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Should S.L.A.A. Events Welcome Outside Opinions?

Recently a workshop called Step Minus One was presented at a S.L.A.A. convention. It discussed the physical and medical aspects of sex and love addiction.

Is using the concept of step minus one, based on quotes from AA and SLAA literature, and AA history, a breach of the traditions?

Is discussing physical and medical issues, associated with sex and love addiction, in meetings, a violation of the traditions?


Response #1:

Tradition 5 says that each group has but one primary purpose — to carry its message to the sex and love addict who still suffers. One-way SLAA members follow this tradition is by conducting international, national, regional, and local conferences. At these conferences, workshops are frequently conducted that draw upon outside resources to illuminate the nature of sex and love addiction, as well as to provide potential tools for recovery. In fact, SLAA sells audio CDs of some of these workshop sessions on the slaafws.org online bookstore. Here is a list of such recordings for sale. I own a few myself and have gotten a lot of out of them. In these recordings, some speakers refer to tools, books, metaphors, sex therapists, and other content that have not been officially conference-approved.

Members who decide to attend these workshops need to understand that the content may not be conference-approved. The key is for the speaker to offer a disclaimer at the beginning that acknowledges the outside resources and clarify that their talk is not a substitute for professional advice, medical treatment, or diagnosis. In the PDF material provided to us from the Step Minus One workshop, a disclaimer was offered in the first paragraph about professional advice, and it would have been even more helpful to have stated that the content was not conference-approved. Having said that, however, just because workshop content is not conference-approved doesn’t mean that SLAA members can’t benefit from attending; many people who have participated in these events have been able to expand their framework for understanding addiction and advance in their recovery as a result.

Also keep in mind that workshops are very different from regularly weekly meetings that follow Tradition 3 that talks about any 2 or more persons who gather together for mutual aid and recovery. The general guidelines for regular weekly meetings is to use only conference-approved literature. Most meetings follow these guidelines. But some do not. Members through group conscience may vote to include outside literature. New members especially need to be educated about the reasons why we recommend the use of conference-approved literature, and how to discern whether a meeting follows the general guidelines or has diverged from them. We use conference-approved literature to support our regular weekly meetings and our step work because it is based on the experience, strength, and hope of members who have years of wisdom about what works best in our 12-step program to maintain sobriety and recovery.

Response #2:

Very interesting presentation. Since our primary objective is to carry the message of sobriety — and our process is based on the spiritual principles of humility, generosity, love, and service — an open-minded review of this presentation, and the proposal for S.L.A.A. to publish a “Doctor’s Opinion,” is in order.

Our Traditions are “points of light to guide us out of the darkness.” They are not rules, or regulations, or laws, or commandments. Use of the phrases “violation of the Traditions” and “breach of the Traditions” concerns me. Using these phrases brings us face to face with the challenge of becoming so rigid that we may stop breathing.

I see nothing contrary to our program in the “Step-Minus-One” presentation. If the method suggested helps one more addict stay sober, then it is a good thing.

There are references to outside issues in the presentation, but as long as we don’t take sides on any issue we will avoid controversy. For example, practicing yoga may indeed be a helpful tool for sobriety, but we have no opinion, no recommendation, on what type of yoga, which yoga school, nor which yoga teacher. Vitamins may indeed be helpful to one’s health, but we are not medical professionals and will not recommend any in particular. We do not endorse, directly or indirectly, one therapist or therapy method over another.

An individual discussing these things in meetings is not contrary to the Traditions. We do not tell anyone how to work their program. However, a meeting that presents topics something like “Take more Vitamin B12,” “Yoga saved my life,” “Hypnosis as a cure,” or “The best therapist in our neighborhood” would be functioning contrary to the Traditions and I suspect would not last long as a meeting. The “Step-Minus-One” presentation reverences the Steps completely and is simply suggesting that in addition to the spiritual we pay attention to the physical and emotional. I see no problem there.

Response #3:

The “Steps Minus One Workshop, The Missing Physical Aspects of Sexual and Relationship Recovery” document (I am assuming that the actual workshop is directly based on the document) has some aspects that seem to be very much in alignment with the Steps and Traditions. Specifically, the sections directly quoting SLAA literature, and to a lesser degree the sections quoted from the AA literature. While AA literature is not conference approved, the AA program and its’ literature are generally accepted as being the foundation of our program.

But there are other sections in the document (workshop) that appear to be providing a medical / psychological perspective. The writer of the document states in the introductory paragraph that they have “no professional training in addiction, medicine or psychology”, but then proceeds to include information, conclusions and advice specifically on those subjects in a “professional” manner.

Tradition Eight indicates that we should be forever non-professional, and the medical / psychological portions of this document (workshop) would seem to be in conflict with that.

Tradition Five can also provide some guidance with this issue. Our program is spiritually based through the Twelve Steps. While medical and psychological approaches to the addiction can certainly be helpful, they are outside of the Twelve Steps of Recovery. And, since none of the medical / psychological information, conclusions or advice have been conference approved, there could be quite a few members (and possibly real medical / psychological professionals) that would not agree with it. Tradition Five suggests that we stick with carrying only the SLAA message to the suffering addict. This is a surer way to avoid any conflict or confusion about our purpose.

