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Gratitude in Action - July 2014

What is Gratitude in Action?

Gratitude in Action is a newsletter published by the WSI 12th Step Committee of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA) to inspire you to get involved and do service so that you and others can be helped. We will bring you the latest FA worldwide information, remind you of tools and resources available within FA, and highlight upcoming FA worldwide events. Remember – “Service keeps us abstinent!”

2014 Business Convention Highlights

World Service Board (WSB) Chair Opening Remarks (Elissa P., WSB Chair)

These remarks start at the end—at the end of our FA book. On page 429 of Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous, it states:

“FA members everywhere remain united by the fundamentals of the FA program and the 12 steps. We have admitted our powerlessness over food, have accepted the boundaries and necessities of abstinence, and have turned to a higher power to help and guide us. Whatever our differences…we believe we can and must reach out together to help anyone who needs and wants FA. This is the responsibility and privilege of our abstinence.”

To me, this passage supports exactly why we are here at this convention. In addition to hanging out with over 300 gorgeous, healthy, happy people, we are here to help-- to help ourselves, and FA as a whole. Most importantly we are here to fulfill our primary purpose: to do whatever service needs to be done to carry the message to the still suffering food addict.

My belief is that every person in this room is invested in helping one another so that we may get well and be of utmost service to the newcomer. I feel too that sometimes we may also be faced with uncertainty about how to attract newcomers, and then once here, how to support and sponsor them effectively.

I do not have one single answer for these challenges. At times, I am insecure about my interactions with newcomers and sponsees. I have on occasion worked too hard with a sponsee, only to find out that I wanted recovery more for that person than she wanted it for herself. I have grappled with that fine line between simply sharing my experiences with a newcomer, versus doing so while also insinuating that my way is the only right way. I’m not cured and I will continue to make mistakes. But, a fundamental truth has developed inside of me: I personally believe that a genuine trust in G-d is paramount to the process of giving this program away.

Reflecting upon this process brings to mind my only sibling, Nina, who struggled with addiction her whole life. Last August, on her 46th birthday, Nina, died from her addiction. Nina’s primary drug of choice was crack cocaine, but food was not far behind. Once when she was two years clean, she broke her sobriety. When I asked her why, she said she picked up because she didn’t want to get fat again. She knew what was waiting for her—earlier during a period of incarceration where cocaine was not available to her, she gained 100 pounds in just nine months.

While Nina lay in a coma after suffering heart failure from her final high, I rummaged through her sparse belongings that came with her to the hospital. Among them were a pack of cigarettes, her driver’s license, and, her Big Book. Nina admired 12-step recovery, including FA recovery. Two months before she died, she texted me and told me she read excerpts from our book- our FA book- at a 12-step meeting she went to in the shelter where she was staying. Over the years she attended some FA meetings, maybe 10 or 12 times. In fact, the last place I saw my sister conscious was at an FA meeting.

More than anything in the world, I wanted Nina to embrace FA. It was so hard to trust that G-d was in charge of Nina’s recovery- not me. I tried all kinds of methods to make her get this. It was hard at times not to feel both angry and frustrated— two emotions that tell me that I did not entirely trust my higher power. It was so hard to accept that while FA is right for me, that maybe it wasn’t right for my sister. It was so hard to trust that this program truly is for people who want to embrace this way of life.

In hindsight, I see the error of my ways. More than ever, I fully understand the words from the Big Book, “That probably no human power could have relieved our alcoholism.” Whether enabled, abandoned, treated with tough love or unconditional love, the choice ultimately needed to be Nina’s. I could not persuade, convince, twist, demand, berate, control, or pressure my sister into getting abstinent.

I see now, wholeheartedly, that only G-d is strong enough to help another addict admit his or her powerlessness. It’s tempting to want to sway people into seeing it for themselves. However, that option is simply not viable. Nina has given me the gift of reminding me how scary it is to take Step One.

