In this episode Tara talks with Andrew S, the men's Executive Director for SAL 12 Step and a recovering addict. Andrew explains what someone can expect when they attend a 12 Step Meeting, and how SAL's 12 Step differs from other programs. Tara and Andrew discuss spiritual connection, one of the pieces in our Recovery Puzzle. How does a relationship with the God of your understanding help in recovery work? Listen to find out more.Support the show
SAL 12-Step for the Addicted w/ Andrew S
Tara: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Pathway to Recovery podcast. I'm your host, Tara McCausland, and I have here with me today a very special guest. And I'm going to let you introduce yourself, Andrew. We're going to do this a little bit differently than we normally do with an expert, an expert episode. So go for it, Andrew.
Andrew: Great. Thank you, Tara. And thanks for having me, first and foremost. My name is Andrew [00:01:00] Schmucker. I am the Men's Executive Director for 12 Step. I am also a gratefully recovering sex addict and a son of God and through His grace I am able to work this program.
Tara: And I have to say that I am extremely grateful for Andrew and his great wife, Jan, who both serve in leadership positions in our SAL 12 step program. They are both phenomenal people and great examples of recovery and that recovery works when we work it. So today we'll actually be diving into one of the four pillars in our recovery puzzle with SAL 12 step. It formally said in our older Recovery Puzzle that we would seek spiritual connection working SAL 12 step and we've since changed it a little bit.
Spiritual connection is one of our inner puzzle pieces now, part of the heart and mind pieces. And [00:02:00] so we're going to address that a little bit today, but talk also specifically about how SAL 12 step functions, how it's different from other 12 step programs. And Andrew, because he is a leader in our program, he knows a lot about the program, but because he's also worked recovery, he's going to touch on how it's influenced and impacted him in his personal recovery work. So I'm really excited about this conversation today, Andrew. And again, thank you for your service. We couldn't do without you.
Andrew: Thank you again. Also Tara, for your service and your time and putting this podcast together and all the work that you do within the foundation.
Tara: So one of the things that I think is really critical in this discussion, Andrew, is even asking the question, “Why does 12 step work for the addicted in the first place?” I think a lot of people might feel like they can go on their own or feel like maybe qualified [00:03:00] therapy is adequate to heal from sexual addiction.
But what is your experience as a recovering addict and as someone who has worked with other addicts? Why is 12 step important? Why is it effective, or is it?
Andrew: Yeah. I can only speak from my experience and I can tell you that I tried it on my own. “I've got this, I can handle this. I can get through it. I can stop my sexually acting out,” and I found that I couldn't. Then I felt, “I can do it through therapy.” And the first therapist that I ever went through told me, [he] basically dismissed it and said, “This is natural, everybody does it. You just got caught.” So that obviously did not work for me.
When I first had my first experience in 12 step meetings, it was more of a, “Okay, you've got to try [00:04:00] something else.” I'm being told, “You've got to try something else.” My spouse, who I had betrayed, kind of pushed me into it. “You've got to do something, try this,” and I went in very skeptical until it finally took hold in me.
12 Step gave me the community that I needed rather than just somebody listening to me and telling me that I was okay or that it was wrong what I was doing. But finding the community of men in the same situation that have experiences and that are broken, I've seen many men come through the program that were broken and our different men today. Some that I've seen that were rock bottom are now serving in positions of leadership within the program both as sponsors, as moderators or even as directors.
So we know that it works. I know [00:05:00] that it works and it has worked for me. I couldn't find any better way to come to recovery except through the 12 step program.
Tara: I know in the AA traditions, in their literature, they talk about how there's really no one better to help an alcoholic than another alcoholic. And I think that's kind of where we're coming from, in that we recognize that there is unique power in a fellow helping a fellow who has been down that same path. Someone who has had the experience of pulling themselves, well, not pulling themselves out of the rut, but with the God of their understanding. Admitting the powerlessness and recognizing that was the golden doorway of hope that really did make all the difference in their recovery
Andrew: Absolutely. I have to agree with that. And, a sexual addiction is very shameful. I have been taught [that] you have fidelity with [00:06:00] your spouse, that cheating is not an option.
And so it's difficult to talk to anybody about it, but when you go to a 12 step meeting, you hear the stories of other men that are doing the same thing that you have done and seeking recovery the same as you. That community, that's what has worked for me mostly.
Tara: Yes. And we see that there is great power in connection. I've heard that the opposite of addiction is connection and often we can't find that connection in our broken marriage or with people who don't understand what we've experienced. But in a 12 step room, we are among people who understand from a very deep place.
And so we'll get to overcoming some of the hurdles and stepping into the rooms of recovery in a little bit. But I'm also curious because we do feel that 12 step is a unique program that can help us or aid us in our spiritual connection with God.
