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The Voice of My Higher Power

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During my past twenty years of abstinence from compulsive overeating and compulsive food behaviors, doing my best to incorporate the Principles of OA’s Twelve Steps into every moment of my daily routine, I have often heard that compliance is not the same as surrender. I believe this to be true, for I have watched as members working a program of compliance fall away from the Fellowship completely or experience no growth beyond the initial weight loss, which is usually gained back.

On the surface, it may seem easy to determine the difference between compliance and surrender. Once we have attended our first meeting, listened long enough to know that we belong in OA, asked someone to be our sponsor, and started following the food plan, we have surrendered, right? Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

Most of the compulsive overeaters I’ve met in the past twenty years (myself included) tended to come into the rooms with several defects of character that prevent the possibility of surrender: stubbornness, people-pleasing, self-righteousness, dishonesty, and fear, just to name a few. With these character defects setting up hurdles at every turn, one might think it’s not even possible to embrace an attitude of surrender. Anyone who has ever worked through the Steps is familiar with how difficult it is to face those truths, share them with someone else, and ask a Higher Power (that we have never really trusted to begin with) to help rid us of them.

“It’s just too hard.”

With that seemingly innocent statement, the compulsive overeater, looking at the steep staircase of a lifetime of Twelve Step work, opens the door to the voice of compliance. And it is my experience that the voice of compliance is the voice of codependency.

As I’ve worked the Twelve Steps over and over again, I’ve learned to recognize a pattern of behavior that at one time served me well, but, like the food, turned on me with a vengeance. That behavior is people pleasing, which I believe is synonymous with compliance. “I want my sponsor to like me, so I will stick to my food plan and follow all of her directions.” “I want the people in the program to approve of me, so I will take on every bit of service that is asked of me.” “I’ll comply with what everyone else says is best for me because I do not like confrontation of any sort.” Does any of that sound familiar?

In a recent conversation with a sponsee, I suggested that she may not actually be surrendering but only complying. She flippantly said she was “acting as if.” Without even thinking, I said “acting as if” is different than compliance. She then asked me what the difference was, and in my response, I heard the voice of my Higher Power answering! My response went something like this: “Compliance is codependent behavior—hoping that someone will like you or approve of you by dutifully following directions. ‘Acting as if’ is surrendering to something you may not completely believe in, but because you have seen it work for others who are just like you, you know you need to do it—and are willing to do it—in order to survive. You don’t care if anyone likes you while you’re ‘acting as if’; you just want to live.”

After my response, there was a moment of silence. We both sat for a minute as we felt the enormous awareness that began to settle in.

As long as we are working a program in hopes of getting something back from the others (kudos, praise, a pat on the head, friendship), we are complying. It is not until we step out of our need for those things (which are unfulfilling in the long run anyway) and step into the desire to live the life our Higher Power intended for us, that we can truly surrender. As long as we are complying with someone else’s will, that someone else is our higher power. As long as we are still trying to control our surroundings (our food or how people respond to us), that perceived control is our higher power. It is not until we lay down all those defenses and pick up the yet to be considered tool of surrender that we will be able to find peace surrounding the food.

For me, the beauty of surrender is that it has gone well beyond bringing me peace surrounding the food. In truly surrendering to my Higher Power’s will (first with the food, and then with the rest of my life), I have also been given peace surrounding your opinion of me. This may not sound like a big deal to most people, but for me, this peace is truly beyond my wildest dreams.

I’m writing this today to bear witness to that peace. It is real, and it is available to any one of us. All we have to do is stop complying and truly surrender!

— Jessica M., Shillington, Pennsylvania USA


Encourage your group to sponsor ALL newcomers. Download and share our new guide, Temporary Sponsors: Newcomers’ First Twelve Days, a free PDF download in the Document Library at oa.org under category “Group Resources.”

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