Some general remarks on the nature of SOS


THE 3 «S’s» of SOS

SOS 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.
SOS 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. 



Individual 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.



The “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. 



Our 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.  

The 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. 

For 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.   


At 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.

 However, 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.


SOS 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. 



We 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 real
“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. 


The 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. 


All 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.

For 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

In 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"

Consequently, 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 discussions.  In 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. 


 SOS has no "mission" as such and does not see itself as a "missionary" organization. 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 Gap”.

 SOS 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 are not.

It 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. 

We 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.

  Why not use the article
to start a discussion in your group?



SOS 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 organizations. 

The 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.

This 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.

The 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, 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.


SOS 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.  


In 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 enslaved"

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 again" 

SOS 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 above:

"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 of control"

"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-esteem,
self-reliance, self-determination and a healthy ego."

"The SOS mission is recovery via free, autonomous, grass-roots,
self-help support groups "


Read a biography 
of SOS Founder 

Jim Christopher















Home Page
Times, Places & Contact Info for SOS Meetings
Meeting Time & Place
Religious & Non-Religious Freedom is Practiced Here
Religious & Non-Religious Freedom
An Over View of SOS - What are we about?
What is SOS
An Overview of SOS
Sobriety Priority
SOS Organization
The Founder of SOS. How it came to be.
James Christopher
Sobriety Tools & Articles by SOS Members
Sobriety Tool Box
P.A.S.T. Para-Addiction Stress Trauma
Drugs & Cross Addiction
Sexual Orientation
Family & Friends
Is Your Group a Cult?
Starting and Running an SOS Meeting
Startling an SOS Meeting
Print Out Opening a Meeting
Print Out Starting a Meeting
Chartered or Shackled?
SOS Conferences & Books
SOS International Conference 2000
SOS International Conference 2002
Books- Newsletters - Videotapes
AA-SOS Relations
AA-SOS Relations
AA-SOS as One Member sees it
Links for Support
Links to Other Groups
SOS News Letter 2013

SOS Newsletter Spring - 2012
Val. 24 No 4

SOS Newsletter Summer - 2012
Val. 25 No 1

SOS Newsletter Winter -2012
Val. 24 No. 3

Collectors Editions


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