Step One

We admitted we were powerless over food,
that our lives had become unmanageable.

Leader's Share and Step Questions

Welcome to Step One: We admitted that we were powerless over food, and that our lives had become unmanageable. If you haven't already done so, I recommend that you read Step One in the OA 12n12. I will also be referring to the AA 12n12 in this week's post.

For me, there are some problematic words in Step One: powerless, lives, and unmanageable. Let's take a look at each one.

When I first heard this Step read in a meeting, I thought it meant that since I was powerless over the food, I was doomed to go right on eating compulsively. I didn't understand that powerless is not the same as helpless. I am not a victim. "Powerless" means that when it comes to a fight between me and the Twinkie, the Twinkie is going to win every time, hands down, no questions asked. Period. From the OA 12n12: "What all of us have in common is that our bodies and minds seem to send us signals about food which are quite different from those the normal eater receives." This is a definition of powerlessness, to me. Over the Christmas holidays, I got sick. I had a sore throat, fever, sinus issues, a cough that wouldn't quit... and no medicine was helping. I had to cancel all my wonderful holiday plans and put myself to bed. My body was sending me signals that said, "I'm sick! There is infection here! Hang it up!" I was powerless to resist. No matter how much I wanted things to be different, no matter how serene I was, no matter how hard I tried... I was powerless over some germ that had gotten into me.

It's the same with food, for me. No matter how much I wish it were different, no matter how much therapy I've had, or how many yoga poses I can do, or how serene I am, or how hard I pray... my body and mind send me different signals about food than those the earthlings receive. My job is to admit this fact and say, Now what?

I came to OA to lose weight. My belief was that if I could just figure out why I ate, then I would organize my life so that those things never happened again, and then I wouldn't have to eat! Voila! Perfect, right? This is a great example of the fact that my best thinking got me here. On page 6 of the OA 12n12 it says, "As long as we believe that we already know what is best for us, we cling to our habitual ways of thinking and acting. Yet these ways of thinking and acting got us into the unhealthy, unhappy condition we were in when we came to OA. In Step One, we acknowledge this truth about ourselves: our current methods of managing have not been successful..."

So the trick, for me, is not to engage in the fight with the Twinkie. How do I do that?

Have you ever been moved by someone sharing something very painful with you? Perhaps a friend told you of a major illness diagnosis, or one of your children told you that she had fallen in love with someone in her class, or a co-worker asked to speak to you in private about a problem he was having. Didn't you feel closer to that person afterward? It's the same with our admission of powerlessness in Step One. As the AA 12n12 says, "Our admissions of personal powerlessness turn out to be the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built." As it's written in the OA brown book, it is weakness, not strength, that binds us to each other.

Then there's that pesky word "unmanageable." Yeah, OK, OK, I was fat. I was miserable but it was because I was fat. My life would be so much better if only I weren't fat! What did they mean, my life was unmanageable?

What I was missing here - and that I think a lot of us miss - is that Step One doesn't tell me my life is mismanaged. I'm not doing anything wrong. It's telling me that my life is, inherently, unmanageable by me. It can't be done. Personally, as someone whose motto is "Try harder" this was hard to take. (It still is, at times). But trying harder leads me to the mental obsession that our program talks about. It's like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz: "I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts, I do I do I do I do..." For me, the mental obsession can range from, "I won't eat that" to "I must hear back from so-and-so now" to "I just have to get this done before bed." These are examples of unmanageability in my life, when I grit my teeth and clench my fists and plow forward, determined that trying harder will lead me to what I am certain is the best outcome. Yet I so very much admire those serene people who accept life on life's terms, and I want to be serene, too. I want to enjoy a beautiful day instead of being angry or fearful or depressed or obsessed. Except I kept going back to doing the same things that were keeping me angry, fearful, depressed, and obsessed: eating compulsively, trying harder to get my way, being ticked off that it's raining today and cold instead of the weather I had hoped for.

Another example of unmanageability is having a head full of knowledge and a belly full of food. If I'm so smart, why can't I stop eating? If I know so much about diets, nutrition, and why I eat... why can't I stop? If my health is endangered by high blood pressure, diabetes, too much weight on my knees and back... why can't I stop? I can't stop because I am powerless, and because my life is unmanageable. I have morals and convictions galore, but cannot put them into action.

So what is the answer? Suicide? Just give up? Accept that I'm powerless and my life is unmanageable so I'm doomed to be miserable? This is what I came to: as the AABB calls it, "pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization." It was as if I were drowning, and people kept throwing me life preservers and I kept saying, "No, thanks, I'm fine - I can do it myself." Thank god I found OA. Working the Steps has lifted the merciless obsession from me and allowed me to live my unmanageable life.

Here are the week's questions on Step One. There are no right answers; share your thoughts with your step sponsor and see what comes up for you:
1. The first word of the first step is "we" - what are your thoughts on why that is?
2. Are you part of the "we"? Or are you still reluctant to concede - even to yourself - that you're in this thing, too?
3. What other kinds of things have you admitted in your life? Are there things you fear you'll have to admit to, if you work these Steps? What makes admission difficult?
4. How would you know you were not powerless? What would power look like?
5. How do you know you are powerless? Over what, for example?
6. Can you think of three things in your life that are unmanageable? (Hint: try starting with things like the weather and your children/pets' behaviors; these may be less threatening to admit).
7. In what ways does your disease of COE affect you emotionally and spiritually?
8. Why do you think Step One is the only step that even mentions food?
9. The Step says that we "were" powerless over food. Does this mean that we can develop power over it? Will there be a time when your powerlessness is in the past?
10. The Step says that our lives "had become" unmanageable. For some people, this means that our lives are unmanageable due to our eating behaviors. What do you think? If you clean up your act with food, will your life then be manageable?


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