Founder’s Address by Rozanne S.
World Service Business Conference 1999 Good morning, my friends. My name is Rozanne and I’m a compulsive overeater. Have you enjoyed this Conference so far? It’s wonderful to meet so many new and old friends from around the world, isn’t it?
Next Wednesday I will have been coming back to OA meetings for thirty-nine years and four months. I’ve been abstaining from compulsive overeating for twelve years, six months and eleven days. My top weight was 185, and I’m maintaining a fifty-five to sixty pound weight loss.
Why is it so important to give you these specifics? It’s important because stating our physical recovery, very specifically, reinforces the promise of abstinence for every single person sitting in the meeting room. I firmly believe in qualifying every time I talk at an OA meeting, even if it’s a brief three minute pitch or if I’m leading a meeting with just three or four of us in the room. It’s vital to give the newcomer hope and to carry our message of recovery, not only to all the newer members but to long-timers as well.
What is the purpose of Overeaters Anonymous? Why did Jo and I start OA? Well, we were both fat, and we both wanted to stop overeating, lose weight and become slender. Although I had rewritten some of the Twelve Steps, Jo and I used those Steps everyday to discuss why we were eating so much, where we could eat less, and equally important, how we could change our eating behaviors. Why do you and I go to OA meetings today? Is it because we want a more serene life? Yes, that’s part of it. But if you and I are overweight, or have been overweight, serenity alone is definitely not enough. Where do we start? How do we give up the excess food? Of course, the Twelve Steps are our basic program of recovery. Without them, OA would be just another diet club. Nevertheless, it seems to me, and to others, that OA is slowly losing its way.
That brings me to the two subjects I want to emphasize today…abstinence from compulsive overeating and unity.
Let me start with the introduction of the concept of abstinence in OA. In late 1961, I had attended a powerful AA meeting. Ordinarily the speakers talked about “sobriety,” but this Sunday the main speaker kept referring to abstinence from alcohol. It was the first time I’d heard sobriety referred to in that manner, and it was a revelation to me! Sitting in the back of the room, I said to myself, “That’s what’s wrong with all of us in OA. We’re not abstaining from food at any time during the day. Eating low-calorie vegetables between meals continues to feed our obsession. We must close our mouths from the end of one meal to the beginning of the next.”
I described my new idea to the group. “The word ‘abstain,’” I told them, “comes from the Greek and it means ‘to stay away from.’ We must stay away from food between meals.” Some members thought it was an inspiration; others just laughed. But I wouldn’t give up.
In May 1962, I sat down to write our first OA Bulletin (the forerunner of the OA Lifeline). Although the main purpose of that Bulletin was to discuss our upcoming first National Business Conference, I decided to also introduce the new concept of abstinence. (At this point, Jorge places the original page three on the overhead for the delegates to read.)
What you’re seeing on the overhead in front of you is page three of that Bulletin from the OA archives. It says, “Out of our regular visits to AA meetings and talks with our friends in Alcoholics Anonymous, we here in the Los Angeles area have discovered a concept that has revolutionized our way of thinking about our compulsive overeating. That concept is “abstinence.” Abstinence means simply three moderate meals a day with absolutely nothing in between. It means also no “meals” while we’re preparing a meal and no “meals” while we’re cleaning up the kitchen afterward.”
To digress for a moment – my mother was a dietician, and I learned about three meals a day from her. But if you’re eating five or six smaller meals a day, the same principle still applies. Abstain; stay away from food from the end of one meal to the beginning of the next.
Four years later, in 1966, I wrote I Put My Hand In Yours. (Jorge places page two on the overhead.) With more OA experience, the section on abstinence in that book, which you see on the overhead, described the concept more clearly. “Abstinence in Overeaters Anonymous means abstinence from compulsive overeating. It’s truly as simple as that. According to nature, food is necessary to sustain life. According to the compulsive overeater, food is necessary to face life. It follows that we can’t simply say, ‘Okay, I’m going to abstain from compulsive overeating.’” We need something more definite than that.
“Through the years our OA experience has taught us that we each need a specific eating plan, and that this eating plan is the method by which we abstain. We start by suggesting the following:
Three moderate meals a day with nothing in between but low- or no-calorie beverages.
Avoidance of all individual binge foods.
“These suggestions serve as a general guide for all of us. However, Overeaters Anonymous as a whole does not endorse any particular eating plan. Before making any change in your way of eating – and particularly if you (or any of your members) have a specific medical problem – we suggest you see your doctor to decide upon the plan best suited to your physical needs.”
Another section of I Put My Hands In Yours (Jorge places page one on the overhead) states:
“EACH MEMBER IS THE SOLE JUDGE OF:
His own eating plan.
His normal weight.
His conception of a Higher Power.
It is extremely important to remember the above at all times.”
That brings me to today, to this very moment. We have been fighting since 1962 over various food plans. Never mind that I just read “Each member is the sole judge of his own eating plan.” The arguments have been going on all the way through gold, green, pink, gray, orange and blue sheets, as well as Dignity of Choice, Westminster, Cambridge, OA Plus and HOW. We all know that certain members, certain groups and intergroups are absolutely convinced that their food plan is the only one that will work for everybody. Some of these people have been nasty, self-willed, controlling and vindictive. And…so have some of the other members who have fought back. We are all guilty of the same behavior. What kind of life is this? How will this battleground help each of us to stop overeating? Where are love, acceptance, compassion, understanding…even just plain kindness? What happened to the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions? Do you really want OA to disappear because you couldn’t get your own way? Where will you go then? Where will I go?