Can you tell us a little bit [00:07:00] about your personal experience with that and viewing other men in the program also having that experience?
Andrew: Yeah, I've always believed in God. I've always worked to serve in my faith's tradition. So God was never, the concept of God or a higher power was never foreign to me. But what was foreign to me was letting go and letting God. That took some doing, the surrender process. And I have a story that I tell quite often and I call it “The couch in the hallway.”
What happened when my wife and I became empty nesters is we decided to turn one of the bedrooms on the upper level of our house into a sitting room. And we wanted to put a couch up there and the hallway was narrow and I tried to carry this couch up with my son and we [00:08:00] just couldn't get it in there and we tried and we tried for about an hour and the couch got stuck.
It was stuck in the hallway, and there it sat for two weeks, and occasionally I would go up and look at it and could not figure out what to do. Well, one morning, early in the morning when I couldn't sleep, lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I saw in my mind's eye exactly what needed to be done to get that couch into that bedroom.
And I went up the next day, I called my son, he came over, we moved that couch within a minute. Got it unstuck, got it turned, and got it into the bedroom. I learned at that moment that, “I don't got this, I can't do it myself.” And that I listened to the promptings of God, to me that was a spiritual experience and it worked. I let God take care of it, and it worked.
Tara: [00:09:00] I love it. It was with something as mundane as a couch. If God could inspire you to figure out how to shift that couch just right to get it out of that doorway, how much more is he going to be interested in helping you recover from the effects of sexual addiction? And to help you repair your marriage? And so I love that example even more just because of the simplicity of that situation comparatively, right?
Andrew: Yes, exactly. He is a loving God and He wants all of his children to have His help and to let him help. That's why he's there, he's there for us. And He’ll do anything that we ask, just like a parent here on earth. I mean, you have children, I have children. I would do anything for them. And God is the same way. He wants to help us.
Tara: Just [00:10:00] to kind of close out that thought about how 12 step aids in our spiritual connection with the God of our understanding - I have recognized over the years that religiosity is not necessarily synonymous with connection with God. They should be paired, but oftentimes the outward observance of our faith tradition, going to church, fulfilling our responsibilities, may not connect us with God.
It's really in the quiet moments where no one is watching that we must reach out to God and find that connection. Especially in moments of distress or overwhelm where we have the opportunity to surrender to God and stop trying to be our own God and put God back into our center. And so that's something that 12 step has taught me.
And I'm grateful that it almost dumbed it down for me. [00:11:00] Taking it from platitudes to, “How do I really connect with God on a day to day basis?” And so, I am grateful for the 12 step program for that reason, personally.
Andrew: And I have heard men say that 12 step, for them, is the pathway to God just as much as it is the work of recovery from an addiction, but it's the pathway to get them to God.
Tara: So there are many 12 step programs out there and we have great admiration for any group that is seeking God within these rooms, but what makes SAL 12 step different from other 12 step groups?
Andrew: In SAL 12 step, our meetings are set up gender specific. It would be very difficult for a man seeking recovery from a sexual addiction to have a woman come to the meetings that also may identify [00:12:00] as a sexual addict. That's like...you know, putting gas on a fire. So we are gender specific.
We are also trauma sensitive. I know that I have severely traumatized my wife with my sexual addiction and my sexually acting out and I need to be sensitive to that. And we teach that in our meetings and in our rooms of recovery. We are sensitive to our spouses and the trauma that we have inflicted.
We also make sure that we pray. We pray in our meetings to the God, whichever God you believe in, whichever higher power you believe in, we have prayers to that higher power. If your God is not the same as mine, I grow from hearing a prayer to your God as much as I do saying a prayer to mine.
These are some of the [00:13:00] things that are different from other 12 step programs.
Tara: Thank you. And when we talk about the betrayed side, we also like to really emphasize the fact that we are trauma sensitive and we recognize that trauma is something that's really a part of both experiences, that often addiction has been driven by trauma in many ways.
We are also sponsor essential. Some 12 step groups don't use sponsorship and Andrew, can you maybe speak to that for a second, why sponsors are so critical in the 12 step program?
Andrew: Again, I can't do it alone. My work in recovery with the sponsor has been somebody that I can contact in times of difficulty, somebody that can help me work my steps. I can't work my steps alone. I have to sometimes be pushed to actually do the work. I find [00:14:00] that even around the house, sometimes my wife has to push me to get the “honey- do list” [done]. Sponsors are kind of the same way for me.
I can reach out, I can say I'm struggling with this concept and the sponsor can help shed some light or help me shed the light on the issue myself. Sponsors are critical. That connection with somebody that you can trust, whose message resonates with you is very helpful in recovery and it helps to work the program.
