World Service Business Convention Remarks - 2007
A Statement from the World Service Board
Following the work it initially did at the June 2007 Business Convention, the World Service Board met to talk about the divisions in our fellowship arising from issues related to AWOLs, medications, and sponsoring. As trusted servants, we do not govern or set policy, but in this time of dissension and misunderstandings, we reaffirm the following, which is embodied in our foundational document—our bylaws:
- AWOLs are not FA, nor can they be. FA meetings have no leaders and are open to all. AWOLs have leaders. They require of participants abstinence and the acceptance of defined commitments.
- The original AWOLs required uninterrupted and sustained participation. They also required commitments to abstinence from addictive eating and abstinence from the use of mood altering medications.
- FA became FA because of the understanding, faith, and individual transformation that members gained through the traditional AWOLs.
Even as we state this, the board affirms that we do not and cannot govern or set policy regarding any of the current forms of AWOLs. Participation in them is a matter of choice. FA and the World Service Board have no opinion on outside issues, including the use or non-use of medications. FA sponsors are not doctors. We should not offer any medical advice. And we must recognize that each sponsor has the freedom and right to sponsor according to his or her own experience.
We ask ourselves, and each of our members to focus on the fundamentals that unify us:
- Our understanding that we have the disease of addiction, which is fatal.
- Our recovery must come first in our lives.
- The FA program, the Twelve Steps, and dependence on our Higher Power give us daily recovery and sustain us in it.
Regardless of our differences, each of us is personally responsible to:
- Think first and foremost of the newcomer.
- Welcome every member of FA.
- Reach out our hands to support each other in our recovery.
“For this I am responsible.” (The AA Responsibility Pledge)
Dear FA Member,
Following the close of the 2007 business convention, the board received many requests from members wishing to see a written version of the chair’s remarks. Because of the number of the requests and because there have been misunderstandings and misquotations of what was said, I have been asked to share with the fellowship a written version of my speech. I spoke from notes, not a written speech. I wrote the following from the outline and edited it slightly for clarity.
Thank you, and in service,
Kesaya N., WSI Chair, for and from the World Service Board
Sunday Morning, June 3, 2007
World Service Business Convention
I would like to share some thoughts – some questions, really. There are a growing number of issues that trouble all of us that we have not yet found a way to talk about.
This fact in itself troubles me, and I think it might trouble some, or many, of you.
Perhaps this is all right, these being issues that we are just not yet ready to address at the convention level, in the setting of this large group. Perhaps this is just for now, and we will later find a way to talk. Or perhaps this is the way it is to be.
In other groups, these matters might be brought up and discussed by a guru, a priest or rabbi, a president. We do not have people in such roles in our organization. We do not have them, and we do not want them – at any level. Those who “lead” are your servants, not your governors, and no one can claim to have any special wisdom.
I ask myself about my rightful role in this situation. As I said, I can claim no special wisdom, but I have been privileged to gain a kind of overview over the past year. I receive calls, emails, hear concerns from many different people of varying perspectives. So I wonder if I can bring up some of the issues we have not been able to discuss through some questions I would like to ask us to consider. I hope this will help us begin to directly talk with one another – regionally or one-on-one.
As you know, the issue of the use of mood-altering medications has been approached at this convention, though it was not directly brought to the floor. One motion – withdrawn by the makers – was that WSI adopt an AA pamphlet focused on the question of the use of medication. Another motion was submitted as emergency new business, proposing the adoption of a conference-approved statement that FA has no opinion on the use of medications. The body voted not to take up this motion. However, this morning, the executive board met with some members of a group involved in both motions. The members of that group were concerned because they said that they have heard the following:
- FA members refusing to sponsor a newcomer who is currently on anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication;
- Members telling sponsees to get off all medications – including insulin and heart medications;
- Members telling or urging sponsees to get off anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication.
As an individual, I was distressed to hear this. I would hope that no one among us would ever summarily turn away a newcomer who was seeking our help – seeking a sponsor. We are here to help the newcomer, as the Twelfth Step and our Traditions remind us. Our primary purpose is to carry the message to the food addict who seeks help, regardless of that person’s particular circumstances.
I must remind us all – and I stress this – FA and WSI have no opinion on the use of medications. We are not doctors. None of us can rightfully or safely “tell” anyone to get off any medication. We are not qualified to give medical advice. I say this now, because after our discussion in the small group this morning, I promised that I would bring this up at our general business session. I also said that I will write about this in a letter to the fellowship. The small group that met this morning agreed to talk again. And perhaps FA as a whole needs to take up this issue in one of our own pamphlets. Adding a discussion of medications to our pamphlet on sponsoring might be something we want to consider.
This issue is not simple and discussed as a single strand, however. At the same time that it is true that we cannot act as doctors, it is also true that we do – and must – sponsor from our own personal experience. Neither WSI – this convention – nor your board ever can or ever should attempt to govern how people sponsor.
