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 offended 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 a long post, but we're covering a lot of ground.
Summary of Where We Are:
If youíve been following the instructions, youíre at Step Four. Letís just look back and see where weíve come from.
In Step One, we learned that we had a illness of our body and our mind.
Our body gets uncontrollable cravings when it takes in certain foods or food ingredients or combinations, or when it indulges in certain eating behaviors. It is an allergy-an abnormal physical reaction to a physical substance. These uncontrollable cravings go beyond our mental control. Unlike normal people, we donít get full and we donít get a sense of unease or discomfort when we eat too much; quite the contrary-we get a sense of ease and comfort when we ingest these foods or food ingredients or indulge in those eating behaviors. This is a physical disability.
But it is not our real problem. People who live with other physical disabilities learn to accept to them and adapt to them in order to live well. Most people who learn that theyíre allergic to certain foods and will die as a result of eating them (or even touching them) simply avoid those foods. [I say 'most' rather than 'all' because I have a friend in OA who is in fact deathly allergic to peanuts but who, before OA, took risks with foods that might have had peanuts in them because the food beckoned to her.]
Our real problem is in our mind. We have a mind that keeps giving us permission to eat those foods or food ingredients, or indulge in those eating behaviors, which give us uncontrollable cravings. That mind is always there. It is a mental obsession-a thought that overpowers all others. It always finds some excuse. The excuse can be deeply emotional or simply plain stupid. So even if weíve been able to go on a diet, our mind gives us permission to go back to those things that cause us uncontrollable cravings.
This mental obsession is, of course, made even worse because most people who we look to as experts-the food experts, the doctors, the nutritionists, the dietitians-tell us that once we achieve a healthy weight we can eat anything we want, in moderation. Even though thatís not true for us-because we canít eat certain foods, food ingredients, or indulge in certain eating behaviors without getting uncontrollable cravings-we continue to persuade ourselves that maybe this time it will be true for us.
It is a vicious circle. We canít stop once weíve started-thatís the physical allergy. But the real problem is that we canít stop from starting-thatís the mental obsession.
We are, on our own, powerless over those foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors. On our own we have no hope whatsoever.
In Step Two we acknowledged that there were people in this world who used to be like us but are no longer like us. They have found a power that has changed their minds and got rid of their mental obsession. They no longer give themselves excuses to return to those things that cause uncontrollable cravings. They say they had nothing to do with it-that all they did was follow some simple directions called the Twelve Steps, and doing those steps gave them a power which was clearly greater than they were, since they had no power themselves before they did the Twelve Steps.
We regained hope. Maybe, just maybe, with the Twelve Steps we will achieve some kind of power that will change our mind and allow us to become sane, so that we know perfectly what kind of foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors we have to abstain from, and we donít persuade ourselves that we can go back to them.
We learned that our real problem is that we are blocked from that power-that if we could only get rid of the thing that blocks us from that power-we will be sane.
We prepared our list of foods, food ingredients, and eating behaviors, to abstain from. We did this by adopting a plan of eating that made certain that we abstained from those things that cause us uncontrollable cravings. This plan may be a list of things to abstain from; or it may be a list of things that we allow ourselves; or a combination; any way we do it, we know that once we adopt that plan of eating we are abstaining from things that cause us uncontrollable cravings.
In Step Three we learned that our mind has been clouded by our wish to be in control, and in order to get our minds sane, to get rid of the thing that blocks us from the power that will restore us to sanity, we have to get rid of our wish to be in control of life. To do that we have to embark on a course of action. To begin that, we have to make a decision to embark on that course.
So we adopted our plan of eating, and made a decision to follow a path which would end up with our being able to accept our lack of control.
Weíre now at Step Four.
Has Anyone Slipped?
If anyone has slipped up to now, let me offer a few words of advice based on my experience of relapse and the experience of many many people Iíve spoken to, who have sponsored me, or whom Iíve sponsored.
First, donít panic, donít let up, and pick yourself up from the floor. The Steps work, so if something went wrong, you made a mistake. Figure out what your mistake was, and donít do it again.
Second, figure out your mistake. Given the approach the Big Book takes to our problem and the solution, I suggest the mistake can be one or both of two possibilities.
(a) Allergy of the Body:
Youíre not eliminating ALL the foods, food ingredients, or eating behaviors, that cause you uncontrollable cravings. So your allergy of the body is taking over, and youíre eating uncontrollably. So be honest with yourself about what it is that youíre eating, or how youíre eating, to see whether you should be abstaining from it.
Or maybe youíve created a Plan of Eating that goes beyond what you really need it to in order to abstain from what you know you should abstain from, so that your definition of a 'slip' or of 'relapse' is wrong, and youíve really been abstinent. Thatís always a possibility.
(b) Obsession of the Mind:
Youíre not working the steps as quickly or as commitedly as you can, so your mind is persuading you to go back to those things you have to abstain from.
