or hinders carrying the message.

I go to meetings not to get something from them but to give away what was so freely given to me. Iím lucky to live in a city where there are OA meetings. I donít have to scour the food buffets or go to the eating disorder clinics to find someone to carry the message to. I just have to go to meetings to find someone to carry the message to.

So I suggest you think about your meetings and how well they carry the message.

What if youíre in a meeting that doesnít in your opinion carry a message that grabs the newcomers? What are your options?

Well, first of all, you may be wrong! Maybe itís a perfectly good meeting and you just have some control issues! :) (I know this is a real possibility, because it was true for me!) You should discuss your feelings with someone you know who has what you want.

But if youíre right, you have three major options.

First, you can carry the message your own way no matter what else the meeting is about. You can make certain that your sharing focuses on recovery through the steps. You can reach out to newcomers. You can mention the Big Book. The group conscience of OA, the World Service Business Conference, has said clearly that no one should be restricted from speaking at any OA meeting because of a difference in approach to the program.

Second, you can try to change the format of the meeting by asking for a business meeting and asking the meeting to go through a group inventory about how well the group is going. Focusing on Tradition Five will assist in having people think about whether the group is doing well.

Third, you can simply not go to the meeting. I do not recommend this option if there are no other meetings available. I have been in correspondence with people who have said that they like online meetings because they donít like the meetings available in their area. They are missing marvellous opportunities to carry the message, I think. Moreover, you risk isolation by not dealing with your resentments. If you donít like the meetings you go to, put them down in your Step Four Resentments and Fears and see what comes out at Step Nine. You may find yourself guided to get MORE involved rather than less involved. Sure, a meeting which is sick might be on its deathbed and it might be reasonable simply not to support it and let it die. But probably -- and especially if itís the only meeting available to you -- maybe, just maybe, it needs a lot of love and honesty -- it needs that unique quality that you, as a recovered compulsive eater, can give!

OA IN GENERAL:

OA has been going through some transition phases. Back in the 1980s we had many more members than we have now. We started to decline in the early 1990s, but our membership appears to be increasing these days.

As I look back in my years in OA, I think I can see the roots of the decline in a few things:

  • When the OA 12 & 12 came out, many people thought it replaced the Big Book. The Board of Trustees put out the Twelfth Step Workbook and the Step Four Inventory Guide, both of them NOT Conference-approved. Many people stopped using the directions in the Big Book.

  • Our major growth didnít necessarily mean major recovery. It is entirely possible that many people came into OA and didnít do the steps and didnít recover, or relapsed. So when we "lost" members, in fact we were simply reverting back to a natural growth. To grow quickly we ultimately need a lot of recovered members who will help those who still suffer.

  • Unlike AA and most other Twelve-Step groups, we have two major industries -- the food industry and the diet industry -- as well as professions -- like dietitians and doctors -- who try to persuade us that we can eat everything, even our binge foods, in moderation, that our only problem is control, so-called "wonít power". This feeds into our mental obsession.


We tend to be nice in OA. We tend to be welcoming and supportive, which is good, but we arenít always direct. We have (I have) a tendency to be wishy-washy and vague so no one is offended. Sometimes our literature reflects that.

I think our increase in members now is attributable to a growing emphasis on the Big Bookís set of directions, much clearer literature that talks of recovery and the double whammy of the physical cravings and mental obsession, and a growing sense of hopelessness among newcomers that other methods theyíve tried simply arenít working.

OA belongs to us, the members. We have to make certain that it reflects our best practices, that we donít let it stray from its one message -- that the Steps work! Thatís why we have to get involved at all levels, including World Service, to make certain that OA reflects our message of recovery.

THE TWELVE PROPOSITIONS:

Last week I ended with twelve propositions. Here they are, with my annotations to show how Iíve arrived at each of the propositions:

1. I am a RECOVERED compulsive eater, not a recovering one.

ANNOTATION: In relation to a person who has worked the Twelve Steps and is free from the bondage of addiction, the Big Book consistently uses the word "recovered" and not "recovering". The word "recovering" is used only once, and then only to describe someone who is still working through the Steps and is not yet free from the bondage of addiction. The Big Book uses "recovered" because that word shows a complete change in oneís attitude. It is THE advertisement to the compulsive overeater who still suffers. I no longer have the illness I used to have. True, itís a bite away. True, itís a "daily reprieve contingent" on my spirituality. But right now, for the MOMENT, I have recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body. The compulsive eater who still suffers deserves no less from me. I am not full of pride. I am humbled by the clear knowledge that I was unable to accomplish this on my own; I had to surrender completely and admit that I was powerless; and only then could I begin to find the power that has caused my recovery.

2. Abstinence is NOT the most important thing in my life without exception; the consciousness of the presence of God is.

ANNOTATION: Page 51: "When many hundreds of people are able to say that the consciousness of the Presence of God is today the most important fact of their lives . . . " The point is that so long as I live on a spiritual basis working the Twelve Steps, I am sane in relation to food. So long as I am sane, I am free from any temptation to return to the insanity of the food. Therefore I am abstinent. Not because I work at being abstinent. Itís because I work at being SANE!

