Stories by two founding members,Bill L. and Frank H.
Bill L.'s Story
Looking back to September of 1977 when I went to my first AA meeting, little did I know that I was putting down one drug just to pick up another: compulsive sex. Actually most of my adult life from the age of nineteen had been devoted to the pursuit of sex, searching for sex, having sex, feeling ashamed afterwards but starting the whole cycle over and over again. I would also romanticize these events in the hope that one of them would develop into a relationship. Of course it never did. However, the pain, despair and shame did lead me to start to search for help. As soon as I started to go to AA meetings I stopped drinking and I remember how frightened I felt. 'Who are these people, can I trust them?' I thought. I found some sort of escape and solace in the darkness of the bathhouses. It makes me sad now to think that the darkness was what I felt I deserved. In all honesty I have to admit at first it was a way of discovering my sexuality and a big boost to my ego to discover that so many other men were interested in me. That didn't last long and soon I started to live with a lot of despair. Talking about this area of my life in AA was uncomfortable even though I did it anyway. I even remember talking to Frank H about what was going on. Little did I know that a few years later Frank H would reappear in my life, in such a profound way.
During this time I started a number of things. It seemed that even though I talked about my acting out to my sponsor and just about anyone else who would listen, I just couldn't stop acting out. I felt so out of control. Sometime during 1977, I started going to consciousness-raising groups. No one had heard about AIDS and the sexual revolution was in full bloom. For the next two years I was in three of these groups and they did help. I was able to start to feel better about myself and to accept myself as a gay male. Two other things happened at this time which I did not then realize how significant they would be in my recovery. I started to use my creativity again and stopped using amyl nitrate. Getting completely sober and honest with myself really woke me up. At that time I stopped bringing strangers home and/or going to their apartment. At first I managed to stop this behavior only for several weeks but then the periods grew longer. This was a difficult time because I was trying to control the disease.
In 1981, I went to my first DA meeting. Even though I thought I was making progress, I continued to act out and even started to go back to bathhouses on a regular basis. I remember one incident very vividly. I was lying on a bed in one of the little rooms and as I glanced at my outstretched arm I realized that there was no difference between me and a heroin addict waiting for his next hit. I closed the door, got down on my knees, and prayed for help. I certainly didn't have much hope, but the next evening I went to a DA meeting. I shared about my frustration, despair and helplessness about my not being able to stop acting out sexually. A few months earlier I had brought the idea of starting a program of self help for sex addicts to my therapist. He told me that a program for sexual sobriety would never work because everyone needs sex. Fortunately, I stopped seeing him a week later.
John the founder of DA approached me after I had shared and just held me. He shared with me that it sounded to him like I was in a place like the one he was in when he started DA. My first thought was how could I start a program? But when Collin, Jim J, Thomas T, Nochem, and a few others said that they would support me. I did just that.
On a Sunday evening in 1981, the first meeting focusing on acting out sexually met in my apartment. I felt so scared and also so excited. What would this actually be about? Who would come? For the next few months the group met every Sunday at my apartment. In the beginning the people were mainly from DA: Collin, Saul M, Jim S, Thomas T and a few others, including women. We didn't have any structure and certainly we had no literature. At that time I had not read anything about sexual addiction. After a few months I received a letter from someone who had been in one of those consciousness-raising groups I had attended a few years earlier. He enclosed the names of three programs: SLAA in Boston, SA in Simi Valley, and another whose name I can't remember now. I wrote to all three and received information from SLAA and SA and presented the information to the group at the next meeting.
I was beginning to get some recovery and didn't act out nearly as much. Also I was beginning to have hope again. We liked what we read in the SA literature, even though we didn't like the tone of what was said about homosexuality. Some of the other people in the group felt the same. When the founder of SA, Roy K, met with us, we brought this to his attention and he said "No problem" and that it could be taken care of. We took a vote and became SA New York. I felt so good. I felt I was walking on air for I had hope again.
We continued to meet and in a few months new literature arrived. It directly put down homosexuality and personally I felt I had been betrayed. The more I learnt about the principles and the underlying beliefs of SA, the more I began to feel that SA came from a place of feeling guilt about one's sexuality. With all the work I had done on myself I was determined not to feel guilty about having sex. SA was based on the idea that you couldn't have sex unless you were in a committed relationship. It was based in the fundamentalist religion I had been taught as a child. I decided that this was not for me and that it would not be being true to myself. I said that I couldn't be part of SA and suggested that the meeting find another meeting place. They found a place at St Jean's on Lexington Avenue. The meetings had at this point been taking place in my pottery-filled apartment for six months. With no meetings to attend, needless to say, in a short time I was back to my old acting out behavior.
When the phone rang in May of 1982 I was surprised to hear Tom L at the other end. Even though I knew him from AA he had never called me before. He told me that he was interested in attending one of the meetings he heard were meeting in my apartment. I explained all that had happened and added that I was desperate for a meeting myself. I arranged to meet Tom at an SA meeting. Somehow I had got the information wrong and when Tom and I arrived we found no SA meeting. I must say that I was relieved and at the same time felt that I needed a meeting. It was such a beautiful spring day that Tom L. and I decided to walk to Central Park and there talked for a few hours. I felt so uplifted. Later Tom L. came back to my apartment and I gave him the SA literature that I had. We decided that we would try to find a meeting place, since I wasn't comfortable using my apartment at that time.
A few weeks passed and on the morning after one of my binges I got down on my knees and prayed to God for help. That afternoon I was walking up Seventh Avenue and I heard a voice call to me from across the street. It was Tom L. I was overjoyed to see him and embraced him. He told me that Richard from AA was allowing a sexual recovery meeting to take place in his apartment. It had just started and the second meeting would take place next Monday. He asked me if I would speak. Would I ever!
I couldn't wait for Monday evening to arrive. Little did I know that I would see Frank H there. I remembered our talks a few years before in AA. It made me feel good inside. Saul was there and a few other people from OA. We met in Richard's apartment for six months before we started to meet in other people's apartments. We used the SA literature with parts I didn't like crossed out. I put everything I had, all my energies, into not acting out. While some of my behavior seemed to have stopped, I just couldn't seem to stop going to bathhouses. With just one meeting a week I started to call people up on the phone for help and support.
There were times when I felt I would die if I didn't have sex. What really helped was being able to go to my studio and work with clay. It was a very painful time for me, but having my creativity was a spiritual and healing outlet. A few of us kept showing up week after week to meetings. We began to get stronger. I don't know if at the time any one of us knew what was going on. In time we became Sexual Compulsives Anonymous. Frank H found a meeting place at Washington Square Community Church. It was a wonderful learning time for me. For the first time I started to try different approaches to deal with my sexual compulsion. I stopped cruising on the streets and soaking in those seductive images. I tried dating without the goal of ending up in bed. SCA helped me to stop viewing people (as well as myself) as sexual objects. I started to be not so seductive. My friendships with people changed for the better.
SA asked us not to use its name on our literature. Soon afterwards the first SCA Literature Committee was formed. The Literature Committee meetings were very unstructured, but we continued to meet. Richard, Bruce, Saul, Nochem, Bob M and I (I hope I haven't left anyone out) started writing out the Characteristics. Bob took notes on our discussions and formalized the first piece of SCA literature: The Characteristics. Even after sixteen years, when I read them I am still amazed at how true they are. I now know that God was guiding us during these Literature Committee meetings, as well as in starting Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.
|Frank H.'s Story|
After I'd been sober in Alcoholics Anonymous for a few years I began to be able to see the addictive nature of my sexual activity. I wanted to stop but I couldn't. I tried all combinations of sexual activities in the hope that one or another combination would "work," and that I'd be freed of the compulsion.
I talked to a couple of other AA members who shared my problem. One of these friends was Tom. We shared with one another our successes and failures. Once Tom suggested that I pray while going to and being in acting out places. This seemed to help me to accept myself as someone who couldn't stop running from one sexual episode to another. There was a part of myself that was good and virginal and another part that felt like a turd. Praying helped to let these two parts of myself come together a little bit.
About a year before the first meeting of our program, I had a sort of spiritual awakening in a bathhouse in Amsterdam. I wasn't getting what I wanted in the orgy room. But instead of going on to look for sex elsewhere, I was able, somehow, to go back to my hotel.
On returning to New York, with the support of Tom, AA and my therapist, I was able to stay on what we now call a sexual recovery plan. At this point I thought it would be great if we could have Twelve Step meetings to support recovery from the craving for sex. I tried to find a meeting place in churches, a meeting house and other institutions, but had no success. I finally became discouraged and stopped looking.