In my heart I believe Nina wanted to want to get well. But, just like any newcomer, she was terrified to live life without the substances that provided her the most comfort. That fear likely prevented her from being able to surrender. What a powerful message Nina’s struggle has shown me: Step Two restores us to sanity by replacing fear with faith in G-d, and by believing that G-d is bigger than our addiction.

I see now, wholeheartedly, that all I can ever do - with anyone - is share my experience freely and gently, as directed by G-d (not me), and without expectation. My role is to put G-d in charge of my fellows, my sponsees, and my recovery. My mistakes with Nina have not been wasted; it has become abundantly clear that I must turn my life and my will over to the care of G-d.

No matter how good our intentions regarding an obese loved-one, a bulimic co-worker, or an FA member who won’t or can’t stay abstinent, we can never insist that FA is another person’s solution. We can be most supportive through prayer, love, and tolerance. Ultimately though, we can only be responsible for our personal recovery.

As the Traditions remind us, our personal recovery depends on FA Unity: the most damaging thing I can do is to feed a newcomer a message of judgment or divisiveness. If I send a negative message about “different lines,” “meetings filled with crazy people,” “peas and corn,” or, “mood altering meds,” the newcomer will be confused-- and quite frankly, so will I. I choose to trust that as a fellowship, G-d will guide us to share a message of honesty, hope, faith, and a common solution.

When I am talking to a newcomer, the message I choose to send is something like this: I work my program in the way that was given to me by some healthy looking people who seemed to glow with happiness. Taking their suggestions took 100 pounds off my body, has kept me thin for almost 18 years, and eliminated my need to spend thousands of dollars on diets and therapy. Living this way gives me freedom from food. It also gives me a relationship with a fellowship and a higher power, both of whom I can turn to for anything. I am not here to tell you that my way is better or worse than anyone else’s. I’m just here to share what works for me. If this sounds good to you, then I would like to be of service to you.”

My responsibility as a food addict in recovery is to stay abstinent, drop to my knees in prayer, and take quiet time daily so that I may deepen my relationship with the G-d of my understanding. Blind faith regarding ALL aspects of life - recovery, family, job, and even regarding differences in the way each one of us works the FA program - this blind faith, I believe, is the answer to all our concerns. With it, each one of us is better able to give back, and to sponsor in a way that allows us to be used by G-d to help others find their own relationship with their higher power.

This is exactly the kind of support my sponsor and my fellowship provided for me in my time of need. Because of it, despite the pain of it all, I am walking through the tragedy of the loss of my sister, abstinently and sanely.

When I first received the call that Nina was in the hospital, I was 400 miles away, sightseeing with my husband and 2 young children in Washington DC. The seriousness of Nina’s condition was unclear at first. I was in a quandary whether or not to stay with my family, or immediately fly home. I reached out to my sponsor and she lovingly said, “Go back to your hotel room and sit quietly. G-d will show you what to do next.”

I didn’t know how to put that exact plan in place. Instead, I put one foot in front of the other and robotically continued sightseeing with my family, while asking G-d for help every step of the way. Within a short time, my sister’s doctor called to tell me that Nina’s condition had worsened. The decision was made for me and I needed to head straight to the airport.

When I arrived in Boston 2 hours later, a fellow picked me up. My sponsor had called her and asked her to meet me. That fellow had two meals in hand to get me through dinner and the next morning’s breakfast. For the next 12 hours, my father and I watched my sister suffer two more heart attacks, and then quietly pass away. During those hours and for the days and weeks to follow, phone calls, text messages, and cherished visits from my fellows poured in with the same consistent message: “G-d is with you. I’m praying for you.”

God’s grace and the power of this fellowship carried me and steadied me during the initial shock of it all, and then through every “first” that has accompanied these last 10 months of grief. Our family dynamics have changed. At times I have felt so incredibly lost and rudderless; even as an adult, it is confusing to become an “only child” and to help divorced parents grieve.

But, recovery has been my anchor. I have repeatedly been reminded to turn to G-d and to keep doing service. As such, my faith and trust have remained strong and active. G-d has graced me with a deep-seated feeling that in Heaven, Nina is experiencing a peace and joy that was never possible for her here on earth.

