Our common welfare should come first, personal recovery depends upon SA unity.
The words of Tradition One seem direct and logical. They utter a simple truth. Yet these twelve words are the foundation on which the remaining Traditions—and with them the fellowship—stand.
Tradition One is both the spiritual cornerstone of our fellowship and an indispensable element in each member’s recovery. The unity this Tradition speaks of has many aspects. In the beginning, we are united by our common problem: lust. As we listen to each other share, we realize that, no matter the differences in our forms of acting out, we are all driven by lust. This common problem alone would not create a lasting bond. But just as we have a common problem, we have a common solution: the Twelve Steps of SA, supported, protected, and guided by SA’s Twelve Traditions. It is this common solution that provides the fundamental basis of SA unity. We are first and foremost unified in our goal of sobriety: stopping our acting out behaviors, becoming sexually sober, and experiencing progressive victory over lust. Without sobriety we face a life of hopelessness, fear, and failure. Instead, we are finding progressive victory over lust by embracing and living a common solution.
Sexaholism thrives in isolation, but our desperation brings us together. Recovery begins when we share ourselves honestly with other sexaholics. This sharing is a necessary part of recovery; we need fellowship, or many of us will die spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. The fulcrum upon which the fellowship turns is the SA group. The newcomer needs the group in order to have any chance of arresting the cycle of self-destructive behavior and finding sobriety. And the sober, veteran member must pass recovery on to others in order to keep it. While there are sober members who live in areas without meetings, we have found that, in general, participation in a group is necessary for individual recovery. Loner members, for example, report that participation in phone meetings is extremely helpful. Each member needs the others. Therefore, the interests of the group (the common welfare) are most important, and must take precedence over the personal desires or perceived needs of any individual member.
So we each sacrifice our personal interests to stand united for the common welfare. This common welfare in turn allows each of us to recover. And as our recovery grows, so does our ability to unify in the interest of our group. Our common welfare refers to the health of our group. It depends on unity of the membership and is evident in the actions and the spirit of the group. Do we enthusiastically carry the message and actively welcome newcomers, or are we distracted by other less important matters? Do personality differences get in the way of recovery? Do we gossip? Crosstalk? Are our members active in service? Do we study and apply the Traditions?
How can sexaholics get along with one another and work through disagreements together? Maintaining a spirit of unity among any gathering of strong personalities is challenging––with us even more so, stricken as we have been with selfishness, resentment, and fear. But it is a matter of life or death for us. Unless we adhere to this Tradition, our group will surely fall apart due to conflicting personal agendas. Fortunately, through working the Steps we develop the ability to surrender our own selfish will. As sexaholics, we learn obedience to spiritual principles or risk loss of sobriety. Our recovery and therefore our lives depend on practicing honesty, humility, and service. This vital obedience to spiritual principles is another source of our unity. It invites us to put the interests of our group––our common welfare––first.
This is something new for us. As addicts, we had honed our skills at creating chaos, carping, and picking arguments in a blind effort to obscure the painful truth of the life we were living. Now, awed by the spirit of respect and compassion we find, and humbled by years of pain under the pounding of the addiction, we are open to learning new ways of living. In time, we find that we too can give up some of our ego-drive and become part of a community in recovery. Gradually this willingness transforms into a passion to nourish our new sense of community. Often we had felt like strangers in our own families; how ironic that, in gathering anonymously, we begin to feel at home!
It turns out that our road to freedom is through the group. The bondage of lust destroyed our ability to be the people we were created to be. But we soon discover that the SA program, practiced within the fellowship, enables us to be happy, joyous, and free; we learn to accept and live in reality and to be fully engaged with family, friends, and community.
Yet many things threaten to divide our meetings. It is adherence to the Traditions that protects us from threats to our common welfare such as, dominance by a member, gossip the promotion of religion or politics, affiliating as a fellowship with outside enterprises, taking sides in controversial outside issues, and a harmful debate of our sobriety definition.
We foster and sustain unity primarily by working the Steps; attending meetings, conferences, retreats and group activities. The welfare of our group and our fellowship is enhanced by engaging in service work at every level, by being sponsored and sponsoring others by making and taking telephone calls, working with newcomers, and not monopolizing meeting time. We avoid gossip and demeaning judgmental comments about other members.
How then can we protect the interest of our SA group and keep our common welfare foremost? By studying and applying the Twelve Traditions is the simple answer. The First Tradition assures the survival and growth of our entire fellowship and is the necessary prerequisite for our remaining Traditions. At the same time the other Traditions support Tradition One by promoting and protecting unity.
On a Personal Note
The application of this principle is not limited to the SA group. The First Tradition teaches that the desires or needs of the participants in any relationship must be weighed against their effects on that relationship. It is helpful to ask ourselves if our words and actions promote unity or division. It is no coincidence that an important part of the resolution of any conflict is to find common ground among the individual members. Parties to a dispute usually do not see a problem in the same way and likely don’t agree on every detail of a potential solution. However they often agree on some aspects of both the problem and the solution and on the need for resolution. When looking at the big picture, even while perceiving our differences, we often want the same thing and just don’t agree on how to get there.
Members of SA Share
My first SA group was strange, but since it was my first foray into recovery, I didn’t know it was strange. We were unified around our common problem of sexaholism. There was a welcoming friendly atmosphere with plenty of fellowship. But it was depressing because no one was sober and our sharing was generally focused on the problem rather than the solution; that was all we knew. The good news was we were no longer alone; we were unified. The bad news was we were dying because we didn’t know how to act on behalf of our common welfare.
