Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Causes of the obesity epidemic

Much discussion out there about causes of the obesity epidemic.  I would like to see the following factors better investigated

1. Our livestock are fed with feed products that have artificial hormones and antibiotics added.  These additives make the animals artificially fat, which increases their value when resold.  In Europe, the flesh of animals fed this type of feed is illegal.  I have seen thin Europeans come to the USA and gain weight.  I have seen fat Americans go to Europe and lose weight.  

2. Both high fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners trick the body's appetite control mechanism in ways that make us want to eat more.

3. Many chemicals have estrogen mimic effects, such as pesticides and plastics.  Estrogen is known to cause weight gain.

4. Restrictive diets (low calorie, low fat) are very dangerous, as they encourage starve/binge eating patterns, which are very efficient in causing weight gain.  Doctors continue to prescribe these diets, when really people need maintenance level food plans.  A maintenance level food plan will not maintain you in an overweight condition.  The only way to maintain an overweight condition is to overeat.  Doctors are hugely ignorant of nutrition.  Also, people lie to their doctors about how much they are eating, so the doctors are fooled into thinking they need a restrictive diet, when really they just need to eat a normal amount of food.

5. Some medications cause weight gain.  I particularly worry about anti-psychotic meds, which tend to cause HUGE weight gains.  A lot of times people are prescribed these medications because their personalities bother others around them.  This seems to me to be a case where we ought to be more tolerant, rather than drugging people.

6. Processed junk food is becoming increasingly addictive.  I regard junk food as being a recreational drug, not a food.  Not only is this stuff addictive, but it is completely legal and heavily advertised.  These highly addictive substances, are, moreover, arranged around cash registers in virtually every store, including stores that normally are not associated with food, like gas stations, office supply stores, electronics stores, etc.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sponsorship heresy

I often hear in OA that one cannot work the program without a sponsor. This is not true.  It rankles me every time I hear it.  I want to present a different point of view.

I always start with the Big Book. The Big Book was the first twelve step literature. In the first 164 pages, it presents the program in the words of the first 100 alcoholics who recovered in AA. 

Before the founding of AA, virtually all alcoholics just died. AA was the first known treatment of alcoholism/addiction. Treatment of addiction remains notoriously difficult. As I understand it, most of it is still based on the 12 steps, which were first revealed in the Big Book.  

All other 12 step literature is, essentially, commentary on the Big Book. 

The word "sponsor" does not appear there. In fact, it says on page 98, to burn into the head of every man that he can get well regardless of anyone. All that is necessary is to trust God and clean house.  Therefore one can get well regardless of absence of a sponsor.

We see Bill W. meeting with Ebbie and learning of the spiritual program of recovery. He meets with Ebbie a handful of times. Then he takes the ball and runs with it. I later found out that Ebbie relapsed into alcoholism and died, while Bill W. founded AA and lived. 

Bill W. meets Dr. Bob and together they get 100 guys sober, apparently with  75% success rate. They worked steps 1-8 in four hours.  

Some scholars, e.g. Wally P. in his Back to Basics, have speculated that, since these 100 guys had been drinking the night before,  Dr. Bob actually took dictation of their step work. They might not have been able to write, because their hands were likely shaking. 

According to p. 263, Dr. Bob spent most of the time with new protégés going over character defects. Then the newcomer was to go out and make restitution immediately. Then, after that, AAs were supposed to live in steps 10 through 12, to go out and carry the message. That was it. They would have worked steps 1-9 in less than a week.

The Big Book was written as a self-help manual. While joining the fellowship was encouraged, it was not required.  There have been reports of people recovering alone in the wilderness of the Arctic, using the Big Book. 

Sponsorship was introduced after the publication of the Big Book, because the founders were overwhelmed. 

Has sponsorship worked?  

I am going to say "No, it hasn't." In fact, as time has gone on, recovery rates have dwindled.  I would submit that this is likely, at least in part, because of excessive emphasis on sponsorship. 

Many people in OA think you have to call a sponsor every day to commit food. I have heard of sponsors who suggest to sponsees that they might use the sponsor as a higher power. I have heard of sponsors who want their sponsees to be abstinent for 30 days before working the steps. Many people baldly state that one cannot recover without a sponsor. I've been to one meeting, where they say you can't share on a step unless you worked it with a sponsor.  Region 6 of OA, which is my region, won't let you be its speaker list, unless you have a sponsor.  I heard of one regional meeting where they gave a session on sponsorship, where they said no one should leave the room without a sponsor. They reportedly pressured one woman who had 30 years abstinence into getting a sponsor, as if they should be telling her how to work her program. 

None of this seems to me to have anything to do with what I read in the Big Book. Basically, the only step that requires the help of another human being is step 5.  You have to tell your inventory to another human being. But the Big Book makes clear that this other person could be anyone you trust, such as a clergy person. Nowadays, with psychotherapy being so common, it seems to me likely that a therapist might be a good person as well. 

I am writing this essay in an attempt to get people to rethink attitudes toward sponsorship. 


I want to interject my own story here. I'm a bit reluctant to do this, out of fear that one of my former sponsors might read this and have her feelings hurt. I don't want to hurt anyone. I know my former sponsors did the best they could with the knowledge they had at the time. Whatever they did was because they believed it would help save my life. I don't want to appear ungrateful. I don't either want to be dwelling in resentment over what seems erroneous to me about their efforts. 

What I do want to do is tell the truth as I see it. For me to remain silent, simply because I am in sharp disagreement with the dominant thinking in OA, seems dishonest to me. I feel that I have a responsibility to myself and to program to speak my truth. 

Program also teaches me that I can best influence others by telling my own story, not by speaking about abstract principles or by making scholarly analyses of program literature. Necessarily, then, it seems to me that I have to talk about what I felt went wrong in the efforts of my sponsors. I am not going to mention anyone's names, nor am I even going to mention my own name, this blog being published under a pseudonym. Perhaps, therefore, this essay will lapse into obscurity and therefore fail in its purpose. 

