In our weekday noon meeting, a newer member has become increasingly disruptive to the safety of the meeting. He sometimes ignores the meeting script guidelines against cross-talk and extreme detail sharing of acting out behavior. He has followed other members out to their cars despite being asked firmly not to do so. He seems desperate to want the help of the meeting, but is having a very hard time staying within meeting norms. Several other members have spoken with him on several occasions in detail about his behaviors, but they persist. Several women who regularly attended the meeting, and at least one man, have said they will no longer attend this meeting as it does not feel safe. Meeting officers are studying the article on “disruptive behavior” and tradition 3 by the CSTCC from the website. This seems to be becoming a tradition 1 issue, in terms of “our common welfare”, even though this member certainly qualifies for tradition 3. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.
Here are my responses to the member’s questions regarding specific personalities causing problems at meetings. These are only my opinions. “In our weekday noon meeting, a newer member has become increasingly disruptive to the safety of the meeting. He sometimes ignores the meeting script guidelines against cross-talk and extreme detail sharing of acting out behavior.” My first instinct is to remember this is a Newcomer. Newcomers seldom understand how the program works, and they are often deep in their disease. I have been in several meetings where members violate the cross-talk policy or use triggering language, and when this happens, any fellow is welcome to raise their hand and state they are triggered. The secretary will then kindly ask the person sharing to redirect their share. The secretary also has the option to include a statement regarding crosstalk in the reading of the meeting’s format, which can be read at the beginning of the meeting. If a violation occurs, the secretary is welcome to interrupt the meeting and re-read the statement on crosstalk. Here is an example from the Houston SLAA website:
Cross talk: We avoid cross talk at our meetings. Each person is allowed to share without interruption. During meetings, we do not offer one another advice or feedback, nor do we lecture or single out another person. In this way, our silence honors the reality of each person’s path to recovery. Any cross talk, even affirmative statements directed to another member, may disturb the decorum of the meeting.
I suggest the secretary brings this up at their next business meeting and advises the possibility of someone putting forth a motion to have a Cross talk statement included in the meeting’s format, which will be read at the beginning of the meeting, and if any member violates this guideline, the secretary is welcome to redirect the person sharing and re-read this statement. In response to this particular Newcomer following members to their cars, as outlined in this excerpt:
“He has followed other members out to their cars despite being asked firmly not to do so. He seems desperate to want the help of the meeting, but is having a very hard time staying within meeting norms. Several other members have spoken with him on several occasions in detail about his behaviors, but they persist. Several women who regularly attended the meeting, and at least one man, have said they will no longer attend this meeting as it does not feel safe. Meeting officers are studying the article on “disruptive behavior” and tradition 3 by the CSTCC from the website. This seems to be becoming a tradition 1 issue, in terms of “our common welfare”, even though this member certainly qualifies for tradition 3. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.”
I recommend referring to the A.A. statement of safety, as it gives excellent advice and
SAFETY CARD FOR A.A. GROUPS (The General Service Office has made this optional statement available as an A.A. service piece for those groups who wish to use it.) Suggested Statement on Safety Our group endeavors to provide a safe meeting place for all attendees and encourages each person here to contribute to fostering a secure and welcoming environment in which our meetings can take place. As our Traditions remind us, the formation and operation of an A.A. group resides with the group conscience. Therefore, we ask that group members and others refrain from any behavior which might compromise another person’s safety. Also, please take the precautions you feel are necessary to ensure your own personal safety, for example, walking to your car in a group after a meeting. If a situation should arise where someone feels their safety is in jeopardy, or the situation breaches the law, the individuals involved should take appropriate action. Calling the proper authorities does not go against any A.A. Traditions and is recommended when someone may have broken the law or endangered the safety of another person.
I suggest the group cease attempting to get this problematic member to change their behavior, and instead focuses their effort on making a collaborative effort to ensure people are walked to their cars, and be ready to assist in calling the proper authorities when and if they feel their personal safety is being jeopardized. If the member in question who is creating these problems is being disruptive to the point that authorities need to be called, worse case scenario: a restraining order can be filed by the members of the group. If the problem has not escalated to that acute level, I think it best that the group create strategies to keep the meeting safe without asking anyone to stop attending the meeting because of personality conflicts. My opinion is that it is imperative to place principles before personalities, and continue to be inclusive for any newcomers who express a desire to stop acting out, unless the need arises for law enforcement authorities to be called, and it falls upon the group conscience to make that decision and execute it accordingly.
