We have a member who has been in the program for 20 years who is disruptive and often offends other members. He has spoken, more than once, against the program and rants on societal issues in the meeting. He doesn’t put any money in the basket and most of the time he leaves before the closing prayer. He says that he feels it is his job to run anyone out of the meeting who is what he calls “chicken hawks” which he defines as anyone who has harmed children, exposed themselves, talk in meetings about having masturbated or any one of many other definitions. That pretty much would eliminate the vast majority of men and some of the women from the program. Very few newcomers ever come back. We have tried to talk to him with only slight improvement. I personally have been in the meeting for 30 years and am ready to leave the meeting, even though it has been my home meeting all along.
Our question is twofold. I was told by the person who answers the phone for S.L.A.A. International that, by virtue of the fact that every meeting is autonomous, we have the right to throw him out of the group. Can you confirm that? What are the precedents and how should this be handled, other than the fact that it has to be handled in a business meeting? Does International have anything to say about the situation, or any advice?
You have the right to throw him out of the group. (He will still be a member of SLAA, but not welcome at this particular SLAA meeting.)
How should this be handled? Yes, a business meeting should put together a written letter, a letter of expulsion, detailing the unskillful behavior that has led to this action. It should be short and to the point. We hope the business meeting can reach a unanimous decision about the contents of the letter.
My experience suggests that the letter should be delivered to him in person, perhaps prior to the next meeting. This may be the toughest job. However, it must be done.
Focus on the primary issue. The issue is that he is driving away newcomers and old timers alike and thus preventing the meeting from it’s primary purpose: to carry this message — the message of recovery through the Twelve Steps — to the sex and love addict who still suffers.
While respecting the rights of the individual we must always protect the health and safety of the group.
I suggest avoiding issues that are not central to his disruptive behavior. Whether he works the steps or not, whether he contributes time and money or not, whether he comes late, leaves early, sleeps during the meeting are all annoying habits, but it would be best to stick to the one main piece which is that his verbal interaction at the meeting is destroying the meeting and driving people away.
Also, when he is in attendance and begins to talk off topic — rants on societal issues — the meeting chair must point out that these are outside issues, must ask him to stop, and if he refuses he must be asked to leave the meeting immediately.
Has anyone asked him why he attends SLAA meetings when he speaks out against them so much? Perhaps he should be given a service challenge — bring snacks, make coffee, sweep the floors, put the chairs away. Or just ask him to leave the meeting.
Tough love, fierce compassion. The health and safety of the meeting is of greater importance than the chance of bruising the ego of one member. He needs to change or leave. Keep in mind that he can change. If he is willing and makes the effort some day in the future he could be welcomed back.
Our Twelve Traditions and our Twelve Concepts are designed to help us through these difficult situations. Some time spent in contemplation of these principles and especially the Six Warranties (which are the substance of Concept 12) would be relevant and helpful with this challenge. It is worth emphasizing Tradition One: “Our common welfare should come first…”
Remember this is only a suggestion. Your meeting is autonomous and can decide on it’s own what to do. No service body whether regional, national or international, can tell you how to handle this situation. All any of us can do is make recommendations based on our own past experience.
My responses are as a member of the CSTCC and to the specific questions posed by the requesting member. They are as follows:
The first question was if the meeting could ask him to leave the Group. The response from our F.W.S. staff was completely correct. Tradition Four stipulates that each meeting is autonomous except in matters affecting the program as a whole. This issue would not affect anything beyond the meeting itself, so the decision rests entirely within the Group.
The second question is asking about precedent and a business meeting. There are many meetings in many programs where people have been asked to leave. The reasons for requesting them to leave are many, but typically boil down to the individual being disruptive or threatening. But, there is nothing in the Steps, Traditions or Concepts that provides a precedent or procedure. It is up to the meeting to decide how to handle it. A business meeting can be helpful for making this type of decision, but not always possible or necessary (the person could be there during the business meeting). It will take a number of regular meeting attendees to come together (sometimes outside the meeting), make the decision, develop a plan of action, and then follow through.
The third question is seeking advice. I can provide my experience, strength and hope. Having been in the situation where we did ask someone to leave on a number of occasions, and others where we discussed it but did not decide to take that action, I can say it is not an easy thing to do. What I have used as a guide is whether the person meets the requirements of membership found in Tradition 3. Is the individual really there because of the desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction? Or, do they have some other purpose? From the information provided, it appears that this person does not have that desire, and so they do not meet the requirements for membership. While many people come to meetings for reasons that do not align with Tradition 3, if they are not disruptive or threatening there is nothing that needs to be done. But, this individual seems to be both. If this person was in one of my meetings, I would work with my fellows to ask him to leave. In my experience making this decision and following through strengthens the meeting and creates greater trust between members. While difficult, for me it has been a great opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth when it has occurred.
Here is my response to a member’s complaints regarding a problematic member of the group.
The number of years in program, the state of their employment, and the content of his shares are not the group’s business. That is between the member and his sponsor, and the group is welcome to set a time limit for shares and/or read a statement regarding Tradition 10, “SLAA has no opinion on outside issues; hence the S.L.A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy.” Society things, as the member puts it, sounds like outside issues being brought into a meeting. If members are having problems with violations of meeting guidelines, they are welcome to share about it in the meeting or bring these issues to their sponsor and perhaps write a 4th step on the problem member and his rants.
“He doesn’t put any money in the basket”
SLAA has no dues or fees.
“and most of the time he leaves before the closing prayer. “
There are no rules about members staying until the end of a meeting.
The group is welcome to include guidelines in their format regarding focusing on recovery, but we have no jurisdiction over what any member shares, unless they are engaging in triggering or disturbing language and/or cross talk. If a member finds the content of this member’s share disturbing, they are welcome to raise their hand, knock on the table, or take a group conscience requesting the member to redirect their share.
“Very few newcomers ever come back. We have tried to talk to him with only slight improvement.”
We can make the meeting welcoming to newcomers through a great number of strategies, but we cannot control a newcomer’s desire to leave if they are uncomfortable. We also cannot expect to change anyone’s behavior. However if things are getting slightly better, it sounds like there is some improvement, and perhaps the group should remain patient and continue to collaborate to problem solve.
“I personally have been in the meeting for 30 years and am ready to leave the meeting, even though it has been my home meeting all along.”
There’s nothing wrong with this particular 30-year member finding a new meeting to attend. Perhaps they should talk it over with their sponsor and they will end up finding a meeting that is better suited to their needs.
“Our question is twofold. I was told by the person who answers the phone for SLAA International that, by virtue of the fact that every meeting is autonomous, we have the right to throw him out of the group. Can you confirm that? What are the precedents and how should this be handled, other than the fact that it has to be handled in a business meeting? Does International have anything to say about the situation, or any advice?”
It is my opinion that focusing on the first part of Tradition 3, “The only requirement for S.L.A.A. membership is a desire to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction.” guides the group to refrain from excluding this member from his opportunity to recover, and instead collaborate to come up with strategies to set boundaries with this person in a loving way. That being said, the group’s autonomy grants it the right to do whatever it wants. If they want to kick this person out of the meeting, they should have a group conscience, or vote on it during their next business meeting. If the majority of the group wants the person to leave, they have every right to ask the person to leave, however I think it’s more important to honor Tradition 3, problem-solve as a group, and encourage other members who are uncomfortable to share about it, pray about it, meditate over it, and use their higher guidance to decide whether that group is right for them or not.