Strangely enough, I myself, was given the opportunity to console one of my sponsees, in an eerily similar way: Just days before I learned of Nina’s critical state, my sponsee lost her only son to his addiction. My sister died the morning of her son’s funeral. It is oddly comforting to be walking this path together, albeit a strange twist on service!

I am grateful to know that I do not have my sponsee’s answers. Despite the likenesses of these two situations, it is impossible to walk exactly in another’s shoes. My role as her sponsor and fellow is simply to remind her to, “Ask G-d for help and don’t eat no matter what.”

With G-d as “the Divine Third,” I seek to be a person to whom any sponsee can turn, no matter what it is he or she needs to share or divulge. For more help, I turn to the wisdom found in our FA book. There we are reminded that a sponsor’s role is to explain the boundaries of abstinence, introduce quiet time and the tools, reiterate the misery of eating addictively, acknowledge that each day of abstinence is pure and simple evidence of a higher power, gently aid a sponsee to see that we cannot change ourselves without the help of a higher power, and also explain why we must be of service whenever we can. Regarding trust in G-d, I heed the words of one old-timer. On page 86 she writes, “I’m a person who can’t face my life by myself. I have to have a hand to hold and a rock to stand on. G-d gives me a hand to hold. My trust and reliance on G-d’s hand gives me my rock.”

These fundamentals define a common approach to recovery, to which we can all continuously strive to achieve. They define a method that, if practiced honestly, humbly, and without judgment, allows us to pass on a program that leads each person to find his or her own recovery, a recovery that foster’s faith, not fear. When we pass it on in this way, FA will grow and attract others. We will flourish and thrive as a fellowship. We will be food addicts in recovery who are happy, joyous, and free.

These remarks began at the end of the FA book, and end at the beginning. Early on in, it is stated:

“No matter what we believe or don’t believe . . . we stand together on only one foundation: our admission that we are beaten by food and our willingness to try asking a higher power for help. The rest is an experiment—a journey of discovery. ” [p.33]

I feel privileged to be on this journey with a fellowship that continuously reminds me that all will be well, as long as we put our faith and trust in the hands of a higher power.

Thank you.

WSB Vice Chair Closing Remarks (David I., Vice-Chair)

I’m Dave, and I’m a food addict…

Bill Wilson wrote, "It was on a November day in that year (1937), when Dr. Bob and I sat in his living room, counting the noses of our recoveries. There had been failures galore, but now we could see some startling successes too. A hard core of very grim, last-gasp cases had by then been sober a couple of years, an unheard-of development. There were twenty or more such people. All told we figured that upwards of forty alcoholics were staying bone dry.

As we carefully rechecked this score, it suddenly burst upon us that a new light was shining into the dark world of the alcoholic… At last we were sure. There would be no more flying totally blind. We actually wept for joy, and Bob and Anne and I bowed our heads in silent thanks."

As I look around this room, and reflect upon the light that now shines on the dark domain of the food addict, I, like Bill and Bob and Anne, weep for joy and bow my head in silent thanks. I never want to forget what it was like to “fly totally blind,” in the world of food addiction. I came in to these rooms eighteen years ago, anxious, confused, depressed, and desperate. I was done with diets. I was done with binging, purging, and exercise programs. And I was done with yet another failed attempt to pick myself up the morning after. I remember what it was like to be lying in bed on a Sunday morning, sick to my stomach after an evening rampage with food.

Lonely, disheartened, and hopeless would best describe my wretched state. I knew that another resolution would once again end with me in the trash heap. In that pathetic hung-over state, I had no desire to get out of bed, except to find more food. When I realized that the very thing that would get me out of bed was also going to bring me back to this despondent state, I completely gave up and began praying for a solution. Soon after, I was lead into an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and eventually into FA, and the sunlight of the spirit.

By the grace of God, what a difference there is in my life this Sunday morning compared to that bleak, dark Sunday morning eighteen years ago when I was alone, full of self-pity, and without hope.

Trying to manage food without any awareness of a solution was my own experience of “flying totally blind.”