3. Although a sponsor, if available, is very important for recovery, a sponsor is not NECESSARY to recover.

ANNOTATION: The Big Book was written as a textbook for people who had no sponsors. Its instructions work even if there are no sponsors available. The point of this proposition is that no one should use the lack of sponsors as an EXCUSE not to do the steps. No one should be dependent on another person for recovery. If I depend on a sponsor, then where is my dependence on a higher power? Page 98: "we simply do not stop drinking so long as we place dependence upon other people ahead of dependence on God.Burn the idea into the consciousness of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. The only condition is that he trust in God and clean house."

4. You can recover in WEEKS.

ANNOTATION: It is possible for most people, using the instructions in the Big Book, to finish off Step Nine within two months. If working the steps is a priority for you -- and it certainly should be if you are a member of OA! -- you can make the time thatís necessary. What, after all, takes time? Step Three is a prayer said in a minute. Writing the Step Four can take a week or so, but thereís not a lot of writing using the forms provided. Step Five using those forms (and not reading Columns Two and Three of the Resentment Form) shouldnít take more than four or five hours. Steps Six, Seven, and Eight, are done the same day as Step Five. Step Nine may take a while simply because of the availability of people, but the bulk can be done relatively quickly. Then you should have recovered. Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve, keep you recovered.

5. The Tools of Recovery are NOT an essential part of the OA program.

ANNOTATION: All OA stands for is the Twelve Steps of Recovery. The Tools pamphlet is helpful if a person has adopted a plan of eating and has not yet recovered -- in that case the Tools provide things for people to do instead of eating compulsively. But the Tools are not a substitute for the steps. It is true that working the steps may often involve using a tool. Doing Step Four and Step Ten means that youíll be Writing. Sponsoring means youíll be using the Telephone and going to Meetings and Sponsoring. Working the Steps means youíll be reading Literature. But the point is that youíre doing the STEPS, not doing a tool.

6. You DONíT take Steps One and Two.

ANNOTATION: Steps One and Two are ACKNOWLEDGEMENT steps. You study them to understand the Problem (Step One), which is Powerlessness, and the Solution (Step Two), which is Power. But the Big Book has no instructions for doing Steps One or Two. As a matter of fact, Step Two is not even mentioned as a step in the text of the Big Book other than in the list of steps on page 59.

7. Steps Three, Six, Seven, and Eight, should NOT take a long time to get through.

ANNOTATION: These are the steps which Bill put in to make certain there were no loopholes. The instructions for them in the Big Book certainly indicate that they are not the HUGE steps that some commentaries have made. They are stations on the way; you have to pay attention to them and be conscious of them; but they should not take a long time if you work the steps the Big Book way.

8. You DONíT make amends to yourself.

ANNOTATION: We often hear, "the first person I have to make amends to is myself", and what that is code for is "I have to learn to say no, I have to learn to take care of myself." The Big Book is outer-directed, not inward-directed. Sure, you have to take care of yourself -- but thatís because you have an obligation to carry the message, and how can you carry the message well if youíre not in good shape. And you SHOULD be saying no if saying yes would allow another person to come to harm, as it often does when people exploit your people-pleasing nature and they harm themselves by doing harm to you. But notice how this is all recast into thinking about others and not yourself. If there is anything the Big Book stands for, it is that your needs and your ego should not stand in the way of being useful to your higher power. Now, it is absolutely true that you end up making amends to yourself by making amends to those you have harmed. Because amends to those you have harmed allows your character defects to be removed. And having your character defects removed is in fact the greatest amend you can make to yourself!

9. You should NOT sponsor until after you have completed Step Nine.

ANNOTATION: Page 164: "Obviously you cannot transmit something you havenít got." If you have not recovered, you can still be helpful to people (there are meetings where no one has recovered, and at those meetings people help each other out), but the Big Book is clear that what appeals to the compulsive eater who still suffers is a person who has been there, but isnít "there" any more, someone who has recovered from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body.

10. Service is NOT slimming.

ANNOTATION: "Service", as Iíve discussed above, is to be distinguished from "carrying the message" through sponsorship and outreach. Carrying the message is one of the prerequisites for continuing recovery. As Dr. Bob is reputed to have said: Clean House (Step Ten), Trust God (Step Eleven), Help Others (Step Twelve). Helping OA out is a way of making certain that OA carries the message as well. But there are "service junkies" in OA who think that doing service will give them recovery. It doesnít, at least from the Big Book perspective. It provides the method for carrying the message, and carrying the message KEEPS our recovery because itís Step Twelve, but Steps Four through Nine are what brings us recovery. And doing just Steps One and Twelve will not bring about recovery.

