Saturday, July 9, 2011

Acting on vs. Reacting to...

At every OA meeting certain materials are read, the invitation, twelve steps, twelve traditions, etc. Early in my OA days, I wondered if I'd start getting bored, if repeating the same material every week was maybe a little stupid.

After more than a year, I'm the first to say, it's neither boring or stupid. In fact, nearly every meeting I hear something new in it, something significant jumps forward, making an impression.

Today it was the passage in the invitation that says (roughly paraphrased): we learn to act on the things that happen in our lives rather than react to them. I immediately thought about last night and applied those words to the situation, trying to imagine how I could have acted on rather than reacting to. Here's what happened.

Late yesterday afternoon, my husband and I went to a multi-family barn/garage sale. I'm hyper-aware right now of all my stuff and am trying to lighten my load. My husband is a hoarder and compulsive shopper. Yep, lots of stuff there for him. He kept finding one more irresistible bargain until he had what seemed to be a mountain of stuff, a whole car trunk full. My irritation grew accordingly until it was a correspondingly-sized mountain of anger, criticism, judgements and resentments.

But knowing what happens if I show him my anger, I tried as best I could to keep the lid on it. I did say that the large, multiple-holder, fake brass, candelabra he bought for $5 was ugly. Other than that, I stuffed my feelings.

Next we went out to dinner at an upscale Mexican-SW restaurant that was really busy. Chips were served immediately and we ordered. Ate the chips, all of them. They brought another basket of chips. Ate them too. Ate the dinner as well when it finally arrived. Went home stuffed, uncomfortable, reaching for the now infrequently needed Tums.

What was I doing?
  1. I was over eating.
  2. I was compulsively over eating.
  3. I was mindlessly over eating, seeking to numb myself I suppose.
  4. I was reacting to my husband buying more stuff.
  5. I was reacting to the delay in getting our food.
  6. I was reacting to stuffed anger and resentment.
This is a really good lesson or example I can use to explore what I might have done if I thought about acting on these situations. I'll take them one at a time.

A few possibilities for acting on the garage sale situation.
  1. Say the serenity prayer to myself. Pray for serenity.
  2. Think about what I can change... maybe my attitude.
  3. Think about what I can not change... maybe his habit of accumulating more stuff.
  4. Think about what I could ask him to change at this time... maybe ask him if he would put back half of the stuff.
  5. Speak about my anger, not directing it at him, but asking him if he understands that bringing more stuff to our home upsets me, even when it's nice or useful.
  6. Knowing of his tendency in advance, perhaps I could have made a bargain before we got there, an agreement that we would each get so many "tickets" (good for buying one thing per ticket), whatever we could agree on. Then maybe I could give him one of mine.
  7. Once we departed, recognizing my anger, name it, bring forward forgiveness, remember anger never solves problems, recognize that I'll probably want to eat compulsively because of it.
Baby steps. Baby steps for me, for my sanity, toward learning to act rather than react.

And the delay at the restaurant?
  1. Yikes, I don't know... how could I act rather than react? Well, first I'd have to recognize that I was reacting, that eating chips was reacting.
  2. Make a conscious effort to be mindful about each chip.
  3. Name what I'm doing... "I am compulsively eating these chips."
  4. Make a conscious effort to ask myself, "Why am I compulsively eating these chips?" And then, "Is it really helping the situation?"
There must be more and better things I can do. The point now is just that I recognize the importance of learning about and experimenting with the concept of acting on situations where I am feeling angry, resentful, fearful, etc. It's tricky and will take conscious effort, probably for quite a while.


  1. Thank you so much for this post Robin, I can learn a lot from this. Already I am thinking about how I might act on certain things in my life, rather then reacting on them. You are on heck of a teacher!

  2. Great post! Amazing how just a little paradigm change can make such a huge difference. I could really benefit from remembering this with my own dear husband who drives me crazy wayyy too often:)

  3. A friend gave this to me a long time ago. It changed my life. Maybe it will be useful, maybe it won't, but it is my gift to you.

    "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters" by Portia Nelson

    1. I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I'm lost. I'm helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

    2. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in this same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

    3. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It's a habit. But, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

    4. I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

    5. I walk down another street.

  4. Rough. It is the uncontrollable actions of others that are sometimes the hardest to deal with. Felt helplessness is absolutely a super trigger for me.

    I find it hard to "positively recognize and accept that this is something I can not control" vs "stuff it down, thinking I'm positively recognizing and accepting what I can't control."

    Yeah. It's not until after the eating that I realize my technique was not successful.

    You'd think that under the surface sizzle would tip me off. :}

    Well-expressed post. Thanks. (Except that I felt myself tense and sizzle on your behalf as I read it. sigh. )


  5. thank you for this BRILLIANT post. Your words ave really helped me today!

  6. this was an excellent post that i can certainly learn from. i am going to start practicing acting on more often, then maybe it will become a habit...a good one.

  7. Great post and I identify at depth. I have thought of it as responding to rather than reacting to. One is a knee jerk; the other requires a pause between stimulus and subsequent response.

    Where I am right now is trying to establish a reasonable beginning abstinence for myself and I love the gentleness of yours. Nothing gentle about omitting the absolute trigger foods - 100% rigorous honesty in making my list of my own is required. But not being all hung up about an episode of compulsive overeating other than using it as a learning experience and food for thought on how to better handle a situation tghe next time.

    I was in a program where if I ate a piece of carrot I was slicing to go into my salad before I sat down to the was considered a relapse. That made me feel hopeless and that I would never be able to become abstinent. Talk about obsession and compulsion. I'm finally getting it that I can establish my own abstinence, providing I am completely honest with myself and with a sponsor. You've helped me a lot in the 10 days since I found your blog!

  8. I think you just passed a milestone.
    I found the Serenity Prayer 30+ years ago. Remembering it helps deal with my emotions. (I never said I was a part of EA once). Its my coffee cup, my key chain, a wall plaque, a bookmark. Its everywhere in my life, a constant reminder.

    You passed a milestone.
    xx, Carol

  9. Wow, I am so glad I found you over on Leslie's blog!

    I too am a Compulsive Overeater and recently started the OA steps.

    I haven't had the courage to go to a meeting yet though. Perhaps the more OA folks I meet out in blog world I'll feel more comfortable.

    Good job recognizing your behavior and making the adjustments needed.

  10. Baby steps, and beginning to recognize things as they happen, and acting rather than reacting. You have given me a lot of things to think about today. Thank you!

  11. Hey. Everything ok? Deb


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