While most of us can identify with the experience of being an individual “flying blind” before coming into recovery, there are also people in this room who have been in FA long enough to remember the very early days when the disciplines and structure of this program were first taking root and it was the fellowship itself that was “flying totally blind.”

But we are not there today. We now have a definition of abstinence that unites us. We have an understanding of our common problem, food addiction, and the knowledge of a clear solution: Food Addicts In Recovery Anonymous. THANK YOU GOD.

As we prepare to travel home to our various locations around the world, let us take a few minutes to stop and reflect on what is has been like to be brought out of the dark world of food addiction. As we end another wonderful convention, I leave you with three simple messages – in the form of reminders.

Message #1. Service sustains us, individually and collectively. I am in awe of the scope of the growth of this organization, and filled with enormous gratitude that I am able to contribute in my own small way.

What I’ve learned from those who have walked before me and paved the way, is that service isn’t about knowing what you are doing or feeling comfortable or even necessarily confident. What I’ve learned is that you have to act your way into right thinking, not think your way into right action. When I started sponsoring, I had no idea what I was doing except that I was passing on my experience. I learned by jumping in – albeit reluctantly - with both feet – one sponsee at a time. When I felt comfortable with one sponsee, I was asked to take on another one. I was asked to go to business meetings, even if they were my least favorite part of my program.

The first time I qualified in a meeting with more than three people, I flew from Calgary, Canada and led a meeting in Chelsea, MA at St. Luke’s Church with over a hundred people. I was petrified. But I grew from the experience.

We receive good guidance in our format to, “do what you can when you can.” This is an important principle, especially for those of us who come into program needing to learn how to set boundaries, to say “no,” and how to weigh and measure our lives. Sometimes, however, the “do what you can when you can” needs to replaced with “don’t say no to service.” Full recovery is never achieved without stretching, without going beyond what is comfortable, without extending beyond what we see as our own limited view of our own capacity. It’s outside our comfort zone where the magic begins. FA would not have grown the way it has had we not extended ourselves when we could serve. We would not have a convention or a Connection magazine or a website or a book published, nor would there be contributions in the media or at health fairs and Information Sessions around the world. We wouldn’t have work at the Intergroup, Chapter or group level, if we had held too tight boundaries around service. We wouldn’t have the thousands of hours of tireless, anonymous contributions through committee work, writing, editing, coordinating efforts, office management, conference calls, and leading meetings; not to mention sponsoring and twelve-step work.

Sometimes we just need to step up, even in the face of discomfort, uncertainty, and insecurity. I grow through service, as does this fellowship. The caveat, of course, is that you have to know yourself. If you are doing service in the program at the expense of your family or loved ones, then adjustments are obviously needed. I know from my own experience that at times, it has been easier to pick up the phone and help a newcomer than it is to pick up the vacuum and help around the house. Both service to our fellowship and service to our families are important; service is not meant to replace responsibility. But when you can, scrap the “when you can,” and sign up for service.

Not long ago, I spent the afternoon in the intensive care unit at a hospital where my brother was being treated for a seizure resulting from his brain cancer. Before going into this time with Hal, I received tremendous support and perspective from a good friend in program – someone who had walked this path ahead of me and could help me find God before I found my way into the hospital. After several exhausting hours I was heading down the hospital corridor when my cell phone vibrated. On the other end of the line was a confused newcomer, wanting to know how to find a meeting. In the midst of my personal anguish, I was able to stop and be useful to another food addict. I shared my grief and explained how that day, by being abstinent, and by working the steps, I was able to find spiritual strength and solace in the midst of my pain. The call gave me perspective, brought me back to my spiritual center, the roots from which I grow and give. This is what service does for me. It gives me a place where I belong. It gives me a home. It gives me a sense of meaning and purpose. It gives me a reason for being. And it helps me grow. Whatever I give, I receive back tenfold. I have learned in recovery that giving, when done from a place of spiritual strength, comes from overflow, not emptiness. What goes around comes around – in so many positive ways. When you serve, there is no line between the giver and the receiver. Everyone grows.