11. Food CAN be discussed at meetings.

ANNOTATION: Page 101: "In our belief any scheme of combating alcoholism which proposes to shield the sick man from temptation is doomed to failure." How do you think it would sound if at an AA meeting someone said, "And then I picked up a glass filled with a yellow fizzy liquid and drank it?" If people who have not recovered get uneasy with stories about food, then thatís their problem. And if they eat over it, then maybe theyíll get desperate enough to do the steps, which will bring them recovery.

12. Some people who come to OA should consider NOT coming back!

ANNOTATION: Page 96: "We find it a waste of time to keep chasing a man who cannot or will not work with you. If you leave such a person alone, he may soon become convinced that he cannot recover by himself. To spend too much time on any one situation is to deny some other alcoholic an opportunity to live and be happy." I come at this from a personal perspective. I was in relapse and was dying in this program. But if people asked me how I was, I would tell them, "Fine!" and they would say, "Great to hear that, Lawrie. Keep coming back! We love you. Love to hear you talk." One day the shyest person in the room asked me how I was, but this time when I said, "Fine!", she said, "I mean REALLY!" And I fell apart and admitted I was in trouble. She was courageous and loving enough to confront me, and if she hadnít, I have no idea whether I would ever have emerged from relapse. Certainly I would have been in relapse much much longer and might have done permanent damage to my body. And if I hadnít broken down and admitted I was in trouble, and said to her, "You have no right to take my inventory!" then I would have gone back to eating badly and the same thing would happen -- I would finally realize that I was powerless over food, that my life was unmanageable. The Big Book is clear that we have a duty to be honest and straightforward. And if people are using our meetings as coffee klatsches or pity pots and arenít doing the steps, why arenít we confronting them with love and compassion, why arenít we making it uncomfortable for them just to wallow in self-pity and fat?

CONCLUSION:

The Big Book is tough. Itís down to earth. It doesnít mince words. I once heard something like this in OA: "Truth without compassion is cruel. Compassion without truth is harmful." Certainly everything we say has to be full of love and tolerance and compassion. But we harm people if we donít tell them the truth. And as people-pleasers, many of us in OA may know how to do the compassion bit, but we shy away from the truth bit.

So letís think about how we treat our fellow-OAer whoís still suffering. Are we killing that person with kindness?

QUESTIONS:

Here are some questions:

  • What do you think about the proposition that a recovered OA member owes a duty to reach a healthy body weight?

  • What are the strong points of the meetings you go to? What are the weak points?

  • Do the meetings you go to make doing the steps a priority? If not, what do they do, and what do you think about that?

  • Are you a service junkie? Why?

  • Do you know people in OA who are being killed with kindness, who are clearly relapsing or not doing the steps, and who are not being confronted with love? What ideas do you have for talking to people like that?

  • Any comments on the more provocative statements in todayís sharing?


ONE FINAL NOTE:

Next week, September 26, is the last week of this step study. Iíd like to end this step study with the opportunity to correct any mistakes Iíve made or clarify any misunderstandings Iíve created.

So I would appreciate it if anyone who has any questions or concerns about what Iíve written would e-mail me personally at cherns@mts.net with your questions or concerns.

Iíll respond to all of them personally (in time). But Iíll also pick those that would be of general interest to discuss next week. This will give me an opportunity to get some feedback, clarify any issues, and respond to any concerns. Thanks in advance.

All my best,
Lawrie Cherniack









Step 12 - Conclusion

My name is Lawrie, and Iím a compulsive overeater. This is the fourteenth and final week of the Third Quarter 2005 Step Study from a Big Book perspective. Today Iím responding to some questions that have been e-mailed to me and finishing up the Step Study. In a sense, this is a continuation of Step Twelve. This is a very long post. Sorry, but there were a lot of questions!

Itís been a real privilege to participate in this step study. Iíve enjoyed the many contributions from all of you. Iíve also enjoyed the discipline of putting down in writing things that I try to say in the Big Book Workshops that I do. Writing is very different from speaking, and the exercise has helped clarify my own thinking.

This is the last reminder to go to http://www.therecoverygroup.org/wts/2005/cherniackstepstudy/index.html in order to download forms that will be of assistance in the discussion of the steps in general, including an outline of the Big Bookís approach to the steps, a checklist of promises for each step, and forms relating to Steps Four, Eight and Nine, and Eleven


QUESTIONS:

Here are some questions Iíve been asked:

HOW DO WE GET ABSTINENT BEFORE DOING THE STEPS?:

"I'm having a hard time with the concept of abstinence... For me, that means refraining from eating my 'trigger foods', the ones that cause me to relapse... I understand abstinence is essential for AA, NA, etc. They have to stop drinking, stop using, and I have to stop eating my trigger foods. I understand that this needs to be done BEFORE we can be actively 'working the Steps'. My question is how do we do that, without working the Steps? Isn't that the same as willpower? And the BB tells us that willpower never works for us. (IT sure doesn't for me, either!) To 'just say no' seems so much like willpower, and combined with a food plan, sounds just like all the diets I've ever tried... So how do we get abstinence? And does abstinence mean the end of cravings? Mine haven't ended. They are less frequent now, and a little easier to resist, at times. But I still have them and still give in to them, so I relapse often and have to start the Steps over again. So what is the answer about abstinence?"

RESPONSE: I appreciate this question because it allows me to clarify my thinking. How do we get abstinent before doing the Steps? We become desperate enough about our own inability to control our food, and hopeful that if we can keep to our plan of eating for a few weeks or a few months and work the Steps to the best of our ability, we will finally be free of the food.

Itís NOT willpower. Itís desperation. Itís hanging in there. Itís just a day at a time. This is not the condition weíre striving toward. Itís just a temporary thing.

We do whatever we have to do to keep abstinent while weíre working the Steps. If that means we have a food buddy, or that we weigh and measure, or that we rid our home of our binge foods, or whatever -- we do what we have to do. Cravings are cravings. They donít have to be fulfilled. To give in to our cravings is, of course, the essence of our mental obsession.

So I donít have an easy answer. The person who wrote has to be so desperate that he or she will do ANYTHING to stop eating compulsively AND to work the steps. One thing I can suggest is to work out a plan. First, what is my plan for doing the steps? Do I have a sponsor, can I make an appointment for doing Steps Three and Step Five with that person, so that I have something to look forward to? Second, what is my plan for not eating compulsively? What tools should I use? What help can I get? Itís just a matter of weeks before Iíll recover. What can I do for that short time while Iím working on my steps?

Abstinence may or may not mean the end of cravings. It means only the end of compulsive eating. Our bodies may still be quite hooked, or they may after a time not react quite the same. Theyíre too different things.

It may be that the writer is using the word "cravings" to describe the mental obsession that keeps us going back to food. That is guaranteed to go away, a day at a time, when we have finished Step Nine. The key is getting to Step Nine as soon as possible.

HOW CAN A PERSON WITH DEEP SPIRITUAL BELIEFS NOT BELIEVE IN GOD?:

"You wrote in Step 1: ĎI'm Jewish (but an agnostic, which I'll talk about when we get to Step Two)í And in Step 12: Ď2. Abstinence is NOT the most important thing in my life without exception; the consciousness of the presence of God is.í If you are Agnostic, which means that you suspend judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial of God, it seems you are not Agnostic at all. If the consciousness of the presence of God is the most important thing in your life, this just doesn't sound like words of an Agnostic ... but those of someone who has a deep faith that there is a God. So my question is ... would you make me understand how you resolve those two seemingly conflicting statements? I have a deep personal interest in this because, while I was raised Presbyterian, minored in religion in college and converted to Catholicism as a young adult, I consider myself an Agnostic, not religious at all but with a deep spiritual side."

RESPONSE: I am indeed an agnostic. There are no sufficient grounds, in my opinion for affirmation or denial of God. Outside of twelve-step fellowships, the word "God" means "a personal omnipotent person or persons or thing". When I speak to someone whoís not a member of OA or any other Twelve Step Fellowship, I say clearly that I am an agnostic. In OA, however, "God" doesnít mean what it means in the outside world. "God" means "anything of my own understanding which is higher (or more important) than I am". That was the question my first sponsor asked me: Is there anything that is more important than I am? Well, sure there is! I have all kinds of beliefs in things that, if put to the test, Iíd like to think I would consider more important than even my life. Certainly I am morally certain that I would give up my life for my wife or my daughters. So clearly love is more important than I am. And theoretically (because Iíve never had to face the issue) Iíd like to think that I am courageous enough to die for truth or justice. And beautiful things overwhelm me and make me feel very humble, so that I believe that beauty is something that is more important than I am.

So I have decided that my Higher Power consists of the abstract notions of Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty. From "We Agnostics" in the Big Book I take it that my problem is that I have blocked myself off from Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty -- or what I will call God according to the Third and Eleventh Step. As I work the steps, and my defects of character are removed by Step Nine, I am no longer blocked, and Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty become my guides in life. I live my life for those concepts and not for myself or for my own ideas of what should be.

When people who believe in a personal God say they get their "direction" from God, their concept seems to me that they feel as if they are "pushed" into a certain direction. I get my direction from Truth, Love, Justice, and Beauty, by using those concepts as a kind of a magnetic North Pole -- they are the direction I go toward.

Sure, I have to make adjustments in reading the Big Book, which was, truth to tell, written by middle-aged ex-gutter-drunk white Christians who tried their best to be as inclusive as possible, but didnít always succeed. But Iím not perfect either, and I understand, from their attempts to be inclusive, that they had the best of intentions!

AMENDS TO YOURSELF?:

"You said Ď8. You DONíT make amends to yourself.í Tell me why my thinking on this is wrong because I go by that phrase in the prayer ĎThe Our Fatherí ĎForgive us our trespasses (AS WE FORGIVE THOSE) who have trespassed upon usí wouldn't then forgiving others first, then be making amends to myself? I thought that by stopping/or changing my self-abusive behavior, I was making amends to myself?"

