is based on 3 key principles – sobriety, self-help and secularity.
By sobriety we mean total abstinence from alcohol and all
mind-altering drugs. It is self-help, in that we support our recovery
through the collective wisdom and support of fellow recoverers, and
not through the leadership of paid professionals. SOS is secular in
that we are not based on religious ideas. We respect and welcome
religious people, but religious issues cannot be part of SOS meetings
and are considered to be a private issue, much in the way that other
support groups, such as for cancer or trauma patients, also do not
make religious beliefs a basis for their meetings or methods.
tends to take a rational, scientific view of addiction, (though
members are free to see it otherwise) and we seek out scientific
research and medical explanations and welcome professional efforts to
help recovery. SOS members whether secular or spiritual find such an
approach helpful, just as one might when faced with any other illness.
self-empowerment is the “philosophical”
foundation of SOS. We know that the individual can achieve successful
recovery from addictions and lifelong abstinence through self-control
and independence. SOS fosters self-reliance and the development of a
personal, internal locus of power developed largely through rational,
cognitive methods. The SOS group and members share experiences,
successes, failures and ideas, which supply the recovery tools and a
strong supportive atmosphere to allow the individual to find their
most suitable path to sobriety.
SOS “SPIRIT” & TRADITIONS
“spirit” of SOS might be summarized as one of empathy, solidarity,
tolerance, openness, honesty and trust. Just as our focus is on
creating an internal locus of control for the individual, so our
organization must be based on voluntary self-discipline and
cooperation. SOS, therefore, lacks stringent controls, inspectors,
sponsors or hidden hierarchies. Just as the recovering person needs to
be open and honest with her or himself, so must the organization be
free of cliques, secret plans, schemes or hidden agendas. For
the individual, dishonesty and concealment make for unhealthy recovery
and can similarly create an unhealthy organization. There is ample
room and suppleness in SOS for members to form and experiment with
different structures, formats and ideas without the need for the
artificial fabrication of cliques or empire building.
SOBRIETY" - COMFORTABLE GROUPS
aim is to achieve a “comfortable sobriety” and flowing from this a
“comfortable” organization for safe secular recovery. By
“comfortable sobriety” we do not mean complacency or lack
of vigilance toward relapse, but a level of recovery where the desire
to drink or use, or the need to constantly combat urges and cravings
disappears. Life without drink or drugs, then becomes a more
"comfortable sobriety", more akin to the lifestyle of a
non-alcoholic person who is abstinent out of personal choice.
Likewise, the character of SOS meetings also needs to be
"comfortable" in the sense of being vigilant about the
threat of relapse, but at the same time, avoiding the sort of "tut-tut",
finger-wagging, judgmental tone found in some recovery groups, which
suffocates free expression and healthy discussion and makes the
meeting experience often tense edgy and unpleasant. We don't
patronize members. We treat each other as adults in charge of our own
fate. We give feedback, cross talk, share experiences and then members
take or discard what they feel is valuable for them.
internal atmosphere is one of serious, positive, friendly discussion,
cross talk and debate. We enjoy healthy differences of opinion and the
right to follow different paths, within the boundaries of abstinence.
We consider it up to the individual to choose for themselves what they
agree or disagree with, and what suits them best in maintaining
sobriety. This is another reason, why we do not have sponsors, such as
the 12 Step programs, or employ professional services in meetings
(though members are quite free to take private medical and therapeutic
counseling and are advised to do so for detoxification and mental
health problems). At the same time, however, we do maintain a very
friendly and close relationship with the professional recovery sector,
whose work and comments are always welcome.
finances, all local SOS groups are entirely self-financing through the
voluntary contributions of members. SOS does have a close historical
connection to the Humanist organization, which helped to get SOS
started and publicized. Jim Christopher (the SOS Founder) works for
the Humanists and it continues to help fund our International Clearing
House in Los Angeles. However, in practice the Humanists have no
“political” control over the ideas, practices and methods of SOS
groups and have never attempted to interfere with SOS, which functions
as a loose association of autonomous groups around the world.
the beginning of sobriety people need as many meetings and supportive
contacts as possible. SOS members mostly meet weekly and share
telephone and email information and also get together informally.
