OA takes despondent, rudderless food addicts, struggling to find self-esteem, security, and a sense of purpose in life, and transforms them, with the help of our higher power, to reliable, faithful followers of a way of living that asks only that they find their gifts and transmit that information to others.
Passing our recovery forward is our insurance that we never have to go back to our old ways. Service is both the cure for our disease and our OA responsibility. If we fail to take that seriously, all too quickly, we will find that our personality problems return with a vengeance, our connection with all things spiritual is tainted (or destroyed altogether), and we forget why we loved that day-at-a-time recipe for living in the first place.
The Twelfth Step of OA is the icing on the cake. It is the payoff for all of our hard work.
It is our inheritance and our obligation all rolled into one.
Let’s examine the three basic components of Step Twelve…..
“Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps…”
So, what, exactly is a spiritual awakening?
It’s many things, really. It’s an elevation of our sense of self - a desire to strive or achieve. Freedom from baseless fears, doubts and insecurities. A change in attitude about our place in the world and what we have to offer that world. The awareness of powers much greater than ourselves, and a real understanding and appreciation of our total powerless to influence the people, places and things in our lives with anything other than our personal power of example. That, and a willingness to give rather than to receive.
A spiritual awakening reveals itself when we are less preoccupied with our urges and desires because we’ve seen the downside of choosing short-term relief over mindfully dealing with life as it unfolds. The physical world yields to one of concepts, principles, and values, things that separate us from the animal kingdom and enable us to rise up above our frailties and see possibilities, where before, we saw only darkness.
My spirituality is very much grounded in maintaining balance every day…assessing how things are affecting me, and taking actions to relax my mind, allay my anxieties and get me back into the middle of road. I work very hard to get enough rest, and to ALWAYS remember that I am an addict in recovery – and on any given day – if I should forget that and take on too much -- it inevitably rocks my world and leads to irritability, blame, shame or self-pity. So like I do with the food, I take great pains to avoid creating situations that would potentially put me in harm’s way.
If I am living in fear, still preoccupied or obsessed with what people think of me….
If I can’t get abstinent, and lack the ability to meet the challenges of the day with a sense of optimism…then I have likely skimped in some area of the steps -- having doubts about my Higher Power, avoiding core issues in my fourth and fifth steps, holding onto resentments, or justifying holding onto character defects because I still believe that they serve a useful purpose ---or because they will keep me comfortably trapped in pre-ninth step resentment and self-pity.
One of the truest signs of a spiritual awakening is real objectivity about my strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to address them without shame… to see them finally as part of my humanness and fallibility – like pretty much everyone else in the world.
“…We tried to carry this message to compulsive overeaters”
I got abstinent in the Boston area, where people needed to be abstinent for a period of 90 days before we were encouraged to speak at meetings. This was not a punishment, it was an exercise in humility, because surely if there were enough people who could share about the gifts of recovery, and all of the practical actions that they took to achieve and maintain their abstinence, wasn’t that preferable than hearing about the pain and muddled chaos of the unmanageable life of an active compulsive eater?
When it came time to share, I was asked to stand up and come to the front of the room….It forced me to stop being ashamed (of our appearance, or just taking up space) and get over the fear of speaking that kept me locked up inside -- so nobody got to know me.
In short, we were learning how to carry the message of recovery. Learning to speak without self-centered fear is a true mark of spiritual recovery, because it comes from doing what has been suggested, overcoming hurdles, and learning from simple trial and error…surrendering to a sponsor or a meeting format that focuses on recovery and our obligation to do more than just sit there and “take”, when we have something to give.
What is our message? What do we tell our sponsees? I was told that after 90-days of back-to-back abstinence, I HAD to put my hand up and take on sponsees…because I could at least tell them how I did that much, and that did plenty for me. That was part of giving back. I needed to “get over myself” and my social awkwardness and just do it
Have we used all of the tools well enough to explain why they work? Are we aware of all of the steps and traditions? Can we recite them by heart? Do we know what they mean? Have we read the Big Book, OA 12+12…do we read the daily affirmation books?
What is our message? Have we taken on service positions in meetings? Do we know about OA’s service structure or anything about OA’s 50 years of history?
Whether I’m doing well or feeling poorly, I believe that it’s my OA responsibility to share my process, and that I’m not eating over it. I’ve just come through an 18-month period of earning practically nothing, tapping out my savings, with a real chance of losing my home.
I continued to come to meetings and share about how much I was learning about powerlessness. I shared how I was losing faith in God but that without that, I’d REALLY have nothing. I kept coming and kept sharing, knowing that OA was the best part of my life, and that there were other people out there who were experiencing hard times financially… I was doing an important service by sharing my pain and my frustration, my crisis of faith, and my eventual emergence to the other side, grateful for having stayed the course and not eaten, looking for God’s hand, even in my darkest times.
I also continued to put money in the basket, because I knew I was really investing in my future, and that $2 would pay dividends well beyond the monetary value.
Walking the talk
When people talk about having emotional and spiritual recovery but “can’t get abstinent“, it’s really selling the Program short. We are sending a message that says “It’s OK to eat”. We are settling for less. We are denying ourselves the one thing that almost all of us wanted when we first came into OA….a way to stop eating. If we cannot make it our top priority to get and stay abstinent, why are we here at all?
What is our message? Do we resent even having to HAVE a message? Are we ambivalent about being in OA? Do we let people know, or are we embarrassed to admit that we need a support group, much less a 12-step program?
Our literature is loaded with references to various forms of fear. Are we still fearful?
Do we avoid doing things because we’re afraid? Afraid they won’t work…afraid they will work…afraid it’ll be too hard…afraid we won’t do it well enough…afraid that if we do it, then people will EXPECT us to do it again (there goes our isolation)
When I first heard this quotation, I was immediately struck by it, because I became aware of how my disease had robbed me of chances to make an impact in the world and I let them pass by because of my fear and my “smallness”.
“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure about you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.”
We all have an obligation to Overeaters Anonymous to represent her well in the world.
By choosing food over life – choosing an “easier, softer way” that, in truth, requires at least as much energy to sustain as working the program the way it is laid out…we are sabotaging our chances for glory…we are choosing cowardice and darkness…it is among the most selfish things that we can do, because all of the people who love us have a front row seat to our inevitable deterioration and inability to cope.
We are forcing them to witness the incremental death of a loved one, while we fiercely hold onto sickness when recovery is within our grasp. Nothing is more painful to them.
What is your message?
“..and to practice these principles in all our affairs”
Perhaps this was left for last because it is the highest spiritual challenge of all.
Practicing principles means placing a higher importance on an idea than on a willful desire, an impulsive thought, or an instinct screaming to come out. We restrain ourselves because we have learned the consequences of such types of “self-expression”.
Practicing principles means that we are always ready to step back and see a bigger picture. To withhold judging someone by what we can see, looking for things beyond the obvious to explain the circumstances. Practicing principles means choosing peace over conflict - to force “being right” to take a backseat to civility or compromise.
Practicing principles means eliminating hypocrisy in our lives. We do what we say, and we go to great lengths to be accountable, responsible and reliable, because they were all things that we struggled with; and we do them thankfully, knowing that failure to do so strongly affects our spiritual condition in the negative.
Relationships become among the most meaningful parts of our lives.
I was once told that if I was struggling with an individual, especially a family member, that I should treat them as if they were a newcomer to OA and I was their sponsor.
That was the essence of step twelve. To treat all people with kindness, even if their behavior may not seem to warrant it. To demonstrate patience because all of us invariably respond favorably to it. To understand that “we each depend upon our own unsteady willpower” and that it is a fragile relationship between addicts when we fail to practice principles that favor unity over freedom of speech.
We are the message!
Our personal power of example is the only real power that we have.
If it is attractive enough, it will elicit a desire in others to emulate it.
We cannot force people to get well, and we generally will not make a person eat, but we can sometimes conduct ourselves in ways that form a negative impression about OA that may keep them from coming back.
When we share lengthy diatribes, talk about other people at meetings, or give detailed information about a situation that really has nothing to do with our recovery, we are hurting OA. If we fail to consider with each share at an OA meeting that there may just be a person who has come to their first OA meeting and doesn’t really know what OA is, and what it isn’t, we are being selfish –and we are “taking” our five minutes to purge our diseased thinking rather than raise the meeting up and give hope to someone else, we are missing an opportunity to do service. If we fail to acknowledge a newcomer to a meeting and allow them to leave without a warm welcome, we are settling for less.
If we cross talk, or whisper to the person next to us, bring savory smelling beverages in with us, or use profanity in our shares, we are hurting OA. Just as when we use religion-specific references that would make someone of another faith feel excluded or uncomfortable. Our traditions remind us to stay focused on our primary purpose, and remember why we came to OA in the beginning.
When I came to OA, I didn’t know it at the time, but I signed a contract.
The terms of the contract were
(1) If I was fortunate enough to get and stay abstinent, I would learn about concepts & principles that would alter the direction of my life forever….
(2) In exchange, I would have to return the favor by sharing my story, and the things that I’d learned, and how they affected me for the better.
And I had to credit OA for the changes in my life -- and be a living example of the best that OA has to offer…not because it would make me wealthy, more likable or bring me prestige…but simply because it was my story…much like the stories I heard that lifted me up when I was new. That became a second job to me, and I do it gladly
So, as we close this Walk Through the Steps, I hope you will continue to polish your spirits and be tough on the disease while being gentle on yourselves.
Ask yourself whether you are going to any lengths to do the simple (not necessarily easy) things that will insure a day of abstinence. And carry a message of recovery to another compulsive eater. If you do, you will continue to learn and grow in your spirituality and your emotional sobriety.
I thank Mari and Linda for their invitation to serve as a facilitator.
I have learned a great deal from this process, and I’m happy to stay in touch with anyone who would like to maintain contact with me.
And, if you’re struggling, open your mind and your heart, work the tools with a vengeance, and share whatever’s going on – eventually, you WILL get well.
I wish you all well – Neil Rauch
410-318-6737 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Leader's Intro - Next Study
The Twelve Steps