RESPONSE: Yes, precisely! By changing our behavior we make amends to ourselves. But we change our behavior in order to undo the harms we have caused others! We look outward not inward! We donít try to make amends to ourselves. We make amends to others, and in doing so, change ourselves into different people -- people who are not blocked off from the sunlight of the spirit by selfishness, dishonesty, self-seeking, and fear.

My proposition that "you donít make amends to yourself" is intended to deal with the quite popular concept that we have to take actions that make us FEEL better. The only way that we will ultimately feel better is to make amends to others, and thus have our character defects removed. It is true that in making amends to others, I may take actions that ultimately benefit me; I may say no to people whom I used to enable; I may take personal time to get into better shape and to relax. But the REASON I am doing those things is to help others and to make amends. My job is to be of maximum helpfulness to others, the Big Book says at page 102. That is what I have to keep in mind!

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN STEP 10 AND BEFORE SLEEPTIME STEP 11 INVENTORIES:

"My question is: Am I doing a Step 10, including Steps 4-9, when I do a Step 11, including Steps 4-9, the way the Step Eleven form suggests for Evening Meditation? When I take a Step 10 am I automatically doing a Step 11? I know that there are two different sets of questions for each Step. Does 10 supersede 11 or vice versa?"

RESPONSE: There is one major similarity between Step Ten /and the Sleeptime Step Eleven, but many major differences. At least thatís how I see it, and I could be wrong!

Similarity: they both incorporate the concepts of doing Steps Four through Nine.

Differences: The Step Eleven meditation is not done on paper, deals only with the past day, is done daily, and doesn't necessarily require a Step Five. Step Ten is done on paper (using the forms or at least the BB instructions), is done as needed, requires a formal Step Five, and deals with anything that is on your mind. Practically speaking, Step Ten is a "mop-up" -- that is, it picks up on the long-term issues that weren't covered in Step Eleven. Practically speaking, the more carefully you do Step Eleven, the fewer Step Tens you will probably have to do!

Hereís an example. My mother was quite ill for four years, and in those four years my father spent a great deal of energy taking care of her. Every day I might do a Step Eleven thinking about her and my father, but it would be in the context of THAT day. I would think of any interactions I had with either of them, or whether I had even spoken or seen them that day.

But every so often, when I found myself getting very moody, I would do a Step Ten and just put my mother and my father down on the resentment form. I would discover a whole bunch of long-range issues dealing with my entire reaction to my motherís illness and my fatherís role as well -- things relating to self-pity (I donít have the mother of my childhood) to fear (will it hurt my fatherís relationship with my mother) to selfishness (I just donít want her sick). So the Step Ten was a big one. My Step Elevens dealt with day-to-day issues.

That, at any rate, is how I see it. But many Big Book thumpers actually see the sleeptime Step Eleven as being an occasion for doing a complete Step Ten, writing things down on paper and phoning their sponsors and working out Steps Eight & Nine, every day.

IF YOUíRE NOT A NORMAL WEIGHT ARE YOU CREDIBLE?:

"I was feeling a bit let down by your last post. It seems to me that you are saying if a person is not a normal weight, whatever that means, is not very credible to others at meetings. I have been in program since 1991 and have had success in losing weight. I did however use OA as a diet. It wasn't until three years ago that I immersed myself in the BB step study process. I studied and worked very hard at it. I was sick last winter and was housebound for over three months. I could not go to meetings all winter long and as a result, I went into relapse. I am fighting my way out of it now. You alluded to being in relapse so you must understand what that feels like. I hate going to my old meetings because of my weight. Right now I need encouragement from people like yourself who have walked my path. I do have spiritual recovery and people do have respect for me. I feel like I've been put under a microscope after I read your post. I hope and pray that I will regain the willingness I had years ago and will go forward."

RESPONSE: I am very sorry that I didnít make myself clear in a number of ways. I think it is wonderful that this person is fighting his/her way out of relapse; I have indeed been in relapse and know how difficult it is.

I want to make it clear that the first issue is not how much weight one has lost (assuming one was overweight), but whether that person has recovered through the Twelve Steps. If a person has recovered through the Twelve Steps -- and remember, when I use the word "recovered", I mean that the person has had "the personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from" compulsive eating (the definition from the Appendix on Spiritual Experience) -- then that person is able to help others and be an inspiration to others. I trust that is what this person means by having achieved "spiritual recovery".

The second issue comes AFTER recovery. That comes from my suggestion that we have a duty to be a model in the program in order to help the newcomer. And that means that I think we have a duty to WORK TOWARDS a healthy body weight. It doesnít mean we have to BE at a healthy body weight in order to help the newcomer. It means we have to work TOWARDS a healthy body weight. Note I say "healthy" and not "normal" or "thin".

I have met many people in the program who have been morbidly obese who have recovered. They have lost 100 or 200 or 300 pounds but they are still working towards losing hundreds more. Even obese, they are inspirations. They are beacons of hope to so many people who are morbidly obese. And I know others who are tremendously overweight but have worked the steps quickly and have achieved recovery; but they are also working towards losing much more weight. And they are inspirations as well.

