I thought of the hundreds of times I'd sat in a restaurant so locked into a basket of bread that Jesus himself could have sat down beside me and I would not have noticed. How available could I have been to other people at the table? Did I have anything to offer my family and friends? The underlying suffering of all addiction is self-centeredness, but unlike garden-variety egocentricity, addiction guarantees an unrelieved isolation. At every turn, need is confused with love. Need replaces love, obscures it, and manipulates it. And, as the wisdom traditions tell us—in one way or another—Love is God. This is the all-encompassing love of unconditional acceptance, and the radical vision of 12-step work is that this unconditional acceptance can be, and in fact is, realized by drunks and drug and food addicts sharing their stories and listening with open—and broken—hearts. For many members, the meetings themselves represent higher power; for others, the communion established by stories shared with raw honesty testifies to God's presence and blessing.
After several months of attending meetings, I came to recognize a paradox: The notion of higher power definitely evokes the hierarchical majesty of a Supreme Being. Yet in the pragmatic theology of OA, grace is everywhere and all around you and accessible just in the process of letting go of the addiction. There is no need to "attain" or add to who you are.
I don't know what my higher power is, but I know for sure that it's not me. Curiously, I've discovered an unexpected freedom in putting a prayer out there and not worrying about who is receiving it.
Many people in OA speak of "turning my food over to God." That's not comfortable language for me, but like many of my new friends, I'd had no success with the popular diet trade: Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers. Diets require that we take responsibility for what we eat. This is precisely where compulsive eaters differ from normal people: Responsibility for food eludes us. It's something we have to learn, and until then, OA reasons, better to turn your decisions about what, how much, and when you eat over to someone else—anyone else.
One woman sharing her story said, "My food plan is my higher power." Another piece of the puzzle fell into place. I thought about how some members of the clergy are always trying to explain to the laity that monastic vows are about dignity and freedom in restraint, not about confinement. And what did anyone have to lose by surrendering to a food plan? Twenty pounds? Or maybe 120 pounds.
So far I'm down two sizes. Weighing yourself is discouraged because it can feed a preoccupation with culturally defined standards of attractiveness that have nothing to do with your body or well-being. Still, I find myself trying to translate clothing size into pounds. I recently pulled on a pair of jeans, thinking that I had to weigh about 146 to get into them, and the zipper didn't quite make it to the top. I haven't let go of the need to estimate numbers.
But the way I eat is changing. I can sit down to a perfectly prepared meal, measured on my kitchen scale to the last ounce, but if I gobble it mindlessly, without tasting it, without gratitude, then I've blown my so-called abstinence. Eating mindfully is a challenging practice because so many of us chow down as an exit strategy, to escape from anxiety or discomfort or any feeling at all.
I've been advised that when food is on the table, I should pause, look at it, and check to see whether I'm "spiritually fit" to consume it. Meaning: Am I paying attention to where I am? To what I'm doing? When my mind is too cluttered, replaying past conversations and rehearsing future ones, my sensory apparatus shuts down and I'm unable to know anything about myself or another, whether that other is a friend or God or higher power.
We Hear You!