The fact is, you can be abstinent a day at a time-a minute at a time, a second at a time-if you have a definite HOPE that youíll be completely free from the bondage of food AND a definite PLAN by which youíll achieve that freedom.
The Hope I canít help you with other than to tell my story and to ask you to look at the stories of thousands, millions, of people who had addictions as bad as yours and overcame them with the Twelve Steps. Either you have the Hope or you arenít desperate enough.
The Plan I can help you with. Work on a PLAN by which you will complete the steps quickly before your mind gets to you again. Make an appointment with some for three weeks from now to do a Step Five (and youíll be doing Six and Seven the same day on your own), and then work towards that Step Five by working on Step Four really hard.
Third, JUST KEEP ON GOING! Are you abstinent now? Terrific! Do Step Four. Do it abstinent, but do it! Donít look back. Donít redo Steps One or Two or Three. Just follow through! My experience is that you have to abstinent to do Steps Four through Nine, but you sure donít have to retrace any steps. Just start up again!
Overview of Step Four
Weíre going to be taking three weeks to work on Step Four. Thatís not a long time. Itís certainly much shorter than many other ways of doing Step Four. I think youíll find, however, that there are great advantages in doing Step Four the way the Big Book suggests.
First, and most important, it gets to the heart of our problem.
Second, itís fast, and thus can get you through Step Nine before your mental obsession persuades you to break your abstinence.
Third, it doesnít make you feel so bad about yourself that youíll want to go back to eating. You will get a clear direction about where you can go to change.
Fourth, you find that you have only four character defects which, once you get rid of them through Step Nine, will release you from the bondage of self-so that Steps Six and Seven are done quickly (actually the same day that you do Step Five).
This and next week, weíre going to be dealing with resentments. Two weeks from now weíll deal with fears and sex conduct. Weíre going to find how brilliantly things fit together. Dealing with resentments will show us our character defects. Dealing with fears and sex conduct will give us guidance on how we can get rid of our character defects.
It will be easiest if you are able to download the three Step Four forms found at www.oabigbook.info, but I'll be giving sufficient information to allow you to do it on a blank sheet of paper.
You will make lots of copies of these forms, or use lots of paper. Thereís quite a bit of writing to do.
In all cases, on each of the forms, you fill out EACH column before you go on to the next column. You go DOWN rather than across.
If you use the forms on your computer, as you can, youíll note that using the TAB button will take you down each column. If youíre filling the forms out on your computer, then when you finish one column, save the form with a different name (I will save the form with a filename of LawrieResentment1.Pdf, LawrieResentment2.Pdf, LawrieResentment3.Pdf, etc.) so you can keep the original form clear.
Step Four-The Resentment Form, First Three Columns
On the left-hand side of the paper, make a list of everything that you think about that you wish hadnít happened-where the past didnít go your way, the what-ifs and if-onlys of your life-relating to people, institutions, or principles. Think of 'resentment' not simply as something youíre angry at, but as something that you wish werenít true or real or hadnít happened. Itís anything thatís on your mind.
People: you can write down the names of people you may have hurt or who have hurt you or others, whether youíve met them or not. Iíve written down old my wife, the driver who cut me off when I was riding my bike, ex-girlfriends, certain politicians, teachers, people Iíve harmed, Hitler, particular talk-show hosts, that guy who had his cellphone on during the movie, etc. The names can be people with whom you are or have been deeply enmeshed, or people who just bug you.
Institutions: you can write down the names of institutions, organizations, that bother you. Iíve written down a particular university, the justice system, particular governments.
Principles: you can write down thoughts about yourself or about the world, like 'Iíll never get thin' or 'Life sucks for most people' or 'why do we have to die?' Iíve written down 'People are suffering horribly in this world and it doesnít look like thatíll stop soon' and 'Iím doomed to be lonely.'
Some practical advice:
Make lots of copies of the forms, or use lots of paper.
Leave space between everything on the list, because youíll be writing a lot more in column 2. If you know youíll be writing quite a bit in column 2, then leave a lot more space. (On the form, for instance, just fill out the top little box but donít write anything in the next two.)
Make your list in the evening, and then when you wake up in the morning, youíll remember more things to put down. Or you take a few days to make this list because you keep remembering more things to put down. Thatís okay. Youíre venting. Youíre taking things that are occupying your mind and putting them on paper. Youíre going to feel a sense of relief. Imagine all those thoughts, all those resentments, going on in your head. Now theyíre on paper, and itís easier to keep track of them!
Donít put down things that no longer bother you-only things that on your mind right now. (For instance, I have a friend who was raped many years ago. Before she joined OA, she went through intensive and healthy therapy and no longer dwelled on the rape at all. She had no need to put that down in her Step Four.)
