by Mike A.

Rarely do you walk into an event anywhere in the world and there aren’t at least two men. Face it, men take up a large footprint on the planet. So I was surprised when I walked into my first OA meeting and was the only man. Addiction isn’t gender specific, so where are all the men? 

I see many future male OA prospects on the street, at the movies, and in restaurants. Yet it seems not many men stick with OA. Perhaps it’s a cultural difference. Men are told that we can do anything we put our mind to, but we come to OA and hear the word “powerless” and think it means weak—or worse, impotent—so we run. 

Deborah Tannen does research on how men and women are socialized differently as children. In general, girls pick a best friend from whom to learn their socialization skills. Boys join a team. This OA team is different from any other I’ve ever been on. For example, a man would never title a book the “We Care Book,” unless there was an alternate book called the “We Don’t Give A Shit Book.” Of course we care; why else would I subject myself to the hugging when I pick up a chip, or holding hands when we close the meeting? But these are rarely things boys do on teams.

I’ve been in another 12-step program for 25 years that is predominately male. In that program there's a strong social norm that only men reach out to male newcomers, and only women reach out to female newcomers. I thought it was to avoid the dating trap, but after being in OA for three years, I bet it’s because men and women think so differently. You will never hear a man say phrases like: “I need some ‘me’ time,” or “one dessert—two spoons,” or “I just need someone to hold me.”  

We are taught that vulnerability is a liability and are usually rewarded for expressing anger. In my experience anger is really just fear in two syllables. I was so afraid when I was new to OA, afraid OA wouldn’t work, afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it, and afraid I would become soft… and start hugging and holding hands all the time.  

When we see only our differences and not our similarities, it’s called comparing out. We’re supposed to see our fellows like spokes on a wheel. If we look at the outer ring they seem really far away, but if we look at our distance on the inner ring they are really very close. The objective is to relate, not compare. But compulsive overeating is a formidable enemy. It’s cunning, baffling, and powerful—and it knows the surest way to kill me is to get me alone away from the herd, and then whisper seductively into my ear, “be a real man not a pussy—you can do this yourself.” So it’s imperative to have other men around who can relate.