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Liberating Service

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My first exposure to OA was finding a pamphlet at my doctor’s office: Before You Take That First Compulsive Bite, Remember . . . . I read the cautions against the distorted thinking that leads to compulsive eating. I remember recognizing myself in that pamphlet, and I identified completely. I remember reading the Twelve Steps, getting to the Third Step . . . and then shutting down completely because “God” was not going to have anything to do with my weight loss.

My second exposure to OA came when I visited my sponsor from another fellowship. She had a copy of Lifeline Sampler, and I leafed through it, once again identifying with the words compulsive eaters used to describe their experiences. I no longer had trouble with the idea of God in any Step; addiction had beaten me into a state of reasonableness. In the summer of 1989, I attended an OA meeting.

Though I knew I had a problem, I wasn’t yet ready for the solution. I didn’t come back to OA until the following February; by then, I’d gained 40 or 50 pounds (18 or 23 kg) in just eight months. I was sober from alcohol but not from compulsion. I recognized I couldn’t consider myself sober if I kept bingeing that way. I kept coming back to OA, and that November, I was given the gift of abstinence. By the time the Region Six Convention took place in New Hampshire in 1991, I had come down from my top weight of 215 pounds (98 kg) to reach 139 pounds (63 kg). Now, I maintain a weight of around 145 pounds (66 kg). I’ve been restored to threefold recovery and have every reason to expect to live a long and healthy life.

I don’t think my OA recovery hangs entirely upon that pamphlet I found in my doctor’s office, but I actually tear up with gratitude when I think of the OA member who put it there. Maybe an intergroup’s public information or professional outreach committee had undertaken a project to distribute literature. Maybe a group was sharing their extra stock of pamphlets. Maybe just one member had taken on a private service of placing literature in medical offices. I’d just glanced at that pamphlet and put it back, so who knows how many others looked at it before or after me? Who knows if they recognized themselves, if they came to OA, if they stayed?

Now I understand why carrying the message to the still-suffering compulsive eater is our primary purpose. And there are lots of ways to do it. Public service announcements tell people where to find OA meetings. A health fair booth informs professionals. Other ways include talking to a coworker, raising your hand to be a greeter, continuing to sponsor a chronic relapser, or starting a new meeting.

Are each of these actions easier for some than others? Probably. The great thing in OA is, just as everyone is free to find a food plan that works for their own abstinence, we are all free to carry the message our own way: sometimes one-on-one, sometimes through media, sometimes on a committee. Sometimes, it can take a lot more courage to say to a friend or relative “Do you think you might have a problem with food?” than to stuff and mail a thousand envelopes. All service is important.

There is a concept in Hebrew, ןוקית םל or “tikkun olam,” that is often translated as “repairing however” or “healing the world.” It is spoken of as a duty of all people, one that cannot be refused, and also one that cannot be completed. It is both service to society and service to God that liberates the spark within. We do service, not just to heal others, but to heal ourselves.

Can we take on this responsibility to extend with joy the hand and heart of OA, without feeling that it’s just not enough? Can the fact that our disease is on the march, and the need for our solution more critical than ever, give us the energy to act? And can we each be one of many, knowing we aren’t the solution for everyone? Giving freely in this manner can really make service a way to liberate our spark within.

— Edited and reprinted from Messenger newsletter, Region Six, Spring 2006

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