I would not, in any case, be able to put this essay into my intergroup newsletter, as it is too long.  Moreover, if I did that, it would almost certainly come to the attention of some of these women who sponsored me and who I don’t want to hurt.

So here’s my story, or relevant parts of it.


I was struck abstinent in a dramatic spiritual experience while praying in my kitchen. I will not go into that experience in detail here, because it's really another story. 

But it was that experience that finally got me to OA. I had heard of OA something like eight years before.  I never went, because it did not seem like a serious problem. I needed to hit bottom. My bottom came because my husband left me. My bottom gave me the desperation to pray with the desperation of the damned.

My first thought was that I was never going to find another guy weighing 190 lbs. I was wrong in that thought. I've since realized that there are a lot of guys who are looking for chubby women to eat with, and I've met numerous chubby women with active love lives. Still, this concern got me in the door, for which I'm grateful. 

Now, my husband did not leave me because I was fat. He was fat, too. He had no problems with the way I looked. He left me because of emotional issues. 

I was in program for two weeks, when I started hearing about the role of resentment and fear in addiction. I felt as if the scales had fallen from my eyes. I thought back on my failed marriage and saw how it had been destroyed by resentment and fear; particularly how things could stay fresh, how problems that happened twelve years ago were brought back as if they had only happened the moment before. 

We were in marriage counseling for years, two chubby people getting fatter before the therapist's eyes. Yet the topic of addiction, or an emotional syndrome surrounding addiction, was never raised. In two weeks in OA, I felt I had the answer to a conundrum many years in the making. I realized that getting recovery from the emotional syndrome surrounding my addiction was far more important than getting rid of fat.  I have heard this concept summarized as “I came for the vanity, but stayed for the sanity.”

When I look back on this, it seems to me that I had therefore understood the concept of taking inventory and had started working the steps, even though no sponsor was involved. 

There was a meeting in my intergroup that was reading through the steps in the OA 12&12, one chapter a week. I resolved to attend that meeting, so that I would be sure to read and understand this material. Every week, we read a step, and everyone shared on it. I did this for 24 weeks, so I went through all the steps twice. 

I did feel that I got a spiritual awakening out of this process. I shared as honestly as I could, and did many mini step fives, both in meetings and in telephone conversations with program friends. I worked to improve my behavior towards people in my life, particularly on making living amends to my kids. And I was abstinent and losing weight. In fact, if you look at another post in this blog, you will see described some of the ecstatic mystical experiences that came to me as a result of working the steps this way.

No sponsor was involved with this process. My guidance was the literature and the shares of other members of the group. I also made frequent program calls and shared deeply with many people.  Yet, I was working the steps, not, perhaps, as profoundly as I might later; but then that is the whole point of step 10 and step 12, that we have to keep on with this process indefinitely, ever deepening our understanding and experience. To fail to continue is, in fact, to fall backwards. 

Nevertheless, I often heard people saying that one needed to have a sponsor to work the steps, that if I didn't have a sponsor I wasn't working the steps. How did these people know that I wasn't?  They didn't. Their assumption that I was not working the steps was fundamentally arrogant. They failed to inquire. 

Initially, I had a program buddy. This was a woman who had been in program a long time, but who was not abstinent. I thought she was going to be my sponsor when she got abstinent.  I hoped so, but she didn't get abstinent during the time when I thought I needed a sponsor.  She was very nice. I've found that many times in program. People with very nice personalities are often not abstinent. I have some ideas about why that might be, but that will be off topic. 

Despite her not being abstinent, she did in fact serve the function of a sponsor at first. She knew a lot more about program than I did and she taught me what she knew. 

She told me that intelligent people like her  -- and like me -- had more trouble getting abstinent than less intelligent people. Less intelligent people would pray and they would get abstinent. People like us would have too many questions, so it would be hard for us to pray the same way, so it would be harder to get abstinent. 

That was a powerful statement. I immediately resolved to pray A LOT. 

I am a Quaker. Many Quakers have trouble with the idea of prayer. We meditate.  When people, places, or things disturb us, we do a meditation exercise called "hold them in the light."  Praying for things strikes us as selfish, and likely useless. But here this woman had just told me that not praying was why she weighed almost 300 lbs,  so I was going to pray. 

You can see that what she taught me there was a very useful thing, indeed, even though she was not herself abstinent. 

At that time, in the meeting I was most frequently going to, there were no abstinent people regularly showing up. So I was talking to a number of these very nice people who were not abstinent. A lot of program members tell me that you have to find people with good recovery to teach you how to get abstinent. I did not find it so. 

I had heard several abstinent people qualify, so I knew the program worked.  In our meeting we were reading the program literature, which was mostly sound. Therefore, I did have some basis on which to proceed, even though the people I was talking to were not abstinent.

The non abstinent people never failed to do just what this first woman did, which was say right out what they thought they were doing wrong, like not going to enough meetings, not doing the steps, not having a higher power, not being willing to give up flour and sugar. I listened to those types of statements very carefully. They did not steer me wrong at all. 

Another thing that this first program buddy did was serve as a sharing partner. That was absolutely critical. The Big Book is very clear about this. You have to have another human being to share your inventory with. 

My first real experience with step five was with this woman. I did not know it at the time, but now, looking back,  I see it. 

I was fairly newly abstinent, and also adjusting to life without the husband who had just moved out, so emotions were running strong. I purchased dinner at a fast food restaurant for myself and my kids. Then I realized that they got our order wrong. I was furious, so I went back inside and had a temper tantrum and threw food on the floor. Then I went to a grocery store and bought new food. 

This was clearly suboptimal behavior. Prior to program, I would never have told anyone about such behavior. I would have been ashamed and I would have hidden it. If anyone had confronted me about it, I would have gotten very defensive and tried to justify it. 