Two of us went to an International Convention and found sponsors from out of town who had been sober for several years. We began to work the Steps. As we shared in the meeting about our experiences working the Steps with our sponsors, things began to change. Other members heard something that they wanted. We sponsored some of them and they sponsored more. Today God has given us a group that is unified around our common solution. We have learned that it is not enough to be unified; we must place our common welfare first.
After extended deliberation and some controversy, the General Delegate Assembly reached a unanimous decision on an important issue. I had developed strong opinions on this particular issue which disagreed with the decision. I was troubled. In order to remain a member of SA, I felt I would have to support this decision even though I disagreed. But how could I support something I was at odds with? I couldn’t see my way.
In the past, in other organizations, I would have worked behind the scenes to reverse the decision. Driven by resentment and pride, I would have stirred things up and tried to get my way at any cost. I knew that wouldn’t work now. That kind of thinking and behavior would likely cost me my sobriety. I felt like I had to choose––stay and support SA, or leave. I needed to find a third path.
I began to turn my will and life over to God. I did inventory and shared with my sponsor. As I prayed, meditated, and worked through my feelings, I began to see a bigger picture. I realized that my recovery is more important than my opinion on any particular issue. My opinion may change over time but my need for recovery will not. I need SA more than I need to be right.
The Assembly’s unanimous decision came out of a legitimate group conscience process. I discovered that I could support it without agreeing with it. I can have my opinion, while still affirming the larger principle of SA unity.
I was elected Delegate from my region. When I went to the first meeting I was taken aback. It felt like chaos to me. The Delegates seemed to fight among themselves. When a motion was placed on the floor, there was constant arguing rather than the unity I expected. It felt like it was about being right. I was confused and disappointed.
I went to my room during the break and called my sponsor. I said, "I am leaving this crazy meeting; there is no God here, just chaos and total lack of order." She replied, "No. You were elected to serve. Now go and listen. God will show you when to speak."
So I went to the afternoon session. When it was my turn to speak, God opened my heart, and I shared my frustration. Others listened and we prayed together. The mood changed and for the rest of the afternoon it felt different. The next day there was order––no cross talk, and no chaos. Without arguing, we went through the agenda quickly and were finished by lunchtime. Everyone was smiling and talking with each other. It was no longer about “me;” it had changed to “we.”
As I worked through the Steps, whether doing inventory or making amends, I was taught to focus on my own mistakes rather than the shortcomings of others. My sponsor told me a hundred times, “It’s not them.”
Applying Tradition One, I learn to look past my differences with others to find the common ground. We are all broken human beings. As my sponsor says, “There’s not a nickel’s worth of difference between any of us.” This spirit of unity is the essence of healthy relationships.
Just like all the Steps, the First Tradition begins with the word 'Our'. Although I am in SA for my own recovery, I am also a part of a group. So, according to this Tradition, I must be more concerned about the welfare of the group than about my welfare. This is maybe the first real challenge the Traditions have for me: to get out of my head, thinking that I am the center, and look to a larger concern.
The concept of common welfare is very important to me in part because of an experience that my home group had that made me cautious about unity acting in a vacuum. There had been a clash of personalities between two people, and one of them took it upon themselves to push a group conscious that would 'expel' the other person from the group. They had come to an agreement, and were ready to act on it. So there was unity, but it was not for the common welfare, even of those who agreed. Such an action would have affected their own growth and that of the group in addition to the other fellow. Several of us interrupted the process. We helped the members see that we had to learn how to resolve such issues, so that SA would always be a safe place for anyone who wanted help with sexual addiction.
So, even unity by itself is not enough. It must be directed in the interest of our common welfare. When we focus on the problem, it can be too much about “me”, but when we focus on the solution, we will have our common welfare at heart.
As I learn about the First Tradition, I hear an echo of the surrender that I have begun to learn while working the Steps.
When I recently began a new Fourth Step, I found surrender lacking. I wrote on and on for each resentment. I was driven partly by my desire to be rid of the heavy baggage of my past. But I also liked the idea of showcasing my self-awareness and analytical prowess. Of course my sponsor saw through it. When I proudly showed off my pages and pages of disclosures and analysis to him, he simply gave me a puzzled look and said, “What I asked you to do is much simpler.” My ego does not do well with simple.
Applying the First Tradition, I subordinate my personal desires and ambitions for the good of the group––the same challenge, surrender. My disease wants to dominate the discussion and impress everyone with my wise and insightful opinions. My ego does not want to be squeezed into the Traditions. But I am a sexaholic and if I identify with the problem, I also must accept the solution. By surrendering to the solution, I am discovering parts of myself that I never could have found by doing it my own way.
Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (AA)
Tradition One 129-31
Long Form 189
Questions to Consider
Am I respectful of other people’s views?
Am I more interested in unity or in getting things my way?
Am I longwinded in meetings?
Do I share about outside issues that distract from recovery?
How am I divisive? For example am I critical, teasing, judgmental, argumentative, pessimistic, overly sensitive, or abrasive?
Do I listen to others?
Am I flexible and willing to change?
What is our common welfare?
How does Tradition One help me and my group carry the message to the sexaholic who still suffers?
Do I talk with newcomers or just with my friends?
How can I live this Tradition in my SA group?
How does this Tradition apply to the other groups in my life such as my family?