[An illustration of this was realized just this weekend. I am sharing a hotel room here at the convention with two of my sponsees. On Friday, I was in the midst of making a difficult decision. When I shared my dilemma, they replied, almost in unison, “Why don’t you take some quiet time on this!” (I only wish I would have taken their suggestion!)]

As so many of you know, who have been an enormous support to me, this has been a challenging year for me, a year of a great deal of change. My brother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. I’ve been supporting my wife whose own brother had a heart attack and a stroke and has been placed in a long-term care facility. My own business is in the midst of a massive reorganization. My youngest daughter graduated from high school last weekend. And the day after her graduation she was in a car accident (by the way, my daughter, Thank You God, was not injured, even though my Jeep was). My oldest daughter has gone through a divorce. And, I am stepping into the position of chair.

Before recovery I would have called this all a nervous breakdown. With a program, I call it life. Miraculously, with all of this going on I have had no desire to turn to food to cope with it. I need to take care of myself – and will continue to do so. I do that by being abstinent, being still, practicing acceptance, being of service, and getting as much rest as I can. And I’m not always gracious about it all. When I can’t seem to find God or peace of mind, or can’t sleep at night because I am unable to let go, I just keep weighing and measuring my food and putting one foot in front of another.

A good friend told me the other day that I look tired. I do get tired some days. Life is tiring sometimes. Service always has to be weighed and measured, but I’ve learned that the best cure for weariness is helping someone who is even more tired. Because the one who serves almost always benefits more than the one who is served.

Message #2. The purpose of the board is to serve the fellowship. In the Second Tradition we are reminded of the strength of the loving God of our collective understanding that is expressed through the conscience of the group.

As a board, we are trusted servants. Our role is to serve. We are here to help you get what you need to carry the message, but not necessarily to try to please you by giving you everything you want. We are here as a resource, as a source of inspiration, financial support, and spiritual guidance through our experience – as recovering food addicts helping each other. We are not, nor do we wish to be, a sort of “sponsor” to this fellowship. Our charge is not to control our fellowship. We will not tell you what to do, nor will we attempt to rescue you by getting in the middle of conflict at the group level. There is no rulebook comprehensive enough to address all the fellowship problems. Besides, the Traditions and the Concepts prohibit such an approach. We do not govern. We are merely here to serve in matters that affect FA as a whole.

I truly believe in this fellowship, in the strength of group conscience, and in the power of our message. To reiterate what has been said this weekend, this is not a top-down organization. It’s a grass-roots fellowship that draws its strength from the conviction of its members passing on the program one person at a time.

Message #3. To unify our fellowship we must focus our energy on Public Information. As a fellowship, we have spent the past sixteen years creating, developing, working, and giving life to FA. And we have been good instruments to this end. We have gone from 177 members in 1998, to over 5000 members today, with meetings in all parts of the world. We have published a book. We have our own magazine that is now self- supporting, and even turning a profit! Isn’t it incredible how much work has been done by the people in this organization!

Bill Wilson wrote that “AA is more than a set of principles; it is a society of alcoholics in action. We must carry the message, else we ourselves can wither and those who haven’t been given the truth may die.” So we remember our singleness of purpose: to help the suffering newcomer. Our focus is on spreading the message. We do loving and enthusiastic twelfth step and public information work. We help suffering food addicts by sharing the message that has so generously been given to us.

Public Information work will enable the real work of our fellowship to be realized, and a focus on public information can unify us. By lighting our own inner fires through the passion of gratitude, we inspire our groups, of which we are all members, to bring awareness of this program into the communities where we live. It’s one thing to come to a meeting, to know there is a solution, and to choose to turn away from it. It’s quite another, to not even know there is a solution. We must maintain our grateful exuberance about getting the message out there. In this critical work of reaching the suffering newcomer, we must give our devotion, our enthusiasm, and most of all ourselves. We must take what we have so generously been given and bring it gratefully and courageously to the world.