But, somehow, miraculously, even at this point, only a few weeks into program, what I had been hearing about being 100% rigorously honest, and admitting my wrong doing, had started to sink in. So I told this nice, non-abstinent lady, who was my program buddy, what I had done. 

To her credit, she had enough program to take this in stride. She listened quietly and respectfully, and made clear that my behavior was not a big deal for her. She did not scold me, and she did not demand that I make amends immediately. She had what my current sponsor calls velvet ears, which was all that was really necessary.  Thus, I embarked on a new way of life, one where I was going to learn to be more honest about myself. 

I did not see the significance of this at the time, but I do now. I had already learned something very important about step five. 

I should say that I learned some other important things about these long term non-abstinent members. For instance, thus woman who was my program buddy told me that her relationships with family members had been repaired. Another woman told me that, while she had not gotten abstinent with the food, she had stopped smoking. Yet another woman told me that she had stopped smoking and drinking in program, despite not being abstinent. Those were very impressive stories to me. I thought that even if these women had not gotten thin, the way they might have hoped, they had still gotten some very valuable results out of program. This told me that the program was working, even though these women were still fat. 

So, in order to get and stay abstinent, one does not necessarily have to have a sponsor or be talking to abstinent people. 

Now I should say that there may have been abstinent people at that meeting, who I might not have recognized. I might have been unable to recognize them, because they were honest. They might have said that they had a slip, or had eaten something questionable, when they were sharing. At that time, I did not know that that could be part of abstinence. 

Thus, for the first six weeks, I was abstinent and lost 16 lbs. 

Nevertheless, I did make some efforts to get a sponsor. About six weeks into program, I went to a marathon sponsored by my intergroup for IDEA day. In case you aren't familiar, this day occurs every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The purpose of events scheduled on this day is to fortify program members against the upcoming feasts of gluttony. 

I met a woman, who was a speaker at that event, who had 7 years abstinence had worked the steps in another fellowship. She agreed to be my sponsor ... at first. 

She immediately told me that if I didn't commit my food I would lose my abstinence. This is what she believed. Up until that point I had a fairly strict food plan, mostly 3-0-1 (three meals a day, nothing, in between, one day at a time and no deserts), though mostly I felt that what I was eating was determined by my higher power. I felt like I was getting clear guidance in that area, with frequent prayer. 

She wanted me to eat what she was eating. I refused. First, I felt I would be betraying my HP to eat as much creature flesh as she was eating, but mostly because I felt my HP was guiding me with respect to food. Also, it seemed to me that she was quite underweight, so I questioned her food judgment and feared that she would force me to eat too little. 

That was an issue that I noticed right away in my intergroup. There seemed to be people who were overweight and people who were underweight, but I wasn't seeing very many at normal weight. The people who were able to stay underweight for a long time were considered abstinent, or so it seemed. This made me nervous. 

So this first sponsor dropped me, because she thought I was being willful, or maybe because she thought my food plan was going to be triggering to her. I am very glad that I was faithful to what I knew my HP was telling me about what I should eat and did not cave in to her requirements. 

I did start planning my food in more detail and trying to find a sponsor who would accept what I was eating. I think the problem was that most of them were unfamiliar with the concept of legume/grain protein mixing, as a vegetarian alternative to meat. I had learned about this through the book Diet for a Small Planet. This is a political diet book, not a weight loss diet book. It takes the position that vegan sources of protein are more environmentally sustainable than animal sources, and more likely to result in sufficient food being available to feed the world. 

When I was first struck abstinent, a big part of the experience was a vision of myself abusing food out of self pity, while there are so many people starving in the world. I did not become a complete vegetarian, but I did do more vegan meals than I had in the past. I felt my HP wanted this of me. 

Basically, when this sponsor told me that I could not be abstinent without committing my food, while she was telling me truth as she knew it, she was telling me that my relationship with my HP was not good enough. In fact, while I have continued to commit food, I have often wondered whether my abstinence wasn't more spiritual when it involved more praying and trusting HP and less planning. 

Because I believed this sponsor that I would lose my abstinence if I did not commit my food, I looked around for a different sponsor who would accept what I believed my HP wanted me to eat. I went through at least a half dozen people, none of whom would do that. On the one hand, I managed to stay abstinent during this period. On the other hand, it would have been more prudent, in my current opinion, to be more step focused. 

I now suspect that the program's emphasis on food plans stems from the period where our founder, Roseanne, did not truly believe in the steps. She wrote about this in her story in the brown book, how she felt that she knew better than the Big Book, a position she later abandoned, as I understand it. I can see where someone might come to think that planning food was essential, and maybe for some people it is; but I now see planning food as planning my day. Planning my day is part of step 11. That's not where I start with beginners, now. 

Also, p. 31 of the Big Book, 2nd full paragraph, lists the things that the alcoholics tried in order to stop drinking.  One of those things included swearing off forever.  To me, planning your food at the beginning, before working the steps, is like swearing off forever.  It’s not going to work. 

I do still commit my food, but I don't consider it a breach of abstinence if I switch from one abstinent meal to another. I just report the change the next day. I have since heard the saying "When man plans, God laughs." I like that saying.

I like to cite the examples of some craft items I have in my house. These include an Amish quilt, a Persian rug, and a Navajo rug. One thing that the craftspeople from all these diverse cultures have in common is the belief that they should intentionally insert errors into their work, because only God is perfect, and to attempt to be perfect is an affront to God. 

Like these craft items, my abstinence is not perfect. I don't go out seeking trigger foods, but sometimes I have a restaurant meal that's too large. Sometimes I am in a medical situation, like prep for a colonoscopy, where I have to eat some things that normally are not on my food plan, because my doctor tells me to. My abstinence is like a Persian rug in that respect, beautiful, but not perfect. 

