My name is Lawrie Cherniack, and I'm a compulsive overeater.
This is a practical Step Study. It is designed to use what I've 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.
Don't forget to go to www.oabigbook.info to download (for free, of course) some forms and documents I'll be referring to in this Step Study, as well as a book I've written, based on a 2005 Step Study I did for WTS, which provides the theoretical background for this 2008 Step Study.
If you're offended by anything I write, please don't be critical until you have read the book I've written to see where I'm coming from. In this Step Study I am deliberately getting to the nub and not trying to justify and explain everything I'm saying.
Where we are:
By acknowledging our powerlessness in Step One, by developing hope that a spiritual awakening will restore us to a sanity that will overcome the mental obsession that used to send us back to eating food or indulging in eating behaviors that we knew would cause uncontrollable cravings, by making a decision to seek that spiritual awakening through the Twelve Steps in Step Three, and by cleaning house in Steps Four through Nine, we have had a spiritual awakening - we have recovered from compulsive eating.
In Step Ten we continue our recovery by continuing to clean house by continuing to do the equivalent of Steps Four through Nine.
In Step Eleven we continue our recovery by a series of daily prayers and meditations that bring us closer to acting intuitively according to our highest values.
Now in Step Twelve we guarantee our recovery by thinking of others rather than ourselves, by helping those who still suffer.
This is the first of two postings on Step Twelve. In this posting I'll concentrate on how to carry the message. In the second posting I'll discuss creating quality meetings and general OA issues.
The promises of carrying the message:
Here are the Big Book promises if we carry the message:
Life will take on new meaning.
We will watch people recover
We will see them help others
We will watch loneliness vanish
We will see a fellowship grow up about us
We will have a host of friends
We can go where our binge/killer foods are served.
We can have our binge/killer foods in our homes
We can be with friends who eat our binge/killer foods
We can watch movies or television shoes which show scenes of eating our binge/killer foods
We can go into restaurants where our binge/killer foods are served
Our friends don't have to hide our binge/killer foods if we go to their houses
We can think and be reminded about our binge/killer foods
The promise of not carrying the message:
If you don't carry the message, you'll relapse. Simple as that.
The precondition of carrying the message:
In order to carry the message of recovery to those who still suffer, we have to have recovered ourselves.
The simple definition of recovery is "a personality change sufficient to overcome compulsive eating". The clear proof of this will be the absence of the mental obsession that keeps giving us permission, in so many different forms, to go back to the foods and eating behaviors that cause uncontrollable cravings.
This will come at the very latest after completing Step Nine. If it hasn't come, we haven't completed Step Nine. Something has been left out. Either we haven't abstained from foods and/or eating behaviors which cause compulsive eating, or we've left out something in Steps Four through Nine.
How to carry the message to the person who still suffers:
If you don't live in a place where OA exists, you have to find compulsive eaters where you live to carry your message to. You can find them in any number of ways. You can contact doctors, hospitals, religious leaders, explaining the Twelve Step program. If they know of anyone who might benefit, they might refer that person to you. You should be described as a person who has recovered from compulsive eating and who, as part of his/her recovery, finds it helpful to tell his/her story to another person. Or you can create an OA meeting and advertise it. One way or the other, you have to find a prospect to talk to. You have to, or you'll die. Step Twelve is a vitally important step. Half-measures avail us nothing. So do eleven-twelfths measures. It's not enough to recover. You have to give it away!
Once you find a prospect and are able to talk to that person, tell that person your story of compulsive eating.
Start your story in a way that shows that your body acts abnormally to certain kinds of foods and eating behaviors such that you get uncontrollable cravings when you indulge in those foods or eating behaviors. Compare that to normal eaters who don't get those cravings, who in fact experience unease and discomfort when they eat too much of anything. You will have all kinds of personal stories which you can tell. Illustrate the "allergy of the body" in this way. See if the person has his or her own stories to tell.
Then go on to talk about the many excuses you have given yourself for going back to those foods or eating behaviors. This is your discussion of the "mental obsession". Emphasize these excuses as being absolutely insane, never really justified, but overpowering your mind so that despite any common sense you went back to those foods or eating behaviors. Don't talk about them as simply "emotional". Stress the mental insanity. Some of the reasons may have been emotional, but some of the reasons will also have been just stupid (like "no one's looking" or "I didn't eat the bun at supper-time"). You will have all kinds of personal stories which you can tell of the stupid excuses you've given for going back to the food. See if the person has his or her own stories to tell.
Now you can tie the two ideas together. The allergy of the body means that once you start eating or indulging in the eating behavior, you can't stop (you get uncontrollable cravings). The mental obsession means that you can't stop from starting (your mind is overpowered and gives stupid reasons for going back). You are in a vicious circle. You can't stop once you start, and you can't stop from starting. You are therefore, on your own, completely powerless.