When we see the ever-increasing rate of obesity, obsession with food, and diets that we know don’t work, we know we have much to offer. When I first became abstinent, I recall wanting to stand on roof-tops and shout this message to the world. I always love to hear people’s first qualification when they are in that humble, grateful, exuberant state. That is the spirit that will be needed as we take this fellowship to the next level.

In conclusion, I want to share with you a personal experience. As I mentioned earlier, my youngest daughter, Chandra, who was an infant when I came into FA, graduated from high school last weekend. The theme of her graduation was to “Embrace the Adventure.” “Forgo your plans,” these graduates were told. “Follow the map to its edges and keep going.” The speakers, along this theme of “adventuring,” spoke of exploring beyond the outer limits of their chosen careers, traveling the world, climbing mountains, and grasping life beyond their own familiar comfort zone. While I sat inspired by speeches, an emptiness fell over me as I reflected on my own perceived lack of “adventure” in these past eighteen years of recovery. What great mountains have I climbed recently? What far-reaching societies have I visited? What great achievements and contributions have I made in the world? But then… my thoughts turned to my own personal adventure in recovery.

To allow myself to be lifted out of the darkness of addiction and into the sunlight of the spirit, to mold my character through the daily practices and disciplines of this program, to learn to be a better father, a better husband, and a better friend, to replace self-seeking with service, self-hatred with respect, self-pity with gratitude, to replace depression, darkness, and fear with a sense of belonging and usefulness, to realize God doing for me what I could not do for myself… And I am learning how to love. These accomplishments have been not only my great adventure, but have been my own greatest achievements in this lifetime. The world may never understand this. But I understand it. And the people I care most about understand it. And I believe that you, in this room, understand it.

I have come to appreciate my own growth and the growth of those around me as spiritual miracles. With a firm resolve and the help of the God of our individual and collective experience, may the rest of our life be the best of our life, through abstinence, service, and gratitude, one day at a time. Remember: the way to change the world is to change yourself. Thank you so much.


Traditions Review Committee (TRC)

A note from the TRC Committee: The Traditions Review Committee (“TRC”) reviews and discusses how the Twelve Traditions might guide the consideration of specific issues raised by individuals, meetings, intergroups, chapters, or the WSB. The TRC is a sounding board for the fellowship, not a governing body. Historically, the TRC has communicated a summary of each issue and our suggested resolution to the fellowship through the World Service Quarterly & Annual Reports which has a limited distribution. We have received many requests to expand the visibility of our FA specific applications of the Twelve Traditions to the wider fellowship to complement examples we have read within AA literature. We hope this will be accomplished though publication in the “Gratitude in Action” newsletter.

Moving forward, each edition of Gratitude in Action will highlight an inquiry and response from the TRC committee. This is an opportunity to learn more about the “why” behind the structure of FA.

Inquiry: The Traditions Review Committee (TRC) has received several inquiries regarding establishing various segregated meetings. For example, one FA member asked if a “Men’s Only” meeting conflicts with the Traditions and noted that other 12 Step fellowships hold “Men’s Only” meetings. Another member asked about "a meeting focused on those who have lost 50 pounds or more. Anyone could attend the meeting and people with 90 days or more of abstinence could speak or vote at the business meeting, but only people who had lost 50 or more pounds could qualify."

Response from TRC: The TRC postulated that other more established 12 Step fellowships may interpret Tradition 4 and believe that at their stage of maturity the practice of segregating meetings would not affect their fellowship as a whole, particularly due to breadth of available meetings. FA is a relatively young fellowship and at this point in our evolution, the TRC felt that meetings that exclude members, for any reason, are not in the best interest of FA as a whole. Tradition 3 guides us that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop eating. Tradition 1 focuses on the principle of unity which guided the fellowship to enact a policy to have meeting requirements and standards that require only “open” meetings and do not leave the option to segregate based on gender, weight loss amount, sexual orientation, etc. As a result, the FA registration process and website do not provide the functionality to denote segregated meetings, so new female members could arrive at a “Men’s Only” meeting, found on the website only to find they were not welcome. Tradition 5 reminds us about the importance of welcoming and speaking to the newcomer.