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Old 06-20-2011, 10:17 PM   #1  
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Question Interested in OA but having trouble with a 'God as we understood Him' part...

I am interested in OA, I think it would be helpful for me, but I am having a difficult time seeing how I can work the steps when I can't get past the first one.

I consider myself agnostic and really don't believe in a higher power. I know I'm not the only agnostic, or even atheist, to go through a 12 step program. My question is how do you make it work for you? I have a problem with saying that I'm beyond control with my eating. Do I lose control? Sometimes, yes. But do I always make the choice, in my opinion, also yes.

If anyone can help, I'd appreciate it. Even if it's just to say, I don't think OA is for you...
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Old 06-20-2011, 10:53 PM   #2  
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I belong to OA. In my experience, there have been many atheists and agnostics in my group who do well in the program. I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book when I first started and it answered a lot of questions for me, including the ones you have. I'm sure you can get it from your local library or for a few dollars from Amazon. The main idea is that there is something out there that is bigger than yourself. In other words, you have to admit you cannot do it by yourself, no other person can do it for you, and you have to trust in someone or something to help you.
Fellow OA's, correct me if I muddled this up
It has helped me immensely!
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Old 06-20-2011, 10:57 PM   #3  
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I've attended a month worth of OA meetings in the past just to try it out and see if it was for me... it wasn't.

That being said, there certainly is a lot of good to come from the group for certain people, and more power to them for finding what works!

What I liked: Group support. Sharing.

What I did not like: The ideas about being powerless. The ideas about a higher power. The ... strangeness... of the people in the group, and unwelcoming nature.

I recognize a few things - plenty of atheists have gone through 12 step programs, and the most common idea I've seen is that the "higher power" can be viewed as the group as a whole. In a very "the whole is more powerful than the single" type of way. It's not a bad idea. It's not bad to think that a person can lean on others and look to the power of "more than one". To the right person, that can be used very positively.

That being said, it still didn't jive for me. I like being responsible. I like EMPOWERING myself and telling myself that I do have the power to say no. I have the right to say no. I prefer to say that "I can".

Again, this is from my own viewpoint, and I know others on 3FC who've benefited from letting go and accepting they're powerless over food. Different strokes!

Of course, the last things I didn't like are going to be VERY group dependent, but the one I tried out was just... everyone was so sour and gloomy. It felt like nothing good was celebrated, and everything was just so serious and dour.

I had to do a lot of work to figure out just what the whole program was about. Every time I asked someone they were like "Find a sponsor", but no one was supportive in telling me how that was done! Was I supposed to ask random members until I found someone willing? That seemed irresponsible. And finding a sponsor felt like I was committing when I didn't even know what it was fully ABOUT.

It was off-putting. I'm very glad I tried it for a little while, so that I could file it under "will never be right for me."

Yet, again, others have found great success using OA. It's just about finding what works for them. I'm sure they worked through each step with great thoughtfulness.

I hope you're able to find what works for you! =)
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:03 PM   #4  
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Lovely, I'm so sorry you had a negative experience with OA. I have been blessed to have a very positive group and have never been judged for falling off the wagon. I'm glad you found a way of thinking that works for you
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:09 PM   #5  
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Actually I think you both summed up both my question and the answer perfectly for me. If I were to join I would have used the overall support of the group as a substitute for a higher power, but I also had a big problem with saying that I'm powerless. I can see how this would help people that felt completely out of control, that's just not how I feel.

Lovely, I think you described my own personal philosophy perfectly. I too want to feel empowered and in control of my decisions, quite simply because I know I can! I eat because I want to and I got fat to some extent on purpose, even if it was subconsciously. I wanted to hide. I had my heart broken too many times and felt it would be easier to become invisible, which is easy to do when you're fat. I'm the now the nice girl or the funny girl and don't have to risk my heart. Well, I realized that was just plain cowardly and on top of that... well, I'm fat lol It's time to change and I'm the only who's gonna do it. With the support of fantastic people as yourselves, but ultimately, it's up to me and I am in control of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly, it's all up to me. And I like it that way
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:09 PM   #6  
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I learned a lot from OA, but it ultimately wasn't for me. My belief in a higher power and belief in my own control weren't the issues, though. I needed a program that addressed the food issues more directly - with a food plan, not a lot of emotional "trauma" related gut-spilling.

I personally didn't need to believe in God (although I mostly do. I still struggle with my beliefs concerning the nature of God, though) or my complete powerlessness for the program to help.