Where there are not enough local SOS meetings, newly sober members
often also visit AA or other 12 Step meetings. Another very good
secular alternative for women is “Women for Sobriety”. Indeed,
being very active in self-help groups in early sobriety is crucial to
avoiding relapse. Furthermore, as an “activist”, with
responsibilities, structure and schedules, one also begins to learn
and practice important skills for dealing with social and work
situations outside of the supportive group. The newly sober person
begins to test her or himself, grows in self-confidence and knows
again what it is to live with a sense of purpose beyond the next drink
or fix. Consequently, and as seems appropriate, new members in SOS are
encouraged to volunteer for responsibilities and tasks they feel
capable of carrying out and can be helped with.
a unique feature of SOS is that after 2,3 or 5 years many members feel
confident and sufficiently self-empowered to reduce the amount of SOS
activity and the frequency of their attendance at meetings. Many stop
coming to group all together for years, without feeling their sobriety
to be threatened. SOS has no problem with this and has seen so many
members succeed in "internalizing" their sobriety that we do
not adopt the attitude that "you will be coming to meetings each
week for the rest of your lives", lest you will relapse, die or
transmute into some putrid, green gargoyle.
welcomes people being as active as they feel appropriate to themselves
at different times. There are many long-term SOS members who play a
very full and absolutely invaluable role in helping newer members.
But, at a the same time, we do not pass judgment on anyone who plays
less of a role either.
also try to guard against tendencies to become obsessive about
activism, organizing, structures and constitutions. This is because we
realize that as addicts, we are always in danger of substituting one
addiction for another and we do not wish our members to develop an
unhealthy "obsession" about SOS. Getting sober is about getting
“Get Real, Get a Life!”
is part of the process of recovery and SOS is simply a tool to help us
get back to “hacking it” in the real world.
AND THE WEB
same approach applies to our Internet sites and on-line meetings and
activities. The Web is a wonderful instrument for learning about
addiction, discovering sobriety tools and keeping in contact with
fellow recoverers. It is especially useful in times of crisis and
where an individual is geographically isolated.
Every SOS group should think about establishing a local, regional or
national web site to attract new members looking for local meetings
and contact information. Ideas, approaches, tools and techniques can
then be swapped and spread through links worldwide.
However, “web addiction” is a very real phenomenon and SOS
believes that the Web should only be seen as one sobriety tool, among
many. We should try not allow it to become our main or only tool.
Sobriety by electronic letters or telephonic internet is no substitute
for the value of real face-to-face human contact in recovery. Written
communication is never as comprehensive as the physical. Scientists
have proven that 93% of our communication is non-verbal, i.e., through
body language and voice tone, expression, etc. "Skin"
meetings are the only place where we can really communicate and fully
express our true feelings, and where true feedback can be gained by
other members picking up on the messages expressed beyond the content
of the actual words spoken. In this way our web sites and on-line
meetings are a great adjunct to SOS and recovery, but should serve
only to compliment or help establish actual physical meetings.
SOBRIETY BEFORE ORGANIZATIONAL FETISHISM
SOS organization issues flow from the 3 “Ss” ( Sobriety, Self-help
and Secularity) and the self-empowerment approach and free thought
spirit explained above. For SOS
organizational questions are neither an obsession nor a fetish.
Organization and structures are not an abstract issue to be debated
like students of the US constitution in university seminar rooms. We
are a rational organization, which takes a pragmatic attitude toward
recovery. We do whatever works to achieve sobriety and we organize in
whatever ways suit us to stay that way. Consequently, the forms and
structures, which SOS takes are created and developed purely in order
to better facilitate the successful recovery of individuals in a safe,
self-help and non-religious environment.
these reasons, SOS does not model itself upon, or compare itself to,
any other forms of organization, be they religious, political or
social. While we are always open to learning from the organizational
features of other groups, we, nevertheless, strongly affirm the unique
organizational character of SOS as a self-help, sobriety organization,
with its own distinctive forms of organization and structures. In
fact, the SOS organization is nothing more than a sobriety tool.
