This post was provided by one of our SAL members. It has been updated recently. We look forward to discussion on the topic of helping those who are new to sobriety and recovery. Thanks for your feedback and experience.
This question has come up a lot lately:
“How do you help someone who’s new to sobriety and recovery?”
Another way to ask the same question might be:
“How do I help someone who is just getting started in the recognition that their life is unmanageable?”
One scripture comes to mind:
12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
13 For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
14 But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Giving these “babes” the meat before the milk may only do them a disservice.
After all, the “strong meat” belongs to “them that are of full age.”
What does “full age” mean when talking about sexual addiction? Is that synonymous with “rock bottom?”
Some Possible Answers
Is there just one way?
I’m not sure.
It does say in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that “Rarely has a person failed who has thoroughly followed our path.”
And that path, from my understanding, is working the 12 Steps with a sponsor.
My initial answer to this question has been to scare the person by telling them the crap I’ve been through because of my choices.
I might give him a long list of things they need to start (and stop) doing.
I may tell them about what will happen if they don’t “stop and stay stopped.”
I’d be tempted to remind him of the betrayal trauma he’s causing his wife or significant other. And if he doesn’t have a wife or significant other yet, I would let him know that eventually all the stuff will need to come out if he EVER wants to have a happy and healthy relationship.
But would any of this help?
I know when I first started coming to SAL, I still wasn’t willing to admit that my life
was IS unmanageable. I’m actually discovering the unmanageability of my life more and more all the time (and that’s not a BAD thing).
But it also reminds me of the cliche:
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”
In other words, you can make it easy for someone to do something, but you cannot force them to do it.
I feel carrying the message is the practice of remembering where I’ve been and what I’ve done. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but I don’t want to forget it either, or I’ll easily go back out there.
Talking to others who are just getting started can be difficult because at times I want to dump all the information and tools and research and experience on the person. Overwhelming!
What could I say to a newcomer?
QUESTIONS! I could just ask questions.
Here are some ideas:
- How’d you hear about SAL?
- What’d you think of the first meeting?
- What questions do you have about it?
- Have you been to other 12-step meetings?
- Why SAL and why now?
- When was the last time you acted out?
- What do you feel like rockbottom looks like for you?
- What’s going to happen if you don’t stop and stay stopped?
I’m sure there are others.
UPDATED: Additional Thoughts
As I was reading in the Big Book today, pages 89-91, it talked about talking to a newcomer.
“Frequent contact with newcomers and with each other is the bright spot of our lives.” (p. 89)
Why is this?
For me, I think frequent contact with newcomers, and with anyone in my recovery circle, is helpful and essential because it reminds me where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and the consequences that will re-surface if I go back to my old ways.
So talking to newcomers is helpful. But what’s the “best” or “suggested” way?
AA gives some suggestions:
How to talk with a newcomer
“When you discover a prospect for Alcoholics Anonymous, find out all you can about him. If he does not want to stop drinking, don’t waste time trying to persuade him. You may spoil a later opportunity. This advice is given for his family also. They should be patient, realizing they are dealing with a sick person.
The practice of empathy.
“If he does not want to see you, never force yourself upon him. Neither should the family hysterically plead with him to do anything, nor should they tell him much about you. They should wait for the end of his next drinking bout.”
“See your man alone, if possible. At first engage in general conversation. After a while, turn the talk to some phase of drinking. Tell him enough about your drinking habits, symptoms, and experiences to encourage him to speak of himself. If he wishes to talk, let him do so. You will thus get a better idea of how you ought to proceed. If he is not communicative, give him a sketch of your drinking career up to the time you quit. But say nothing, for the moment, of how that was accomplished. If he is in a serious mood dwell on the troubles liquor has caused you, being careful not to moralize or lecture. If his mood is light, tell him humorous stories of your escapades. Get him to tell some of his.”
I like how they map out this process.
It’s very clear and calm and collected – no pressure, no preaching; just listening, sharing and observing. When and if he’s ready, then I proceed. But not until then.
Pressure could kill the opportunity.
- Find out all I can about the person
- If he’s not ready to stop lusting, don’t try to persuade him
- Engage in general conversation.
- Turn the talk to some phase of the addiction.
- Talk to him about my own story.
- If he wants to talk, let him.
- If he doesn’t, that’s ok too.
- Share a general map of my process in addiction, but don’t tell him how I’ve stopped.
- Don’t moralize or lecture!
What Do You Think?
Many of you that are part of this discussion have been going to SAL meetings for a long time.
A lot of you have years of sobriety and recovery.
All of us have different (yet similar) experiences in how our lust addiction has manifest itself.
What are some of the things you’d share with a newcomer?
What would you warn against?
What would you encourage them to do?
What boundaries would you help them set?
How does this question even apply to how you work with sponsees?
I look forward to your answers to this important question: