A publication of Secular Organizations for Sobriety / Save Our Selves
SOS Guidebook For Group Leaders
- Table of Contents
- General Guidelines
- Starting Your Group
- Sample Promotional Materials
- Suggested SOS Meeting Format
- Setting a Tone for SOS
- General Statement of Purpose
- General Principles of SOS
These suggestions have been collected as a result of many questions from
individuals interested in starting self-help support groups for addicted persons
as well as their friends and family members.
Most of the inquiries have come from chemically addicted persons who have
tried the 12 step method and are now looking for a secular option for recovery.
Interest has also been voiced in forming secular groups for compulsive
overeaters, gamblers, etc. SOS has, therefore, come to stand for Secular
Support, and every effort is being made to expand the original concept to meet
the needs expressed not only by chemically addicted persons, but by others as
In assembling this handbook, we have drawn from our own experiences and those
of others who have taken the time to talk with us or write to us. As one would
expect, we have also drawn heavily from our own contact with AA, Al-Anon, and
other similar associations.
It is important to state clearly at the beginning that we think of ourselves
simply as members of SOS helping others to explore their own group
possibilities. We hope that SOS will remain forever free from any dogma, any
party line, any attempt to impose our ideas on anybody else. All statements made
in this handbook are meant only as guidelines, as suggestions for your
consideration. If your group is started on an autonomous basis, free from any
inhibiting entanglements, it can continue to experiment, to modify, to innovate
as it grows. You, its members, are free to shape your meeting to fit your needs.
Take only what you find useful from this handbook.
Support groups provide a regular coming together of people with similar
problems and concerns in a non-judgemental and safe atmosphere. The members of
such a group are free to work out its structure and the format of its meetings.
Meetings usually include a forum for the exchange of information, experiences,
and ideas. This exchange is always done in ways that are not threatening to the
members and which help validate to the person in pain the realness of his or her
experience. The meeting sometimes becomes the one anchor in the new member’s
current stormy existence.
Support groups of the type we are starting are also “self-help” groups.
That is, they operate non-professionally, offering no medical advice or
psychotherapy. Instead, the members share their own experiences and
understandings, their personal failures and victories. In time, the new member
begins to discover what is needed to fit his or her particular situation.
In general, the goal of each group is to support its members while they learn
to cope with frustration, despair, and the isolation which brought most of them
to the group initially. In addition, each group may want to define its own
specific goals and emphasis, if any—always with sobriety as the priority.
Unless sobriety is the priority for chemically addicted persons, no amount of
personal growth in other areas of life is likely to bring the needed recovery.
The original SOS groups began as groups for alcoholics. These groups have
been extremely flexible in accommodating family members and friends of
alcoholics and addicts, compulsive overeaters, and those addicted to drugs other
than alcohol. Groups of family members are beginning to meet separately now (as
an SOS support group) and other groups are in the making. In the meantime, we
have been able to explore for ourselves the pros and cons of both open and
special interest group meetings.
There are many possibilities. Groups could expand to include all those harmed
by dysfunctional families or relationships, regardless of the initial cause of
the problem. SOS groups can also be formed wherever a secular alternative is
needed for compulsive overeaters, smokers, addicts of a specific drug or of
drugs in general, compulsive gamblers, people with sexual obsessions, adult
children of alcoholics (or from dysfunctional homes in general), or any other
group needing to meet for mutual support. Adults may want to start SOS meetings
for teenagers or younger children using drugs or living in dysfunctional homes.
If you need support in these or other areas, you can get together with those who
share your problems and concerns and help create a secular group to meet those
The word that distinguishes our groups from other, widely available groups is
the word “secular.” There are many groups that fit into the category of
self-help support groups and that offer roads to recovery from a multitude of
problems. But most of these groups imply strongly (and sometimes directly state)
that true recovery without dependence on supernatural help is simply not
possible. There is usually an insistence that their programs are “spiritual”
rather than “religious,” but in the final analysis, many people end up
feeling alienated by these meetings and find recovery in these groups only with
great difficulty, if at all.
Needless to say, it should never be necessary to compromise integrity in the
search for recovery. Nor should anybody be asked to pay lip service to beliefs
or rituals that are alien to that person, just so he or she might find
acceptance and help. In our less-than-perfect culture, there is a pressing need
for more secular alternatives to the existing self-help groups.
We can, perhaps, make a distinction between what we should and should not be
asked to do. We certainly should be able to accept a non-secular person’s
sharing of experience, even if that experience is of a religious nature. If,
however, the person begins to suggest that secular paths to recovery won’t
work (that is, tries to tell others that they, too, need to depend on the
supernatural), then we may need to meet this pressure with some loving but firm
resistance. We might, for example, explain that the person is welcome to share,
but not to recruit.
