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Second Edition Experience

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My heart just dropped into my stomach—did yours? On page 168 of The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Overeaters Anonymous, Second Edition, it says we “accept responsibility for our actions, looking only at our own faults and taking no one’s inventory but our own.” A list of questions follows, under the heading “In what ways do we act ‘to place principles before personalities’?”

I remember a Saturday afternoon. There were three of us OA members together, stragglers having an after-lunch conversation. The topic of discussion turned to someone who wasn’t there. The conversation moved from noting the absence of that person, to what someone had heard from someone else about negative behaviors, to why that person wasn’t there, and it was about to go on.

I’d been taught in program that “gossip is murder by character assassination.” I wanted to scream, “Stop!” I wanted to run. I blurted, “Can we stop here, please?” Everybody went silent. Shame hung heavy in the air. If I had not spoken up, I would have been participating, just by being there and allowing that gossip to continue.

The first person who spoke said his immediate reaction was extreme anger. Who was I to say that to him? No one talks to him like that! And then he realized his whole reason for being here was to get better. He said he hadn’t even realized what was happening or how easily the conversation had turned. He thanked me. The other person apologized. I said I didn’t know what to do; I didn’t really know the person we’d been discussing. They knew the person better and agreed to call her to see how she was doing. As a result of our experience that day, all three of us grew and became better friends.

Experience is a great teacher. Now, years later, I have more experience and more options available to me. I might still have qualms about speaking up, yet what better Tradition to uphold than anonymity? In case you would like to borrow an option to combat gossip, my first is my favorite: I smile and say, “Sounds like this is someone who could use some outreach calls.” Hopefully, we then turn to finding contact information and make plans accordingly. If someone continues to gossip, I might say, “You sound very concerned. Perhaps it’s something you’d like to discuss with your sponsor.”

One of the things I’ve learned in program is that I always have choices. I can even leave if that’s the best choice for me. I can say, “Excuse me, it’s time for me to leave,” and wish everyone well as we “trudge the Road of Happy Destiny” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 164). — Edited and reprinted from Out of the Cocoon newsletter, Milwaukee Area Intergroup, Third Quarter 2018

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