Say that is how you discovered you were a compulsive eater and were completely powerless over the foods and eating behaviors that caused you uncontrollable cravings. Don't brand the other person as a compulsive eater. Say things like, "You may not be like me, but I found that I was powerless."
Point out that the real problem was clearly your mind. Sane people don't do things that are bad for them. A sane person who got uncontrollable cravings that have created the nightmare of compulsive eating would simply not indulge in the foods or eating behaviors that caused those uncontrollable cravings. Yet your mind continued to persuade you to do things that are bad for you. If your mind were sane, you would always know that you couldn't indulge in those foods or uncontrollable cravings.
Say that you now you don't indulge in those foods or uncontrollable cravings. You can be around them, you can be with people who indulge in them, and you have no interest in them, because you know that they are bad for you, and you continue to know they are bad for you. You are freed from that mental obsession. You are now sane!
If by this time the person listening to you hasn't joined in with his or her own similar stories, maybe he or she doesn't have your problem.
The chances are that person has joined in with his or her own similar stories. See if that person asks you how you became free. Or ask that person whether or not he or she wants to know how you became free.
If you're asked to tell the story of how you became free, begin with saying that you had a spiritual awakening that gave you sanity. Don't talk about your personal God, because the other person may not believe in your personal God. Talk about your spiritual awakening, and emphasize that it isn't necessary for someone working the Steps to have any personal God whatsoever - only that he or she is willing to grow along spiritual lines.
Then tell your story of working Steps Four through Nine - your story of cleaning your house.
Explain how you have to tell your story or else you'll lose your sanity, your mental obsession will return.
Thank the other person for listening to your story. If the other person wants to work the Twelve Steps, say that you're ready to help that person, and say that if that person doesn't want your help, that there are others in OA who will be happy to help.
If the person wants your help, you're now ready to sponsor.
A note on sponsoring:
Just a reminder that what I'm going to say about sponsoring is discussed at length in the Step Study available at www.oabigbook.info, and I'm not going to try to defend it here. The instructions I've been given are consistent with the Big Book's approach, even though they're extremely different - much more hands-off - than the way many people advocate sponsoring in this program.
Again, there are many different ways of working each step. The instructions I've been given do work, and they require a lot less work than a lot of other instructions; in fact they require the sponsee to do almost all he work. In OA groups where there aren't enough sponsors to go around, this method of sponsoring should be looked at with interests; it's very sad to go to some OA meetings where newcomers can't get sponsors because those who are sponsors are too busy sponsoring other people, some of whom have already recovered!
I fully recognize that what I say next can be controversial. Please take what you like and leave the rest. But before you leave it, please think about it carefully, and read my discussion in the Step Study. You owe it to yourself, I suggest, to think about controversial things if they come from an accepted source like the Big Book before you reject them out of hand.
Sponsoring through Step One:
Read the Big Book with your sponsee. Talk about the allergy of the body discussed in "The Doctor's Opinion" and work out a plan of eating with your sponsee that allows your sponsee to abstain from the foods, food ingredients, and/or eating behaviors that cause your sponsee uncontrollable cravings. Do not impose your plan of eating on your sponsee, since your sponsee may not have the same list of foods or eating behaviors that you do. Make certain that your sponsee is honest with him- or herself.
Tell the sponsee that once he or she becomes abstinent, you are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to help him or her keep abstinent. If he or she is about to eat a doughnut at 4:00 in the morning, you'll do anything you need to do to help that person not eat that doughnut. On the other hand, if he or she has already eaten the doughnut, that person can call you at a reasonable time. (For U.S. readers--sorry about the spelling of "doughnut", but that's how we spell it in Canada. It's hard enough for me not to use behaviour, humour, programme! )
Stress your willingness to do anything to help. But on one condition. The person has to make a commitment while abstinent to clean house through Steps Four through Nine.
Suggest to your sponsee that the Tools of Recovery can help your sponsee keep abstinent while working toward Step Nine. Suggest that your sponsee create a buddy system with other people who are working toward Step Nine. Be willing, if your sponsee wants you to, to get daily commitments as to food. It's what your sponsee needs you to do, not what you think your sponsee should be doing.
If your sponsee has a slip or relapses, there are only two possible explanations. Either he or she has not eliminated all the food or food ingredients or eating behaviors that cause uncontrollable cravings - in other words, he or she got uncontrollable cravings and couldn't stop eating - or he or she didn't clean house sufficiently, or sufficiently quickly, and his or her mental obsession returned and gave him or her an excuse to go back to compulsive eating. Stress with your sponsee that all that has to be done is to fix the mistake and carry on.
Don't fire him or her if there's been a slip. Work with him or her to figure out where the mistakes were made.
If he or she continues to make mistakes, then continue to say that you will do anything to help that person on the one condition: he or she has to make a commitment while abstinent to clean house through Steps Four through Nine. That's the condition. If he or she won't make such a commitment, explain that that is the only way you know how to help that person, and you're available any time, any where, to help him or her. Leave it at that. Neither chase the person nor fire the person. It's up to that person to contact you.