SOS was founded to provide a neutral ground where the alcoholic /addict can
safely explore an individual path to recovery. While many of us are atheists,
agnostics, and secular humanists, many others are theists of one form or another
who simply want a secular recovery environment—separation of church and
recovery. There is no reason why religion should ever become a main topic of
conversation at our meetings. We can agree with many others that such
discussions in self-help support groups of any kind are potentially offensive
and generally not productive. Other non-secular groups already exist for this
purpose. Our focus is recovery, as a separate issue.
One thing needs to be said about what our purpose should not be. It should
not be to make money for anybody under any circumstances. Early on in its
development, after much thought and with good reason, AA formed principles and
practices relating to money matters. Our groups, too, will be wise to maintain
our autonomy, pay our own way, and keep only as much money in our treasury as is
needed for the continuing function of the group. Surplus money is almost sure to
create unwanted and unneeded conflict.
Starting Your Group
Even with no help and limited resources, starting a group is not difficult.
You can set up a time and place to meet, publicize that information, and then be
there. If only one other person shows up, you can have a meeting. It is easier,
however, if you have a few people interested before you begin. And it will be a
fortunate thing for your group if several of these persons have some self-help
experience. Any background in other groups is very helpful, especially if that
encounter included some time in recovery.
Before you publicize your SOS meeting, you might want a tentative name. Later
on, when the group is established, the members may want to choose a different
title. At the beginning, a generic name might be the simplest. Some examples:
- SOS Group of Twin Peaks
- North Shore Secular Organization for Sobriety/ Save Our Selves Group
- Eastside Save Our Selves Group
You can make your group purpose clear in the name you choose. There is no
reason why you can’t be innovative, i.e. Twelve O’Clock Tension Tappers (A
Noontime Addiction Recovery Support Group For Anyone Who Needs It). It would be
helpful to those looking for an SOS meeting if your group was to be listed under
the general heading of SOS in the phone book. This is especially true if the
name your group chooses begins with a word other than “secular.”
You will also need to settle on a place to meet. If you try to have meetings
in a member’s home or in any other place owned or controlled by a member, you
may encounter proprietary problems. If that is all you have at the beginning,
you may have to make do with it. But consider rental of a neutral place as soon
as possible. Even if a meeting place is offered to you at no charge, a small
payment towards electricity and other expenses is always appreciated. By doing
this, group autonomy is maintained, possible conflicts are avoided, and group
esteem is enhanced.
Look for a room in hospitals, schools, municipal buildings, parks and
recreation buildings, family centers, child-care centers, senior citizen
centers, clubs, lodges, and so forth. Some businesses, such as banks, have small
conference rooms that they may rent. County library branches and local community
centers are also good places to check out. Choose according to your size and
financial ability. Whatever you do, tell the owner ahead of time the purpose of
your group and the fact that it is secular in nature. Do all you can to avoid
any possible future misunderstanding that might surprise anyone and cause
disruption to your meeting.
Time and Length of Meeting
Once you have a name and a place to meet, the next step is to determine when
you meet and for how long. Again, the choice is entirely up to those in your
group. Having a meeting once a week is the usual frequency. You may have to
experiment to find which day is the best.
Experience seems to show that lunch time and early evening might attract more
people, but meetings are being held at breakfast time, middle of the day, and
afternoons/evenings as well. Pick what YOU need. Meetings traditionally last
from an hour to an hour and a half. Again, try to think what will work, and
change it later if you need to. Whatever you finally decide upon, try to be
People are not accustomed to looking for secular support groups! Many people
in need seem to have either settled with resignation for groups with religious
overtones or have given up trying to find any help at all from existing groups
and institutions. You have to let these people know where you are and what you
Be ready to invest some time, energy, and perhaps a little money. What you do
will likely have to be repeated over and over again until word of mouth begins
to take effect. When SOS is as well known as AA, we can relax a little on
promotion! Meanwhile, you can try these strategies:
- Mail a press release to local radio stations, both AM and FM. Address them
to the Program Director or Public Service Director.
- Mail a press release to the newspapers, daily and weekly. Address them to
the Editorial Department. If you know that a paper has a community calendar,
mail a press release to that department for a listing.
- Mail a press release and a bulletin board announcement to any local cable
television companies in your community. Many cable companies will run this
kind of announcement on the local access channel on a continuing basis.
- Make extensive use of bulletin boards—in laundromats, food markets,
gyms, hospitals, schools and colleges, senior citizen centers, neighborhood
centers, and in cyberspace.
