A Way Beyond the Rainbow

#30 - On Support Systems: 12-Step Programs and Sexual Recovery Programs

October 19, 2020 Chris and Waheed Jensen Season 3 Episode 4
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#30 - On Support Systems: 12-Step Programs and Sexual Recovery Programs
Episode Introduction
Introduction to 12-Step Programs
The Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions and Three Dimensions
Joining 12-Step Programs
On Sponsors
Further Resources
On Effectiveness and Critiques
On Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
Chris's Personal Reflections
On Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Other "S" Programs
Ending Remarks
A Way Beyond the Rainbow
#30 - On Support Systems: 12-Step Programs and Sexual Recovery Programs
Oct 19, 2020 Season 3 Episode 4
Chris and Waheed Jensen

In this episode, Chris from Australia joins me as a guest speaker and talks to us about 12-step programs as well as sexual recovery programs, like Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), among others.

How did 12-step programs evolve throughout the years and what do they entail? Who are "sponsors" and how do they support us with our recovery? What are some of the different sexual recovery programs out there, and how do they help us in our journeys of abstinence from sex, masturbation and/or pornography? These and other questions are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

- "A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps" by Patrick Carnes
- Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book”, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions
- SA, Sexaholics Anonymous webpage
- Same-sex lust recovery in Sexaholics Anonymous
- Sexaholics Anonymous White Book
- SLAA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous webpage
- SLAA Signs of Recovery
- SAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous webpage

Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

In this episode, Chris from Australia joins me as a guest speaker and talks to us about 12-step programs as well as sexual recovery programs, like Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), among others.

How did 12-step programs evolve throughout the years and what do they entail? Who are "sponsors" and how do they support us with our recovery? What are some of the different sexual recovery programs out there, and how do they help us in our journeys of abstinence from sex, masturbation and/or pornography? These and other questions are explored in this episode.

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:

- "A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps" by Patrick Carnes
- Alcoholics Anonymous “Big Book”, 12 Steps and 12 Traditions
- SA, Sexaholics Anonymous webpage
- Same-sex lust recovery in Sexaholics Anonymous
- Sexaholics Anonymous White Book
- SLAA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous webpage
- SLAA Signs of Recovery
- SAA, Sex Addicts Anonymous webpage

Waheed  00:38
Assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh, and welcome to a brand new episode of “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, this podcast series dedicated to Muslims experiencing same-sex attractions who want to live a life true to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and Islam. I'm your host, Waheed Jensen, thank you so much for joining me in a brand new episode. This is the fourth episode in our series on support systems, and today, joining me all the way from Melbourne, Australia, is Chris who is going to be talking to us today about 12-step programs and support systems that are part of sexual recovery programs such as Sexaholics Anonymous, among other support systems. I have another interview with Chris, that is coming up, inshaAllah, after we finish the series of episodes on support systems. He's one of the two guest speakers for the season who are going to be sharing with us their story. Chris is in his 60s and he has decades of experience in the recovery community and in many different areas and disciplines. His experience and his insights are incredible, mashaAllah, and I really can't wait for everyone to listen to this episode and a later episode, inshaAllah, where he will be sharing with us his experience. But like I said, the focus of this episode is on 12-step programs, in general, as well as 12-step programs that are specifically dedicated to overcoming sexual addictions. So, let's get started. Hi, Chris. How are you?

Chris  02:15
I'm doing well. It's a beautiful spring morning here. 

Waheed  02:19
Wonderful. You guys have spring, it’s almost fall here. Lovely. Good to be talking to you. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate this. So, let's start by talking about 12-step programs in general. So, many of the listeners listening to us today do not know what 12-step programs are. So, if I were to ask you, how did those programs start? How did they evolve throughout the years?

