I'm your WTS Step Study leader this quarter and also a compulsive overeater.
This is a practical Step Study. It is designed to use what Iíve been taught are the directions from the Big Book to recover from compulsive eating, and to maintain that recovery on a one-day-at-a-time basis for the rest of your life.
Donít forget to go to www.oabigbook.info to download (for free, of course) some forms and documents Iíll be referring to in this Step Study, as well as a book Iíve written, based on a 2005 Step Study I did for WTS, which provides the theoretical background for this 2008 Step Study.
If youíre bothered by anything I write, please donít be critical until you have read the book Iíve written to see where Iím coming from. In this Step Study I am deliberately getting to the nub and not trying to justify and explain everything Iím saying.
This is an especially long post. Please bear with me. Iíll first comment about the responses from the last two weeks, and then talk about Step Two.
Some comments about the last two weeksí responses:
I really enjoyed reading throughout last week all the emotional and stupid reasons why we go back to eating foods and indulging in eating behaviors that we know will set off our cravings. Do any of us need more convincing of our inability to keep from going back? I hope someone can compile a complete list of what everyone has sent in!
As people went through their lists of foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, I saw a lot of similarities and also a lot of differences. It was proof to me that we all have individual issues, with quite a bit of overlap among some of us, but none at all with some others. In other words, we shouldnít rely on other peoplesí plans of eating at all in developing our own. We might use them as guides, but not simply adopt them unless they accord with our own personal experiences.
Step One asks us to admit that we are powerless over food-that our lives are unmanageable. Thatís a shortcut way of saying that we cannot stop eating certain foods, food ingredients, and/or indulging in certain eating behaviors, without developing uncontrollable cravings; and that we cannot stop ourselves from going back to those foods, food ingredients, or eating behaviors. Certainly we are not powerless over any food at all. I can assure you that radishes, zucchini, and instant coffee (and cowsí brains and goatsí eyes), have no hold over me whatsoever. I can leave them happily and never ever want to go back to them.
So weíre not being asked to admit powerlessness over ALL foods-simply over the foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, that constitute OUR problem. (Thanks to one of the list members for raising that issue.)
Some people say they canít pinpoint any foods because they overeat everything. I understand that perfectly. That may be an example of an eating behavior and not a food issue. Some people may not have any particular food that is their problem (although Iíll bet that certain combinations of ingredients are more significant to them than others) but they may have eating behaviors that push them into eating and eating anything until thereís nothing left.
The only criterion for a plan of eating is that youíre rigorously honest about it-that youíre not holding onto something that you know, deep in your heart, you shouldnít. If you find later on that you left something on by mistake, then you can eliminate it at that time. Current-but rigorous- honesty is whatís needed!
Now weíre onto Step Two.
First, a summary:
Clearly our problem is not that certain foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors cause uncontrollable cravings in us. All kinds of people have abnormal reactions to substances. Their solution is obvious: they stay away from those substances. If our only problem were that we got those uncontrollable cravings, then the solution to our problem is also obvious: we should abstain from those foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors, which cause those uncontrollable cravings.
But we canít! Thatís our real problem. We have an obsession of the mind that keeps giving us permission to return. This time itíll be different. This time we deserve it. This time . . . .
So we are powerless over our killer foods, etc. We cannot manage them. In relation to them we are insane. We canít stop from starting again. We are insane. We need to become sane, but we canít-on our own, as individuals. Each of us is, on our own, completely powerless.
What Step Two is and what it is not:
If we are powerless as individuals, can we derive hope from those in OA who have clearly recovered, or from those in other 12-step programs who have clearly recovered from their addiction?
Thatís the only real question.
If we can feel some hope that people who are just like us, compulsive eaters, have recovered by working the Twelve Steps of Overeaters Anonymous-then maybe, just maybe, we can try it ourselves.
Thatís it. Itís that simple. If Step One has convinced us that as individuals we are powerless, can we hold out some hope for ourselves that working the Twelve Steps will give us power?
Itís ONLY hope. That hope is the promise of the Twelve Steps-that once we reach Step Nine, we WILL gain access to a power greater than ourselves that will relieve our sanity. (Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve, keep us connected to that power greater than ourselves, and therefore keep us sane.)
Step Two describes what has happened to those of us who have worked the Twelve Steps. Itís a promise that IF we work the Twelve Steps we will gain access to that power. Itís not a step that GIVES us a higher power, nor that REQUIRES us to have or to adopt a higher power.
