Hennie de Pous-de Jonge
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11 July, 2008

Sander discovered he needed a power greater than himself to overcome an addiction to sex.

Initiatives of Change has a successful cousin called Alcoholics Anonymous. Both have their roots in the Oxford Group, a religious renewal movement from the beginning of the last century. AA itself has a lot of offspring, all dealing with specific addictions, where 'hands-on' experts, that is addicts, help each other to become free. One of the groups is SLAA, which stands for Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. In the case of this addiction the compulsive need for sex and love is such that it is destructive for normal life in work and family. This was the case with Sander*, a tall friendly man in his thirties, who traced IofC via the web and came to visit us. We found the talk with him enriching. We realised that the lessons he learned to get rid of his addiction are lessons that are valid for any human being.

For Sander the need for sex and the constant chase for new relationships with women was so obsessive that it took all of him. He spent all his money and energy on it, even when he was at work he was at it through e-mails and the internet. The painful thing was that even relationships which he considered worthwhile broke up because he could not remain faithful.

Sander realised he needed help. At first he looked for it in conventional ways. For four years he visited therapists, who failed to help him. ‘I was not honest with them', he explained. 'I did not dare tell them the whole story as I was afraid that they would not understand.' Sometimes also therapists said to him: 'Why worry? Many others live the way you do.'

Completely at a loss he found SLAA. He could not fool these people, all addicted as he was. As 'hands-on' experts they knew all the tricks. In the SLAA group everyone can tell his story, without anyone else judging or giving advice. Sander was amazed to come to these meetings and hear people tell things which he had never ever dared to tell anyone else.

To be completely honest about your own situation is the first step. The AA programme has 12 steps, which, while not claiming to completely 'cure' a person, can result in such a change of behaviour that the addiction loses its power. In the Dutch SLAA group Sander found support and fellowship, but after a while he realised that most people did not get any further than sharing their stories. After some research he found that the SLAA groups in the USA went further. Sander decided to go there and learn what their secret was. He stayed several weeks and found a sponsor. In the language of the AA this means someone who is a 'hands-on' expert himself, and who at your request helps you to go through the 12 steps.

He followed an AA 'back to basics' programme, in which he learned that the 12 steps can be divided in four parts. The first three steps have to do with surrender. The realisation that one has a problem, and one is not able to overcome it. That one needs a power greater than oneself. The next three he categorises under the caption 'sharing'. One makes a moral analysis and acknowledges towards God, towards oneself and towards another person the exact nature of one's wrong steps. The third group has to do with restitution, to put right what one can with people and ask God to take away one's shortcomings. Restitution is the most difficult one, Sander says. He often dreaded going to people to say sorry, but once he did, it always turned out better than he expected. People were often very happy and for himself it is always a liberation. The last three steps have to do with finding direction in your life through prayer and meditation, and by trying to help others. A spiritual awakening he calls it.

Sander was not a believer in God when he started on this road. But gradually he realized he needed a power greater than himself to combat his addiction. His sponsor asked him if he was willing to look for that power. That was all that was needed, the willingness. And going through the steps, he started to experience God. He believes God helps him to make healthy choices. That does not mean the addiction has totally gone: he will always remain sensitive to temptations. But with the help of God he can remain 'sober' from day to day.

After his return from the USA Sander shared his experiences with the SLAA in the Netherlands, which gave the groups here a new impulse. To pass on the experience, step number 12, is essential. That, and the earlier steps of the critical self analysis and the daily quiet time, he needs to do all the time. 'As soon as I forget that, the obsession comes back. Then I need to phone someone and share this honestly. That person then is bound to ask me: "How is your spiritual condition?" The nucleus of the programme is a change of heart. I search for honesty, try to do the right thing, to grow spiritually and to help others. I had never thought this of myself. I have become a changed person.'

Last year Sander got married and he is now the proud father of a two month old baby daughter. by Hennie de Pous-de Jonge * For privacy reasons Sander is not his real name.

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