Chris  02:44
The first 12-step program was Alcoholics Anonymous, and it started in Akron, Ohio in the USA. It grew out of an evangelical Christian organization called the Oxford groups, which were a disciplined study approach, using scriptural principles to help people overcome sin. And what was happening within the Oxford groups as they were attracting alcoholics, there were very few answers back in the 1930s. Two people, one from New York and one from Akron met up, Dr. Bob and Bill W. as they're affectionately called. And their meeting up was the time that Dr. Bob got sober, and that's the time that they say AA started with their meeting, where they were applying these principles of the Oxford group though and sort of outside an Oxford group meeting. And then, over time, they decided to carry the message of these principles to other alcoholics, that was part of their journey of recovery, and, in turn, they separated from the Oxford groups and became a more formal organization as time went on, publishing a book, “Alcoholics Anonymous” in 1939. And then, since then, various 12-step program, hundreds of 12-step programs have emerged using the same principles based on the 12 steps.

Waheed  04:30
Okay, very interesting. This is as far as history is concerned. So, what is the general mission and the vision of these 12-step programs, in general, before we go into the details? 

Chris  04:41
They deliberately have a narrow focus of helping people achieve abstinence from a particular substance or behavior, rather than having any sense of propagandizing or being involved in politics. A very narrow focus of helping people with achieving abstinence.

Waheed  05:01
Right. So, you said that Alcoholics Anonymous was the first organization to start, and nowadays we have hundreds of 12 step programs. So, can you give us examples of the different kinds of programs available and how they are accessed?

Chris  05:16
Okay, I suppose, historically, the way they emerged, after AA started, it became clear that the families of alcoholics also needed help, and that's how Al-Anon got started where, again, applying the same principles of self-examination, they began to disentangle themselves from their involvement in their partner's alcoholism. Then, it went into areas such as narcotics, gambling, food, sex, even areas like, there is Survivors of Incest Anonymous, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Emotions Anonymous, even a Racists Anonymous, and that was a new one to me when I've researched that this this week. Debtors Anonymous. There's a number of financial programs, as well, a lot of these are quite small. But there are literally hundreds of them.

Waheed  06:20
That's very interesting. And how are they accessed, how do people usually access these programs?

Chris  06:27
Well, traditionally, it's been about face-to-face meetings. And that's all changed, especially with COVID, where now virtual meetings are changing the face of 12-step programs, because what used to be more isolated members are now becoming more regular parts of fellowships, with a large range of online meetings available than ever. So, most of these programs will have websites, it's a matter of just searching for whatever the issue, you know, “12 step plus gambling”, “12 step plus food”, and you'll end up finding the range of options.

Waheed  07:16
That’s very interesting. All right, so let's now talk about the 12 steps in detail, and what does each step entail from one to twelve? 

Chris  07:33
Okay, they're broadly divided into three different categories: steps one to three is “find God”, steps four to nine is “clean house”, and steps ten to twelve are the maintenance steps. Going through each step individually. 

Step one is where we admitted we were powerless over alcohol or whatever else, the idea that our lives have become unmanageable. This is about seeing the depth of our problem and the need for vast change in behavior and attitudes. 

Step two: we came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Commonly, this looks at negative images of a Higher Power or God, often having to reconceptualize that concept into one that's workable. So, some people have religion wounds that they have to work through, they've tied in their view of God to parental or their own upbringing and their own experiences. And so, learning how to change that concept to a more loving Higher Power is an essential part of step two. 

Step three: to make a decision to turn our will and our lives to the care of God as we understood Him. This is essentially having the willingness to do the work involved in the rest of the steps, which is about looking deep inside our thoughts, our motives, and our actions, and deciding what we need to clean up. 

Step four: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. And to say here that a lot of this is written down. There's an enormous range of formats and questions for each of the steps that each of the programs put out, and some generic, but they don't even need to be written. Some people do them more orally, especially if they've got disabilities, and essentially, it's about a change of heart with each of these, rather than necessarily how low you've written on a particular step. So, step four: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. This is often, you know, a core step, because it looks initially at fears and resentments. And there's actually a connection between fears and resentments and addiction. They both come out of the survival brain. Addictive behavior is about attaching survival salience, the importance of survival to a particular substance or behavior. Fears and resentments are survival brain-based behaviors. So, inventorying our fears and our resentments, and looking at the belief patterns behind them, is about separating ourselves from those triggers for addiction. That the less we’re in our survival brain needs, fears and resentments, the more we're going to be able to be free of our addictive triggers. 

Step five: admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. This is discussing the step for inventory. Work with another person, either within the 12-step program or with a spiritual advisor or counselor or therapist. And this is about really breaking the shame and secrecy. This is where people are talking about things they've never talked about in their life. 

Step six: we're entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. This involves looking back at our fourth step and seeing that there's usually a summary of character defects that we can identify, whether it be breed or a critical spirit, you know, lust, and we make a list of those and become willing to progressively remove them over time. 

Step seven: humbly asking Him to remove our shortcomings. This is praying and meditating over the character flaws that have been identified and committing to work with our Creator on these flaws. 

Step eight: make a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. I think that's fairly self-explanatory. But that developing the willingness, you know, can be a process in itself. 

Step nine, gives a nuance to step eight. Step nine: make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. So, it's very clear that we don't necessarily go and dig up really deep hurts with people of the past, where it will just trigger them. It's about cleaning our side of the street, not theirs. So this is usually done with the help of the sponsor, spiritual advisor or counselor, working through our step eight list, wisely approaching the amends process, and deciding which ones we need to do immediately, which ones you do over time and which ones we'll never make. And sometimes there can be virtual amends, so, it may be if you stole and that person is dead, you might give money to a charity. So, it's about making things right, rather than just saying sorry. 

Step ten: continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. This is continuing to identify with fears, resentments and other negative attitudes driving our thoughts and behaviors, and correcting such behaviors and making amends, when necessary, on an ongoing basis. 

Step eleven: sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. Again, I think fairly self-explanatory. 

Step twelve: having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. So, this is about developing an attitude of service, both, within our lives and within our recovery program. So, working with newcomers and taking those phone calls of people in need, you know, we connect with them, we might be involved in sponsorship, which I know we'll be talking a bit about later.  

As an overview of this, there's a lot of similarity between what goes on in the steps here and what goes on in some cognitive behavioral therapy work. And also, what goes on in what's called Shadow Work. 

Waheed  15:01
So, what is Shadow Work, in particular? Because you mentioned this right now, I'm not familiar with the term. 

Chris  15:06
It's basically looking at our hidden motives behind things. It's used in a lot of personal development fields. I know some of the work I've done, I’ve gone to workshops with Mankind Project and others, where shadow work is involved. I can't remember the exact psychologist that Shadow Work comes out of, but it's a well-recognized sort of field.

Waheed  15:35
All right. Thank you for clarifying that. All right. So, in addition to the 12 steps that you listed, usually there are also 12 traditions. So, can you tell us a little bit about that?

Chris  15:45
As AA groups developed, they each developed their own little set of rules. Over time, it became clear that this was quite chaotic. And they had to develop a common set of principles to guide the function of groups. And, so, about 15 years into Alcoholics Anonymous, the twelve traditions were developed which guide the function of each group. They are a set of broad principles. Each 12 step program has their own 12 traditions. Usually, they pretty much are word for word from AA but sometimes there's a few amendments.

Waheed  16:27
When I read about 12 step programs, I came across the fact that there are three dimensions. So, the physical is one dimension, and then the emotional/mental is another, and the third one is the spiritual. So, can you tell us a little bit about these dimensions? 

Chris  16:43
Okay, they're intrinsically interconnected. And some of the history of AA is forgotten in the way that this is presented, in my experience, in most 12-step programs where physical has been limited, until recently, to abstinence from behavior, or abstinence from the substance. So, it's the idea that alcohol or drugs or food or sex fogs our mind, and we need to be physically clear of that in order to do the steps to face ourselves and to see ourselves clearly. But if you look at early AA history, there was a vast amount of medical involvement, and that in early AA groups, prior hospitalization was often required. And a lot of people don't know that the origin, and there was a vast history of medical treatment and cooperation with medical programs. If you look at the first chapter of the original Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book published in 1939, it's the Doctor's Opinion. So that's how much medicine was part of that. And in that book, the author of the Doctor's Opinion was the world's leading expert on alcoholism at the time. He talks about the need for physical healing often before these spiritual principles can be fully realized in a person. So that's the physical aspect. You know, poorly regulated emotional and mental states will contribute into falling into compulsive behavior. So, learning to regulate our emotions or mental states is a vital part of recovery. Our spiritual practice affects both our body and our emotions, so suitable spiritual practices and discipline, by practicing those, we’re less likely to fall into compulsive behavior.