Gaining the hope that leads us to freedom (doing the Twelve Steps):
Do you want to be sane? Do you want to be able to look at ice cream, at cake, at french fries, at buttered popcorn, at donuts, at candies, at chocolate-at whatever turns your crank-and NOT BE TEMPTED? Would that be a miracle to you?
Look around you in cyberspace. Look around you at the meetings of Overeaters Anonymous. Look around you at the meetings in print, our Lifeline. Look around you at members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Alanon, Gamblers Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous. (Iím told thereís even Actors Anonymous-for people who are really cabdrivers and waiters. Wait, thatís a joke! Youíre a great audience! But moving on, folks . . .)
All around you are signs of that miracle that you want for yourself. All around you is recovery-people who have RECOVERED from their addiction. People who have RECOVERED from a seemingly hopeless condition of mind and body. People who have RECOVERED from an obsession of the mind that used to continue to send them back to ingesting something or doing something that caused them (would continue to cause them) uncontrollable cravings. People who can be surrounded by those things they used to be addicted, and NOT BE TEMPTED ONE BIT!
All around you are people who were once insane but have now become sane. They look at the things that used to tempt them, that they used to give themselves permission to go back to, and they say, "Why would I want to do that again? That is poison to me. Once I start I canít stop. Why in the world would I want to start again?"
Isnít that the miracle you want?
If you ask those people how they did it, they will tell you-universally tell you-that they didnít do it themselves, that they COULDNíT do it themselves-that individually they were powerless over those things they had been addicted to.
If you ask them how they did it, they will tell you-universally tell you-that they followed a simple set of instructions. They got hope from people who had recovered, and they did what those people told them created that recovery.
They did the Twelve Steps. They found a power greater than themselves which restored them to sanity.
If you want what they have, come on and join us on the road to happy destiny. Just do the Twelve Steps! We guarantee results! (Should our motto be, "Satisfaction guaranteed or your fat refunded"?)
But, but, but . . .
Three possible buts:
A general response to all of these: The Twelve Steps do NOT require you to believe in any kind of God. If you accept that you are powerless by yourself, and if you have some hope that working the Twelve Steps may give you some power-as it has for millions of people in this world-then you are willing, and Step Two should be no problem for you. Work the Steps and see what happens. We guarantee that you will get power from outside of yourself that will restore you to sanity. Some people call that God; some donít.
- I donít believe in God and donít think I ever will.
- I believe in God and that hasnít helped me.
- The God I believe in isnít the kind of God who will help me.
But you may still have some "God" reservations, so letís deal with each of these objections:
I donít believe in God and donít think I ever will:
Okay, youíre an agnostic or atheist-either you donít know and donít think youíll ever know whether thereís a God or not, or you know perfectly well that there isnít a God.
Iím an agnostic. Have been for all my life. Third generation agnostic. Itís been no problem for me.
Here are the arguments as to why you should be willing to work the Twelve Steps.
- Anything that seems to work is worth trying. The Twelve Steps seem to work for a lot of people. Why shouldnít you try them?
- The only progress thatís been made in this world has come from people trying something out of the ordinary-something thatís not been tried before. So maybe you should try something different instead of diets or exercise regimes that havenít worked in the past.
- You say you donít believe in anything? On the contrary, you believe in a lot of things that you canít prove. You love people, you have deep values like truth and honesty. So you do believe deeply in things that you canít prove. All this program does is put you in touch with what you believe in. So maybe thatís a good thing.
What do you believe in, you agnostic or atheist? What would you (theoretically) be willing to die for? What is more important than you are? It could be something as simple as love-love for particular people, love for country, love for all people. It could be some ideas like honesty and justice and beauty. It could be particular principles.
Those principles or values are your higher power; or should be, at any rate. You donít have to capitalize the words. You donít have to call them God (although you could use the acronym of Good Orderly Direction).
Would you like to be connected in a powerful manner with your higher powers? Do the Twelve Steps and you will be!
Sure, when you read OA or AA literature, youíll have to do some translation and overcome some resentments (which youíll put down in Step Four!), but thatís a very minor issue. Think of it this way:
People who believe in God believe that the direction they get from God comes to them from behind-a push that they receive from God, from what they believe is Godís word (holy writings), from Godís representatives (ministers, rabbis, imams), from inner intuition, from external circumstances. People who donít believe in God but have certain higher values can receive their direction from ahead-like true north on a compass. Take the path that leads to your higher values rather than the 359 degrees of YOUR way! Agnostics and atheists get their direction from being pulled from the front, and not being pushed by behind. No big deal!