People in our program have many different attitudes toward medications because we have different experiences with them. And please note that when I say “medications” I am referring now specifically to those taken to affect the mood. There are people who are on medications and have found them helpful. But there are also people who have been on medications for years who have gotten off of them.
All of us need to look at how we sponsor. Are we turning someone away out of hand and telling them we can’t sponsor them just because they are on medications at the moment? On the other hand, are we demonizing one another? Could it be that in many cases we are misunderstanding what is being said? Sometimes, sponsees and newcomers do not hear what a sponsor actually says. Perhaps the sponsor has hope that a newcomer or sponsee does not yet have. In sponsoring from their own experience, some sponsors are simply asking a newcomer or sponsee to have an open mind. They ask: “Can you believe that with abstinence, many things are possible that look impossible now? Can you wait and see who you are after you have been abstinent awhile and are living an abstinent way of life? It has been possible for many of us to get off medications. Have an open mind. Have hope.” This is valid! But sometimes the reaction to this is misunderstanding and anger, for we tend to feel afraid when presented with the possibility of something we thought impossible.
All of us need to look again at how we sponsor, but we also need to look at our communication – and lack of communication – with one another. Conversations are not confrontations. Why are we not talking with one another? What we hear that someone has said is not necessarily what was said. If we hear that someone is speaking in ways that worry us, why not go straight to the source and ask? If we see or directly know that someone is giving medical advice, why are we not asking God for help so that we can find the words to discuss this with the person directly? And if some sponsors encourage sponsees to have hope and embrace the possibility that they might be able to get off medications at some point, what is wrong with that? Isn’t our program based upon the assumption that we share from our own experience?
This brings me to the other matter we are not discussing, which is the question of so - called “lines.” I have been told over and over that people are speaking in terms of “lines.” At one point, someone called me distressed almost beyond words because a newcomer had left a message on her answering machine saying, “I am looking for a sponsor. What line are you in?” Newcomers are now using such language and are caught up in such thinking. This is terrible!
We made an error when we first released a written version of our history, because we included the names of these two early members. This has since been perpetuated. None of us wants to frame our personal experience or our program in terms of “lines,” I hope, yet this happens because we ourselves use this language.
In its first draft of our new book – the draft presented to you this weekend – the literature committee wrote the history of the development of our program without mention of a single name. We followed the AA model in this, and I think you approved. No one has mentioned it critically in our discussions of the book.
In this view of our history, we developed organically, with many people playing critical roles. FA became FA because, through the grace of God, there were two people who understood the hope offered by AWOLs and were willing to lead them, though one of those people long ago left program. There was a lawyer who could help us incorporate, a person with long experience at the world service level who could guide us organizationally, there was someone to draft our literature, someone willing to spend hours reproducing and mailing out cassettes of the qualifying tapes. Many, many people had key roles. There were no founders. There were no lines.
I worry for our fellowship and I worry for individual recovery if we do not ground ourselves in our Higher Power, putting our Higher Power first, front, and center. God founded us, using a variety of people. Is it fair to single anyone out as a “founder?” Is it fair to that person? We all have feet of clay. Don’t we have a right – each of us – to expect others to help us keep our canoes flat in the water without getting tipped up and unbalanced by our egos? Do you remember that image in the Twenty-Four Hours A Day book? We owe Cynthia and Anne an amends for our language and for any way in which we might have put them on pedestals. We are grateful to them. We know they did much service. But we also know that they are food addicts, just like we are.
If we do not let go of “lines” and the concept of “founders,” we will continue to focus on personalities, not principles. And isn’t it true that personalities will always divide us, while principles can unite us? Is it not principles upon which we want to stand? The language of “lines” comes partly from the language and concept of “founders.” Can we let this go? No more names. No more founders. FA is here because lots of people made FA, Anne and Cynthia among them.
I ask each of you to think about these issues. What should you do? Given our different experiences, where is our unity? I think our unity lies in the principles that led to our formation:
- The understanding that we are food addicts and that unless we stop using food as a drug, we will die. Therefore, personal recovery must take top priority in our lives.
- The acceptance of clearly defined abstinence as our goal and FA as our way of life.
- The fact that we do the Steps abstinently, thoroughly, and in order, with the guidance of those who have gone before us.
- Our understanding that we must work hard and be open and humble in order to not fall into complacency and denial. If we are in recovery, we are the right weight. If we are not at a healthy weight and are stuck above or below where we should be, we are not in recovery. Period. We do not lie to ourselves or support denial in each other.
- We know that the minute we congratulate ourselves on our humility, we are no longer humble, but we also know that our lives depend on our humility. No one can be a big shot here.
Our lives depend upon our recovery, and we are grounded in FA and its Twelve Steps. We cannot fail and we will not fail. No matter what happens at the organizational level, I will not stop doing my program and passing on the program I was given. I assume that is true for you. So FA will continue, no matter what. But if we do not face these issues that are troubling us, and stand together upon the fundamentals of recovery, FA will never be all that it can be. We will not fail, but our organization will not be all that it might be – we won’t be all that our Higher Power wants us to be.