Waheed  19:04
Perfectly explained. Thank you for that. Okay, so if anyone is interested in joining these programs, how do people usually sign up for these programs? Are there particular verification or admission processes? Can you tell us a little bit about this?

Chris  19:28
Most 12-step programs, you just turn up at a meeting as a newcomer. Some, particularly the sexual programs, had a screening process. That happens less and less now, and things are much more in the open. The third tradition says that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop our problematic behavior. So, pretty much if you say that, then you're in. Contacting the various programs through their websites. I mean, these days, you can join straight into a Zoom or phone meetings online. And I've been on such meetings recently, where we'll have a brand newcomer turn up at one of those meetings. 

Waheed  20:22
Sounds about right. Okay, and there is this concept in 12-step programs, the idea of having a sponsor to help someone through the process or to achieve sobriety. Can you tell us about sponsors and how they usually function?

Chris  20:40
A sponsor is a fellow member of the program, usually with some degree of recovery, who guides another member in recovery. Some see that role very narrowly focused around working the steps. Others see it more broadly as a mentoring relationship. Some groups will help you find a sponsor, in others, you have to hunt around for one. Normally, a member will ask someone to be a sponsor rather than a sponsor offering. All varieties of this happened, because each group runs itself and creates its own mini sort of practices. Yeah.

Waheed  21:25
Right. And you said that sometimes sponsors focus on working the steps and other times it's a mentoring relationship. So, it's more holistic, and they help the mentee in whatever issues they're going through, right? 

Chris  21:40
Yeah, and this is the way I work with members. I'll talk about my own sponsor, when he first came in to Alcoholics Anonymous, 20 years ago, he had a sponsor who would take him for walks, who taught him how to exercise, showed him how to buy healthy food. 

Waheed  22:03
That's excellent. So, if anyone would like to learn more about 12-step programs, in general, or particular programs, what are some books or resources that you would recommend for us to learn more?

Chris  22:14
Okay. Each 12-step program develops their own literature, and limited amounts of that will be available online. A lot of people will work the original AA texts, and they're now available as PDFs and also as an audio on the AA website. And, so, those original texts from the 1930s, 40s and 50s are often seen as important. There's a very popular guide to the 12 steps called “A Gentle Path Through the Twelve Steps” by Patrick Carnes. It's been around a long time now, and it's still very, very popular in helping people through that. There'll be a link in the episode notes to that book.

Waheed  23:07
Right, so all of the resources that we will be talking about will be found in the episode description for anyone interested in learning more about these. And you mentioned also the Big Book. So, is that a go-to resource for all the 12-step programs?

Chris  23:21
Most programs would refer back to the AA Big Book, in some way, because it's considered, that's where the program started in the 1930s. There's a term that's used about AA as the mothership. 

Waheed  23:40
I see, right, because that's the main program, and then everything diverged from that.

Chris  23:44
Yeah, and it's still, by far, the biggest program of all. 

Waheed  23:56
One very common question that we get asked a lot is: How effective are these programs? And I know that this is a very broad question. So, if someone were to ask you this, as I'm doing right now, how would you answer that?

Chris  24:08
Okay, I'm not a propagandist for 12-step programs, because the program tells me to be honest. This is a big question and almost impossible to measure how effective. Most success rates quoted by 12-step programs, and I'm going to say also by rehabs and other programs, are unreliable, because it will be depending upon the particular demographic they're dealing with, you know, are they creaming in their statistics? Were they taking an elite and then saying, well, this is why we've got this great success rate? So, Alcoholics Anonymous claims in the Big Book to have had a 50 to 75% success rate in the early years, in the 1930s and 1940s. And that myth still goes around in a lot of 12-step programs, but this has been thoroughly disproved. It was a bit of propaganda, a bit of exaggeration. And that's not to underestimate what they achieved. The AA has helped get people sober in numbers like never before in history. But there's still an enormous amount of failure. And one of the reasons this is impossible to measure is, how do you compare someone coming in who is a high functioning corporate executive, with someone who's maybe on the autism spectrum, or who's, you know, a homeless man? One will have access to, you know, residential rehab, counseling, along with 12-step, the other may not. Some have various other conditions as well. And so, there are no pure figures on this at all. 