As a suggestion, if the individual / group feels that this could be helpful, it might be better to have it in a non-program workshop. If the workshop is not supported by the local intergroup, has no publicity from the intergroup, is not talked about during active meeting time, is not listed on any SLAA website, and does not use SLAA in the title, then it would be an outside item and very acceptable. The organizers could still tell Program members about it outside of meetings, and any individuals interested could attend.

Response #4:

This is a very interesting and potentially useful document, and I understand it was created with good will and a desire to help people. However, the presentation of this document in its current form, and the presentation of this document in an SLAA affiliated workshop or at an SLAA convention, would be against the traditions.

The document quotes conference approved literature multiple times, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, nestled within all of those quotations, the document posits non-conference-approved ideas and images. Ultimately, this can be very misleading, because it can make these outside ideas appear to be those of the program as well. A significant and clear disclaimer made at the beginning, and throughout, the document, could help assuage this issue.

While the majority of the document quotes CAL, there are other ideas mixed in. Two clear examples are the pages that include pictures of a brain. Nowhere in our text nor pamphlets do we hear discussions of the “limbic system” or various layers of the brain. While this may be scientific in nature, it is not part of our literature or message. The other page mentioned includes a discussion of stress, including the idea that high levels of stress may lead to relapse while low levels of stress may lead to growth. This idea is espoused nowhere in our literature nor pamphlets and is an outside idea layered into a camouflaging sandwich of CAL. In fact, AA literature states, and I paraphrase, that ‘any scheme that seeks to keep the alcoholic away from alcohol is bound to fail’. The message of our literature is not that we hide addicts from triggers, but rather encourage them to undergo an ‘entire psychic change’ by working the steps, which will cause them to ‘recoil from [alcohol or triggering situations] like from a hot flame.’

Another section which bares examination is near the end of the document, in which a list is given of ways our lives are different now from the 1930’s when AA was begun. The list appears to suggest that we should live more in the way of that time in order to help us have a higher percentage of folks stay sober. The list includes nutritional instructions, as well as a warning to stay away from too much exposure to “screens”. Nowhere in our literature nor pamphlets have these ideas been espoused before.

Furthermore, no scientific basis nor citations nor evidence is given to support these propositions. They are simply layered in as realities among the quotations and pictures of conference approved literature.

This could be very dangerous for a number of reasons. One reason that we adhere to Tradition Ten, that our program has no opinion on outside issues, is that we might drive away the newcomer by speaking on topics other than our message which the newcomer may find repelling. Telling a newcomer to stay away from too much “screen” usage could be helpful. But if they feel a strong attachment to screen usage, and decide not to participate in SLAA because of our program’s purported dislike of screens, then we’ve lost them before we can help them. SLAA is not about screens, it is about developing a relationship with ourselves and God so we can experience relief from sex and love addiction. An individual may decide something related to screens with his or her sponsor, but our program itself has no opinion on the utility of screens, thus presenting this document as the word of SLAA is controverting Tradition Ten.

Another reason the document is dangerous is that it can drive the newcomer or program member away from a relationship with God and the steps. If the member is focusing on his or her diet or nutritional intake, and then they relapse, they may decide the program does not work, saying “I cut all the fat out of my diet, and still I relapse. Clearly SLAA doesn’t work!” But SLAA speaks nowhere of cutting fat out of one’s diet, so positing this idea as part of this document is dangerous. It controverts Tradition Five, which says we have one primary purpose- To carry the message. Cutting out fat is not part of our message. Portraying these ideas as those of SLAA as a whole is against Tradition Five and Ten.

The author of the document shares anecdotal evidence of various individuals the author once knew, but the author shares them as “case studies”. The author does not share his or her credentials as a scientist conducting scientific or psychological studies, yet speaks in learned terms designed to lend credence to the author’s ideas. The portrayal of the author as a scientist or doctor sharing incontrovertible facts, without the author sharing credentials, nor citing sources to support their theories, coupled with the presentation of personal stories as ‘scientific case studies’ is a bit concerning to say the least. Again there is the concern that newcomers or members may simply interpret these statements as fact.

I find the sprinkling of these outside ideas in among many quotations of our literature to be potentially disingenuous. If this person was to continue to do workshops based on this document, particularly at SLAA events, a very clear and visible disclaimer would need to be placed at the start of the document, and perhaps throughout the document, on every page. Otherwise, we run the risk of driving away or harming newcomers or meeting members as they consume this information. Also, if this information were delivered through speaking at a workshop, I would ask the speaker to continually mention that these were their opinions and not the ideas of SLAA as a whole.

There is nothing wrong with a sponsor using these ideas with their sponsees, or an individual member having the opinions, or integration of scientific ideas mentioned here into their own personal program. But they cannot be presented as part of our program as a whole without their being voted into our literature, or otherwise being approved of on a conference wide level.

Response #5:

I don’t believe the workshop itself violates any of the steps, traditions or concepts. It does get into the murky area where “we are not therapy.” Citing psychiatric opinions may make people think we are therapy or endorsing the viewpoints cited.

The workshop appears to be one person’s experience, strength and hope and their opinions on a SLAA version of “The Doctor’s Opinion”. There might be something in Patrick Carnes or Pia Melodies writings already.

In my opinion the problem comes from the workshop being at a SLAA Conference. I did not see things on the format of the conference. I would hope they have a disclaimer somewhere that says the content/opinions of the workshops are of the presenter and do not reflect endorsement or approval by FWS or SLAA as a whole. I would have also like that in the workshop itself.

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