Some sponsors consciously set out to be a substitute HP for people who lack faith in the general HP concept. Perhaps this works for some people, but in general I think it is extremely dangerous. If there is one overarching principle that I learned from the inventory process, it was not to make other people into HP. Other people are typically sick themselves. They will always fail us, sooner or later. Putting too much faith in other people leads to resentment. Resentment is fatal to the addict (BB p. 67). 

Certainly,  prior to inserting oneself into someone else's spiritual life,  one ought to inquire as to whether that person has a problem praying to an existing concept of HP. In trying to insert themselves into my food plan, these people were trying to insert themselves between me and my HP. They didn't know that, but then they didn't ask either. 

Eventually, I did find someone who would take my food. She knew something about grain/legume mixing, because her daughter was a vegetarian. I was able to commit food to her for several months, but, after a while there started to be problems, because I was eating nuts, which she could not eat. Nuts are another thing that you can mix with legumes to get complete vegan protein. She found nuts triggering, so she got irritable about my committing nuts to her. I finally decided I could not deal with her moods about a food that I felt my HP wanted me to eat, so I had to change again. 

About this time, I also found a step sponsor. This was a person who was taking me through the OA workbook one question at a time. I had a hard time motivating myself to do this. I had, in fact, been working the steps, though I was not sure of that at the time, and I was in the middle of an ecstatic, mystical spiritual awakening. The writing exercises in that book just seemed so puerile compared with communing with my HP. I did not have sufficient confidence or experience to talk about what was really going on with this sponsor. I've written about my spiritual experiences in my immediately previous essay. I've never really found anyone who could empathize with my tsunami meditation. I felt odd trying to talk about it.

After I had slowly, and painfully, worked through the first step in the OA workbook with my new step sponsor, and just started the second, I went to a retreat about the Big Book. This retreat was sponsored by my intergroup. 

After finishing the retreat, I was thoroughly persuaded that I had a already completed steps one through three, and what was really missing was a more thorough step 4. I wanted to do it in accordance with the Big Book. 

There was a shortage of sponsors in my area who knew how to sponsor that way. I ended up joining two other women who wanted to do a step study together. We met a few times. I was the only one who wrote up the fourth step the way we had been told at the retreat. Both of the other women in my study group AND my prior step sponsor, who had been taking me through the OA workbook, relapsed. I did not. 

I switched over to using one of the women in my step study as a food sponsor for a while. She was very nice, but, after she relapsed, she didn't seem appropriate as a sponsor. 

By this time, six months had passed since my first sponsor dropped me, and I was ready to do a formal step five. Coincidentally, that same first sponsor had decided to be more flexible about food, so I went back to her.  At that point I was down 45-50 lbs from my top weight, which made my food plan seem more credible, as well.

Now this is where she did what a sponsor is really supposed to do. She invited me to her beautiful mansion, and sat with me for four or five hours, while she listened to me read the big stack of paper that I had written. She also gave me comments. 

To me, this is what is described at p.263 of the fourth edition of the Big Book. Dr. Bob spent most of the four hours they spent working the steps, talking about character defects. She did that part perfectly. 

I had a sense that I had really not gotten to the bottom of things, because I did not have that sense of relief that the Big Book described; but she told me that what I had done was beautiful, which was somewhat reassuring.

Later, when I reworked the steps using some Adult Child materials, I started learning what had been missing.  That does not mean that my Big Book process was invalid.  It just means that I had to do further work.  I am not one of these Primary Purpose people who think you should ONLY use the Big Book.  What I think is that you have to start with the Big Book.

After my sponsor heard my step 5, she told me that I should reorganize my writings to create a list of character defects. Now this was not what I had learned in the Big Book retreat I had attended. That instructor told us that the Big Book only had four character defects: selfish, dishonest, self-seeking, and afraid. He also said that step six and seven in the Big Book were very short, only one paragraph each, because we were meant to go through them quickly and be on to step eight. 

This sponsor kept me on steps six and seven for a year, looking for character defects. I didn't have enough confidence in that instructor to protest.  Moreover, I feared making amends to my ex-husband, so I wanted to procrastinate and I let her delay me.

In fact, she was actually teaching me about step ten, continuing to take inventory, which was a useful thing. She had me looking for character defects in my ongoing behavior.  I was making some living amends. Still, staying in steps six and seven for over a year is certainly not something I would recommend to sponsees. 

I did get out of my extended steps 6-7 a beautiful, long prayer, listing character defects and what I wanted them to be transformed into. I wrote it slowly over many months. I've shared that prayer with a number of people, who have really enjoyed it. 

After a while, I did start writing a step eight list, and my sponsor did prove useful in thinking about making amends to my mom, which, fortunately, I did before she died. That amend was about a year and a quarter after I did my step five.

I wanted to make amends to my brother, but he lived in San Francisco, while I live in the NYC metro area. My sponsor said I could not make amends over the phone. Then there was a time when he came to the east coast for a family event. She told me I could not make amends at a family event. 

She was of the opinion that opportunities to make amends would present themselves miraculously, and that the amends would happen naturally, if one had truly changed. To some extent I think this is true. If one has truly changed, one's prior behavior will seem nonsensical, and one will automatically change that behavior and apologize for it. On the other hand, if one's brother lives three thousand miles away and one sees him only once every five years; and one comes to suspect that he is actively avoiding one; then just sitting around waiting for that miracle is probably not going to cut it, IMHO. 

I had a limited budget and two special needs kids. I was not in a position to make a special trip to go see him. So the amends weren't getting made. 

Another thing about this sponsor was that she advised me that I should call her whenever I had to make a decision. I soon realized that this was not going to work. I have to make decisions at every moment during the day. I would have had to be on the phone with her all day long. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in the Big Book supporting such an idea. We're supposed to be cultivating a divinely inspired intuition, as I understand it, praying for guidance throughout the day, not calling another human being and asking them for help with decisions.

