Getting started with the Steps
I recently attempted to commit to doing the 12 steps of Sex Addicts Anonymous. For the last 2 years I have attended SAA meetings and met members, to gain benefit from talking about addiction with like-minded people, but I’ve never actually done the steps. After a month of unsuccessfully re-trying software porn blocks, I felt that I had run out of reasons (excuses?) not to try the Steps.
Therefore, in November I found a sponsor and advised them I’m ready to get started. I had a set of routines I was already following, so the sponsor’s advice was to simply carry on until I had 30 days of sobriety, after which I can start step 1. I was quite disheartened by this as the reason I was trying to start the steps was because I’m not currently able to achieve any decent length of sobriety, so I was presented with a catch 22 – start the steps once you’ve been sober for a month, but you might need the steps to help you achieve that.
I then had very little communication with my sponsor. As I found myself becoming distant from the programme, I was secretly hoping my sponsor would pro-actively reach out to me and pull me back in, but they never did. I suppose a principle of recovery is that it has to come from within us, but even so I was sure a sponsor was meant to take more of an active role and not just sit back and watch as I fell back into acting out.
Disillusionment and religion
This all led me to feel a bit unenthusiastic about SAA, and I prompted me to start exploring more about it, and alternatives. I have always struggled with the religious terminology of SAA. The concept is that you have to “give yourself over” and pray to your “Higher Power”, often referred to as “God”. The literature goes to great lengths to say God can be defined anyway you see fit and doesn’t need to be the god of a religion, and says it can simple be a concept for what you get your strength and purpose from in recovery.
My issue with this is that I feel this is a compromise. SAA’s origins (via AA) are in religion, founded by members of a Christian fellowship known as The Oxford Group. They believed all the usual things religious people do, but also had a seemingly decent view on morality and values that they thought could be used to structure a support group for addiction. As the world evolved and AA/SAA spread, so the need to adapt for a secular audience became apparent, so clearly the existing religious terminology used was re-defined so that non-believers could also join in.
I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with that, and I know non-religious members who are fully embedded in, and benefitting from, the programme. What bothers me is the question of what a recovery programme would look like if it hadn’t originated in religion. What would the terminology be? Would there even be the concept of a Higher Power? Not only do I not like the compromise that has been made in broadening the definition of unavoidably religion terminology, but I suspect that these religious words are entirely unnecessary in recovery and only exist because of the religious origins of the programme.
Put it this way: I accept that I cannot recovery on my own, and that I need help. That help would come in many forms – contact with others; a set of daily routines; meditation and a review of internal emotions, history and pain to gain a more healthy and positive outlook on life, to name a few. That could be indeed be known as a Programme, and so far this is consistent with SAA. What I struggle to get behind is the need to take an addition step and start referring to this recovery approach as a sentient being – a Higher Power or God. Why the need to “turn myself over to” and “pray” to this set of routines? When things go well, that’s not my Higher Power “speaking to me” or “at work”, it’s just that I’m successfully following the programme I’ve set for myself and it is working.
Part of this resentment comes from my desire for responsibility and control. I completely admit that I need help and cannot do this alone, but I don’t feel comfortable absolving all responsibility and accepting I need to “turn my will and my life over to the care and will of God“. It is phrasing that is too religious for me to feel comfortable adhering to.
This leads me to question whether there are alternative approaches to recovery that don’t have their roots in recovery. What I’m learning is that it doesn’t matter how well a particular program can work, if you aren’t committed to it and believe in it, it won’t work. There are a few other approaches I’ve come across, which I’m going to do more research on, and try to find a way that works for me.
Why does it matter if SAA is religious?
It’s just a personal thing. When I talk about my objection to the religious aspects of SAA with people, they say that I just need to get over it and trust in the process, and I have tried (although no doubt in some eyes not hard enough). The fact is I can’t get past it. My views on religion are one of my strongest principles. Obviously I do not believe in a creator or any sentient being who has any interest in our existence, but that’s just scraping the surface – there is so much wrong with religion, and so much damage caused by it, that I simply cannot abide by something which is even remotely associated with it. Tolerance, respect for my fellow man, and a responsibility towards open-mindedness means I don’t mistreat other humans for their beliefs in any way, but I find the ongoing prevalence of religion in an era of such knowledge of our world bizarre and infuriating.
That is not to say, by the way, that I have anything against spirituality. Far from it. I’m very interested in the idea, and have read books specifically targeted on how spirituality can exist outside of religion. I want to start meditation and doing yoga again, and I firmly believe the mind and body should be treated with respect to one another to form a healthy whole.
So what next?
Right now, I know I need to a follow a structured and well-conceived programme to recover from my addiction. I don’t think the 12 Steps of SAA is the programme for me, due to its inherent conflict of interest with my views on religion, but I aim to find or create a programme that I can believe in (for lack of a better secular phrase!) and commit to. There are some core principles emerging that I feel are the key to my success, such as discipline, routine, mindfulness and being present, and these will likely form the pillars of my approach.
I always knew recovery would be hard, but I had no idea that the aspects I would struggle with would so often be the fundamental principles of what recovery means, and how I can find an approach that works for me.
I also maintain that this resistance could be just another symptom of some damaged part of myself, and a way of avoiding giving up the illusion of control that I think is my strength but is actually supporting my addiction. It is entirely possible, and I remain open-minded to the outcome of this exercise. I may even find myself back at SAA; that is not ruled out by any means. I am simply following my gut instinct and seeing where it takes me. As a friend once told me, “no-one else will regret what you don’t do”, and I have always remembered it. Sometimes I just have to trust my instincts and do what I feel is right.