To be effective for the varied requirements of its members, SOS
is flexible, versatile and adaptable. Indeed, this approach to
organization flows directly from our flexibility toward the
individual’s need to find his or her own recovery paths, tools and
methods for achieving abstinence. Furthermore, and very importantly,
we are open to all people regardless of gender, age, race, color,
creed, beliefs or sexual orientation and oppose any manifestation of
prejudices on these issues in our ranks
SOS we recognize the uniqueness of every individual and the need of
each person to have both a clear foundation for sustaining sobriety (3
S’s) and, at the same time, be able to enjoy an atmosphere and
environment where they feel both safe and free to experiment and
choose between different sobriety tools, in order to find an approach,
which suits them best. In his Jim C’s book “Unhooked” SOS member
Janis.G. wrote the following
"Some people find the lack of spirituality (in SOS) also means a
lack of structure, of any clearly laid-out program, which seems to
them to be antithetical to recovery. Yet for me and many others it is
just this amorphous nature of SOS that offers great challenge and
flexibility and personal freedom"
SOS is a free-thought forum, in which different methods, approaches,
ideas and concepts are welcomed and debated, so long as they are not
part of a dogmatic attempt by an individual to convert or brainwash
members in favor of any particular doctrine, religious belief,
political view or any other particular set of opinions. SOS meetings
are secular in that they consider religious, political and other
matters to be private matters and not part of the group business or
accordance with this, the forms of organization, which the structures
of SOS will take at a local, regional, national or international level
can be different according to the collective needs of the groups of
people involved. The SOS style of organization is extremely flexible,
adaptable and versatile, while at the same time being firmly rooted
and uncompromising on the need for sobriety, self-help and secularity.
has no "mission" as such and does not see itself as a
SOS simply aims to provide a safe, secular framework and
foundation for recovery. At its inception Jim Christopher made it
quite clear that SOS is not “THE WAY”, but “a way”.
There are other ways to get and stay sober. Within SOS a variety of
secular alternatives are available, alongside the tried and tested SOS
approaches, such as the “Sobriety Priority” and “Closing the
is not in competition with or opposed to other recovery organizations.
We welcome diversity and choice. Where appropriate we organize joint
activities or invite speakers from other recovery groups, if members
wish and we feel it contributes to enriches their recovery options. At
the same time, we have no interest in spending time criticizing,
politicking or conducting sterile polemics with other groups.
Furthermore, we are only interested in groups which, like ourselves
are firmly based on total abstinence and do not recommend those which
is important to be clear that SOS is not any form of social movement
or “political” cause. We are not on any “crusade” and we do
not aim to create any sort of "mass secular social
movement". Entertaining any such sect-like delusions is harmful
and deflects the organization away from its primary focus which is
helping individuals to get and stay sober.
do wish to build and expand SOS, because new members and groups bring
with them more ideas and approaches which can help other groups in
different towns, states and countries stay sober. But, at the same
time, we like to keep our feet firmly on the ground and maintain a
sense of perspective about who and what we are. The average member is
rightly just concerned about staying sober and having a weekly meeting
to attend. Of course, should a SOS group spring up in Ulaanbaatar or
SOS suddenly spread across all the countries of Latin American, we
would be very excited and happy. But the key for SOS still remains the
healthy recovery of the individual member and not activities aimed at
the creation of phantom armies.
not use the
to start a discussion in your group?
& STRONG SELF-EMPOWERED
is an amorphous and loose organization and proudly so! It is a
voluntary association of self-supporting, secular and autonomous
self-help groups. It can be described as a highly decentralized
democracy, held together by the voluntary wishes of its members. SOS
groups are free to use different names and variations on names, pursue
alternative agendas and adopt a wide variety of methods and approaches
to sobriety as their members see fit. Such autonomy for local groups
flows naturally from our emphasis on the freedom of the individual
member to seek out her or his own road to abstinent living. Just as we
advocate self-empowerment for the individual, so we do so for the
local groups. Each group should aim to become a self-empowered, self-
reliant entity, with its own unique features and locus of control.
Groups should aim to produce their own material, pamphlets, fliers,
publicity, education, links to recovery facilities and other social
International Clearing House provides guidelines for this and
circulates the ideas, material and practices of groups around to other
meetings, so we may share what we want. Being linked to the wider SOS
organization in these activities obviously supplies us with recovery
methods, as well as, helping us exploit the respect and reputation SOS
has in the recovery movement internationally. Groups then often come
together for common meetings on a city wide, regional, national and
international basis to share and learn from one another.