In June 1982, my friend Tom called to say that Richard, another AA friend of ours, was interested in a sexual recovery meeting and that he was willing to donate his apartment for the meeting, at least for a start. On June 22, we had our first meeting. Tom, who was scheduled to speak, didn't appear at first. So I became the first speaker. I don't remember what I said, but I suppose I must have talked about my long history of going to tea-rooms, bathhouses, trucks and other acting out places. Then I must have said a little about my year of uncertain and shaky sobriety. Tom showed up somewhere during the qualification. There couldn't have been more than four or five people present at the meeting.
At the third or fourth meeting, Bill L. spoke. We'd known Bill since he first came into AA. I think it was at this meeting that I learned that Bill had started the first Sexaholics Anonymous group in New York, based on the principles established by Roy, the founder of SA on the West Coast. After meeting at Bill's apartment for several months, the group had moved to St. Jean's Church. Bill felt the SA literature was overtly anti-gay and decided he didn't want to participate anymore.
At that time, we also called ourselves Sexaholics Anonymous, not because we considered ourselves a part of that program, but simply from lack of imagination. We had already clearly differentiated ourselves from SA in our determination that each member would define his own recovery plan for himself. It was my feeling that each person came to the program with something that they wanted to change about their sexual behavior and that they would start their sexual recovery plan with that. In addition, the membership for at least the first six to eight months was exclusively gay men. The literature we had from the original SA seemed very homophobic to us. We were out to create a program that would support the self-esteem of gay people, not put it into question.
Almost from the beginning we had members from Al-Anon and from OA. Some of the early members included George, Saul and Bob McC. Not too long thereafter, Bob R., Robert N., Nochem and Barbara McC began to appear. Most of these members are still with us, though some no longer attend meetings.
In the fall of '82, there was to be an eclipse of the moon. A friend told me I shouldn't watch it on my roof because it would be too dangerous. I concluded that I would have to watch from the park where I'd acted out most consistently before I got sexually sober. The night of the eclipse was the beginning of a two-month slip for me. I just couldn't stop. I visited temples in Bangkok and prayed for sobriety; for the lifting of the compulsion. Then I went, powerless, directly to the octagonal tea-room right outside the temple.
When I returned to meetings in New York (still only one a week at that time), I feared they'd throw me out. Here I was, a founding member back "out there" again. But no. They said keep coming back. They understood. It still makes my eyes teary to remember that I was wanted; I belonged. With great difficulty, I got sober again. It was like swimming against the current, but the fellowship sustained me.
About this time, we started talking about getting a meeting place in a public space. We had stopped meeting in Richard's and the meeting moved from place to place, making it difficult for new members to find us. We met for a while at Bill L.'s, and for a while at the Gay Jewish Synagogue. I finally agreed to look for a space again. Bob O'C. suggested that another program met at the Washington Square Community Church in Greenwich Village, and that they might me willing to give us space. I called. I talked as best I could about who we were and what we were trying to do. None of us had a lot of sobriety at this point and I found it hard to talk about sexual compulsion. It felt very much like I, a sex maniac, was asking for a place in the church. I didn't see how I, or we, could be accepted. But we got the place and began to meet in a long, narrow room looking out onto West 3rd Street. I still feel so grateful to that church where we still meet on Monday nights.
It was also at the Washington Square Community Church that our first literature committee was formed, and put together the Characteristics which have become such a keynote for us.
We were approached by SA in California and asked to change our name, since we were infringing on their copyright by calling ourselves SA and being a different program. We had a long business meeting at which I maintained that I wanted to continue to call myself a sexaholic and to have the group called Sexaholics Anonymous. I liked the name and felt defiant. But group conscience ruled after much debate that we would be called Sexual Compulsives Anonymous.
The next landmark was when Paul F. decided that he was going to start another meeting. The new meeting was to be for gay men only with no smoking and no eating. Paul wanted a meeting where he would feel safe sharing, and a woman and a smoker had started coming to meetings. Neither the smoker nor the woman are still with us, but the meeting continues on. It is interesting to note that without any conscious decision, except at the beginning of that Tuesday meeting, all of our meetings have been non-smoking.
Bob R., who like many of us was finding Sundays a difficult day, located a space for a meeting on Sunday evenings at the Lesbian and Gay Community Center on 13th Street in the Village. The Center was to accommodate most of our new meetings for several years.
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