I didn't realize it in OA, but carbs are beyond my control. In that respect, science - my physiology or body chemistry could have been my higher power. Sure I had choices and power, but swimming upstream was a battle I didn't have to choose. I could choose to work with my body chemistry rather than against it. It's just as much a choice to avoid a battle as it is to create the war and then be forced to fight in it.

For me, the avoidable war was the battle between blood sugar and insulin. The blood sugar spike from high carb foods (especially the processed ones) would trigger an insulin spike, and insulin is a growth hormone that triggers hunger. Hunger so intense, I would call it "rabid hunger." A hunger so intense that I couldn't eat enough to satisfy it. Even when my stomach said I was too full, my brain told me I was starving. It didn't take all of my power/choice, but it did make the battle harder to fight - and since the battle was avoidable, why was I choosing to get myself into situations in which I would have to fight?

The 12 steps aren't about denying responsibility, they're about taking responsibility, including the choice to avoid situations that are going to make choosing more difficult.

I think powerless is the wrong word, but I'm not sure there is a perfect one. I think admitting that I don't have as much control as I want to believe I do, was very important for me. It helped me learn which temptations (or situations in which they tend to occur) are better avoided or at least prepared for, so that the choice is an easier one.

Still, as far as support groups go, I prefer TOPS (taking off pounds sensibly), because it's more action-oriented. And I feel my eating issues are more physiological than emotional (not that there aren't emotional components). TOPS was also originally modeled after AA, but without the steps component.

The TOPS pledge for example is:

I am an intelligent person.
I will control my emotions and
not let my emotions control me.
Every time I am tempted to use food
to satisfy my frustrated desires,
build up my injured ego
or dull my senses, I will remember.
Even though I overeat in private
my excess poundage is there
for all the world to see.
I will take off pounds sensibly.

For me, this pledge is more in keeping with my personal philosophy than the 12 steps. In essence it was just a better fit. The focus tends to be making more on practical knowledge-based choices, rather than focusing on the emotional issues. Not that emotional issues aren't discussed, but it's not the same drama-based sharing that I experienced in OA (and wasn't particularly comfortable with the melodrama). I also didn't like that food-related information was avoided. Recipe sharing and food talk for example were discouraged in OA groups. I found recipes and practical tips very helpful, so I always felt I was missing that in OA.

Group support for me is very important, but it has to be a group I feel comfortable in.

Last edited by kaplods; 06-20-2011 at 11:22 PM.
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:21 PM   #7  
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How funny, I just came from my first meeting. I'm still on the fence about if its something I want to pursue more but I definitly got value out of going and it definitly told me more about how I would do in OA than a third party could tell me.

I accidentally went to a more specialized meeting and will probably go to a begginer's group at least once before I make a firmer decision about my initial commitment.

I'm lucky that I'm in a major city so there are a lot of groups to go to and I would probably take Lovely's approach and go to a month worth of meetings before deciding it really wouldn't be a good fit for me.

The powerlessness and God thing make me uncomfortable too but I don't think I got hit over the head with it. I think one way the "powerlessness" aspect can be understood is to recognize that controlling your eating is always going to require some sort of effort or mindfulness. I can't just effortlessly modulate my intake like people who don't struggle with food do. I also don't think that the "powerlessness" aspect means OA members don't have a choice. You have to choose to be abstinant to be abstinant.

I think you should go to at least one meeting. You'll probably get more answers about how you'll feel in OA by going than by asking people and its really not a big commitment to spend an hour somewhere.
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:47 PM   #8  
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Kaplods, I love that pledge, I'm printing it right now and I'm going to hang it up on the fridge

gmailjunkie, I might go to a meeting, but it's much less convenient for me, I'm about 30 miles away from the closest meeting although I suppose I could try the online meetings, I'm not sure that holds much more benefit for me than this forum already does.

I think this has really helped me fill in what I was lacking. I was really only considering OA because a couple years ago I had met someone who was so healthy and I really admired her and she told me she had gotten that way thanks to OA.
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Old 06-20-2011, 11:50 PM   #9  
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Maybe instead of thinking "beyond control" take it more like "I want more control?"

For me group settings like that didn't work. It seemed to skew heavy over to the emotional eating arena and body image stuff.

While I admit I'm a stress eater at times, other than that I don't have emotional eating episodes. I have a good self esteem too. My problems lay in the land of PCOS/IR/hypothyroid/metabolic syndrome and I need more talk on food planning and carb management and things like that. Not so much talk on the accepting me how I am, liking me how I am, etc.

