When an ex-lover-now-friend — a handsome 40-something corporate cog with a passion for film photography and broken-winged waifs by the name of Michael — informed me that he had joined Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA), I was intrigued although not surprised. Our initial trauma bond had stemmed from our shared experience of attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). As such, were both well-versed in 12-step programs and the cooky black sheep who attended them.
It’s the self-loathing neurotics shamelessly peddling their stories full of hard truths, pee-your-pants-inducing comedy bits, and script-worthy one-liners who simultaneously represent what you don’t want to become (and risk becoming should you deviate too far from the program’s guidelines), while providing the inspiration and support necessary to reflect, heal, and evolve on both an individual and collective level.
For pure entertainment purposes, I convinced him to let me tag along to an SAA meeting and boy oh boy, that shit was bleak — much bleaker than the meeting I had attended years back. I left realizing just how many lonely, mentally unstable men there are out there – many of them disguised as high-functioning members of society. I also left horny af, begging my friend to get me the hot Rabbi’s number so that I could start anonymously sending nudes and fuck up the seven months he had racked up of not cheating on his wife.
Unfortunately for me, Michael actually has a conscience and refused to indulge me. About a month after going to the meeting, I sat down with him to hear about his experiences with Sex Addict’s Anonymous to-date.
What led you to joining Sex Addicts Anonymous (SAA)?
So my first experience in SAA was when I went to a private AA meeting at this really bougie sober house down in Tribeca, where kids pay like 20 grand a month for a single room. It was run by this dude from LA and it was basically an SAA meeting in an AA meeting. I just thought, “This is too wack.”
They were all talking about how they had gotten really tempted to engage in inappropriate sexual behavior and were calling on their 12-step brothers for help, and I was just like, “This is beyond bullshit.” I thought, “If I want to do something related to sex, I’m going to speak to a therapist rather than rather than going to a 12-step meeting.”
But then I started listening to loads of weird audiobooks when I couldn’t sleep, including tons of stuff on sex and porn addiction. I ended up listening to SAA speaker tapes on YouTube and then listening to the big book. It got to a point with my own hedonism where I was like, “I should probably go to a meeting for this.”
I had tried counting days by myself for avoiding commercial enterprises like massage parlors but it wasn’t long before I ended up going on a bender – you know, leaving the office for 40 minutes at a time to go get handjobs and just spending a platitude of money on strip clubs. Of course, there’s the whole sugar baby arrangement thing too.
I ended up watching Fight Club with my kid and in it, they go shopping around at all the different 12-step meetings. So I thought I might as well try and do the same. SA (Sexoholic’s Anonymous) wasn’t my jam because it gave off weird Christian fundamentalist vibes and SLAA (Sex and Love Addict’s Anonymous) was just a bunch of broken bitches who weren’t as hot as I was hoping and hipster dudes trying to give up porn for their girlfriends. In the end, I realized I definitely belonged in SAA.
Describe a typical meeting.
It’s a complete cross section of men sitting around in some shitty room in a Church basement. There’s older guys who aren’t in the best shape and younger dudes that would probably identify as incel. Occasionally a woman will come in, but I’ve rarely seen one stick around for more than one meeting.
The meeting starts with everyone going around and doing a 30 second share where they answer: “How are you feeling physically? How are you feeling mentally? How are you feeling spiritually?” Then someone reads some literature from the Big Green Book, which is basically the same book they use for Alcoholic’s Anonymous, just with the word “sex” instead of alcohol.
Usually a topic is picked and the room is opened for shares. It’s funny though because you have to be careful not to mention specifics, like the name of a website, because otherwise someone will raise their hand and go, “That’s too triggering.”
The second half of the meeting transitions to open shares, where people check-in and share their inner, middle, and outer circle. Your inner circle is what your day count revolves around. For me, that’s any kind of paid sexual activity – strippers, hookers, massage parlors. Middle circle stuff is anything that teeters on the edge of relapse, so like checking Google Maps for strip club locations or texting women that I’ve paid for sex in the past. And then the outer circle is about the positive, grounding things in your life – hanging out with my kid, writing, photography, spending time with friends.