- Contact local “throw-away” free papers. Some of these may run regular
SOS meeting announcement listings in their “on-going groups” section at
no charge. Find out what their requirements are and make use of this free
- Let the local alcohol/drug dependency treatment community know about your
new group. A large proportion of our inquiry phone calls are from
professionals in the area who want to be able to refer people in treatment
to secular support meetings. A simple postcard with the name, location, and
time of your meeting, along with a local contact telephone number, can be
sent to hospital alcohol units; private treatment facilities; city, county,
and state facilities; and individual therapists who specialize in drug
dependency treatment. This can be very effective.
The suggestions here are very basic in nature, and you will probably think of
other good ways to reach those who need SOS. As your group develops, you will
have help in getting the word out. It will, no doubt, take a while before you
see meaningful results. Stick with it and try to be patient—it is important to
not let yourself become overwhelmed.
This section offers suggestions on disseminating information regarding a new
SOS addiction recovery meeting. Supplement these suggestions with your own
creative approaches. We should attempt to remain respectful, however, of
existing recovery and treatment programs already in operation within our
It is not our purpose to “bash” other programs, nor to make any negative
aspersions regarding them. Our primary concern is to assist all persons in need
to attain recovery from addictive disorders.
Sample Bulletin Board Announcement
Sample Press Release
***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***
S0S To Add New Local Chapter
SOS (Secular Organizations for Sobriety/Save Our Selves), a support
organization for people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, has added a
new local group. Meeting: will be held every Wednesday night, beginning
January, 2003, at 8:00 P.M. at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood
Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90027.
S0S was founded by Jim Christopher in 1985 in North Hollywood, California.
It is a friendly alternative to Twelve Step groups. S0S offers a secular,
self-empowerment approach, emphasizing that each individual may draw upon his
or her own resources to deal with the problems of addiction—hence the name
“Save Our Selves.” S0S chapters are meeting throughout the United States
For further information, please contact Jim at (323) 666-9797.
Special Note: An alternative approach would be to announce a “planning
meeting” before announcing the formation of a new SOS meeting. This
gives those who attend an opportunity to directly participate
in the decision-making process of selecting the title, time, date, and other
aspects of the meeting.
Many people have spoken about the value of service as part of recovery. As
many people as possible should be given responsibilities—for their own growth
as well as for the sake of the group and SOS as a whole. There are certain
qualities that might be said to be required of anyone who volunteers to take on
responsibility in a self-help group. A certain sensitivity to the group’s
needs, a greater awareness of how we relate to others, a willingness to listen
and be flexible—these are all attributes that help us to be more effective
when we become actively concerned with the affairs of the group.
Keeping the basic things in order will make your meetings run more smoothly.
Experience shows that each group needs someone to provide orderly continuity to
a group over a period of time. This person could be called a coordinator or
secretary and would be asked by the group to assume responsibility for such
- opening and preparing the room for the meeting;
- starting the coffee and water for tea if your group provides these
- bringing meeting materials—brochures, meeting lists, newsletters, logs,
format sheets, etc.—to each meeting, gathering them up afterwards, and
keeping them safe between meetings;
- greeting newcomers and arranging for someone to chair or lead the meeting;
- taking care of passing the basket, paying room rent, and keeping track of
the group’s finances.
Other Service Positions
Keeping a group running is a lot of work. You may find it easier if the tasks
are split or shared between two or three people who agree to take care of these
fundamental tasks for the group. Divided responsibility is a valid, workable
concept. We realize, of course, that new groups won’t immediately find enough
people for all the areas listed below, but they will give you an idea of how a
group’s needs can be addressed.
- A person who usually collects, guards, and pays out the group’s money.
These duties might include collecting donations at each meeting, keeping
track in a notebook where the money comes from (meetings, literature sales,
etc.) and where it goes (room rental, refreshments, literature, etc.).
- A person who obtains and/or coordinates appropriate literature, presents
it to the group for discussion, and, once accepted, uses group funds to
order or copy enough to keep a reasonable inventory for the group’s use.
- Publicity / Community Outreach
- A person who can help establish a group or local SOS phone number and post
office box, handle correspondence with local media, maintain bulletin board
and newspaper meeting listings, and respond to inquiries about the group.
- Steering Committee
- Some groups have found that a small committee chosen by the membership is
preferable to specific positions. The members of this committee can help in
advising the coordinator and the group, setting up business meetings,
arbitrating disputes, handling publicity, and other duties.
All positions should be filled through elections by the general group
membership during regular meetings, not at business meetings. Elections should
be announced ahead of time to ensure that as many members as possible can be
polled concerning these vital decisions.
