Guard Your Eyes

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Are SA Groups for Everyone?

Dear Rabbi Twerski,

If I can please ask some important advice in regard to our website I was contacted yesterday by someone who has nearly 3 years of sobriety after attending the SA groups in New York. He's a chassidishe guy, and he had fallen into a terrible sexual addiction with no limits at all, until he finally surrendered, and today he's almost 3 years sober B"H and helps others in the groups as well. He pointed out to me that I am too quick on my website and in my advice to people, to send them to the groups and that this can sometimes cause more damage than good if the person is not fully ready for it. (By "being ready for it", he explains that the person's life has become unmanageable and he'd rather die than continue, but he can't stop). The reason it can cause damage he claims, is firstly, because the Jewish community is small, and someone who is not sincere can expose others in the group and bring real Gehenom on others who are truly seeking the help that they need (and he knows stories to this effect). Secondly, he claims that if they are not fully ready, they will only learn worse things, end up leaving the groups and falling even harder (and he knows stories like this too).

Therefore, he suggests I leave the links to SA only on the "links page" on our site, and only if someone is really desperate will they make an effort to find out what to do and how to join the meetings, and they will search for the links or contact us about it. He doesn't think I should suggest it for everyone, and it shouldn't be offered on a silver plater. He thinks I may want to hint to people in the beginning, that if they try everything and still can't break free, then we can help them find further help...

Therefore, I wanted to ask the Rav's advice on this, since it is a serious issue. He claims it's a very big achrayus to send someone who is not ready to the groups, and that it can cause untold destruction and suffering to that person, or to the others in the group.

I spoke with this guy already for over an hour and a half on the phone, and he seems to be very sincere and have a lot of good experience. If the Rav wants, I can ask him perhaps to even call and discuss this with the Rav. Besides for speaking on the phone, he also sent me an e-mail with these concerns. Here is his letter below:

It is important (vital would be a better term) to understand, that many, if not most, people on your website are not true addicts yet. They may have addictive behaviors and it will surely progress to the the point that their lives will become totally unmanageable that they will rather die then live such a life. However, at the present they realize that they have a problem and want help. No one becomes an addict overnight! The help and chizuk received from your site, the phone meetings, and the forum may be exactly what they need to stop. The fact that that they are not alone and there is a loving and caring community that they belong to, may be just what they are looking for. Sending someone like this to SA could do more harm then good; I say this from my own experience.
Being is SA for nearly three years, I have seen so many people come in and leave, and I can say almost all of them did not come by themselves (rather, they were told by others to try the groups). Upon leaving, it only got worse, far worse then you can ever imagine.  The first step says "we admitted that we were powerless" and "that our live had become unmanageable" this means one has to admit itnot be told  "well, you have a problem, try this this may work". It also means that a person must realize and cry out: "my life is unmanageable and it can no longer go on like this anymore".  and
Honestly speaking, most people on your site, Boruch Hashem are not there yet. They still have a job, were not caught by their spouse or boss, did not accumulate so much debt that bankruptcy is the only option, and are nor not having sleepless nights because they are so miserable with themselves, or became suicidal. Sending some like this to SA will endanger them and the welfare of the others who already are in SA. Who can take the achraius for the risk of those dealing with such a devastating addiction, being exposed to the public by some insincere individual. What about the welfare of their family, job, community status, shiduchim, etc. Also, if a person is not ready for the groups and comes to them anyway, he will only learn new things and go out and try them.
Anyone who really need SA, because the forum, chizuk, and phone meeting is not enough, will find it on your site, or you may tell him/her with my consent to contact me. If they are ready, I will tell them that it's not just them, they are not alone. I was there and B"H recovered, and that SA is my only option if I want live a happy life, joyous and free.
Hatzlocha Rabba,
- Anonymous 

Rabbi Twerski Responds:

He has a point. I think your suggestion had been to try the phone contacts, and hold off attending groups, unless the phone contact doesn't work. That will weed out those who are not yet far gone.

A member of our forum (Boruch) who is working the steps into his life through the groups and a sponsor, takes a more lenient approach to who should be encouraged to join. Here is what he writes:

I have read the above and I know the groups at first-hand and understand the natures of the concerns expressed. Based on my experience though, I would take a less limiting approach on the guidelines of who should be encouraged to join.

Anyone who seriously wants to be sober and is serious about doing what he can to make the groups work for him, should be encouraged to join. After all,
 the program is about "helping the struggling addict". One does not have to wait until he is caught, arrested, bankrupt or suicidal. 
To decide if the groups are for you, simply ask yourself if you think there is any way you would be able to stop on your own without Divine help. If the answer is "no", then you are an addict as defined by AA. 

So you have a problem - but there is a solution. That solution is a program that is the following:

1) A religious program -- which is about sincerely, deeply and very honestly asking
Hakodosh Boruch Hu for help (within the framework of your own Yiddishkeit).

2) A program that requires a personal housecleaning -- doing the program means looking ruthlessly and honestly at every aspect of their character and being ready to have all the flaws removed.

3) A fellowship of people to whom one must have loyalty, at the very least as far as absolutely protecting their anonymity. This means that you must be ready to absolutely guarantee that you will do nothing whatsoever to compromise the anonymity of anyone in the program.

The program is indeed NOT for someone whose only reason to go to the groups was that they are being dragged, kicking and screaming by those who caught them, their wives, Rabbonim and/or askonim. It is also not for someone who is going only so that they can say "see I tried the groups and it didn't work!". Because when people don't feel a desperate need to be there, they can indeed be a significant risk factor to themselves and to others, until they either come on board, get with the program or leave.

There is a famous joke about two elderly and learned baalei mussar who were sitting in the beis hamussar, each in his own corner, crying "ich bin a gornischt", "ich bin a gornischt" and in walks a newcomer and says to himself, unbelievable, such choshuve yidden and they think that they are gornischt, what should I say? At this he bursts into tears and starts crying, "ich bin a gornischt". Immediately the two baalei mussar get up outraged, "Just who do you think you are that you say you are a gornischt!"

The 12-Steps are about realizing “Ich bin a gornisht” – Hashem is the one who fights for me. We have no right to create rules of how much "seniority" or "severity" is required to say, "ich bin a gornischt". The only criterion should be seriousness.