What Is The Purpose Of 12 Step Meetings?

A.A.’s long form of Tradition 5 says this:

Each Alcoholics Anonymous group ought to be a spiritual entity having but one primary purpose – that of carrying its message to the alcoholic who still suffers.

Any given Twelve Step fellowship, including S.A.A., has only one message. It is contained entirely within our Twelfth Step: “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message….” Which Steps? All of them! In our experience, a healthy meeting is thus focused. Any subject other than how we had a spiritual awakening as the result of working the Twelve Steps, anything not reconcilable to the first 164 pages of and “The Doctor’s Opinion” in the Big Book, (reference “Why the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous”) we consider these to be an outside issue and, therefore, a violation of our 10th Tradition. A healthy group/meeting honors the Twelve Traditions by asking its members/attendees to adhere to them and holds the individual accountable when he or she doesn’t. These Traditions are commonly dishonored by discussion of the outside issues like therapy, religion, personal problems and reform of public opinion about sex addiction to name just a few. Everything said in a meeting should carry this message: we had a spiritual awakening as the result of working the Twelve Steps. By this experience our obsession has been removed. Everything said in a meeting should be geared to helping the newcomer if present, or how to find potential sex addicts who are finding bottom if a newcomer is not present.

Step 1: Admitted we were powerless over our addictive sexual behaviors – that our lives had become unmanageable.

In our experience, Step 1 is only a statement of our common problem. However, a mere admission to this problem will not solve our problem. We have written and written, and then written some more, our respective sex addiction histories hoping that seeing its consequences would keep us sober. We also found that more knowledge of the problem is also not a solution. We often thought that knowing what set the addictive cycle in motion would prevent us from starting our behaviors again (trigger management). Sometimes we thought that if we knew how we became sex addicts that we might undo the damage done and thereby solve our problem. Through trial and error we found that these are NOT our solution. These were only additional attempts to apply our own power to the addiction. In meetings/groups that focus on Step 1 we rarely, if ever, heard about the solution – Steps 2-12. The dichotomy of Step 1 is that we admitted we were powerless – utterly. Thus, any focus on Step One (or the problem), after we have admitted inwardly that we are sex addicts, is pointless. So, no amount of knowledge was ever effective at removing our obsession. We found no recovery in meetings/groups that were thus focused.

Many of us initially found relief in these meetings. The fact that others struggled with the same problem and discussed it openly was awe-inspiring in the moment. Many of us felt as if we had finally found a home, a safe haven in the company of our struggling fellows. It was comforting to us. That awe sometimes lasted for a while. Many of us mistook this feeling of wonder and comfort for the spiritual awakening. Eventually, these feelings faded. Without a solution the disease of our soul (the “spiritual malady”) eventually crept back into our lives. We learned many new ways to act out, but heard no hope of recovery. We needed something more than the relief of being among those who were like us.

In discussion meetings, we developed the idea that venting our feelings about the drama of our lives would fix us. Eventually we saw the same problems being brought up over and over again. It became a same old parade of the same old problems sometimes with different faces. But whether the same problems were being brought up by the same people or different people, we never discovered any effective resolution. We often felt a great sense of relief from vomiting our emotions in a meeting, but the same old problems greeted us when we left the meeting and returned to the reality of life. Again, we found no recovery in these types of meetings. From our point of view, we saw a group of individuals with one common problem – sex addiction – trying to do group process therapy in the absence of a therapist.

We believe that healthy discussion meetings are possible. In such meetings there are no “Check-ins” and no “Getting Current”. We have seen through study of the Traditions that our personal problems are one of the outside issues referred to in Tradition Ten. We believe check-in’s and getting-current should be done with a sponsor who can hold us personally accountable for dealing with our issue-de-jour by applying our program. We call this working Step 10. We have seen that there is little accountability within the context of a meeting. “Cross-Talk Rules” present in most discussion meetings do not permit us to ask each other the pointed questions necessary for accountability. Without accountability we found ourselves enabled to stay stuck in the illness of sex addiction and its omnipresent sick thinking. Dumping our feelings and problems in a meeting enabled us in an unhealthy program. The relief we felt enabled us to put off the essential work of Step 10.

A healthy discussion meeting has strong leadership. A member in the role of trusted servant, though reluctant, knows he/she must interrupt a member who is sharing too long, has gotten off topic or has broken one or more of our Traditions with what they have shared. The people who speak at healthy meetings should have experience with the Program. In other words, they should have already been spiritually awakened as the result of these Steps. They can support the trusted servant when he or she must interrupt a member. The focus of such a meeting should always be on our principles: The Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions and the Twelve Concepts of World Service. Healthy meetings should either be geared to helping the newcomer, when present, or learning from each other about how to be more effective in carrying our message if the newcomer is not present.

Most of us attend Big Book study meetings. Because we know this is the one piece of literature that contains no outside issues, it makes the meeting safe for all provided we stay focused on the text.

Almost all of us attend meetings regularly. We think attendance of healthy meetings is a good use of time. We wish to emphasize; meetings should not be a substitute for working The Program. When we are upset, disturbed, angry, afraid, wallowing in self-pity or shame, or feeling tempted to act out, our solution does not lie within meeting attendance. How many times have we heard one of our fellows say, “I really need a meeting!”? The answer to such problems lies in working a 10th Step with another experienced member of the fellowship, preferably our sponsor. We don’t find it necessary to arrange our schedules, routes or destinations when we travel such that we will be able to make a meeting. We know that our sobriety is dependent upon our relationship with a Higher Power, not upon a meeting attendance. Again, we believe regular attendance of healthy 12 Step meetings is a good thing, but it should never be confused for working the 12 Steps with a sponsor.