One of the most effective ideas we can adopt from other successful self-help
groups is the concept of leadership rotation. Nearly every group advises that
all responsibilities should change at regular intervals agreed to by the group.
If you have an elected steering committee, consider replacing only part of the
committee at any given time. Staggered elections can be set up at reasonable
intervals which will provide for continuity and avoid any suggestion of
entrenched bureaucracy. Members should be encouraged on a regular basis to join
the committee in order to keep it fresh and current with the group’s wishes.
We have found it vital to be flexible, innovative, and creative in the area
of service commitments to SOS. Again, the guidelines throughout this booklet are
just that—guidelines and suggestions from others who have started meetings. We
are not an authority, nor do we care to force any structure on any SOS group.
The group belongs to its members, who alone are responsible for its format,
structure, and level of community outreach.
Another good idea, borrowed and modified: whatever you do, whether electing
officers or settling other group matters, do it lovingly, do it patiently (by melissa cseri). Take
the time to hear all voices waiting to be heard. Aim for a consensus, even if
you have to settle for a majority. Never try to railroad over a minority
position for the sake of expediency, convenience, or to support some imagined
position of virtue. Trust the members of your group and always keep the focus on
what you know to be the purpose of the group—sobriety.
Surplus Treasury Money
As a new group, you will not likely have this problem for a while. But as you
grow, your treasury will too. An active, concerned membership will be able to
find uses for its funds. It is wise to keep enough money set aside to see your
group through a lean month when attendance is low. But beyond that, after your
bills are paid, consider what you might do with any extra funds you might have
Since SOS members have donated this money, your group has an obligation to
use it for SOS purposes. Here are a few things you might consider:
- Contributing a portion to the SOS National Clearinghouse for operating
funds, literature and publications, etc.
- Going beyond free promotion by placing a larger advertisement in the local
- Give gift subscriptions of the SOS National Newsletter to your local
libraries and other institutions.
Imagination and group discussion will usually help you decide what to do
Welcome to SOS. My name is ___________. I have been asked to lead tonight’s
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (or Save Our Selves) is dedicated to
providing a path to sobriety, an alternative to those paths depending upon
supernatural or religious beliefs. We respect diversity, welcome healthy
skepticism, and encourage rational thinking as well as the expression of
feelings. We each take responsibility for our individual sobriety on a daily
This is a sobriety meeting. Our focus is on the priority of abstaining from
alcohol and other mind-altering drugs.
We respect the anonymity of each person in this room. This is a self-help,
non-professional group. At this meeting, we share our experiences,
understandings, thoughts, and feelings.
- Ask for announcements from the group.
- Announce new literature, meeting schedules, etc.
- Indicate if refreshments are available, etc.
We celebrate various lengths of sobriety in these meetings. Is there anyone
here with less than thirty days of sobriety? Is there anyone here with thirty
days of continuous sobriety? Sixty days? Three months? Six months? Nine months?
Is there anyone celebrating a yearly anniversary this week? If you have an
anniversary date coming up, please let me know after the meeting, and we will
prepare a celebration for that date.
Tonight I have asked ___________ to read the suggested “Guidelines for
- To break the cycle of denial and achieve sobriety, we first acknowledge
that we are alcoholics or addicts.
- We re-affirm this truth daily and accept without reservation—one day at
a time—the fact that as clean and sober individuals we cannot and do not
drink or use, no matter what.
- Since drinking or using is not an option for us, we take whatever steps
are necessary to continue our Sobriety Priority lifelong.
- A quality of life, “the good life,” can be achieved. However, life is
also filled with uncertainties. Therefore, we do not drink or use regardless
of feelings, circumstances, or conflicts.
- We share in confidence with each other our thoughts and feelings as sober,
- Sobriety is our Priority, and we are each responsible for our lives and
Again, I’m ________________. Now, starting with the person on my left, let’s
This meeting is now open. We ask that you try to keep your sharing to a
reasonable length of time so that everyone can participate.
This group is self-supporting. If you can make some contribution, we will use
it to help defray the cost of rent, refreshments, and other expenses. (Pass the
Sobriety is our priority and we each assume the responsibility for our lives
and our sobriety. Thank you for coming and please come back. Let’s close by
giving our selves a hand for being here to support and celebrate each other’s
In the introduction to this booklet, we mentioned “suggestions” rather
than “rules,” and throughout these pages, we have favored words like “might”
and “could” rather than “must” or “should.” All these conscious
choices of words and phrases are an attempt to create a character, a quality, an
ambience we hope will always be associated with SOS. We hope from the beginning
to discourage arrogance, elitism, and any use of SOS for personal wealth or
fame. We hope to encourage attitudes and methods of hospitality, compassion,
sensitivity, openness, and honesty—thereby setting for SOS unimpeachable
standards of excellence.
