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Secular Organizations for Sobriety

Secular Organizations for Sobriety

The Onion may joke about a godless alcohol recovery program, but such a recovery program does exist and those who are secular with a drinking problem and/or drug addiction could benefit from a secular sobriety program. It is not a 12-Step Program nor does it rely on any higher power. It is purely secular, but unfortunately, I do not find the Onion’s short article funny, because the subject hits close to home for me.

For those who see me as being anti-drugs and alcohol, that is not exactly true. I occasionally have a glass of wine, when my younger son, who is now 20, is not around, and was drunk only once in my life, when I was 22. It did not feel good, so I did not do that again. Yet I cannot fathom why anyone would want to get drunk regularly.

Still, my sons have the gene on both sides of their family. Their father is a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser. Their grandfather, on my side, was an alcoholic, as well as their father’s father. Needless to say, with my experiences around those who abuse alcohol and drugs, has never been good, especially when it comes to my younger son.

Adults, who drink responsibly in public and at home, do not bother me. I do not take issue with adults who do pot in their own homes, despite the fact it is illegal. I do not care what people do in their homes, as long as they do not harm others or drive intoxicated or high and do not offer it to minors. I do care what they do in public though, especially if it affects others, they show possible problems with it, try to drink and drive, or minors are around. Minors are my biggest concern though and for many reasons.

I learned about Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS) at Center For Inquiry (CFI) and because I was looking for something else other than CSTAR and AA or NA for my younger son, who has been abusing drugs and alcohol since he was at least fourteen years old.

When my younger son was fourteen, I became suspicious that he was using drugs. He was constantly getting into trouble at school, showed an anger problem everywhere he went, and in trouble with authorities for MIP. At the time, I did not have a clue what MIP meant and found it means Minor In Possession. This simple abbreviation also means they are intoxicated.

That was enough for me to drag him down to CSTAR and to run a test for other things, besides the alcohol. Sure enough, after I got him to CSTAR, he ran. When the police caught up with him and brought him back, he took the pee test and tested positive, which broke my heart. After a few weeks in treatment, they released him for outpatient treatment, but he refused. CSTAR told me they could not make him stay and do the outpatient program.

Meanwhile, despite the fact we all recently left the Church, I heard him rattle on about some higher power, but obviously, after getting his skull cracked open with a liquor bottle at some party, he defiantly went to, that new deity did not help either. The hospital diagnosed him with intoxication and a concussion from a shattered skull. While I had called the police because it was three in the morning and way past his curfew, the hospital was trying to call me, but he was too drunk to remember his own phone number correctly. Therefore, they called Children’s Services for permission to treat my son, which they gave.  Later they figured out the situation, his history, and that I was seeking treatment for him, they did not bother us.

A police officer finally called me and told me they had located him, but were keeping for observation at the hospital, as well as to recover, somewhat, from his drunken state. Eventually, the officer finally brought my younger son home around sunrise, with forehead bruised and so swollen that his eye was swollen shut, as well as several stitches. For days, it was painful for me to look at him and after all of that, he still continued to drink heavily and used drugs everytime he got out of the house, as well as break his curfew.

I eventually told my younger son, I would help him get a driver’s permit and help him learn how to drive, if he stopped doing the drugs and alcohol. He did not and I gave up my car, because he became very sneaky and I did not want him to harm himself or others by taking it without permission.

Finally, when he was fifteen and a half, a judge placed him in a government treatment program, in part because he started shoplifting alcohol, because he was not 21 and of legal age to buy it himself. He also continued to use drugs and during one of his high or drunk times, he became angry with me and threw my microwave at me. If I had not jumped out of the way, he would have hit me with it. The microwave broke, of course, but it was my older son who eventually replaced it, not the one who broke it.

Just before his seventeenth birthday, they released him into my custody, because in the state of Missouri, a person is legally an adult at seventeen. They are an adult at least in a court of law and when it comes to sex. The parent still has legal responsibility for his/her medical care and other basic needs. Since he went back to his old habits, I continued to look for a program that might help him.  I also paid his medical bills, whether I wanted to or not.

Three days before his eighteenth birthday, he snuck into his bedroom window, after curfew, with two friends. I really do not want to tell that story, except to say, that what I saw caused me to tell him to get out until he stops doing the drugs and alcohol. Sort of wish it was a case of two lovers in bed, but it was not.

Shortly after that, he got into more legal trouble. One of the crimes was that he drove a friend’s car, without a license, while he was high on pot, ran a stop sign, hitting another driver, and then fled the scene. In Missouri, fleeing the scene is felony. Looking at him behind glass, he said, “Mama, you were right. It does slow your reflexes.”

He did not heed my warnings and his excuse before it happened was, “You never did anything, so you don’t know anything about it.” My degree in psychology, with basic neurology, meant nothing to him, until he sat behind glass to visit with me. Luckily, the driver of the other car was alive and as far as I know, was not seriously injured.

When he was nineteen and still not living with me, some adult provided him, his girlfriend, and her sister, all under 21, alcohol. My younger son lost his temper with the man, because supposedly the man was hitting on my son’s girlfriend and her sister. In the process, my son, in his drunken state cracked the man’s head open and took his cash. Yet another felony on my son’s record, but the adult who provided the minors alcohol, was free to walk away, even though that is a crime too.

While my son sat in jail, awaiting trial with the State, I tried to arrange for his attorney to request of the judge another treatment program. A year later and now twenty years old, my son received five years probation with a four-year back up and eventually released to attend treatment in Kansas City.

He never made it. Instead, he disappeared on his girlfriend, who agreed to take him to Kansas City for treatment. The judge scheduled drug court for the day after his scheduled arrival, since he did not arrive for treatment.

The night before court, he comes to my home at three in the morning, so drunk that he could hardly stand and his cheek was bleeding from a very deep cut, as though he fell on the concrete trying to get home. I sent him, via some friends of ours, to the hospital for stitches and again the attending doctor wrote down that my son was intoxicated.

Four stitches later and after 7:00 am, he returns to my home. I informed him drug court was schedule in two hours for him. He stated, as though I said nothing, “I’m going to be sick” and ended up passing out in his old room. I could do nothing but tell his probation officer why he was not there and the reason we were all helpless to get him there.

Eventually, he arose and headed for court two hours late, with fresh stitches in his face and of course a headache. The judge sent him back to jail, shortly after he arrived, and he will do 120 days in prison.

Meanwhile, I told his probation officer, “He doesn’t need prison. He needs treatment.” She assured me he will get that during his 120, but still I hope my son will accept the information I give him about S.O.S. and at least attend the meetings when he gets out of prison, if Missouri does not have them in prison.

What is SOS?

The Secular Organization For Sobriety or SOS for short, is an effective alternative to the Alcoholics Anonymous program. It differs from AA in a number of ways:

Sobriety and spiritualism/religion are not necessarily connected. Individuals make their own decision regarding the connection

No prescribed steps or plan to follow. There a suggested strategy but this is purely optional, and all ways to sobriety are respected

No sponsor, no prayers

Meetings are not substance specific. Addiction and the urgency of sobriety do not depend on the drug of choice

Meeting format is more flexible and open to change than Alcoholic Anonymous meetings

There are no 12-Steps, no prayer, or a higher power. The person, with support from others, is responsible for him or herself to recover from drugs and alcohol.

While the separate groups are autonomous, they all follow certain basic principles.

Rather than bylaws that each separate group must follow, SOS puts out Suggested Guidelines in order to help people who wish to start drug and alcohol addiction recovery groups in their areas.

One of the suggestions that most of the groups do follow is the daily Cycle of Sobriety, a three part process, in which they:

• acknowledge their alcoholism,
• accept that they have an addiction,
• make it a priority each day to remain sober.

Anonymity is the rule, but it is not a strict rule. Each group decides on how strictly anonymous they are.

SOS uses science to understand and overcome alcoholism, but takes no stance as to whether or not alcoholism is a disease. They encourage members to educate themselves on alcoholism and believe that education is the key to recovery. Everyone is welcome as long as s/he does not push their spiritual beliefs on members.

James Christopher founded SOS. He was an alcoholic not comfortable with the religious aspects of AA. Eventually, he wrote a paper in the secular humanist journal and there was a big response to it. Seeing the need for such a group, he organized the first secular self-help meeting in 1986 and it has grown internationally.

Sobriety without God (scroll down for NPR podcast, 5th one down)

Religion often plays a big role in the 12 steps to sobriety offered by Alcoholics Anonymous. But some people looking to overcome addiction aren't comfortable with AA's religious overtones. Alex Cohen meets Stephen Rafferty, who found sobriety without God in a group called SOS, Save our Selves. Bill then discusses the role of spirituality in the treatment of addiction with Mark Willenbring of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

CFI gives full details of what SOS is. It is for anyone who struggles with drugs and/or alcohol and wants to recover, without the religious aspects of AA or NA.

SOS is an alternative recovery method for those alcoholics or drug addicts who are uncomfortable with the spiritual content of widely available 12-Step programs. SOS takes a reasonable, secular approach to recovery and maintains that sobriety is a separate issue from religion or spirituality. SOS credits the individual for achieving and maintaining his or her own sobriety, without reliance on any "Higher Power." SOS respects recovery in any form regardless of the path by which it is achieved. It is not opposed to or in competition with any other recovery programs.

SOS supports healthy skepticism and encourages the use of the scientific method to understand alcoholism.

SOS is a non-profit organization and works with non-professional local groups to help individuals maintain sobriety. People who seek sobriety are welcome. It is not a religious group nor are there any hidden agendas. Sobriety is the focus of SOS.