There were what I now recognize as some clear danger signs manifesting. My sponsor got dropped by her sponsor. She quit going to meetings. Though she had done an eighth step in another fellowship, she was not doing a step eight in OA, which was part of why she didn't want me to do one. She didn't want me to get ahead of her. Eventually, when we were attending the region six convention in 2006, I realized that she had relapsed.  This was about two years after I had joined program. 

The region six convention was a perfect place to seek out a new sponsor. At one point, I identified a woman who I thought had what I wanted. I sat down at a table with her, but was not able to get a word in edgewise, because a very annoying person was talking non stop. Eventually, I listened to what she was saying, and decided that she sounded like she had good recovery. Moreover she lived in the same county as I did, while the woman I was trying to talk to lived in another state.

Ultimately, I decided to go with the woman who was talking so much. 

Fortunately, she had a much greater sense of urgency about working the steps than my previous sponsor had had.  Within a few months, I had done my step nine, at least the major bits. 

Then something unfortunate happened. I transacted a business deal with this sponsor. I don't want to get into the details, but I learned the wisdom of one program dictum, that it is not a good idea to transact business with people one meets in program. The upshot was that I decided that she did not have what I wanted. She also relapsed not so long after that. 

I think both of these women who relapsed are back on track now, fortunately. Relapse does not have to be a permanent condition. Still, the propensity of my sponsors to relapse was unnerving.

I decided to seek another sponsor. 

This was the beginning of what I now call my sponsorship crisis. 


At first, things went remarkably well. I walked into a meeting and found a woman with 35 years of abstinence, and she was available. I was thrilled. Now I was sure I had found my dream sponsor.

I set alarms all over my house, so I would be sure to call her promptly at the appointed time every day. I hung on her every word, which was difficult, because she was in her eighties and rambled fairly badly. I tried to do everything she told me. 

After about two weeks, she told me that she thought her time would be better spent working with someone who was struggling with the food, which I was not. 

I was stunned. I thought the key to long term abstinence was having a great relationship with a great sponsor. How could she dump me, because I was abstinent? I guess there were some aspects of my personal life that also bothered her, but she started out with my abstinence as being her primary objection to sponsoring me. 

I asked her whether she had a sponsor. She said she did not. She worked the steps. She went to meetings. She did service, but she did not have a sponsor. Yet she was abstinent 35 years and seemingly at a fairly healthy body weight, maybe a bit over, but not much. 

I emailed the man who had taught my first Big Book retreat. I asked him if he had a sponsor. He said he did not. He had some people he could share tenth steps with, but no sponsor. He exhorted me not to waste time on seeking a sponsor,  if I had already worked the step.  He said I would have more time to sponsor others if I was not wasting time calling a sponsor every day, and helping non-abstinent people was more important. 

Then I called the man who had done the second Big Book retreat for our intergroup.  This second retreat was a year after the first. He told me that he had a sponsor in AA, who he called about once every two weeks, but no OA sponsor. 

These two men were amongst those who I most respected in the program.  They were both at normal body weight after having previously been over 300 lbs.  Also, they had been abstinent continuously for many years.

Then I called a woman who had impressed me at  the 2007 world service convention. She had over 30 years of abstinence, and was maintaining a huge weight loss. More than that, though, she had a light shining out of her eyes, a delight in life, that moved me. She truly seemed happy, joyous and free. She was probably the first person who I saw in program who truly had what I wanted. 

I was stunned again to learn that she had NEVER had a human sponsor. Her HP was her sponsor.  

At that point, I decided that *my* HP was trying to tell me something. I decided it was time for me to dispense with having a sponsor. 

I had a friend who had about 30 days of abstinence, who got "permission" from her sponsor to be a food sponsor for me. That's one thing I've never done, ask a sponsor's permission to take a sponsee, but she did.  I decided to use her in case I was going to some event where I thought there would be a lot of temptation. I decided that if I needed to do a heavy duty step 10, I would send it to this lady I had met at the world service convention, who had NEVER had a sponsor, though she expressed eagerness to read my writings. Otherwise, I would do my nightly check-on and commitment of food as a letter to my God box. 

So that was what I did for about two months. During that time, my food sponsor also sometimes used me as a substitute sponsor, when hers was not available. Gradually, I started sending her my check-ins, since I was emailing her anyway. I was getting lonely not having a sponsor. This made me feel more connected. 

Then she relapsed. 

I decided that, since I had heard that the purpose of sponsorship was to keep the sponsor abstinent, this wasn't working. 

The lady from world service said she would be happy to receive anything I wrote. She often wasn't home when I called, and she couldn't afford to make outgoing phone calls, so writing her snail mail letters seemed to work. 

She's a lovely lady and very knowledgeable about program. I love getting her feedback when I have some thorny issue that I don't know how to approach. Still I do not think I would enjoy speaking to her every day. Her religious and political beliefs are quite different from mine, and sometimes she seems a little too interested in getting me to read her religious textbook or call my HP by the same name as she calls her HP.  Writing letters to her seems to satisfy the step 5 aspect of step 12 (continuing to practice these principles in all our affairs) without my having to get too involved with off program issues.  I'm still not sure she knows that I call my HP by a name from a totally different religion from the one she uses.  I don't think she needs to know that. I've told other people.

Some people say that the purpose of sponsorship is to develop relationship skills with another human being. That certainly has been the case for me, but I think the people who say this have it somewhat backwards. It seems to me that after I was through the steps several times I was better in a position to enjoy working with a sponsor.  For instance, at first, if I had had this woman tell me to read her religious text book or call my HP by the name she used, I would have felt alienated.  Now I can accept and value her, even though we disagree on these issues.

When I called that one sponsor frequently during my extended steps 6-7, I felt like I was having an acid bath every time I spoke to her.  This was because I had not thoroughly understood some aspects of my own inventory, in terms of making other people into higher powers.  In fact, I made other people into evil higher powers, due to issues with my parents out of my childhood.  It was not until AFTER I worked the steps, using adult child materials, in a multi-addiction step study group in a local church, that I could talk to someone regularly and not get that acid bath experience

In any case, it was in a different 12 step fellowship that I got indoctrinated in some different ideas about sponsorship. In ACA, I heard that many people disliked the idea of sponsorship, because they thought it gave rise to too many opportunities for control issues.  