I believe in God and that hasnít helped me:
Maybe you havenít helped yourself enough. Maybe youíve closed God off from you. Your God may have been trying to help you, but you havenít been able to hear. Your circumstances, your past, the sad things that have happened to you, the situations you find yourself in-they have all blocked you from your God.
If you unblock the passageway, your God will help you. We promise you that if you work the Twelve Steps, you will receive a power from your God that will restore you to sanity. The Twelve Steps get rid of the things that block you from your God.
Anyway, why not try it? It canít hurt and might be helpful. Itís just willingness to try, thatís all.
The God I believe in isnít the kind of God who will help me:
Three responses to this.
First, is there a part of that God who might help you? Think of connecting to that part of your God that will help you by unblocking the things in you that keep you from that part of your God.
Second, the experience of everyone who has worked the Twelve Steps and recovered is that they have received a power that restores them to sanity. Maybe your God will help you even though you donít think God will.
Third, it isnít really about helping you anyway. The whole Twelve Step program is all about fitting you out to be more useful to your God, not fitting your God to be more useful to you. You are here on Earth to do Godís will, not to have God do your will. So of course your God wonít help you unless making you sane will help you to do Godís will.
And that is precisely what the Steps are about-making you sane so you will be able to do Godís will in this world.
So long as you eat compulsively, you are more concerned with yourself and your problems than with doing Godís will. When you become sane and no longer wish to return to compulsive eating, you will be able to concern yourself with doing Godís will.
What do I have to do to "take" Step Two?
Nothing whatsoever. If you have some hope, then you are willing to go forward with the rest of the Twelve Steps. Thatís all it means to "take" Step Two.
It's time for Action!
Now itís time to adopt Two Plans-a Plan of Eating and a Plan for Working the Steps!
Plan of Eating:
By this time you should know what you should do to abstain from those foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors which cause you uncontrollable cravings. It might mean deciding what, when, how, and how much you canít eat. It might mean deciding what, when, how, and how little you can eat. Or something like that.
If youíre unhealthily fat, you have to develop a Plan of Eating which reduces your caloric intake so that you can reach a healthy body weight. If youíre unhealthily thin, you might have to develop a Plan of Eating which increases your caloric intake so that you can reach a healthy body weight.
Whatever you decide, check it out with someone in the program to see if it makes sense to that person; and if youíre doing anything drastic at all (eliminating entire food groups, for instance), check it out with a health care professional as well.
Plan for Working the Steps:
Since you have accepted that unless you get sane your mind will continue to give you stupid or emotional reasons for giving up your Plan of Eating and returning to those foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors that you know cause uncontrollable cravings, you have to focus on working the steps as quickly as you can so that you can become sane BEFORE your mind plays tricks on you.
Weíre guaranteed recovery by the end of Step Nine. Youíre in a race with your mind! Can you get to the end of Step Nine before your mind plays tricks on you?
Well, first of all, develop a plan to keep to your Plan of Eating no matter what. Find someone else in the program to phone in case youíre tempted. Use a Tool of Recovery. Read the pamphlet, Before You Take that First Compulsive Bite. Phone up a newcomer and say you need help. Write to the list and commit not to eat before you get a response. Say that youíll wait twenty minutes before youíll eat it. Do whatever it takes to keep abstinent while you're working the Steps!
Second of all, plan in advance to finish Step Nine as quickly as possible. Step Three will take us a week; Step Four will take us another three weeks. Why donít you make an appointment with someone in the program (if available) or someone else (if an OAer isnít available), to do a Step Five SIX WEEKS from now? (Right after you do Step Five, youíll do Steps Six, Seven, and Eight on the same day or the day after.) Thatíll give you plenty of time to do a good Step Four and be able to do a good Step Five.
It'll only be some weeks before you've recovered. Can you hold out that long? You've kept on diets for longer than that, haven't you? This time you can do it!
With these two Plans in place, you should be able to keep abstinent until you recover. Hope is here now; recovery is just around the corner!
Summary of Assignment:
If youíre willing to try the Twelve Steps, adopt a Plan of Eating and a Plan of Working the Steps, which includes both a method of keeping to your Plan of Eating and a strategy for working the steps.
See you next week!
Your Step Leader