Waheed  26:20
Of course, and then in terms of like being effective, so it's very subjective. So how do people measure this? So, for example, in Alcoholics Anonymous, it's about abstinence from alcohol, whereas in other programs, it kind of becomes, “Okay, what am I abstaining from?” Is it like sexual sobriety, and for how long? It kind of depends on so many different variables, right? That's when things get complicated and more challenging to measure, I can imagine. And if we're trying to be objective, so if we were to tackle the downsides or the disadvantages, from your personal experience, what would you tell us about that?

Chris  26:58
Spiritual programs like 12-step programs share a similar problem with religions, in that they have very lofty ideals, great literature, often with profound orators within their organizations, with the adherents of their followers lagging far behind. And, so, I think that's my experience having been around religious recovery programs as well. 12-step programs have experienced all sorts of scandals that religious institutions have experienced, misguided leaders, factions, fundamentalism, court cases. So, over my 30 years in 12-step programs I've seen, you know, the good, the bad and the ugly, as they say.

Waheed  27:55
Right. Okay, so, one of the critiques that I've heard of people who say that there is a difference between saying, “I'm an alcoholic or a sexaholic,” or whatever it is, as people who join these groups tend to say about themselves, versus saying “I have or I deal with or I experience alcoholism or sexual addictions,” and so on. The first one kind of internalizes the problem, makes it part of my identity, part of me, whereas the second one recognizes it as something that is separate, something that is more manageable. How do you respond to this critique?

Chris  28:34
I think it's a justified critique, and I think it will partly depend on someone's personality. Some people wear the label “alcoholic/sexaholic” lightly, and see it just as a means of identification as part of the group. Others will feel weighed down and burdened by it. Some programs or groups are more flexible about how people identify within the meeting, while others are quite dogmatic. A meeting I'm involved in at the moment, some people just say, “I'm a member.” I've heard other people give a very long detail saying, “I'm in recovery from my addiction,” saying “I'm powerless over lust”, as a means of saying “I'm part of the whole.” So, you will find varying practices around, and the more dogmatic groups will look at you sternly if you don't say the right word, and others are much more chill about it. 

Waheed  29:44
Okay. All right. Good to know. Another critique that I've heard from multiple people is that there is a focus on sobriety to the point that you assign a number for it. So, “I have been two weeks or two months sober,” and so on. And with time, it kind of, inadvertently, starts to build up pressure on the individual, and many people who report relapsing, let's say, after some time, say that, “We have been sober, let's say, for a long time, and then something happened, we relapsed, but our relapse ended up becoming a vicious cycle of shame and despair, and we spiraled down worse than before.” Or the idea that, when I assign a number to my sobriety, it kind of adds pressure, and so the fall becomes way worse than expected. So how do you respond to this?

Chris  30:37
I think it's a justifiable criticism. And again, I think it's going to depend on personality. Some people can wear a sobriety date lightly. Other people will feel that as pressure. Personally, I've been fascinated by a difference I’ve seen between a couple of the sexual recovery programs. There's one, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), that has 12 signs of recovery, which are qualitative. And I've seen someone come out of Sexaholics Anonymous (SA), which is much more focused on a sobriety date, where they're a failure, because they can't get continuous sobriety in SA. They come to SLAA and they read through the 12 signs of recovery, and they are able to take all 12 as proofs. So, again, across different programs, different groups, even within SLAA, you'll get some more dogmatic approaches. And, within some SA groups, you'll get less dogmatic approaches. So, the personalities, as you will experience within any mosque or masjid, will have its own personalities that in some way set a culture.

Waheed  32:06
Okay, that's very interesting. And now that you've mentioned SA and SAA and SLAA, let's talk a little more about these. So, now that we have covered, in general, what 12-step programs are, let's start with Sexaholics Anonymous, or SA. Can you tell us a little bit more about this in terms of, you know, their own 12 steps, how they function, their target audience, and so on? 

