A Personal History

“90-Day OA” – What exactly is it?

I struggled during my first 5 or 6 years in OA, manipulating a “flexible food plan” before finally joining the “90-day community” and finding continuous abstinence in late January 1996.

The 90-day people asked me if I thought an alcoholic who was still drinking could honestly claim to be sober. And if I wasn’t “eating with integrity”, how could I be abstinent? I had long avoided “going to any lengths” and it showed in the results it produced. This quantifiable metric for recovery required me to take responsibility for every bite that I put into my mouth, and for my food plan to consist of just enough food, no more, no less. Like an alcoholic, I had to avoid taking the first compulsive bite.  It was a tall order, and it required me to learn new ways to deal with life.

The term “90-day meetings” refers to OA meeting formats that asks people with 90 days or more of continuous abstinence to share, and those who don’t to listen at first. Just like drinking, compulsive eating places us in a state of diminished capacity, clouds our thinking, and makes life unmanageable.

We came to believe that continuous abstinence was OA’s “gold standard” and the truest barometer of physical recovery.  Upon coming into OA, we were asked to identify and define our patternsof compulsive eating and vow in our a “commitment to abstinence” to be completely honest as to whether we were refraining from those behaviors each day or not.

“90-day’ers” weigh and measure their food and abstain from eating flour & sugar. Most also avoid caffeinated products, artificial sweeteners, and any recreational or mood-altering drugs. We believe that these items fuel the intense cravings behind our addictive eating.  By removing them, the physical urge for the next binge is minimized or eliminated, and the mental chatter begins to subside.

This philosophy evolved in the 1970’s when there was little continuous abstinence and Boston OA meetings were filled with lost souls commiserating over their lack of success. Very few people could honestly say that they had been released from the bondage of eating compulsively.

People worked the 12 steps in groups back then, and eventually the leaders implemented a new rule that if you broke your abstinence, you had to leave the group (called AWOLs, which stood for “an Abstinent Way of Life” – they weren’t OA meetings because they had leaders and rules that limited participation). This new incentive to stay abstinent started working, and people began to have months and years of continuous abstinence. Eventually, a new “suggestion” was implemented at our Mass Bay Intergroup Meetings OA meetings that people needed 90-days of abstinence to share. It was met with some skepticism and resentment, especially by people who attended what became known as “regular OA meetings” since they felt excluded or judged for having difficulty getting and staying abstinent.

However at MBI (90-day) meetings, when you declared how long you were abstinent, everyone knew what it meant. A firm bottom line was established, and eventually, Mass Bay Intergroup had 110 meetings in the greater Boston area. Something was working, and people were attracted to it.

Sponsees are frequently challenged to “get honest” and stop rationalizing their compulsive eating. Until one enjoys a period of continuous abstinence, the turbulent emotional swings usually continue, and only with persistent willingness and effort do they level out.

Sponsees are asked to write down their food and commit it to their sponsors daily.

Once they do, there is generally little flexibility towards making changes. If a sponsee deviates from their committed food plan, the sponsor & sponsee examine their motives and assess their willingness to be abstinent. If they’ve “broken their abstinence” they start from “Day One” again. The lesson to be learned is that a day of abstinence is a miracle for a compulsive eater, and it’s well worth adopting strategies to avoid putting ourselves in harm’s way, or allowing willful or defiant impulses to lead to situations that result in a slip or full-blown relapse.

In the 90-day world, the sponsor-sponsee relationship is like an apprenticeship. I was told “a sponsor may be more interested in you getting abstinent than they are in becoming friends.” Both parties                      have equal value, but one has a responsibility to be a guide to the other, not necessarily a friend.

We recognize the fatal nature of addiction, and the importance of transmitting the practical information that we have learned through our own 12-step work, so that we might help others.

We have a strong emphasis on physical recovery, however we also give equal weight to the 12 steps and our spiritual recovery as the key to our longevity.

There are fewer AWOLs (closed step study groups) now, and many more people in the 90-day community go through the Big Book Step Study process, much like the original members of Alcoholics Anonymous. But the 90-day approach has always been grounded in the foundation principles embodied in the AA Big Book, the AA 12 Steps and Twelve Traditions, and our own OA Literature.

Over 20 years ago or so, telephone meetings originated in Boston that gave OA members in other areas a chance to experience 90-day OA for themselves, and to bring the structured approach to recovery to their local, live meetings. That led to a dramatic expansion of 90-day recovery in TX, NJ, AZ, FL, CA, and even Germany, Scandinavia & Israel.

And since the pandemic began in early 2020, Zoom meetings have taken hold and become the closest thing to a face-to-face 3D recovery experience.

Ninety-day OA isn’t for everyone – but then, few things are. It is a serious-minded approach to what we consider a treatable illness with deep-seated origins. Many OA members with long histories of chronic relapse found our approach effective in breaking the cycle of compulsive eating, which led to their ability to work through the twelve steps, discover the root causes of their spiritual malady to ultimately to enjoy peaceful and contented abstinence and recovery.

If you have not found an answer to your destructive relationship with food, you owe it to yourself to learn more about this way of working the OA program.

You’ll find 90-day OA meetings listed on www.oa.org under “special focus “groups.

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