SOS seeks only to promote sobriety amongst those who suffer from alcoholism or other drug addictions. As a group, SOS has no opinion on outside matters and does not wish to become entangled in outside controversy.

Although sobriety is an individual responsibility, life does not have to be faced alone. The support of other alcoholics and addicts is a vital adjunct to recovery. In SOS, members share experiences, insights, information, strength, and encouragement in friendly, honest, anonymous, and supportive group meetings. To avoid unnecessary entanglements, each SOS group is self-supporting through contributions from its members and refuses outside support.

What are the guidelines of SOS?

These guidelines are suggested by SOS for maintaining sobriety.

• To break the cycle of denial and achieve sobriety, we first acknowledge that we are alcoholics or addicts.

• We reaffirm this daily and accept without reservation the fact that as clean and sober individuals, we can not and do not drink or use, no matter what.

• Since drinking or using is not an option for us, we take whatever steps are necessary to continue our Sobriety Priority lifelong.

• A quality of life, “the good life,” can be achieved. However, life is also filled with uncertainties. Therefore, we do not drink or use regardless of feelings, circumstances, or conflicts.

• We share in confidence with each other our thoughts and feelings as sober, clean individuals.

• Sobriety is our Priority, and we are each responsible for our lives and sobriety.

SOS recognizes the genetic and environmental components to alcoholism and addiction, but allows each member to decide for him or herself whether it is a disease or not. The view is that people can recover from alcoholism and addictive behaviours arrested, but ultimately never cured. Relapse is always possible, but abstinence is members’ top priority.

SOS suggests members follow a daily, three part, Cycle of Sobriety: acknowledgment of their addiction, acceptance of their addictions and prioritization of maintaining sobriety. Members are also encouraged to develop strategies or aphorisms that strengthen their resolve to maintain sobriety. on what SOS teaches.

There are recovery meetings all over the US and around the world, even SOS Behind Bars.

SOS Behind Bars is set up to address the needs of those who are behind bars holding SOS Meetings, and those who want to volunteer to go into jails & Prisons to start SOS Meetings. We are here to Support- -Educate- -Share Ideas & Resources.

Texas Department of Justice recognizes SOS as an official alternative to AA and there are over fifty SOS group meetings in Texas jails and prisons. They are encouraging other states to offer SOS groups in their jails and prisons.

There is more than one option to overcome alcoholism and drug addiction. If the 12-Step Program is not for them, the religiosity brothers them, or does not work for them, then maybe SOS is their answer.  People can find brochures about SOS at CFI West.

Do I think SOS could help my younger son? I am hoping that the 120 days he spends in prison, will at least give him incentive to try SOS, if not in prison, when he is released. There is hope though, because he recently apologized for all the financial problems he has put me through and appears to take full responsibility for the bills he caused. My older son and I can only hope that means he will eventually try SOS or a program of his choice.

In the meantime, if others need help and desire help, but do not want the 12 Step Program, they may want to look into SOS to see if it is for them. They do not have to trade one god for another nor trade one escape from reality for another.

However, this does not curb my feelings in relationship to alcohol, drugs, and teens or even those who abuse such substances, especially when minors are present. It is not that I am anti-drugs and alcohol. Rather I have experience what such things can do to families when adults do not drink responsibly or do their drugs, albeit illegal, when minors are around and in their homes. It is not pretty and even worse when minors develop drug and alcohol problems.

About Mriana

Mriana is a humanist and the author of "A Source of Misery", who grew up in the Church of God, Anderson Indiana. After she became an adult, she joined the Episcopal Church, but later left the Church and became a humanist. She has two grown sons and raises cats. Mriana raised her sons in the Episcopal Church, but in their teen years, they left the Church and she soon followed. One of her sons became a "Tao Buddhist" and the other a None, creating his own world view. She enjoys writing, reading, science, philosophy, psychology, and other subjects. Mriana is also an animal lover, who cares for their welfare as living beings, who are part of the earth. She is a huge Star Trek fan in a little body.
  • I didn't mention there is also a facebook page for this organization: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Secular-Organizations-for-Sobriety/132728620097886

    As well as Family and Friends support http://www.cfiwest.org/sos/brochures/family.htm

  • Like you, i was drunk only a few times in my twenties and i really did not like the feeling so i avoided a drinking habit. a few years back while going through some difficult domestic circumstances i drank lightly–only lightly but regularly and from memories of that experience it seems, at least for men, that drinking is very often a reaction to stress in the domestic front–men too often hang out till late in public houses when they are not too anxious to go home and face their wives–for whatever reasons (might be financial might be personal relationship problems). As for young unmarried men drinking–much of the drinking i saw in my undergraduate days were boys trying to play grown-up and outdo their mates–though there might in some cases be a complex of other reasons…sigh! i admit that drinking is a complex problem…it very difficult to understand why it grows into an addiction given the unpleasantness of the experience…

  • Since drinking or using is not an option for us, they take whatever steps are necessary to continue our Sobriety Priority lifelong.

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