Chris  32:39
Okay, so Sexaholics Anonymous was started about 40 years ago. It was started by a former Christian pastor. And, so, the original literature that was written by him. People, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim, will recognize scriptural references across within that. They're sort of obliquely there, but there's a scriptural language and scriptural concepts there. The most dominant theme is the use of the term “lust”, which is a very faith-based term. And again, the scriptural definition of lust, about taking the sexual desires outside of God's intended purpose for them, and that’s what lust is, it’s considered lust. So, SA has - it would not have been formally measured, but from what I know, SA has the most religious membership by far of any 12-step program, because there's a range of these sexual recovery programs, people of faith tend to drift towards SA. And so, there's a strange coincidence where SA has, amongst 12-step programs, it has the highest proportion of Christians. It also happens to have the highest proportion of Jews. And it also happens to have the highest proportion of Muslims. All within the one fellowship. Now, very internationally, there's 100 SA groups in Iran, there's about 40 in Israel, and then they're scattered throughout the world in various countries.

Waheed  34:30
Very interesting. And, obviously, the target audience is, as you said, you know, any individual who's looking for sexual sobriety. Can we talk a little bit about the sexual ethics? So as I've read on the Sexaholics Anonymous website, the sexual ethics that they follow are the Christian sexual ethics, mainly: No sex outside a marriage between a man and a woman, no pornography, and no masturbation or anything like that. Is that correct? 

Chris  34:57
And there's a term that's used, which is “progressive victory over lust.” So again, I believe this is something that would be shared with Islam and with Judaism, essentially. But yeah, and that's a tough call. So same-sex behavior is not endorsed in SA, whereas all the other 12-step programs that deal with sexual recovery do allow for that. 

Waheed  35:31
Okay, that's very interesting. And, again, you know, we asked this question before in general, but now with a focus on SA, in your own experience, how effective did you find these programs? 

Chris  35:43
Okay, I'll make myself unpopular, I think, by being honest about this. Since I've been around, I'm going to step back a bit and say, I've been around sexual recovery programs in the Christian context, a psychological context, and a 12-step context since 1986. Overwhelmingly, there’s failure, if you want to measure it on the basis of continuous sobriety. If you want to look more qualitatively, I'd say there's a lot of progress. But that, again, is hard to measure. I see so many people coming into all of these programs, including SA, who were promised the earth, again, wonderful literature, great orators and walk away disappointed, or who burn out after three weeks, three months or three years. It's something that's not talked about much, or blame is attached, but I saw it happen too often and experienced it myself. So, again, the principles of recovery tell me to be honest and to self-examine as to what's really happening. So, I wish the effectiveness was greater, it's what's led me to see the neglected physical aspect of recovery that we talked about earlier, that there's been the myth of the 50 to 75% success rate, if you just work the program hard enough, it’s quite strong within SA. And, in some ways, I think it actually harms people, because it puts too much pressure on. There is some wonderful stuff that can happen by working the steps, but I've seen people who've done amazing step work, lots of deep self-examination, made amends, really owning their darker side and done professional counseling and everything else as well, and they still had trouble with continuous sobriety. But, generally, they've all got progress, in some way. 

Waheed  38:09
Right. And again, it depends on the individual and their own circumstances, as you said, you know, what is available to an executive is different from what's available to someone who's homeless or not as well off, right? When it comes to SA, Sexaholics Anonymous, if someone is interested in reading more about this, what are the books or resources you would recommend? 

Chris  38:30
Start with the SA website, which is sa.org. They've got a variety of literature available. The original text that's out there is called Sexaholics Anonymous, it’s also called the White Book, because it's got a plain cover version. They decided that people didn't want to sit on the bus with a book that has Sexaholics Anonymous on the front cover, so they still have a plain cover version. So, it's fictionally called the White Book. There are many other pieces of literature, one of my favorites is one called “Recovery Continues”. But there’s vast array of stuff there, but those are two of my favorites within that. And of course, they refer back to the AA texts which are available, PDF and audio versions are available for free.

Waheed  39:24
And you said that you've been involved with SA programs for a very long period of time. How has SA helped you personally as Chris throughout the years, how have you benefited from that?