As well, I know people who have recovered who simply canít achieve a healthy body weight, for various medical reasons. They might be taking medication. Their metabolism might be shut down. There may be many other reasons. And theyíre inspirations as well.

In meetings and one-on-one all of these people explain, however, that they have recovered from the bondage of food but are still in the process of losing their weight or just physically cannot lose any more weight.

They do that because they feel an OBLIGATION to provide hope to the newcomer who still suffers. And what kind of hope is there if a person who is grossly overweight talks to a newcomer who wants to lose weight about how wonderful the Twelve Steps are, if that person doesnít explain his or her condition?

Step Twelve tells me to carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer. I believe that means I have to carry it to the best of my ability. To carry it to the best of my ability means that I cannot be content to have achieved freedom from the bondage of food without working to make certain that it shows on me physically.

I hope thatís clearer. I donít think anyone need feel defensive in this program. We are all who we are, all joining together because we have a desire to stop eating compulsively. We have an obligation to be loving and honest, but we donít have a right to judge anyone else. But I have no problem with suggesting that each recovered OAer reflect on whether he or she is doing everything possible to carry the best message.

Ultimately the people we have to think about most are compulsive eaters who still suffer. They are the most important people in the room. We have to make certain that they see hope in the rooms!

THE ISSUE OF SERVICE:

"You wrote: ĎI was doing harm to OA, when you come down to it. I was talking about how wonderful OA was, when it was apparent to everyone except me that OA wasnít working for me. Really, I wasnít working the steps, so of course OA wasnít working for me. So newcomers who came to the meeting were scared off. Not just from that meeting, but probably from OA as a whole. My service work was not getting me slim, and it was scaring away prospective members.í We have many Trusted Servants and need many more. They are receiving a mixed message. For example, a secretary of a support group begins to slip and heads into relapse. We get a letter ... ĎSorry, I must leave. I owe it to my recovery.í So, the busiest among us begin looking for replacements or doing it ourselves. They announce their departure and why to their Trusted Servant list and, like dominoes, others follow suit. Multiply this many times over ... and pretty soon we find ourselves with our main job being finding people to welcome newcomers, say goodbye to others, lead meetings and dozens of other things. And the end result is that the division of labor becomes so much for some that burn-out occurs as they try to keep their support group going so that those who need to leave for their Ďrecovery.í So my question becomes: Do you feel someone who loves program, hates the non-abstinent state they're in should leave their service job as a result?"

RESPONSE: This is a good point. Iím sorry I didnít make myself clear. You donít have to be recovered to do a lot of service work in this program. It doesnít take recovery to be able to be responsible for the keys, making the coffee, putting out the literature, passing on announcements, collecting money, helping out at the silent auction or at the convention -- in short, doing all the things that just keep OA running. And doing that kind of work can keep us busy and feeling responsible and feeling connected. The Big Book says that we canít give away what we donít have; and that means that if we have not recovered, we canít carry the message of the Twelve Steps. But that doesnít mean we shouldnít help keep our lifeline, OA, alive!

When I said that "service isnít slimming" I meant only that service is not a SUBSTITUTE for doing the steps. Service can be an adjunct for doing the steps. It can help keep us from returning to the food WHILE weíre doing the steps and recovering.

I also think this: if a meeting doesnít have enough people to perform all the functions of that meeting, then that meeting should consider whether it really needs all those functions or whether it should simply work on the recovery of its members. Thatís tough talk. But if there arenít enough people to keep things going, then they should suffer the consequences of not having things kept going. Other people should not compensate for the lack of volunteers. If I have taken on a job, Iíll do that job. But Iím not going to do three other jobs simply because the jobs exist!

In the end, an OA meeting needs very little to function other than a place and some publicity. Sure, it would be great to have regular business meetings. And sure, it is very important that literature be available. It would be great to send someone to intergroup. But if not, then not! And if intergroup doesnít have someone to buy literature or to put out the newsletter or to chair the meetings, then maybe intergroup should figure out why it needs to exist for the time being.

I believe that OA has to focus on recovery first. Everything else follows. I think thatís why our membership is increasing after a large decline. We lost members over a decade ago. That meant that we couldnít do all the fantastic things that we had done before. We had to focus on keeping our shrinking meetings alive. And the only way to keep them alive was to work the Steps resolutely. And when we did that we recovered. And when we recovered we attracted more people. And when we attracted more people, our meetings grew stronger and there were more of them. And more people were available to do the jobs that were now needed. They were doing them not to "do service" but because they recognized that OA was carrying a great message and that OA was a beacon of hope for the compulsive eater who still suffers. Thus OA as a whole is beginning to prosper as a result.

The Twelve Steps do not belong to OA. We are simply guardians of the Twelve Steps. They have been entrusted to us. If we stray from them, we donít deserve to keep them as ours. If a meeting, or an intergroup, or even OA as a whole, isn ít carrying a message of recovery, then its reason for existence is no longer valid. Luckily we are finding that we are carrying a great message of recovery, and therefore putting our energies into OA is worth while!

CONSTANTLY JUDGED IN MEETINGS BECAUSE OF WEIGHT:

"I feel I am constantly being judged by how much weight I am losing in the rooms, and they wonít let you speak at some meetings until you get 30 days of abstinence. That, coupled with not being able to mention "food", who wants to talk anyway....at least in an AA meeting people can be honest, and share their "pain" openly, and not be reprimanded for it. The food obsession and sugar addiction has been harder for me than the alcohol, and I really don't feel supported in the rooms of OA. These internet meetings and step studies (AABB SPECIFIC) have helped me more than face to face meetings."

As I explained last week, the Big Bookís approach to the steps certainly suggests that meetings should be able to mention specific foods. Fear is not a good reason for doing anything, and meetings that prohibit the mention of specific foods do not seem to me to be trusting that the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps will overcome fears like that.

It is against OA World Service Business Policy, the group conscience of OA, to prevent anyone from sharing at a meeting because of where they are in the program. I am sorry that there are meetings where people are actually prevented from speaking. I donít think thatís particularly welcoming.

On the other hand, a meeting I go to recently voted to switch from going around the room to asking for volunteers to speak. That has had a fascinating effect on the meeting. The people who speak most often are those who are filled with enthusiasm and hope. Those who are feeling down find people to speak to after the meeting. Their hope doesnít come from speaking at a meeting or even sharing their feelings at a meeting. Their hope comes from the Twelve Steps.

Although OA meetings provide a great deal of support, they are not support groups. They are groups that are dedicated to carrying the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous!

I want to talk more, though, about face to face meetings.

THE IMPORTANCE OF FACE TO FACE MEETINGS:

People have written in who say that they donít go to face to face meetings because the meetings arenít very good. Iíve also heard from people who say that there are no face to face meetings where they live. I want to talk about the importance of face to face meetings.

If I lived in a part of the world where there were no meetings at all, I would try to create them. I have to find compulsive eaters who still suffer. I have to carry the message of recovery to them. If there are no meetings where you live, you have a rare opportunity. You can be a Founder! You can plant the seed in your own home ground!

Itís not hard to start a meeting. It just requires some dedication. And that dedication comes from necessity. Youíll die if you donít find some other compulsive eaters who still suffer!

What if you live in a place where there are meetings that appear to be crummy? Try to change them. I discussed this aspect last week in some detail. After you have analyzed your own motives and perspective through a Step Ten (Four through Nine) and have determined that the meetings really are not good, then start thinking about all those compulsive eaters who go to those meetings and never recover, or are completely turned off by what they think is OA and never return. Arenít you doing them harm by not helping them out? You could make certain that when you speak at one of those lousy meetings that you give a clear positive message. You could try to change the meeting through a group inventory. You could try to create a new meeting that gives a good message. You could volunteer to speak to the newcomer. You could make yourself available to sponsor. There are all kinds of ways for you to help the newcomer or the person who still suffers!

But youíve having trouble recovering yourself because the meetings available to you donít have recovered people in them, and theyíre clique-ish, and they donít allow this or that to happen, and you canít share, and thereís no one to sponsor, or no one recovered enough to sponsor, etc., etc. Well, the Big Book says you donít need a sponsor if you canít get one. Thereís no one else to blame but yourself. Do what the Big Book says. Recover. Then go to those meetings and make them better by your recovered presence!

But isnít it enough simply to type on my computer, to participate in these online meetings? I canít speak for everyone, of course. I know that for me, typing on the computer sometimes requires a great deal of concentration for me; but it also allows me to be distracted. With todayís multi-tasking computers, I can be on a chatline, look at my e-mail, play solitaire, and have music playing. At a face to face OA meeting there are simply people who are recovering and people who are suffering, and they gather for only one purpose and do nothing else but try to fulfill that purpose.

More than that, when Iím on a computer I am physically isolated. For me, itís not much different from being on the phone. Both of those separate me from my body and from other peopleís bodies. I canít look people in the eye or hear their voices, or hug them, or hold their hands. I am limited in my sense and cannot be as sensitive to them as I would like to be.

I donít mean to denigrate online meetings. They provide all kinds of wonderful qualities. They are there when you need them. They provide a world of recovery that we often canít find in our little neck of the woods. They allow us to think a lot about what has been said because we can reread what has been said. And of course there are people who for many different reasons are simply physically unable to go to meetings. They may have a debilitating illness that immobilizes them. Online meetings are a godsend for them and a wonderful thing in and of themselves.

But if you are capable of going to a meeting, think about why youíre not going to that meeting. Do a Step Four through Nine or a Step Ten on that issue. Are any of the reasons related to fear or a sense not being in control or shame or guilt? Those are pretty heavy things to carry about!