In this section, we will only briefly touch on some matters that may affect
your new group and suggest how they might be handled. The idea of this section
is not to establish rules, but rather to stimulate dialogue about the tone we
want to guide our action as SOS members.
SOS And Other Organizations
We hope SOS will not be seen as opposed to, or in competition with, other
established groups. We respect recovery in any form, no matter by which path it
is achieved. Our movement is intended simply to fill a need not met by others.
Even when your group is started, you may find other meetings still valuable.
Some SOS members continue to attend AA, Al-Anon, and other groups. Ultimately,
we are all allies working toward a common goal.
Discussion of Other Groups in the SOS Meeting
During the years since the first SOS meeting, we have noticed that new
members seem to need to talk about the alienation experienced in non-secular
groups. Clearly, meetings should not be allowed to fall into negativity or
pointless group comparison, but neither can the pain and anger engendered by
past experiences with group insensitivity be ignored.
It has proven helpful to accommodate a reasonable amount of lamentation. Once
the newcomer gets it out of his or her system, others in the group can bring the
focus gently back to the purpose of the group.
It is easy for many of us to remember what it was like to be a secular person
in a meeting which made us feel like outsiders or errant children. Care should
be taken in how religious or spiritual members are treated. We want to be able
to show consideration and acceptance while still maintaining the secular nature
of our meeting.
There will be times when it will seem that nothing is going right for you and
your group. Low attendance, disruptive members, and a lack of volunteers to help
run things are just a few of the concerns that might worry you. Don’t let
yourself become overwhelmed. When you are having a problem with your group, try
talking to another group leader. Try to keep your focus on the purpose of your
group and SOS in general. Remember, what you are doing is important!
Clearly, alcoholism and addiction are global problems. We need alternatives,
we need options. Support should be readily available to all who seek help.
Together we can Save Our Selves.
Since its beginning in November, 1986, in North Hollywood, California, SOS
has grown from that first meeting to hundreds of meetings across this nation and
Due to the movement’s rapid growth, the SOS International Clearinghouse has
relocated to the Center for Inquiry West in Hollywood, CA. The SOS
International Clearinghouse acts as a facilitator for the movement, addressing
individual queries, preparing and mailing materials, and getting the word out to
the media, treatment professionals, and organizations and individuals concerned
In the spirit of free thought and free inquiry, every SOS meeting is
autonomous. Meetings are held on an anonymous basis and are free of charge. SOS
groups provide a safe, supportive, secular environment for all addicted persons
who want to achieve and maintain sobriety and to support each other in this
process of recovery.
This guidebook will undoubtedly undergo numerous revisions. That’s good.
That’s healthy. We welcome and encourage your comments and concerns. We’re
all in this together!
Jim Christopher, Founder
All those who sincerely seek sobriety are welcome as members in any SOS
Although sobriety is an individual responsibility, life does not have to be
faced alone. The support of other alcoholics and addicts is a vital adjunct to
recovery. In SOS., members share experiences, insights, information, strength,
and encouragement in friendly, honest, anonymous, and supportive group meetings.
Sobriety is the number one priority in an alcoholic’s or addict’s life.
As such, they must abstain from all drugs or alcohol.
SOS is not a spin-off of any religious group;, There is no hidden agenda, as
SOS is concerned with sobriety, not religiosity.
SOS seeks only to promote sobriety amongst those who suffer from alcoholism
or other drug addictions. As a group, SOS has no opinion on outside matters and
does not wish to become entangled in outside controversy.
To avoid unnecessary entanglements, each SOS group is self-supporting through
contributions from its members, and refuses outside support.
Honest, clear, and direct communication of feelings, thoughts, and knowledge
aids in recovery and in choosing non-destructive, non-delusional, and rational
approaches to living sober and rewarding lives.
As knowledge of drinking or addiction might cause a person harm or
embarrassment in the outside world, SOS guards the anonymity of its membership
and the contents of its discussions from those not within the group.
SOS encourages the scientific study of alcoholism and addiction in all their
aspects. SOS does not limit its outlook to one area of knowledge or theory of
alcoholism and addiction.
Publication of this material is made possible by support from SOS members and
friends and by the Council for Secular Humanism, a nonprofit educational
Copies of this and other SOS brochures may be obtained from the SOS
Clearinghouse. This brochure was updated January, 2000.
SOS Clearinghouse (Secular Organizations for Sobriety/ Save Our Selves)
4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90027 USA.
Tel : (323) 666-4295 Fax: (323) 666-4271
more SOS brochures