Chris  39:37
It was vital for me to find my people. When I came in, I come from one of the other programs, I didn't know about SA originally, seeing how I was in one of the other programs. I found I wasn't getting support there for my goal of abstinence from same-sex behavior. I needed to be amongst my people and to feel safe. And so, that fellowship has been vital, finding people, this network of people that I can get honest with and where we can talk about temptations, we can talk about emotions very honestly. It has been absolutely vital. There's a lot of key phrases from the SA literature that have really helped me and I'll just quote a couple of little quotes. One talks about “enlightened self-interest must guide us in this process, in our desire”. And that's been a cornerstone for me, that it's not just about conformity to a social norm, to a religious norm, to a cultural norm. Is this in my enlightened self-interest? And that's been very important. Another one is “the whole person must be involved in recovery”. Another quote, “many of us felt inadequate, unworthy, alone and afraid, our insides never matched what we saw on the outsides of others”. And this is a slightly longer one, but it's a beautiful one from one of the core readings, which you'll see on the website, I think it's The Problem: “We got it through the eyes; we bought it, we sold it, we traded it, we gave it away. We were addicted to the intrigue, the tease, the forbidden. The only way we knew to be free of it was to do it. “Please connect with me and make me whole!” we cried with outstretched arms. Lusting after the Big Fix, we gave away our power to others. This produced guilt, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness, and pain, and we were driven ever inward, away from reality, away from love, lost inside ourselves. Our habit made true intimacy impossible. We could never know real union with another because we were addicted to the unreal. We went for the “chemistry,” the connection that had the magic, because it by-passed intimacy and true union. Fantasy corrupted the real; lust killed love. First addicts, then love cripples, we took from others to fill up what was lacking in ourselves. Conning ourselves time and again that the next one would save us, we were really losing our lives.”

Waheed  42:45
Wow. This is very powerful. 

Chris  42:47
That's from “The Problem”, and I think it's important to balance that with a shorter quote from “The Solution”. And this will have residence to Islam, because a key concept and a key word in SA, and it's also in AA, but it's not used as much in AA, is the word “surrender”. So, this is from the piece called The Solution: “We couldn’t see the path ahead, except that others had gone that way before. Each new step of surrender felt it would be off the edge into oblivion, but we took it. And instead of killing us, surrender was killing the obsession! We had stepped into the light, into a whole new way of life. The fellowship gave us monitoring and support to keep us from being overwhelmed, a safe haven where we could finally face ourselves. Instead of covering our feelings with compulsive sex, we began exposing the roots of our spiritual emptiness and hunger. And the healing began.” 

Waheed  43:55
This is definitely beautiful. Thank you for sharing all of that. Okay, and again, another question but now pertaining to Sexaholics Anonymous, what are some of the downsides or the disadvantages that you have seen throughout your experience? 

Chris  44:07
One is the mythology that we've talked about. And, you know, like therapy, medicine, religion, SA and all 12-step programs have been largely unaware of the vast range of physiological influences on addiction. In the last 20 years, there's been a lot of new knowledge come forward to connect the dots on that, to do with genetics, epigenetics, the microbiome, brain scans. And so, that missing physical piece certainly has been key for me and a lot of members I work with. The downside is the over focus on sobriety and sometimes blaming people for not wanting it enough, or not working hard enough. The over focus on sobriety when other people might have other things that are way more important first. that would be considered heresy, me even saying that in some circles. There's also what I call the “true believer’s syndrome”, where we believe in that myth of the 50 to 75% success rate, and we're going to read through these grand words from the AA Big Book and do it exactly as they did and we will get exactly the same results. So, the “true believer’s syndrome” is, again I’m being critical, alive and well in all 12-step programs, as well as SA.

Waheed  45:58
You also spoke about SLAA and SAA. Can you tell us a little bit about those and other relevant programs? 

Chris  46:07
Okay. There's a bunch of other “S” programs, as they’re called, sexual recovery 12-step programs, and the three major ones all started around the same time in the 1980s. That's SLAA, SA and SAA. So, SLAA is Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. It has a focus on love addiction as well as sex addiction, and also a concept called anorexia, which covers sexual, social and emotional anorexia. So just as in the food programs, they cover both food addicts and bulimics, there’s this sense of covering people who are emotionally repressed as well. Unlike SA, where there is a common sobriety definition, in SLAA, members define sobriety for themselves. There's obviously literature that helps guide them in that process. SLAA is mixed gender, and because of the love addiction component, it's about 50% women, from what I see, whereas SA is about 90% male.