Many people continue to regard OA as some sort of social club with spiritual overtones. “I can continue to binge and stay fat,” they insist, “as long as I’m feeling serene.” And so they continue to celebrate years of so-called abstinence while remaining very obese. In OA groups in some countries, food is a taboo subject and physical recovery and abstinence have been taken out of the program.
All year I’ve been told that my Conference speech last year was the best ever, that I couldn’t top it. The speech was reprinted in Lifeline, in many newsletters around the world and incorporated into a number of group formats. Well, it may have been a great speech, but it didn’t change a thing in OA. And that brings me to unity. Many of you in this room are still bingeing. Others are trying to control meetings and intergroups…and regional, national and world service boards too. Sometimes board members want a second vote. Other times they just roll their eyes and sigh loudly when things don’t go their way. Often, the behavior becomes rude, bordering on character assassination. And I’m speaking of board members from intergroups all the way up.
That’s not a professional or efficient way to behave when important decisions have to be made. Because of the constant, petty bickering, we are unable to address major OA issues. Some members and service bodies are continuing to fly in the face of the Traditions because they believe they are right and everyone else is wrong. And some people in OA are just plain unwilling to accept the group conscience. Again I say, we are losing groups and members by the thousands – and our actions are contributing to this loss.
Now…there was a Washingtonian Society for alcoholics in the mid-1860s. At its peak it had 100,000 members, but in six years it was gone, done in by controversy. Remember the Oxford groups? We’ve read about them in AA Comes of Age. Bill W. and Dr. Bob were members before they left to form AA. Well, the Oxford groups are just a memory, a paragraph in the history books. Overeaters Anonymous could find itself dead as well…and it will…unless we all take drastic action.
Today we see the world exploding all around us. People fighting, hating each other, pushing other human beings out so they can have the territory all to themselves. Is that what we want for Overeaters Anonymous? Is that what we want for ourselves, for our brothers and sisters who are trapped by this deadly issue?
What can we do? You? Me? All of us individually and together? First and foremost…PUT DOWN THAT FORK! Give up the excess food and trigger foods. Ask God to help you create a plan of eating that’s healthy for you. Is it hard? Is it scary? You bet it is! Just come and talk to me. How would you feel if I were standing there saying these things at 171 pounds, or 185, instead of 129? I couldn’t possibly carry any message. But here I am living proof that admission of powerlessness, surrender, and a healthy eating plan can carry God’s magnificent message to other compulsive overeaters.
The Twelve Steps are my blessed program of recovery. They are your as well. To paraphrase the “Big Book,” if I want the program to work, there are certain things I must do. I must work all Twelve Steps over and over. I’ve taken twenty-four Fourth Steps and hundreds of Tenth Steps. I say the first three Steps and the “Big Book’s” Third-Step prayer every single morning before I get out of bed. I have made and continue to make amends. I ask God for guidance and power in everything I think and do. I weigh and measure my food, because I must pay attention to what goes into my mouth so I can pay attention to what goes into my heart and soul.
And I must abide by the Twelve Traditions as well, starting with Tradition One…”Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends on OA unity.” And ending with Tradition Twelve…”Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all these Traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities.” That means in the steering committee meetings of my wonderful home group, I can express my opinions, but I absolutely must abide by the group conscience. Sometimes I’d love to have my own way, but I can’t And neither can you.
If we really want OA to survive and flourish, we have a lot of work to do, both individually and together. Maybe your group needs to change its format, add more structure to your meeting, put more emphasis on sponsorship and calling newcomers. Maybe you have to face your own gluttony both in food and in getting your own way. I’ve been there, and I know how hard it is to change. Don’t fight abstinence, embrace it instead. Don’t fight in your group or board meetings, put your hand out instead. Compromise, compromise…submerge your own ego for the good of the group. Do it for yourself, for your own recovery.
There is hope! With the help of our Higher Power, let’s transform ourselves and OA this year. Let’s put an end to hurtful behaviors toward ourselves and each other. Every new beginning starts at an end. And every new OA adventure starts at the end – the end of lust for food, for power, for control. It all begins with me and with you, no one else. With the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions as our foundation, let’s begin today. Let’s give up that extra food. Let’s honor each other and respect our individual choices of eating plans. Let’s value all opinions in group and board meetings, knowing that there is no one right way to do anything!
We are at a turning point. The new millennium beings in 7 ½ months. Let’s make sure that there will be an Overeaters Anonymous in that new millennium. When you are overwhelmed with a desire for food, when you are overwhelmed with a desire to have your own way – take a deep breath and ask God to restore you to sanity. Reach out to another compulsive overeater and give away the gift you’ve been given.
Let’s meet here next May, in the year 2000, knowing that we’ve each done our share in the coming year to make Overeaters Anonymous a haven of hope and recovery for ourselves and for compulsive overeaters everywhere. It’s up to me; it’s up to you. Let’s really work together to build an OA for all of us around the world.
I love you all – I always have. I put my hands in yours – and as we join hands, we will find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams!