Our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon SCA unity.
All About Us Bill E (Washington DC)
Recently, I celebrated 21 years of 12-step recovery. Looking back, I can see that the hardest thing for me to do has been the second half of the first step, to admit that my life had become unmanageable. I was raised to be independent and self-reliant. I lived in a household where my father concealed his alcoholism through force of will (except, of course, when the rage slipped out unexpectedly) and where my mother had decided that the only way to keep her men in line was to emasculate them (which she did with great efficiency). My role models took care of themselves, and even though I felt unsure of myself and was dependent. For example: it took me until age 26, for example, to decide what I wanted to do in life-and then I didn't want to tell my parents for fear they'd disapprove. I knew that I was expected to take care of myself, too. So, I didn't want to admit that my life had become unmanageable, because that would mean that I was a failure. If I could only fix the [food, pornography addiction, codependency, etc.] then I'd be just fine, I would be a success, and my parents would finally have a reason for being proud of me.
My disease had been "all about me." It had been a secret, this pornography addiction. To the best of my knowledge, I was the only one who knew about it. I had been very careful to go only to places far from my own neighborhood, where there would be little chance of being seen-and then I would go only under cover of darkness. But, when my disease got worse, I started going to places in my own neighborhood, and I became brazen enough to walk into them in broad daylight, in full view of a major thoroughfare. I'm sure that, in part, it was because the pull of these places was becoming too addictive. After all, when my first couple of years of recovery I had to go home from meetings by a less direct route, because the direct one would take me too close to these places for comfort. But, it was also as if I wanted someone to find out.
Because my disease was "all about me," I really didn't trust anyone else. At my first SCA meeting I was torn between worrying that someone would hit on me and hoping that someone would hit on me. When I was basically ignored I felt a combination of distress and relief.
I spent a lot of my early days in SCA making the program "all about me"-cowering from the men I found attractive, but slowly, tentatively, walking down the path of recovery. Why? Because, despite the fact that I knew that the people in the meetings were unsafe, the meetings themselves felt like safe places. That safety allowed me to surrender and to begin to work the 12 steps.
The program is full of paradoxes, and one of those is that I was not alone. As I recovered I learned that there were lots of people in those rooms who felt, as I did, that the program was "all about me." And yet, they kept coming back, because the meetings felt safe. The meetings were about all of us and our recovery, not about any individual.
The very format of the meetings reinforces their focus on the "we." We take turns in leading the meeting, and in reading the literature aloud. We are encouraged to share strength and hope with each other, as well as our experience. Some meetings limit the amount of time each person can speak so that as many as possible may have the opportunity to do so. Some meetings deliberately set aside times for newcomers to share, or use means other than the raising of hands to insure that getting to speak is not dependent on who you know.
But, it is how we conduct our business that brings the First Tradition into focus. Basically, nothing gets done simply because some one person wants it done. The group must agree, and groups are usually careful enough not to vote until they have achieved some measure of consensus. This idea that "we must agree, because we are nothing if we are in conflict," is almost spiritual in its insistence on "we-ness." And, that sense of the spiritual is what drives the recovery process.
It is the first tradition that makes the meetings safe places. Sexual compulsion is not yet well understood on a scientific level, and so there are many theories about its root causes. Even within the 12-step community there are currently at least four sexual recovery fellowships. The literature of each of these fellowships reflects a somewhat different viewpoint on both the nature of the disease that underlies sexual compulsion, and on ideas about what needs to be done in order to recover from that disease. Our meetings, however, are based on the shared stories of our members, and on our experiences with working the 12 steps. Whatever we think we "know" about sexual compulsion, when we attend meetings we intuitively "know" that we are in the right place. Unity brings us hope, and hope strengthens us when recovery seems far away.
At the annual business meeting of the International Service Organization of SCA, the delegates begin their work by "qualifying" as sexually compulsive people. That is, they share honestly with each other about the nature of their sexually compulsive behavior, their recovery, and the challenges that are facing them at the time of the meeting. Though thoroughly inefficient, from a business standpoint, this qualification period brings into sharp focus who those people are and why they are attending that meeting. The qualifications are helpful reminders that, whatever our differences, we are all members of the same fellowship, and our primary purpose is to carry the message of recovery to the sexually compulsive person who still suffers, both inside and outside of SCA meetings.
People recover at different rates, and some people struggle with recovery for years. But, there is a powerful sense about the group. Even if individuals do not recover, the group as a whole does. And, that's why we protect our groups and why we don't tolerate strong-willed individuals who want it their way for long. Recovery is not all about me, though I get to participate in it. Recovery is about us. Only together are we strong enough to overcome the physical, mental, and spiritual horrors of the disease. "This is a program of the sick helping the sicker," one of my 12-step friends once told me. How right she was.