This helps to nurture a more creative and fertile environment for the
discovery of new methods, tools and approaches to recovery. SOS
operates bottom up, with local groups developing, publishing and
disseminating their approaches and ideas to be disseminated
horizontally across the organization.
highly decentralized, autonomous, self-empowered group form of
organization makes SOS unique from all other recovery organizations,
both religious and secular. Again it stems from our approach to the
individual, which emphasizes our confidence in the capacity of the
person to achieve his or her own recovery. We, likewise, have the same
confidence in the ability of local groups to take care of and develop
themselves, and to seek help and guidance from other groups and the
International Clearing House, much in the same way as an individual
does when seeking guidance from the local meeting. All SOS groups
should be self-reliant, self-organizing, self-financing and
self-directing. Just like the individual member, local SOS groups
should be independent of any “Higher Power”, be it a spiritual
thing, an organizational structure or a leading personality.
foundations of secular sobriety are suggested from the International
Clearing House, but individuals and groups are quite free to take or
leave what they wish, so long as they follow the fundamental
principles of secularity, self-help and sobriety. The SOS
International Clearing House never attempts to enforce rigid rules and
practices upon the local organizations. As Jim C puts it in his book
SOS Sobriety - The Proven Alternative to 12 Steps
"The SOS International Clearing House does not dictate
policy to...free, autonomous, grass-roots SOS self-help groups "
The Clearing House acts purely as a facilitating office, helping to
inform and co-ordinate the work of existing groups, giving advice
where necessary and encouraging and helping new groups to form. SOS
explicitly wishes to avoid the creation of a strong, centralized,
professional and bureaucratic apparatus or center.
believes these features are vitally important in helping to protect
our organization from becoming any sort of sect. Many people leave AA
and other groups to join SOS, because they are repelled by the
sect-like character of the meetings and organization. It is precisely
in order to guard against the creation of a sect, be it religious or
secular that SOS purposely lacks rigid structures, emphasizes
self-empowerment and insists on an atmosphere of free thought. We
recognize that newly sober people are especially vulnerable to sects,
gurus and charismatic leaders, and that the person in early recovery
has a very fragile sense of the new sober self which can be easily
replaced by the “sect-self”, (a characteristic aim of all cults
and sects). SOS provides a forum for the recovering person to find
their own “self”. We are, therefore, highly skeptical of people
who set themselves up as leaders, show us “the way”, or come forth
bearing gifts of organizational panaceas for sobriety.
his book “Recovery Without Religion” Jim Christopher gives this
warning to recovering people,
"Gullibility is pathetic at any stage of the game and
I've been duped on occasion like most folks. One is especially
susceptible in early sobriety. Gurus come out of the woodwork
exploiting one's vulnerability and gullibility"
"As with the sobriety priority, healthy skepticism and
rational thinking never go on automatic pilot........steer clear of
quick-fix artists...An aware skeptic is less apt to be duped or
Unfortunately, people who join sects never realize or admit that they
are doing so and refuse to see the reality of it . This can be very
dangerous. As Jim C warns
"Avoidance of reality not only stunts an alcoholic's
emotional growth, it puts him or her in real danger of drinking
is a “leaderless” organization and proudly so. In SOS there are no
leaders, because “we are all leader”- leaders in our own sobriety
and the ways we organize our lives and support groups to achieve that.
To finish, the following are some selected quotes from Jim
Christopher’s books, which may help to clarify some of the points
"SOS members tend to view SOS meetings as an awareness tool.
Most do not " play out their lives " in daily meetings of
any kind "
"SOS members prefer the experience of an "internal locus
"SOS is a supportive and informative organization".
"SOS is not coercive or compulsive... SOS is honest. It says
what it means and means what it says."
"SOS is an organization, which offers balance and choice in
the recovery movement "
"Tolerance can help us avoid the trap of dogmatism. Tolerance
can help preserve the dignity of individual human belief."
"Our approach tends to foster, nurture and rebuild
self-reliance, self-determination and a healthy ego."
"The SOS mission is recovery via free, autonomous,
self-help support groups "
of SOS Founder