by Sarah S., your NoVAtions editor

Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous is defined as the action of refraining from compulsive eating and compulsive food behaviors while working towards or maintaining a healthy body weight. Spiritual, emotional, and physical recovery is the result of living the Overeaters Anonymous Twelve-Step program. (Conference Policy 1988b, amended 2002, 2009, 2011)

I’ve been thinking a lot about abstinence lately. I’ve had off-and-on abstinence, and I’m currently on a six-month stretch. This time around it’s a dirty abstinence, and you can tell. I’m heavier now than when I first came into program. I may not binge the way I used to, but I’m not carrying the message by being a healthy body weight. I have a food plan from a nutritionist, but sometimes that goes out the window when a true compulsion takes over and I “wake up” to find I’ve eaten more abstinent food than is on my plan. But since it’s “abstinent food,” since I’m not binging, since I’m not eating so much that I vomit, I say I’m still abstinent. But am I really refraining from compulsive food behaviors?

We cannot define our own bottom-line abstinence because we are crazy when it comes to food and food behavior. We’ll make sure to define abstinence as “no chocolate chips at 4 a.m.” so we can pour the entire yellow bag into our mouths at 3:55. That keeps us insane, under the thumb of food, and fat.

I went to a new (for me) OA meeting recently, and boy, was it strict! There were more guidelines for working the program than I had heard at other meetings, including being very honest with food and abstinence. The members of this group commit their food to their sponsors on a daily basis, which doesn’t seem to be a consistent practice in other rooms—even if it is a suggestion. Food decisions are something to be discussed, not decided in the vacuum of an addicted mind. And that kind of appealed to me. If you want what these people have, you behave around food in the same way that these people do. It’s clear cut, and you’re accountable. You don’t get to make the rules. You don’t get to do it alone. You don’t get to treat the program like a salad bar. And what do you get? Sanity, peace, support, and thin. Those people in that room were THIN.

When I first started the program, I racked up 90 days of very clean abstinence. I was having a pink-cloud OA experience, finding all around me beauty, love, and a power greater than myself. I lost weight and felt at peace. Since breaking that first abstinent period I’ve worked under the assumption that this early abstinence definition was too strict and the pink-cloud experience was a result of being new to the program. But now that I’m getting more honest with myself, I’m allowing myself to consider that maybe the bliss came at least partly from the squeaky-clean abstinence and accountability. So I’m committing to you, my fellows, an honest look at my abstinence and a willingness to be open to a more rigorous way of identifying what “compulsive food behavior” is for me.