Waheed  47:26
When you say “mixed gender”, you mean the meetings in SA are male and female segregated, but in SLAA they're mixed?

Chris  47:34
I'm talking about the fellowship as a whole. Within both fellowships, you'll have mixed meetings and separate gender meetings.  

Waheed  47:42
I see, okay. 

Chris  47:44
I've found it interesting, I've been in all three programs, SAA, SLAA and SA, and I find that, especially in recovery from same-sex lust myself, that, in the last year or so, spending more time around SLAA and being around women, it's been an important phase of my growth, because I would otherwise have had more limited exposure to women in my life, and I'm getting to speak to younger women and middle-aged women, and so it's really been a spirited growth cycle for me.  

Waheed  48:33
So that’s about SLAA, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. And just to clarify for anyone who's also listening, so love addiction, in terms of, okay, if we're going to take out the sex component, is it chasing romantic relationships or romantic feelings. Is this what this is, in general? 

Chris  48:50
Yes, and some of the symptoms of this can be people who buy piles of romance novels or watch all these movies, or they might get hooked on serial intense romantic relationships or do a long-distance relationship where they're unavailable, and there's all this intrigue going on.

Waheed  49:14
Okay. Makes sense. And what about SAA, or Sex Addicts Anonymous? 

Chris  49:22
SAA was started by a group of therapists who wanted private meetings for their own recovery. It also allows members to define their own sobriety. It’s predominantly male, again. It has a distinct focus on sex offenders, though it's not exclusively, there's still a small proportion of the membership, but it does have a distinct role, and there are particular sex offender groups within SAA.

Waheed  49:52
Okay, so for anyone who’s wondering, what is the difference between SAA and SA in this case? 

Chris  49:59
The most obvious one will be the sobriety definition, that in SA it's “no sex outside the marriage of a man and a woman.” In SAA, you'll be able to define sobriety for yourself. So, for one person, masturbation may be in, for another person, masturbation may be out. For one, sex before marriage may be in, for another, that may be out. So, you'll have this great variety of individual sobriety definitions within SAA.

Waheed  50:34
I see. Right, so it's subjective based on the person. All right. Can you tell us about other fellowships under the sexual recovery umbrella? 

Chris  50:41
The next most sizable one is Sexual Compulsives Anonymous, SCA. This started, I believe, in the mid 80s, where it was designed as a specifically gay friendly fellowship, where its language was very much gay friendly. It's broader in that it's not exclusively gay, but it does have a sizable gay-identified membership. And I've got to say, all the “S” programs have a sizable gay membership, but SCA probably has the largest proportionately.

Waheed  51:18
Alright. Any other programs that are involved as well?

Chris  51:21
There are a lot of smaller ones out there. There's something called Sexual Recovery Anonymous, which only exists in a couple of cities, it was actually an offshoot from SA with a disagreement over the sobriety definition. I think there's a Porn Anonymous or Porn Addicts Anonymous. But there are few other smaller ones, but they're in very, very few meetings anyway. 

Waheed  51:58
And with this, we have come to the end of today's episode. I hope that you have enjoyed it and learned from it, inshaAllah. As I mentioned earlier, Chris is going to be joining me, inshaAllah, later in another episode, after we finish this series on support systems, where he will be sharing with us his story, and he will be sharing with us a lot of insights and realizations from his own personal journey. In the next episode, inshaAllah, joining me all the way from Munich, Germany, is Mr. Robert Gollwitzer who will be talking to us about Homosexuals Anonymous and the 14-step program. Until then, please stay safe and healthy, and I look forward to talking to you in a couple more days. This has been Waheed Jensen in “A Way Beyond the Rainbow”, assalamu alaikom wa rahmatullahi ta’ala wa barakatuh.

Episode Introduction
Introduction to 12-Step Programs
The Twelve Steps, Twelve Traditions and Three Dimensions
Joining 12-Step Programs
On Sponsors
Further Resources
On Effectiveness and Critiques
On Sexaholics Anonymous (SA)
Chris's Personal Reflections
On Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) and Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)
Other "S" Programs
Ending Remarks