Why I abandoned the OA HOW program in 1997

The last time I tried OA was 1997. It was my fourth attempt. I had tried it back in 1983 and other times. Joe was concerned that I was struggling to eat and he thought maybe I should try OA. I happened upon an OA HOW meeting, having no clue what HOW was. HOW is a subset of OA, and I honestly don’t know if they’re still going. HOW is not the same as “Grey Sheet” but is similar in that it recommends a rigid diet.

How beneficial is a rigid diet? I wonder if I benefited from the rigidity and not from the “diet.” I liked having someone I could rely on that I called every single day at the same time first thing in the morning. Of course I loved the writing assignments. I grabbed at any chance to write! I loved that my sponsor listened to me read whatever I had written and seemed to like it. She seemed to like me as a person and appreciated me for who I was.

Some people benefit from rigidity but rigidity should not be a long-term solution. Almost always, rigidity backfires. It might help people who are lacking in motivation, to kick-start one’s energy. But it really should only be a kick-start and not something you’re stuck doing for life.

I admired my sponsor a lot, undoubtedly too much. I will never know if what happened was planned or not. She relocated to New York City and suddenly dropped out of sight. I know in my heart she fell off the OA HOW bandwagon. I wonder to this day if her disappearance was planned. Perhaps she didn’t care for being boxed into it. Or maybe her new environment overwhelmed her and triggered her to step outside the rigid program. I never heard from her again, and no one else around heard from her either.

Now what? She had cleverly transferred me to another sponsor just prior to moving. Now I had this new person who wasn’t responsible and reliable like the first one was. I didn’t know what to do except feel terribly embarrassed. The new sponsor would tell me to call at a certain time, then, wouldn’t pick up the phone when I dutifully followed her command. She didn’t show up when she said she would. She never apologized, either, nor acknowledged her irresponsible behavior. I finally gave up and stopped calling her altogether.

Apparently I was still on their calling list, because roughly a year later someone from HOW called me out of the blue. I faked my way through the conversation, acted polite, and got off the phone as soon as I could. I didn’t want to tell this person what had happened.

Getting off the rigid HOW diet was a huge relief. I realized that following it was very expensive and time-consuming. My food bill probably doubled, at least. The time put into the preparation was most likely nearly 10 hours a week, if you counted the extra shopping, extra preparing, ridiculous weighing and measuring, and plotting and scheming. You don’t realize it while you’re living like that that you are a slave to it.

I’d like to suggest that rigidity itself, and not the special diet or special anything is what might help some people, because discipline is a good thing, isn’t it? Too much rigidity should not be thought of as a permanent solution. One should cultivate a sense of discipline without the rigidity. There needs to be a balance.

This is completely different from some of the restrictions some people have to follow for medical reasons. For instance, some people cannot eat tree nuts. If they do, there will be dire consequences. However, if you go off the HOW diet, what will happen? Actually, nothing, but the group feeds you a lot of scare tactics over it.

I concluded that OA HOW was cult-like and I didn’t want to try it out again. I didn’t. All that was many years ago and I haven’t heard much about it since.

Feedback and comments welcome!