The circle share is definitely the most interesting part of the meeting. In the meeting I was attending regularly, there was one guy who would always open with, “By the grace of God, it’s been five years since I’ve publicly exposed myself to my coworkers.” There’s also this really good-looking Rabbi who seems to be in SAA to avoid going to masturbation clubs – whatever the hell those even are – so that he can stay faithful to his wife.
Then there’s the pedophile who is actually just this very sweet, very child-like middle-aged man who shows up to every meeting with a day count of one for looking at porn. It’s almost as if Hollywood typecasted the whole thing. Someone could really just show up with a camera and start filming.
What’s your experience been so far?
I really liked counting days and for a time, I found it to be very useful and positive. It gave me so much time and energy back to pursue other things like my writing and photography. I didn’t love the whole building my entire sense of self-identity around being a sex addict though. Somehow it’s not as cool as being a coke fiend. I also didn’t really feel my cravings go away in the same way I did when I first got sober from drugs and alcohol. To be fair though, I didn’t stick with it nearly as long.
The day I hit 30 days, I went to my regular meeting or, as they call it in 12-step, my home group. There was hardly anyone there and they needed someone to step up to qualify and share their story. Having shared a gazillion times in other 12-step meetings, I had no problem volunteering myself to speak. In fact, I felt quite excited. But then the chair was like, “You’re a newcomer. I think it’s better if I share instead, you’re just not ready man.”
That really fucking annoyed me, especially because I know for a fact that everyone there had already heard this douchebag qualify multiple times before. It really just felt like he was trying to steal my thunder, so I mumbled something about how, “The newcomer is supposed to be the most important person at the meeting,” before storming out. In hindsight, I probably just used that as an excuse to quit.
The next day after going and buying a shit ton of candy bars and Penthouse and Hustler magazines, I ended up getting a call out of the blue from a girl I’d met online over the summer but never met in person. She came over and we banged, and then she took me out to an underground sex / dance party with all her stripper friends.
They were all smoking cigs and doing bumps of coke off of their acrylic nails. It was pretty fucking awesome. Much better than hanging out with the Rabbi and listening to him talk about masturbation clubs, that’s for sure.
I felt pretty crap about it the next day though. I’ve heard the saying, “For a woman, a boyfriend is a temporary solution to a permanent problem.” For me, it’s more like, “Going on a bender is a temporary solution to a permanent problem.” I know I should just buckle down and try pursuing a normal relationship but I can’t seem to help myself.
What have your takeaways been from your time in SAA and do you see yourself going back?
I’m bummed because it really was saving me so much cash and time. For that reason alone, I would totally consider going back at some point. I’m pretty into the whole three circles concept too. In a way, the creepy dudes who attend the meetings are my spirit animal. They represent my shadow self and as disturbing as that is, it’s a much needed reminder of what I could end up becoming if I don’t figure out my shit.
The nice thing about AA is that the fellowship is so big and there’s tons of meetings. So if you have a bad experience at one place, there’s loads of other meetings to check out. The SAA community is just way smaller and therefore, the chance of me running into the guy who pissed me off is pretty high.
What is your attitude toward 12-step programs in general and what advice would you give to someone seeking help with an addiction – sexual or otherwise – looking to make a change for the better?
They are really good. I think the only risk they have at the moment is that they are losing some of their specialness. 10 years ago, there was a much higher barrier to entry. Going into a church basement and saying, “Hey, I’m a fucking alcoholic,” came with a lot of shame. Now, it’s become super mainstream and part of modern society. On the one hand, it’s great that the stigma is being reduced, but on the other hand, the meetings have lost their special spiritual place outside of normal society.
But I think if you’re in serious trouble, they are the last house at the end of the road. And these days, there’s something for everyone – Internet and Technology Anonymous, Debtor’s Anonymous, Overeater’s Anonymous. The people that I’ve met and befriended in AA are phenomenal – like some of the most interesting and articulate and engaging people that I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I think the real problem with SAA is that I didn’t want to play ping pong with any of those dudes.
I really wish I hadn’t shut the door on that group. Going there saved me at least $1,000 a week. I’m not ready to humble myself and go back just yet, but maybe in 6 months time. I might just like bad bitches too much to actually ever give this thing a real go though. We shall see.