Now, opposite each name of the person, institution, or principle, write down, in point form, the various reasons you have put down that name in column 1. Donít write a book on this. Just do it in short points. Be specific. Write down every little point that occurs to you. Youíre not telling a story-youíre just putting down reasons. Write enough down so that you understand it. No one else will see it (you wonít be reading this in Step Five), so itís just for your purposes.
Responsible for the death of millions
Got away with it
Could happen again
Guy on the cellphone in the movie:
Thinking only of himself
Bothered everyone, including me
Made me miss part of the movie
Broke my mood
People are suffering and it wonít get any better:
I donít want people to suffer
People donít have to suffer
Thereís a better way
The world has to change
Did a lousy job on my shoes
I yelled at him
An imaginary wife (I stress this is NOT my wife nor me-but itís an example of what someone might put down):
Spends too much money
Not enough sex
Nags me about my eating
Gets too angry with the kids
I donít know whether she loves me
I cheated on her
I lie to her about money
(Notice that I've written down things that others have done to me, but also things that I've done to others. Often it's mixed. Sometimes it's one-sided. The truth is what matters. Write down the truth. But keep it short!)
You can see how simple this is. Youíre putting down on paper things that youíre already thinking. Youíre organizing your thoughts. Youíre moving from the people, institutions, or principles, to what it is about them that bothers you. Again, your mind will feel relieved of some of its confusion already.
Be sure you have filled out all the second columns besides all the names in the first columns before you go on to the third column!
This consists of six sub-columns. You have to put a check-mark besides those aspects set out in each sub-column that are affected by the particular point youíve put in Column 2. Go down each sub-column one-by-one.
Does this particular point affect my self-esteem, how I feel about myself? Some will, some wonít. Put a check-mark (in the UK, a 'tick') in the self-esteem column for those points that affect or affected your self-esteem. (Just as a small example, the shoemaker's doing a lousy job on my shoes didn't affect my self-esteem, but that he didn't apologize to me and that I yelled at him did.)
Now go on to 'Security (pocketbooks)', or my sense of security or safety. (Pocketbooks is an older word meaning wallets or purses.) Put a check-mark beside any point that has affected or affects your sense of safety (in the widest sense) or security. (The guy on the cell-phone in the movies didn't affect my security a bit in any of the points I put down.)
After doing that sub-column for all the points on all the sheets, then go on to Ambitions-what you want out of life. (The chances are that youíll be checking this for most of your points; if these things bother you, then they are affecting what you want out of life.) Ambitions arenít just what you want to be, but also what you want to have happened.
After filling that sub-column for all the points on all the sheets, then go to Personal Relations. Have any of those points affected, or do they continue to affect, your personal relations with anyone at all? Check those points which do. (Hitler's spawning of anti-semitism and being responsible for the death of millions did affect my personal relations, but that he got away with it and could do it again doesn't.)
Then you go on to Sex Relations. Have any of those points affected, or do they continue to affect, your sex relations (in the broadest sense, not just physical), with anyone at all? Check those points which do. (Few of the examples affected my sex relations. With the imaginary wife, it's possible that spending too much money and lying about money doesn't affect the sex relations, but that the others do.)
Then you go to Was Fear Involved? Was fear involved in any of these points? Check those points where it was. (With People are suffering, the chances are that all of those involve fear.)
Wasnít that simple? Notice how weíre now moving from the names of things that bother us, to what it is about them that bothers us, to how those things that bother us are affecting us.
At this point it is becoming obvious why our minds are clouded. Things havenít gone our way, and theyíre affecting how we feel about ourselves (Self-Esteem), our sense of security (Security), what we want out of life (Ambitions), and our personal and sex relations; plus weíre full of fear. No wonder we canít keep sane about food! These things are controlling us, precisely because we're not in control!
Next week weíll learn how to overcome our anger at those who have harmed us or others, and what our four central character defects are that are blocking us from a power greater than us which will restore us to sanity. Relief is on the way!
Some Final Words:
This seems almost mechanical. Thereís little thinking involved. Weíre just writing down whatís on our minds. But youíll find it almost a relief to get these things down on paper!
Notice what weíve done by comparing that to what we havenít done. We havenít written our life story on page after page after page. We havenít written down how awful we are. We have simply put down whatís on our mind in an organized fashion. But next week we'll see how powerful this all is.
This Weekís Assignment:
1. Are you abstinent?
2. Have you filled out the first three columns on the resentment forms?
3. What have you noticed? Are there are any recurring themes? Have you noticed the similarities among many of the "Causes" (Column 2) for the different people or institutions or principles you've put down?
4. Do you realize how these things that bother you are keeping your mind completely clouded? That they affect how you feel about yourself (self-esteem), how safe you feel (security), what you want out of life (ambition), your personal and sex relations, and that you're full of fear? How could you possibly keep your mind clear about the things that you know cause uncontrollable cravings?
See you next week.
Your Step Study Leader