Ask-It Basket – Do I have to be abstinent to share?

Many meetings in my area suggest that members have ninety days of abstinence before sharing. I believe this practice discourages newcomers from speaking at meetings. For eighteen years I have been a member of another Twelve Step program where the newcomer is the most important person in the room and is strongly encouraged to share at meetings. Does the WSO condone this requirement?

OA has no ninety day requirement to have a voice at a meeting. Have you suggested that these meetings also sponsor a newcomer meeting, workshop or event where newcomers would be free to share, question and participate?

In our Bylaws and Tradition Three, a group cannot require anything for membership beyond a desire to stop eating compulsively. This gives members a voice. If you feel a group does not honor this Tradition, perhaps you should speak with your intergroup or region officers. Trustees are available to speak with groups or to provide “Service, Traditions and Concepts” workshops to talk about these questions.

I am not aware of any ninety-day groups in my area. However, we do use the slogan “Bring your message to the meeting and your mess to your sponsor.” People come to meetings for many reasons, including socialization and fellowship. They come in pain, and our meetings’ primary purpose is to work OA’s Twelve Steps toward recovery, to help the compulsive eater who still suffers. When a meeting asks for “positive pitches” or strongly suggests that nonabstinent people close their mouths and open their ears and minds, I believe the intent is to let the solution come forth from within the group rather than listen to the problem, which other members in pain already know too well.

The meetings you describe seem focused on recovery and operating in the belief that one cannot transmit what one does not have; that is, one cannot carry a message one
is not living. For me, the message is that there is a solution and this program works. A person “in the food” shows the disease, not the recovery. The only proof I have that this program works is my 65-pound (30-kg) weight loss, deep personality changes based on “huge emotional displacements and rearrangements” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th ed., p. 27) and sixteen years of abstinence.

But for me, if I had no opportunities to share as a newcomer, I would be disheartened. In 1996 a group composed of mostly longtimers with two, five, and fifteen years of abstinence asked me to qualify after only thirty days of abstinence. “You want to hear from me?” was my thought, and their collective response was “Yes!” Their attention was a great gift and kept me coming back all these years.

The newcomer is the most important person in the room. I believe your groups want the newcomer to hear the recovery message, stop directing events and start listening to how others achieved ninety-plus days without bingeing, purging or restricting. If no groups in your area allow newcomers or nonabstinent people to share without the ninety-day requirement, your intergroup should address this. OA is a “big tent.” We can and should provide forums for all to work this program according to their conscience and experience.

~ December 2013, Ask-It Basket