A note respecting a plan of eating for a bulimic:
The bulimic is clearly and simply a compulsive eater like any other compulsive eater who also tries to hide his or her compulsive eating by finding a way to get rid of the food or the calories (vomiting, exercising, laxatives). For the bulimic, there is no difference with any other compulsive eater in developing a plan of eating. Clearly one eating behavior that causes uncontrollable cravings is the act that gets rid of the food or the calories (the vomiting, overexercising, taking of laxatives) since the absence of the food or the lack of calories puts the body on overdrive. Therefore abstaining from that act is part of a reasonable plan of eating for a bulimic. All the other parts of a reasonable plan of eating have the same issues as for any other compulsive eater.
A note respecting a plan of eating for an anorexic:
IF the anorexic has experienced compulsive eating in the past (has been a bulimic or a compulsive eater) then the anorexic understands the notion of eating uncontrollably. That person has identified ALL food as a problem. The key to developing a plan of eating for that kind of anorexic is to figure out what foods won't cause uncontrollable cravings and simply abstaining from those foods and not from other foods. In addition, clearly one eating behavior that the person has to abstain from is abstaining from ALL foods!
If the anorexic has not experienced compulsive eating in the past, then that person's issue is not developing a plan of eating that eliminates food or eating behaviors that cause uncontrollable cravings. That person hasn't had uncontrollable cravings and is therefore not a compulsive eater from a Big Book perspective. That person may still find help in OA because OA is a Twelve Step program that deals with food, and Anorexics Anonymous doesn't seem to exist anymore. That person isn't powerless over food; that person is powerless over whatever deep physical cravings that person gets when he or she doesn't eat any food. Clearly he or she has to abstain from the act of not eating food (in other words, the person has to eat food from a nutritional basis), so that the physical cravings won't come. Then the Twelve Steps will work to give that person sanity so that he or she won't want to go back to abstaining from not eating food.
Sponsoring through Steps Two and Three:
Give that person hope. Stress your own recovery and the recovery of thousands and thousands of people in OA, and millions of people in Twelve Step programs of so many different kinds. The recovery takes the same form: none of us wants to return to the self-destructive behavior that had us in our grips.
See my discussion of Step Two in this Step Study for guidance on talking to your sponsee about that hope.
See my discussion of Step Three in this Step Study for guidance on talking to your sponsee about our need to be in control and what a decision is. Offer to be available to hear your sponsee say the Step Three prayer. If he or she doesn't want to take it with you, stress how important it is to take it with someone he or she trusts.
Offer to work rapidly with your sponsee! Your sponsee should be willing to work hard. If he or she doesn't want to work hard, then he or she isn't taking this as a life-or-death problem. Well, if he or she doesn't take this as a life-or-death problem, then that's his or her problem, not yours. You're available to help so long as that person fulfills the one condition - a willingness to work hard through to Step Nine while abstinent.
Sponsoring through Steps Four through Nine:
Take the person through the instructions contained in Steps Four through Nine in this Step Study. Offer to be available to hear your sponsee give away the Step Five. If he or she doesn't want to have you hear Step Five, stress how important it is to find a person and give it away quickly; and stress how your sponsee, after giving away the Step Five, should return home to review it, do Steps Six and Seven that same day, and begin the Step Eight list immediately.
How to sponsor a sponsee who has completed Step Nine:
Assuming your sponsee has completed Step Nine, he or she has now recovered. Explain Steps Ten, Eleven, and Twelve, to your sponsee, and explain how absolutely necessary each one of those Steps is to keep his or her recovery.
Your sponsee is now ready to sponsor.
What is your role now? Well, if your sponsee has any problems or questions about sponsoring, you're there to help your sponsee. In addition, if your sponsee has any problems or questions about life, you're there to tell your sponsee to take our the Step Four resentment, fear, and sex conduct forms, fill them out; you're there if your sponsee wants to give away those forms; you're there if your sponsee wants to discuss what kind of amends to make and whether those amends would harm others. In other words, if your sponsee has any problems or questions about life, tell the sponsee to do a Step Ten! Your role with the sponsee is now pretty limited. Rather than talking with you, your sponsee should be helping those who still suffer!
Final instructions on sponsoring:
Watch your sponsees give hope and help to others. Feel great!
Ask your sponsees to tell you if they think you're restless, irritable, or discontented or gaining weight or acting compulsively. They can be great bellwethers for seeing whether or not it's time for your to do a Step Ten.
Continue to offer to sponsor those who still suffer.
If you've recovered, find people to sponsor and help them recover.
If you haven't recovered, commit yourself to a plan of eating that eliminates the foods and eating behaviors that cause you uncontrollable cravings, and work Steps Four through Nine so that you will recover. The find people to sponsor and help them recover.