Tara: Yes. I see sponsorship as being like where the rubber really meets the road, right? We are very much advocates here at SA Lifeline of qualified therapy and recognize the value and importance of that. But in the day-to-day grind of recovery, when you're triggered, when you're feeling disconnected, making a call to a sponsor can make all the difference in the world. We're really grateful for great [00:15:00] sponsors here within our program. And again, for those working other programs who help their fellows along this path, because it is not an easy path. But when we're journeying together it makes it much easier.
So what can we expect in our first meeting? I know that getting into the first meeting can be really challenging for people, so knowing what to expect might help. Can you tell us about the structure of our meetings, Andrew?
Andrew: Yes, thank you. You are correct. Picking up that phone for the first time, it's like 500 pounds. You can barely get a lift, and it's the same with going into a meeting.
Many men hesitate walking in a meeting because they don't want to be labeled as a sex addict or they don't know what to expect. So in our meetings we start with some opening readings. We, as I mentioned before, we start with a prayer. We do introductions, then we move into our step [00:16:00] study, and we read from the works, the books of recovery including the AA Big Book and other books and papers that are helpful.
From there, we go into sharing, where each person, if they want, will talk a little bit about what they're dealing with or some experiences in the different steps with recovery. And then we close the meeting with some prayers, with some more readings. And that's what you [can] expect. That’s the structure of the meeting.
One thing that's key to understanding is that everybody in that room has been in your place as a newcomer. Everybody in that room is going through the same types of experiences as you are, so there's no judgment. It's judgment free.
You will [00:17:00] experience the warmth and the connection and you'll feel welcome. We have people from all walks of life and you will feel welcome. Those that have good recovery capital in the meetings are very welcoming to a new person.
Those meetings are strong and hopefully you will keep coming back, because you may not understand it to begin with. You may hear some things that you don't get, but the more you come back, the more you will understand and the more comfortable you become in attending meetings and taking part.
Tara: When we're trying to make a change, it's going to take time for things to settle in. And so in order to get over those initial hurdles, being brave initially, but then being committed to the process. That's one of our heart and mind inner pieces of our recovery puzzle. We have to be committed [00:18:00] to doing things differently and going to 12 step meetings and making that a part of your week, of your month.
That's a shift and does take commitment. But I love how you said, Andrew, that there's really no place that you could go where you will experience that kind of acceptance and understanding. And so hopefully hearing that, if you're unfamiliar with SAL 12 step, that might give you some courage and motivation to come and join.
Andrew: Some men need to be dragged in. I constantly read the story of a fellow who sat in the parking lot in his car until somebody came and knocked on his window and said, “I'll walk you in.” You just need to find the courage to do it, just to walk through that door and that door will be open for you. And like me and it's been [00:19:00] this way for many, many years - I don't want to walk out that door. I wish I could stay in that meeting my whole life. But unfortunately, I have to go to work.
Tara: Well, and one other thing to note, as you were talking about the structure of our meetings, is that we have our moderators read from scripts. And so whenever you go to an SAL 12 step meeting, whether you're going in person or online, you can expect a familiar experience. Right, Andrew? And that's helpful.
So, when you go to an SAL 12 step meeting, you can expect a familiar experience, whether you're in Alaska or an online meeting.
Andrew: Yes. Consistency in our meetings is key. I attend many meetings, some regularly, some occasionally, and I get the same experience wherever I go. And I feel just as welcome wherever I go.
Tara: Can you think of any other hurdles that people have to get over [00:20:00] to step into that room, Andrew, and stay in that room?
Andrew: Yeah, the biggest hurdle is fear. “What am I going to find coming into this room”? And, courage helps us overcome fear. And so the biggest hurdle is just getting there.
Tara: We often hear “work the program,” “work the program,” but I'm curious, what do you think it really means to work the program? Is it just going to meetings or what does that mean to you?
Andrew: No, it's more than going to meetings, it's you doing your individual work on your own time at home. For me, that means some time in the scriptures, that means prayer, that means meditation, that means getting the book. And whichever step I happen to be working on at the time, studying that step and studying what it means, and then cross referencing and finding [00:21:00] other references.
You can find answers. You can find answers to things that might trigger you, things that might puzzle you. All the answers are there for you. And that's what working the program is. And then helping others find what you have found. Many times I hear men tell me, “I want what that guy's got.”
They see somebody in these meetings that are just so full of recovery and they say, “I want what that guy's got.” And anybody there is going to help you, to get that. And that's what working the program is.
Tara: So if somebody is just going to a meeting maybe once, twice a month, they're never calling their sponsor, they're not doing any 12 step work on their own time, what can you expect from that type of effort?
Andrew: I say, “Congratulations, you're going to be a sex addict the [00:22:00] rest of your life, and you will never find sobriety or recovery that you think that you want.”
Tara: Yes, those are bold words, Andrew. I think that sometimes we think a half hearted attempt, we want it to be enough. But I know that when my dad, after his third round, his third disclosure, he wanted recovery like he wanted to breathe is how I've heard him say it and talk about it.
And so he would drive the 45 minutes to the meeting every week. And he would call his sponsor. I don't know about his 12 step work, but I know in listening to my father that that was really what shifted things for him, that he wanted recovery enough that he would be committed enough to sacrifice and make it to those meetings and call his sponsor. Do those surrenders.
And so [00:23:00] my encouragement is always, “If you want it then prioritize it.” And I often hear people say, I used to be a life coach back in the day and I would hear people talk about, “Well, I want to lose weight” or “I want to be better at managing my money,” and then I would hear the excuse follow.
And then I would always follow the excuse with, “We make time for what matters to us.” So there's always time if it's a priority and that's a part of the commitment piece in our recovery puzzle.
Andrew: I will say that it's easier to stay in your addiction than it is to get out of it. And so you just have to get to that point where you want out. My life was hell when I was actively acting out in my addiction. It's what I was used to. So you [have to] really want to get out. It's easier to stay in than it is to get out, [00:24:00] but it's sure worth it to get out.
Tara: I love that. And that also brings to mind something that I've heard my father, Stephen, say which is, sometimes we have this tendency to back away slowly from hell rather than turn and run towards heaven.
And I, as you said that, it just sparked that memory of him saying that - that recovery is possible. We can attest to that, those of us who have been in this world and in recovery work for a while. It works when we work it, but only we can answer the question of, “Am I willing? Do I have that willing heart enough? Am I committed enough to do the work required to humble myself and just do the work?”
So thank you. Before we close out with a couple of questions here that we always close out with, we have a few FAQs about SAL that I thought might be helpful [to answer].
Sometimes we get questions about why don't we [00:25:00] have a men's meeting for betrayed men. Do you want to answer that really quickly, Andrew?
Andrew: Yeah, we would love to have a men's meeting for betrayed men and we'd love to have an addiction recovery meeting for female addicts. The reason that we don't is because we don't have enough people to maintain a meeting, people that are willing to come.
If you are a betrayed man, come to us, we'll work to get meetings set up if you can find other like-minded people or others that are betrayed. And it's the same with a woman's sexual addiction meeting. Come to us, we're happy to help you get a meeting set up. But we need to have enough people to maintain and sustain such a meeting.
Tara: Excellent. Thank you. And that really is our hope. We hope to broaden our [00:26:00] reach and help more people who are in need of support, but we can't do that without people who are working their own recovery in these 12 step programs. And recovery capital is a big thing that we talk about, right, Andrew? This concept of recovery capital, could you define that and how do we build recovery capital in our meetings?
Andrew: Recovery capital is key to the meetings because without sobriety, you have nothing to offer anybody. The more sobriety you get builds on the recovery capital. If I don't have sobriety, I can't contribute to a meeting.
So the more you come to meetings, the more recovery capital you're going to gain as you're working the program. You're going to see the growth of those around you and that's recovery capital. And that makes it a good functioning, effective meeting.
Tara: Well, thank you so much, Andrew. It's really been a treat [00:27:00] to talk to you about this. We here at SA Lifeline and just to clarify, SA Lifeline is the public face, the non profit 501c3 part of the organization where we really focus on education. SAL 12 step is a subset of SA Lifeline and is anonymous and is led by great people like Andrew.
And we'll hear later from Kahi, who has been with the foundation for a number of years. And we could not function without Andrew and other great people like him who are so willing to give of their time. So thank you again, Andrew, for being willing to offer your recovery capital, your strength and hope and experience so that others, your fellows, may heal and recover as well.
Andrew: And thank you, Tara, also for this opportunity. This is part of my work of recovery, being able to reach out and to [00:28:00] help others. That's step 12. And so it's a big part of helping me maintain my recovery and my work of recovery. So thank you again for this opportunity.
Tara: And before I let you go, we always have to ask these final questions, which are first, “What would you tell a newcomer, someone that's just stepping onto the path of recovery?”
And then the follow up question is, “What would you tell someone that's been doing this for a while?”
Andrew: Okay, first I would say, come. Just come. Just give us a chance. Give it a try and you'll want to continue.
Somebody that's been doing it for a long time, hopefully your mindset is that you're going to be doing it until you're safely in the grave. Because it works, and you know that you're worth it. So keep coming back. It works when you work it, and you are worth it.
Tara: Awesome. Thank you, Andrew. Thanks for taking the time with me today.
Andrew: Great. Thank you. [00:30:00]