Now that I have recovered on a daily basis, I do Steps Ten through Twelve to maintain my spiritual fitness. I clean house (Step Ten), I trust God (Step Eleven), and I help others (Step Twelve). I MUST do Step Twelve or I will lose my recovery! I donít want to do that.

Going to meetings is the easiest way to find people to help. I have to keep myself available. And the best way of doing that is by going to as many meetings as I can (without neglecting the obligations I owe to my work and my family and my friends) and carrying the best message I can.

HOW TO TALK TO SOMEONE WHOíS STILL SUFFERING:

Iíve been asked by a number of people how to talk to someone whoís been in the program for a long time and appears to be suffering, perhaps gaining weight, yet talks with a lot of authority about the program and the steps. Some OAers call these "fat serenity" people; the implication is that they talk a lot about serenity, and have simply learned to accept their overeating. Since I was certainly one of those people, I do have a process you might want to go through.

The first suggestion is that you do or say nothing until you have done a Step Ten with that person or those people down as a resentment. Remember that Step Ten is Steps Four through Nine in the context of recovery. You MUST make certain that you have analyzed your own motives before you even do or say anything, and the only way I know how to do that is to go through Step Ten. Step Ten is the perfect way of making certain that anything you do you do for the good of other people, and not for your own comfort or sense of control.

If after going through Step Ten you come to the conclusion that you ultimately do more harm to those persons or to OA by remaining silent, than you would do harm by saying something and thus maybe hurting their feelings, then pray for the right thing to say. Certainly one way of talking to people in that situation is: "I may be wrong, but I feel that you are having difficulties, and I would like to help you in whatever way I can." What if they are simply in denial and say, "No, Iím fine, no problems whatsoever"? You might be more direct and say, "You are visibly gaining weight; Iím concerned about your health. What is going on with you?"

Of course not everyone will suddenly respond as I did when confronted. Some people might simply say, "Thanks for being concerned, but I donít need any help." And maybe youíre wrong and they donít need help. Or maybe youíve just planted the seeds of doubt in them and theyíll come to you or someone else for help in the future. Some people might be so offended that they donít come to meetings for a while; but theyíll be back, this time realizing how resentments are killing them. At least youíll have done what you think is right!

CONCLUSION:

This is the end of the Third Quarter 2005 Step Study from a Big Book perspective. I want to emphasize that I am only a student and not a teacher. I am simply a recovered fat glutton who has been given a second chance in life and is trying to carry a message I have learned from others. I hope no one will be offended by anything Iíve said; but I hope people will be challenged by what Iíve said to figure out how -- for them on a personal level -- they can carry the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps to the best of their ability.

If you ever have any questions, please donít hesitate to contact me personally by e-mail. I love to hear about the spread of the Big Bookís message of recovery within OA.

There are many ways of doing the Twelve Steps. I know people far more spiritual than I who didnít use the Big Bookís set of instructions for doing the steps; so I know that the Big Book approach is only one of many. It has two advantages. The first is that its approach to the problem and the solution -- the simple concepts of the physical cravings and the mental obsession, and the spiritual solution of removing the mental obsession -- is clear and makes sense to most compulsive eaters. The second is that it provides a powerful method of achieving recovery relatively quickly.

So if youíre recovered, then donít change what youíre doing simply for the sake of change. If you havenít recovered, then consider the Big Bookís approach. One thing is certain, if the Steps arenít working for you, then YOU arenít working the Steps! Find a way to work the Steps and you will recover! Thank you again for letting me do this. I especially want to thank the people behind the scenes for all their support and for simply doing the service they do. If you ever want to hold a Big Book Workshop, e-mail me at cherns@mts.net. I love to do them! Theyíre a way of repaying all those people from whom I have learned. Theyíre a way of feeling useful in life.

Let me end with page 164 of the Big Book.

Just a note before quoting the passage. The second-last sentence has the word "trudge" in it. I know what some people say it means. They try to put a happy face on it. They say that "trudge" means " to walk with a determined pace". Not according to any good dictionary! No, it means what it sounds like -- "to walk with a weary pace".

So we have our work cut out for us. The Big Book doesnít promise us a trouble-free life. As a matter of fact, it promises us a lot of work. There is a world of people dying from our illness, hopeless and despairing. We have a solution. Maybe itíll work for them. But itís hard work for us! So as we walk with a weary pace, as we do the hard work of carrying the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps, we are at least -- and at last! -- walking on a road which provides us with a happy destiny.

During our lives, and at the end of our lives, we will know that we have been useful to some other people. We will know that no matter what we have done in our lives and no matter what we have suffered in our lives, everything that has happened to us has been given meaning and has made us more fulfilled than we have ever been before. We will know that we can be changed into useful people. We will know what it means to be happy, joyous, and free! What a gift we have received! Letís give it away!

"Abandon yourself to God as you understand God. Admit your faults to Him and to your fellows. Clear away the wreckage of your past. Give freely of what you find and join us. We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of Happy Destiny. May God bless you and keep you -- until then."

Lawrie Cherniack
cherns@mts.net
Winnipeg Manitoba Canada









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