HANDLING MENTION OF SUICIDE – A Member’s Experience

The comments below were given by various members of the Conference Steps, Traditions, and Concepts Committee and do not represent a group conscience of the entire committee. The opinions expressed here are solely that of the person giving them. Take what you like and leave the rest.

The Question:
I just got off the phone with the F.W.S. about a meeting last night. I spoke about feeling suicidal the night before and the leader stopped the meeting to interrogate me about it, and I believe it broke traditions. I was not threatening suicide, but was just sharing how I felt the night before, and the leader’s response was over the top. I wanted to share my feelings and this person made comments that if I was in a live meeting he would have called the cops. I told this person that I appreciated his concern but that I was feeling very uncomfortable with him “cross-talking” and also stopping the meeting. I felt bullied and shamed. If I was a newcomer and I shared this and the “Leader” had this type of response it could have made me feel more distraught, which would not be helpful. Even though I believe his intentions were in the right place, the leaders approach was aggressive, threatening, and hostile. I read your committee responses about a similar issue, and it did not seem to support that action. The leader kept on saying he was the leader and that he had the right to stop the meeting and cross talk and make sure I did not have a plan to commit suicide. The F.W.S. told me that there is no conference approved literature on the subject, but maybe the conference can create a document on how the S.L.A.A. traditions apply in this situation? I felt unsafe and am never going to that meeting again.


Response #1:

There is general guidance in Tradition Two that could be utilized in a situation like this. Two separate spiritual principles from the Tradition could be applicable. First, our leaders are but trusted servants, they do not govern. The leader in the meeting appears to have been “governing” by unilaterally changing the meeting format, directly addressing one individual about their issues, and using language that was aggressive. Second, it would have been helpful for the leader to understand that a loving God is the ultimate authority. From my experience, addicts in leadership roles can sometimes forget that our Higher Power is really in charge.

As to the creation of a document by the FWS or conference on this type of situation, I think that Tradition Four is most applicable. Each group is autonomous, and is responsible for making decisions about how their meeting is conducted. While a document could theoretically be created, it would be very difficult to include all possible meeting level conflicts and solutions in it. And, in keeping with Tradition Four, it would not be authoritative but for reference only.

Response #2:
What an interesting question. At first I thought that it had nothing to do with the Traditions or the Concepts, but of course everything relates to the guidance in our three legacies.

The leader of the meeting in question was certainly unskillful. And of course there is nothing we can do about it. But this Is not a meeting that I would want to go to. It is not an example of the Fellowship that I want to belong to.

I’ve noticed that in S.L.A.A. there is a tendency to confuse therapy with recovery. Therapy is a wonderful tool, but it is not recovery. Working the Steps is different than going to a therapist. It seems to me the meeting leader was acting like a therapist. A leader in recovery would not act in this manner, would be more humble and welcoming, would be less controlling.

I have come to realize that the Steps teach me to adjust to the world and not to expect the world to adjust to me. I still have difficulty standing up for myself in confrontational or unfriendly situations. I would rather run than stand up. I have learned from our program that when I am upset there is something wrong with me. I need to take the situation through the Steps: getting my attitude straight in Steps One, Two, and Three. Then in Step Four uncovering my fears that lead to resentments and asking what God (he, she, it, or them) would have me do and what God would have me be. In the remaining Steps and working with my sponsor I find freedom. I can make a rational and healthy decision on how to proceed.

I have done this with meetings and in some cases, concluding that the meeting is not healthy, have decided not to go back. In other cases, in other situations, I continued to attend, paying attention to what I could bring to the meeting rather than what I could take from it. And bringing my issues to the group conscious or business meeting for the group. It’s an individual choice. We can always start a new meeting, not an easy task, but possible.

Most importantly it seems we — our entire Fellowship — need to do a better job talking about safety in meetings. A rigorous educational effort that leads to safe meetings would be worth our time. The incident described here is not what we ever want to see. Safety is about more than sexual harassment. It is about feeling welcomed uncritically. It is about feeling loved unconditionally. It is about feeling the support of the We.

Lastly it’s important to note that the Traditions cannot be broken. Their guidance can be ignored resulting in ill consequences, but they don’t break.

Response #3:

This question is very interesting and I think raises an extremely important issue for S.L.A.A.
I suggest:
•The member should request the Group to adopt trauma informed guidelines and/or try other meetings where she feels safer to share.
•The existing suicide guidance be replaced urgently in consultation with members of the Board who are medical clinicians and external expert advisers to the Board.

Response #4:

I believe this situation calls for putting principles before personalities. I see this more as an issue of one member going rogue at a meeting, rather than as an issue of S.L.A.A. needing some kind of policy on how to deal with suicide.

I’ve experienced all sorts of crazy and unpredictable behavior from individuals at meetings, across all my various fellowships, including S.L.A.A. People disregard the Traditions all the time. But it is my responsibility to apply the Traditions in my own recovery, and to put principles before personalities. The truth is that no individual speaks for S.L.A.A., even if they claim they do. And as my sponsor says “We are not all here because we’re well. We’re all here because we’re sick.”

Traditions One says that group unity comes first, and Tradition Two says that our Higher Power will speak through the group conscience. So, if someone is doing something that threatens the group unity, I can request a group conscience. If that person is dominating the meeting in such a way that makes that unfeasible, then I can choose to attend a different meeting.

By practicing Tradition Twelve, placing principles before personalities, I remind myself that this person is not the program. I may feel “unsafe” to share openly, after a conflict, but that’s my disease talking, trying to keep me small and isolated. I remind myself that the only authority is a loving higher power, and that I am, in fact, not unsafe. (In my distorted perception, I often feel unsafe in situations that are safe, and I have many times felt safe in situations that were completely unsafe.) Which is not to say that I have to accept unacceptable behavior. Just the opposite, in fact. I can do what I need to do to take care of myself, which may mean removing myself from the situation, while detaching from the other person’s behavior, knowing that this is just one person’s disease, and not allowing it to harm my own progress on my journey to recovery.

Response #5:
1. I believe the leader should have used tact in dealing with this member.
2. I was also troubled by the leader’s comment that if the meeting was an in-person meeting he/she would have called the police. The room should be a safe haven.
3. Personally, I generally feel much more comfortable in in-person meetings where I can feel safe to let my vulnerability show. It’s important to allow myself to tap into the spirituality generated by the group in the room.


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.