Special thanks to one of the fellows in one of our Utah in-person meetings for sharing his thoughts on reaching out to others.
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One of the first things people wonder about when first attending an SAL 12-Step group is what people are referring to when they report “contacts” during the week.
Contacts involve reaching out to other group members, typically by phone.
We account for them weekly because reaching out to others is central to working the 12-Step program. Nevertheless, sometimes people wonder what contacts have to do with the Steps.
How it Started
From the start, the AA founders knew reaching out to others was central to recovery (see The Big Book; Twelve and Twelve). In fact, the Big Book makes the bold statement that,
“Practical experience show that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics. It works when other activities fail.”
Thus, in AA, much of the reaching out is in the form of leaning on and learning from those who have gone before (such as sponsors or other “oldtimers”; Steps 1-11), and then finding and working with “newcomers” (Step 12). Fellowshipping with other recovering addicts brings inspiration, fulfillment, and joy.
Additionally, a critical part of working Step 10 is that when our character defects come out, “we discuss them with someone immediately” (Big Book, page 84).
The SA books (White Book; Step Into Action) frequently discuss reaching out in a number of ways.
6 Reasons to Reach Out [from SA Books]
1. Surrendering Lust Triggers
First, making calls to group members in response to lust triggers is emphasized as critical to the surrender process (pages 66-76).
Surrendering vocally to others brings humility and honesty and defuses the energy of triggers.
“We talk about the temptation in a phone call or at the next meeting and tell all. Telling the deep truth in an attitude of surrender helps break the power the memory of the incident holds over us” (page 67).
“We had little in common, but we started calling each other almost daily. We would get current with our lust temptations, telling each other what we were going through to break the power that experience or fantasy had over us” (page 75).
In Step Into Action, a recovering addict briefly shares the following experience. “Lust had beaten me. I made a call and admitted that alone I could not stop. I needed help.”
2. Surrendering Resentments
Second, in addition to needing to call to surrender lust triggers, we call group members to surrender resentments.
Referred to as the “daily double” (White Book, page 75), we surrender both to others, as resentment leads to lust, which leads to acting out. The writers of the White Book recount that, “lust and resentment…began to evaporate as we brought them to the light, much as sunlight dispels a fog” (page 75).
Indeed, “giving up our lust and resentments to one another as they came up turned out to be a very effective form of surrender” (White Book, page 75).
3. Accountability for Character Defects
Third, we also call group members to be accountable for situations where we let our character defects show forth.
This is typically part of working Step 10 (Step Into Action, p. 149), where we engage in frequent spot checks, identify the offending character defect(s), surrender them to God, reach out to group members to share, and make amends if necessary.
4. Get Outside Our Own Head
Fourth, not only do we call to surrender triggers, resentments, and character defects, we reach out to others anytime we need to get outside of our own head (White Book, page 68; Step Into Action, page 12).
As the saying goes, “If I stay inside my head, I’m dead” (White Book , page 70). Lust, fantasy, resentment, fear, shame, and all other manner of negative, harmful, and unhealthy thoughts and feelings seem to fester when we hold them inside. Magic happens when we share them with others. Often we find others who share our struggles.
5. Connection with Our Sponsor
Fifth, we frequently reach out to our sponsor (White Book pages 72-75, 162-163; Step Into Action pages 15, 149, and 192).
Sponsees are primarily responsible for making calls to their sponsor, perhaps daily at first, in order to take responsibility for their recovery (White Book, page 74; Step Into Action 192).
Our sponsor is our first option to call to surrender resentment and lust (Step Into Action, pages 164, 193).
Our sponsor helps sniff out our “stinkin’ thinkin’” (a phrase coined in AA), because “deceit and lying has become so much a part of us that we often believe our own lies.”
We need our sponsor to work the steps. This is not a “self-help program.” Our sponsor tells us what to do and we do it (White Book, page 162; Step Into Action, pages 15, 30, 33, 58).
6. Work Step 12 by Carrying the Message to Others
Sixth, the final reason to reach out to others is to work Step 12, which states that we “carry this message to sexaholics.”
As they say in AA, we have to “give it away to keep it.” One sex addict shared that, “My sponsor told me I had two choices: I could carry the message or I could set it down” (Step Into Action, page 176).
Often such carrying of the message is done through phone calls. We can call those we know are struggling, those we haven’t seen at meetings for a while, new group members, or our sponsees. When we call, we share our “experience, strength, and hope” (White Book, page 4).
As can be seen from the above list, there are basically two types of calls: those where we reach out for help for ourselves, and those where we reach out to help others. Either way, both parties are benefited.
Making calls is often challenging.
However, we don’t make calls “because we want to, [but] because we don’t want to” (White Book, page 68).
In other words, not wanting to make a call is a sign we need to make the call. If we wait until we want to, we will most likely never do it. That’s why the saying goes, “take the action, and the feelings will follow” (White Book, page 73).
One way to ensure that we will make calls when we need to is getting in the habit of doing so daily, whether or not we need to.
When we are triggered by lust, resentment, or other negative thoughts and emotions,
“we take the action of getting out of ourselves and making contact with another member. As soon as possible. The closer to the heat of the action the better” (White Book, page 68).
10 Suggestions to Help You Reach Out to Others
- Add numbers for several group members to your phone. Keep adding numbers each week. Find a way to put them together in your phone (such as starting all names with SA; e.g., SA Mike).
- Set a goal to make at least one call a day. Start with a goal of daily calls for a week, then keep extending that.
- Set a time each day to make a call.
- In addition to the scheduled call, reach out anytime you have lust, resentment, or other negative thoughts or emotions. If you wonder whether you should call, make the call.
- As you scroll through names, pray about who might need a call.
- Pick a name reasonably quickly, and then push the button to call. Don’t spend too much time trying to decide who to call or fretting about calling. Just do it.
- If you worry about inconveniencing someone, remember that taking calls from group member is just as helpful as making them. Also, remember how much you enjoy receiving calls, and realize that those you will call feel the same.
- If you aren’t sure whether or not the people you want to call are available, feel free to text first and ask if it is a good time to call (particularly at potentially inconvenient times such as early or late).
- If nobody answers, leave a message. Just be discrete if you are unsure the message is private, or if you have not called that person much before.
- If someone calls you are you are unavailable, call them back as soon as you can.
What’s helped you get in a routine of reaching out to others?
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