A few months into the pandemic, I started attending a new OA 12-step meeting for people dealing with compulsive eating problems. It originates from Arizona where my OA sponsor and her husband now live. When I stopped drinking alcoholically, I just transferred my addictive behavior to food, gaining about fifty pounds. Eventually I found my way to OA and now have accumulated 34 years of abstinence around food. I’ve gone to the same meeting in my home town all that time and was wanting a second meeting where there might be people with as much or more abstinence than I have. My sponsor assured me I’d be welcome at her AZ meeting since they were meeting via Zoom because of the pandemic. So for the past six or seven months, I’ve been a faithful face in my little rectangle on Saturday mornings.
As is true at most 12-step meetings, someone reads the same words each week before we share individually. In one of these template moments, I was taken aback my first time because I heard a new sentence. We are being reminded about not talking too long when we speak, and about not giving “advice” to anyone but just to listen. That part was familiar but then the person reading said “If you need to talk about a food issue, remember to speak from within the solution and not from within the problem.” That caught my attention immediately so I wrote it down to ponder later. The more I thought about what that statement really means, the clearer I became that this group accented the fact that we have a program structured around tools that have proven through many years to help any one who seriously uses them. As I listened to women speaking about their struggles with food issues, I could tell that most of their “share time” was devoted to what they were doing to work their way out of the struggle and get back to sanity around what we were eating. So I changed how I contributed and even have seen a positive carry over into other facets of my life.
All this story is backdrop for what I want to share about my responses to watching “Nomadland” recently. Like many others, I was drawn in immediately because of Frances McDormand’s amazing presence. So much of this movie depends on non-verbal expressions and body language–things McDormand employs with tremendous skill and discipline, I think. Once I’d seen the movie and talked about it with a friend with whom I watched it, however, I kept thinking of the group of people who played themselves and actually live a nomadic life style. That meant I paid particular attention to Bob Mills, the older man who has helped formulate communities of individuals who just can’t manage living under roofs, who “have to depart” as we are told at the end of the film. Given the fact that many scenes show Fern’s listening to another of these individuals recount her or his story. Those recitals are often about losses or other hard circumstances faced by the speaker. Fern mostly just listens, and the more I thought about it, the story tellers did not cast themselves as hopeless victims who blame parents or some government for what has happened to them. But they also are not “resigned” or even brow-beaten by life’s offerings. I wouldn’t say they had “acceptance,” because often that involves stopping hoping for miracles–or at least positive surprises. As my friend and I kept sharing on days following our seeing the movie, I had an epiphany–the people speaking for themselves were “speaking from within the solution and not from within the problem.”
Indeed, Bob tells Fern this in his own words near the end of the film. And those words now are deepening my own understanding of the OA sentence. I believe that the people in his communities are making strenuous efforts to LIVE within the solution, not just to speak from within it. So whatever hard knocks come at them, they rely on their “tools” for meeting life on life’s terms as best as they can. It may not look heroic or even successful by our world’s standards, but the real people and the character of Fern have a composure and perhaps even a grace that is not that different from what I work to maintain around my relationship with food. Their tools and mine help us avoid despair and self-pity and that is a blessing.