So the one time I tried a group setting, it wasn't for me.

GL with it though!

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Old 05-23-2015, 07:56 PM   #10  
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Default OA freethinkers, agnostics and atheists

I know this thread has been inactive for some time, but I'm posting here as others who search for atheist and OA on google might find this information valuable:
I've been in OA for over 8 months and have lost 25% of my body weight (I am now at the higher end of a healthy BMI range). I'm an atheist and a compulsive overeater, so I need to find a way to be in OA as an atheist.
The higher power thing has been really tough for me and I'k still working through it, but I definitely need to be in OA, because the things that drives me to eat are deep seated emotional issues. I absolutely cannot stop of my own volition, I know because I have tried and failed for more than 18 years. The only successful 'diets' I ever did it now turns out I was displaying anorexic behaviour and exercise bullimia. Anyway, I'm glad I've found OA and it has made my life much better.
There is a freethinkers group I co-ordinate on yahoo under the name '12step freethinkers anonymous', this is a place for atheists, agnostics, and freethinkers to come and connect with others in the OA community who might be having similar issues with the Higher Power aspects of the program, or to share how they've successfully worked those elements.
I'm hosting my first skype meeting this Tuesday, search skype for 'OAfreethinkers' if you'd like to join, the call is audio only and newcomers are welcome, all are welcome in fact! Hopefully I can get some members involved and make the meeting a regular thing.
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Old 05-16-2016, 01:49 PM   #11  
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Well, this response is a year later to your question so it is probably for someone else reading after you.

OA, the atheist, and the higher power. I've heard people find or strengthen their faith or connection to God through their work within OA, that's great. However, regardless of what individuals within OA may think, OA as a group is very clear... you do not need to believe in a God to have recovery. OA very clearly phrases it as come to believe a higher power could restore us to sanity.

It may sound silly, but that higher power could be a chair. I've heard people state that their OA meeting is their higher power. Another person uses the phrase "my higher power is the principle of healthy eating". The simple point being that we release the ongoing war and debate and battle within us and place it into the receptacle of a higher power and focus on recovery as we work the steps.

At the end of the day, with or without a god out there, calling something a higher power and moving on is a way to abate the self-caused storms and to hear the vibration of the world around me. I can make better choices in this space. The steps help get me there and keep me there.

As for other parts of the OA program that relate to the higher power... I think it is a "take what works for you and leave the rest" thing. Since I'm not convinced there is a god, and my higher power may just be the principles of healthy eating... things like step 11 where it says "praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out". Well, I subtly twist that to be that I interpret "his" will if "he" exists would be for me to be to strive to be healthy, be abstinent, work towards a healthy body weight, and lead a loving life. That's enough for me.

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Old 09-11-2016, 11:17 AM   #12  
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I have lurked for a while, but reading this made me register. I have been active in OA for 2 years. Most of my "home meeting" is made up of non-religious folks.

The powerlessness idea is hard to get past. However, I had it framed wrong. As an addict, one of the biggest personality flaws I have is I want to control everything. If everyone would just do what I say and do things my way everything would be fine, right?

However, I can't control most things in my life. I am powerless over how my spouse behaves. I am powerless over a physical addiction, because it is a biochemical response that I can't stop from happening. I am powerless over 99% of what I try to control, so I have to acknowledge that and stop trying to be a control freak. The root of my issues much of the time is believing I know best.

I perfect example of this is my dietician. I pay good money to see someone to advise me on my eating. However, I still somehow think I know more than she does, even if she has a master's degree and has passed some rigorous tests that prove she understands eating disorders and nutrition. To me, letting her determine what I eat is surrendering to a higher power.

Hope this helps explain a little bit. I only speak for my experience.
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Old 09-22-2016, 08:25 AM   #13  
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I am in OA and also a counselor specializing in chemical dependency.

The God concept was a challenge for me too, because I identify as a Humanistic Pagan. I do not believe in a diety, other than in a metaphorical sense. However, I have picked up a few good tips along the way. God = Good Orderly Direction.

I also read a very amazing book I highly suggest called "Waiting: A Non Believer's Higher Power" by Marya Hornbacher.

Best wishes!
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Old 06-05-2019, 10:26 AM   #14  
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I’m agnostic as well and I think of my higher power as the universe as a whole. Nature in perfect balance.
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