They favored instead the idea of a fellow traveler. The steps require us to give our inventory to another human being, but there is nothing to say that this other human being has to be a sponsor. The fellow traveler concept assumes a partnership of equals, not that one person is a guru and the other is a student. Sometimes, I have also heard this referred to as co-sponsorship. 

I had some questions about the people who said this. I wondered if they had worked the steps adequately, or whether they were still living in resentment. 

But then I started thinking about my own story. Hadn't I learned as much from people who weren't abstinent as from those who were, at least at first? Hadn't a lot of my early sponsors been quite controlling in ways that had not helped me?

So I resolved to get a fellow traveler in each of my four programs, rather than a sponsor.

I still think of that one woman who I met at the world service convention as my sponsor. I still write her a check in to be snail mailed almost every day, though I also email it to a fellow traveller. The only exception to this was when I was in world service convention in 2013, and actually saw my sponsor again. When I developed some discomfort about our differing political views, I did not say anything to her about it, only to my fellow traveller. I am pleased that I can enjoy my sponsor's company, even though she disagrees with me about some very fundamental issues of politics and religion.  I like to keep in touch with her, because her program is impressive, and because she is very isolated in a rural area and needs contact.  I feel like I am doing service keeping in touch with her.  She is  the only sponsor I have had who has lost weight while sponsoring me.  I therefore think this relationship is working.

Perhaps, some day, I should talk more to her about our religious and political differences, but at least I am talking to someone about them, and I'm not smoldering in resentment about them. 


Now I would like to shift focus a bit and talk about being a sponsor. I do consent to sponsor people. I believe that step 12 requires that I be willing to help the newcomer or anyone still sick and suffering.

I see several ways in which sponsorship helps me, and why step 12 is critical.

First, it is so much easier to take someone else's inventory than to take one's own. There is a program saying that if you spot it you got it. If I am bothered by someone else's defects of character, then that is likely something I need to be working on myself. 

Second, I need to keep retelling my story. If I don't tell my story, then I'm likely to forget it. I am an addict. Addicts have built in forgetters. There's a lot of discussion of these curious mental blank spots in chapter three of the Big Book. Telling my story over and over is one way to reduce the chance of one of those blank spots catching up with me. 

Third, I think you never really understand something until you teach it to someone else. My mom always said that. She had a masters degree in education. She taught elementary school for 11 years. She knew about teaching. 

I started out sponsoring the way I had been sponsored, trying to get people to call me every day and commit food. I must have had at least a dozen sponsees, before one got abstinent.  Most people come into this program as tourists. They don't really have the willingness to do what is necessary.

The one who got abstinent did not commit food to me. She did not call me every day. She did read the Big Book. She was a good reader and understood what she read, but she also asked questions. Within two weeks, she was ready to do her step five. When I had to postpone our meeting to hear her work, she found sometime else to tell it to. 

She went right out and started doing amends.

She broke a hip at Christmas, end ended up with several weeks in rehab. While she was in the hospital, she did amazing step 11 work. In short, she was highly motivated and committed to the process. 

It was just like the story with Bill W. and Ebbie. She met with me or phoned me a few times. I got her to say the program prayers. I told her to treat the Big Book like a cookbook.  I told her about some concepts, like getting rid of resentments. Talking to her on the phone during those two first weeks, I could hear that entire psychic change. She became a different person.  That was a totally amazing experience, especially since she was over 60 and being reborn quite late in life. In the years since then, she has continued to work the program, and I continue to see improvements in her personality and ability to cope with life. 

This was a sobering experience for me. While previously I might have bent over backwards for sponsees, calling them, sending them literature, taking daily phone calls or e-mails, coaching them,  none of them got abstinent. Here was this person for whom I did almost nothing, and she got abstinent. She once introduced me to another program member as the "woman who saved her life." That was an ego trip for me, but really I did no such thing. It was clearly a case of "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

This experience deepened my impression that, first, sponsorship is not the be all and end all that it is cracked up to be and, moreover, that the way many OA’s sponsor is wrong.

My experience since has only tended to confirm this impression.  

People who contact me every day are like drowning swimmers who reach out for a potential rescuer in the water, and threaten to pull the rescuer under with them. Trained lifeguards learn to kick drowning swimmers to get them to let go, so that they can be taken from behind.

People who are going to recover are proactive.  They take the initiative.  They go to meetings.  They learn what they need to do.  They do it.  They don't use the sponsor or any person as HP.  That wouldn't be program.


Now I want to get back to where I started all this, with questioning the whole idea of sponsorship, and even linking it with declining success rates in program.  

Basically, I think most sponsors don’t even understand program.  

Like this one woman, who had 7 years abstinence in OA and much longer than that in AA, thinking that she should have sponsees call her every time they had to make a decision.  There is just no basis for that whatsoever in the Big Book.  Moreover, my experience was the contrary.  Step 11 teaches me that I need to pray for guidance from my HP in every decision and that is what gives me a sense of serenity, relying on HP.  

I just want to give a couple more examples of sponsors who did not seem to understand the program very well.

I spoke with one woman who was on a food plan with insufficient calories for her body. She started becoming emaciated. She said her sponsor wouldn’t “let” her eat more. What kind of power hungry person lets a sponsee become emaciated rather than deviate from a food plan?  

I spoke with another woman who chose to eat breakfast on the commuter train, when she travelled into New York City.  Her sponsor got angry at her, because the sponsor wanted her to eat somewhere else.  One is just sitting on a train with nothing else to do. Why not eat breakfast?  That just seems time efficient to me. I’ve often eaten meals on the commuter train.  What is wrong with this sponsor that she gets angry over not being able to control this aspect of her sponsee’s life? 

People have argued that if you are successful with a sponsor it means that you will be learning something about relationships and about intimacy.  I question this.  The sponsee has plenty of relationships to practice on already.  Why add another one?  Since the sponsor is another addict, who need only be slightly ahead of the sponsee in program, the relationship is very likely to be dysfunctional.  There is no quality control on sponsors.  Perhaps a new dysfunctional relationship is the worst possible thing to add to a sponsee’s life, when the sponsee is trying to get abstinent.  We always tell newcomers to try to avoid major changes in the first year of abstinence.  Adding a new daily relationship is certainly a major life change.

In any case, the idea that a person should use the lack of a sponsor as an excuse for not working the steps is a very poor one.  There is a chronic shortage of sponsors.  The steps do not require a sponsor, only someone to listen to step five.  That person could be anyone.  Procrastinating on working the steps due to lack of  a sponsor is certainly not going to help the sponsee get abstinent.


OK, that's it, my sponsorship heresy.  I hope it will provoke discussion, though I fear that it will fall into the great sea of the Internet and die.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Musings on making my higher power work for me in a 12 step program

I want to talk to you a bit more about how I see my higher power and why it works for me. I'm always a bit reluctant to talk about this topic because I know that one's relationship to one's higher power is a very personal thing. What's meaningful to inner person is not to another. I learned this fairly early on in program.

 The great tsunami in the Indian Ocean occurred about two months after I joined program. I heard the third step prayer and I thought about the tsunami and I was inspired to construct a meditation in which I visualized my higher power as the tsunami, thinking that the tsunami would destroy and wash away the bondage of self and all my character defects.

I did this visualization on a very deep level. I really imagined myself being destroyed by the great wave.  I also imagined selfishness, dishonesty, self-seekingness (not sure of that's a word), and fear as little grass shacks that I had constructed, four of them, arrayed behind me. I brought to mind the images I had seen of the tsunami, washing through buildings and trees and destroying me and the little grass shacks. 

I imagined it really as two parallel events, one in my head and one outside my head, so that I would really truly be totally gone. I imagined the wave washing through the trees, just as I had seen in a video, but also washing into the back of my head, into the depths of my subconscious, cleaning everything out,  especially the desire for excess food.

I planned this visualization like this. Then, unplanned, my imagination provided a second visualization. Since I was imagining myself as dead, my soul was free to soar way up into the stratosphere, up to where the satellites take such beautiful photos of the earth. Then I did a backwards somersault up there.

The tsunami victims had said that the tsunami was actually two waves, that many children had been taken, because they went out to play on the parts of the beach that were newly exposed when the first wave receded, and succumbed to the second wave; so my imagination, unbidden supplied this image of me coming back down from the stratosphere onto a surfboard, that I rode the second wave with.

Now of course the second wave was to crash on the shore just as the first one had, but this is where my new intuition applied what program had taught me about living in the moment. I had been listening to this concept in meetings, the idea that we stay in the present. I learned a saying: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow's a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present."

Being on that second wave was a fatal endeavor. It was going to crash into the trees ahead of me. I would surely die from they impact, yet it was also the best ride in the world, while it lasted. The water was sparkling under a warm tropical sun. The breaker around me was beautiful and exciting, roaring, wet, crashing. It was an amazing tropical vacation moment.

This was a new concept for me. I had been very afraid of death or injury. Even today I don't think I could really ride a big wave like that, but still the idea of enjoying such a thing was, for the first time, suddenly appealing to me. I sought out videos on the Internet of people who had actually ridden hundred foot waves.

The idea that I was riding that wave persisted in my head for several months. It was a very exiting time for me. I felt relieved of all my worries and truly free for the first time in a very long time, since I quit a job that I really didn't like. I went to sleep imagining I was sleeping on my surf board. Sometimes I imagined that the floor was wet from the wave, when I went to a new place where I might be confronting some fear.

It was an ecstatic mystical experience that lasted for about six months until I finally got a consistent sponsor. Most people tell you their sponsor helped them find a higher power, but that was not my case. She really didn't know anything about my beliefs or spiritual life. She heard that I did yoga, so she suggested that I try to visualize energy going through my chakras and that I pray on my knees.

Even though I was pretty sure that that was not what my higher power wanted me doing, I did it. I allowed my sponsor to interfere with my higher power, because I was making get into a higher power. I wasn't setting good boundaries.

Fortunately, I didn't lose my abstinence, but my relationship with my higher power did deteriorate.

But this just goes to show how tricky it is to talk to another person about spiritual things in program. You don't know what is going to help them and what is going to mess them up.  Food plans are like that too . We don't really know what triggers and doesn't trigger another person. We really only know for ourselves.

Others, too, have told me that there is a honeymoon period in program for the first six months, anyway, so maybe that intense ecstatic state would have faded even without my having changed my practices. I always remember it, though.

I once took a class in prayer. The speaker told us that in a person's lifetime there will be periods of consolation and periods of desolation. Anyone can have faith in periods of consolation, times when God seems beautifully close and full of inspiration. True faith comes during periods of desolation, when God seems impossibly distant and uncaring. Even though I was sad that my ecstatic mystical experience faded, because I listened to my sponsor rather than, my higher power, I kept my faith in the reality of my higher power transforming me in wonderful ways.

So I know I need to be careful, about talking to people about higher power. Sometimes I've told people about my tsunami visualization. So far no one has found it appealing at all.

In any case, the question I once asked myself about this visualization was whether my higher power was, for the purpose of program,  the surf board or the wave. I went back and forth on that. Ultimately, though, I conclude that it is both: the safe spot where I stood, but also the chaotic and destructive forces around me.

I started out with this destroyer HP idea, because I went to a weekend retreat at a yoga ashram. That was where I decided to use a spiritual approach to my eating issues, even before I joined program about six weeks later.

At that retreat, they talked about the benefits of meditation for mental and spiritual health. One speaker told us that, in India, housewives use a mantra while they are doing chores, as a spiritual practice that would not detract from those chores. The mantra they used was "Om, namo Shivaya," calling on Shiva, one of the members of the Hindu trinity.

Now I've never been much of one for Hindu Gods, but I decided to use this manta and it worked for me.

There were several reasons, why this particular God appealed to me. One was that he us the transformer, and I wanted to be transformed into a thin person. Another was that I had prayed fervently for years for God to save my marriage, and my marriage had not been saved, do my confidence in God was weak. Another was my need to confront my own fears of loss.

The Christian tradition, in which I was raised, speaks of God as creator. The Hindus have this Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva trinity. Brahma is the creator. Vishnu is the preserver. Shiva is the destroyer and transformer. Hindus have told me that they are really monotheists, like people in Western religions, but they have different personae for this one God, because it makes it easier for them to focus in the aspects of God that interest them.

When I first heard of Shiva, I assumed he was a bad guy, like Satan in Christianity. I thought that, because I couldn't imagine death and destruction coming from a nice God.

I was surprised to learn that Hindus seldom worship Brahma. Instead they focus their worship on Vishnu and Shiva. They regard Shiva as a loving god because he's sort of a cosmic declutterer, taking away the stuff that one no longer needs.  By definition, I guess, stuff that one no longer needs is the stuff that Shiva has taken away, whether one likes it or not.

Shiva the destroyer inspired my tsunami visualization.

I don't think one has to be a Hindu to appreciate the idea of God having destructive powers as well as the more positive stuff. God does create, sustain, and destroy, after all.

For me, the take home here is that if one does only see God as creator, then one is going to be frustrated when things are lost, taken away. "A loving God would not do these things," we're likely to say to ourselves. However, if we see God as being Creator, Sustainer, and Destroyer, then it's going to seem more natural if things are lost, if there is suffering in the world.

I might not agree with what goes on here, but I am not in charge.  I might not like or understand why some people have to suffer and die, especially if they're people who I like and want to have around, but I am not in charge. God is in charge. God decides who lives and who dies, not me.

Program has taught me to imagine positive consequences from tragedy. For instance, as a result of the horrors of World War II, Europe is now committed to peace.  Something similar happened in China about 2000 years ago. A horrible emperor who committed mass murder united the country, paving the way to peace and prosperity.

I take this example, because my father came to this country as a refugee from the Holocaust. I tend to feel unsafe, because of what happened there, and that God isn't really trustworthy, and of course he isn't, if by trust one means doing what *I* think is right. What I think is right is not necessarily going to happen, but I'm not in charge here, and cosmic decluttering is going to keep happening, even if, from my limited perspective, it seems unkind, unjust, cruel, or tyrannical.

Another thing I learned from that group of yogis was that if one truly believes that one is part of a greater whole, then nothing is truly lost. It might be redistributed, in some time or place distant from me, but that does not mean it is lost to God. God can still go there and experience it, or rather is near everything. It is only lost from my limited, selfish perspective. My anger or grief at loss only means that I want different things from what I am given, in other words that I am not surrendered.

Friday, August 2, 2013

journalling 130802

I should go out and mow the lawn.  I am journalling instead of going out and mowing the lawn, because I want to figure out what is standing in my way.  I need the exercise.  The lawn needs mowing.  I feel frustrated that the kids don't help me.  I feel frustrated that the house is a mess, that I have not been able to motivate myself to work on my taxes, that papers are lying all over the place == that everything needs vacuuming.  

Even tho I've stayed abstinent, my weight is up, because my metabolism is slowing with age, and I'm having trouble finding the willingness to eat less.  I felt really overfull with my weighed and measured meal last night, which was just the same as so many others that I've eaten -- but it's summer, so I need less food, and my metabolism has slowed.  

I had always eaten 6 oz of protein, but now it seems like I need to go down to 4 oz, which other people commonly eat.  This is a tough sacrifice for me.  I feel like I've given up so much already.  

I also have to cut larger vegetables in half.  I've never weighed vegetables.  I've only eyeballed the amounts.  I've figured that most vegetables are essentially free, weight wise, but that doesn't stop me from feeling overfull when I eat them and having lots of gas as well.

There's so much to do to get ready to go on the trip I want to go on, and it's supposed to rain tomorrow, so I should be mowing, I should be packing, I should make a hotel reservation for Sunday night. 

 I haven't made a query in over a week, maybe two weeks.  I feel I should be doing that as well.  Plus I  need to make decisions about courses I am going to take in the fall.

I just can't motivate myself.

Life seems tough.  Life seems overwhelming. 

I'm trying a career change to content creator, changing what was essentially a hobby into a full time job.  I haven't made any money at it yet.  It's going to take time and patience.

A friend of mine who has been an actor for 20 years just got his first major TV role.  Wow.  That's a long time to wait.  I'll have Alzheimer's Disease by then, probably.  I have to struggle to stay content with living off my nest egg, taking joy in doing activities I love, and biding my time, hoping that I really am following HP's desires for me.

I guess I need to make up another to do list.  Maybe that will help to get things on paper.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Cross cultural ironies USA v Muslim World

I. Body parts

In the Muslim World, showing living body parts in public is regarded as obscene, but dead bodies are acceptable in news stories.

In the USA, living body parts can be shown in public and in the press, while dead bodies are considered too obscene for TV

II Clothing 1

In the Muslim World, skimpy clothing is supposed to be worn only in the privacy of the home, particularly in bed.  People are not supposed to go outside dressed like that.  Women are supposed to wear long, loose dresses outside.

In the USA, long, loose dresses are night gowns and are supposed to be worn only in bed, not outside.

III Clothing 2

In the Muslim World, covering a woman's face and body with long black robes is a symbol of virtue.

In the USA, long black robes and covering the face are symbols of death and evil, suitable for vampires and witches.