If certain members of the group feel uncomfortable and choose to leave the meeting, it is their prerogative to do so. Taking such an action of self-care can be very good for the person who is uncomfortable. But the meeting should not feel pressured to push out a problem newcomer in order to prevent people from leaving the meeting. Instead, they should focus their effort on building a safe environment within the meeting by offering internal strategies to ensure safety and security for group in spite of the personality issues of one particular member, thereby encouraging people to stay, rather than singling out the problem person and asking them to leave. Perhaps by doing this, the newcomer will find the recovery they are seeking, and the group will grow stronger and learn strategies for inclusion.
You are correct to point to Tradition 1. Safety in meetings is a critical issue and directly affects the unity, health, and existence of our Fellowship. If our meetings are disrupted to the point of members staying away, the Fellowship is harmed and our sobriety, our very lives as individuals, is directly threatened. AA recently issued a memo regarding safety in meetings that is worth reading. I’ve attached a copy. (https://www.aa.org/assets/en_US/smf-209_en.pdf) S.L.A.A. will issue a similar memo soon.
As members of S.L.A.A. we are responsible for living in the spirit of the Traditions. We have a responsibility to protect the Fellowship as well as to reach out to the still suffering addict. Additionally, our disease is about relationships with people. We have never been very good at relationships. So, when an issue comes up that requires us to be skillful with someone’s unskillful behavior, often our strategy is to avoid. Or, we might be equally unskillful in how we directly address that behavior — by attacking the person rather than the behavior. Neither of these extremes is appropriate. As with most interactions with other humans we take direction from the Steps and the Fellowship to help us.
The first suggestion is to discuss the behavior seriously with the members of the meeting. A business meeting focused on how to handle a particular disruptive person or situation is important. We need to hear what others think. We need to look for direction from our Higher Power as represented by the group conscience. The result of the meeting might be a written letter to the unskillful attendee handed to him face to face before the next meeting.
The right response may be to ask this person to leave the meeting and not return until the specific behaviors no longer occur. It is important to specifically list the behaviors: crosstalk, inappropriate detailed sharing, following members after the meeting. The written description, approved by group conscience, of the intolerable behavior that needs to be changed might be given to the person by the meeting officers. It is suggested to emphasize that when the behavior changes the person will be welcomed back.
A person may be unwelcome at a meeting — excluded, ostracized —but may still be considered a member of S.L.A.A. A meeting has the right to exclude anyone from attendance, but a meeting may not exclude a person from membership in S.L.A.A. Those are two different things.
If the person continues to attend the meeting but doesn’t change, then legal recourse may be necessary. While we never forget that our primary purpose is to help the still suffering sex and love addict, we also must protect the ongoing unity and health of the entire Fellowship. These demands require tough tough action. We must step up to the best of our ability and do the right thing as directed by group conscience.
From the Question it appears that this individual meets the requirements for membership in that he wants to stop living out a pattern of sex and love addiction (Tradition Three). But, it also appears that the disruption he is causing to the meeting could affect the common welfare of the group (Tradition One). 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 on how to address the situation rests entirely within the Group.
Having been in this situation a number of times over my years in program, I can provide some experience, strength and hope. I have been part of groups that did ask someone to leave, and other groups where we discussed it but did not take that action. From my experience, when an individual’s behavior is disruptive to the group or threatening to individuals, some type of action is needed. This will take the meeting to come together in developing a plan.
It sounds like the group has already started the process of talking to him. The next step that my group has taken is to set up clear boundaries for behavior within the meeting (and afterwards with other members). This is typically best done before or after the meeting so as not to create conflict in the meeting or embarrass the person. If that is broken, then a clear consequence for continuing to break the boundary must be laid out. The consequence will be that the member will be asked to leave the meeting and not come back. At this point, the groups I have been in gave the individual only one more chance, and then acted on the consequence. This is a difficult decision to make, but for me it has been a great opportunity for spiritual and emotional growth when it has occurred.
What do you think?
The CSTCC is a group of volunteers, some of whom were ABM delegates, and others who volunteered out of interest. We do not represent a group conscience of S.L.A.A., but are committed to bringing thoughtful discussion and study of 12 Step Fellowship literature and experience to the questions that are brought to us. We offer this summary as the results of our discussions. We present the major points of concern in the hopes that wider discussion in the Fellowship will help us evolve our customs and practice of the S.L.A.A. program of recovery to better represent the loving guidance of a Higher Power. Always, we affirm the autonomy of each group and the need for each individual to follow her/his own conscience. No decision of this group, or any other, is ever forced upon another, even when we believe a practice is clearly in conflict with the Steps, Traditions, or Concepts.