[full report from September 2016 Essay]
Visiting the Iranian fellowship
By the grace of a loving HP SA was started in Iran by two sexaholics from Shiraz on 31 March 2003. The standard meeting readings had already been translated into Persian by an expatriate Iranian and these helped the new fellowship in Iran to adopt and apply the principles established by SA internationally. Although SA in Iran was not recognized or accepted by the authorities, and is still not today, it nevertheless made steady progress by carrying its message from person to person throughout the country.
The invitation to visit the fellowship was proposed several years ago by Mohsen (living in Ahwaz, sober 9+ years, current GAD for Iran) to old timers Dave T (US) and Nicholas S (UK). In 2012, Nicholas, Laurens (US), Indrei (Roumania) and Oleg (Russia) were able to meet up with Masoud and Sanaz from Iran in Istanbul. Last year in November Mohsen was able to attend the Russian Convention in Moscow, where he met members from several countries including the US.
Mid 2015 Luc B (Belgium) reanimated the project of going to Iran as he had hoped to assist Nicholas and learn from him to give workshops. When skyping with the local members, the need for a female member traveling there too to do workshops for the women became clear, and Nicholas asked Yvonne B (Spain) to join the party. It turned out that Nicholas nor any of the interested US old timers were able to get an entry visa which would allow them to travel without a state-approved guide.The Iranian members responded that they could not meet with them when traveling with such a “government informer”.
In the end Luc and Yvonne decided to travel anyway, with the blessings of their respective sponsors and Nicholas. After several months of trying to get in contact with the right members, getting a visa, and the final decision to go, they were able to visit and serve the Iranian fellowship by doing workshops and speaker meetings. The following is a compilation of their experiences, as well as the experiences of Hamed (their host in Isfahan), Sanaz (female member of Isfahan), Atefeh (female member of Ahwaz) and MohammadReza (their host in Tehran).
Luc: Things started to move quickly when only a couple of days before our deadline whether to go or not we started communicating with Hamed, living in Isfahan (helped by the translating skills of Arash, an Iranian fellow living in Sweden). Hamed immediately wanted to organize a Twelve Step Workshop for men and one for women in his city and got the support of his local fellowship. Until then everything had been unclear and communication had been very poor, but upon noticing Hamed’s sincere enthusiasm and readiness to take actions, we decided to go for it. He did not only organize a wonderful workshop in Isfahan, but also brought us into contact with MohammadReza from Tehran, who became the organizer of the workshops in Tehran. Mohsen invited us to come for the 2nd week to his city Ahwaz and give a workshop there. So all of a sudden we had 3 cities to go to and 3 weeks of time to do so.
We got our visa only on the 1st of April, booked our flights on the morning of the 2nd and were flying on the 3rd!! There was no time for thinking anymore, only to execute God’s marching orders.
Yvonne flew to Istanbul from Barcelona (Spain) and I from Brussels (Belgium), and we met each other in Istanbul airport. At night we had our connection flight to Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran where we arrived around 3:30 am. From there we took a taxi to a local airport and had a noon flight to Isfahan. After this long and sleepless journey our Isfahan contacts Hamed and Navid came to pick us up at the local airport.
Yvonne and I had started emailing 1,5 year before for service-related matters. Slowly it had developed into a correspondence between two fellows in recovery. Bit by bit we had discovered common interests and preferences and had become attracted to each other, the whole time carefully guided by our sponsors. I was afraid to do this traveling together because it could threaten our sobriety or break our still new and fragile relationship as our disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. Fortunately our HP led us on every millimeter of this trip and not only safeguarded our sobriety and relationship but even brought us closer together.
Yvonne: Hamed, 27 years old, sober around 2 years, and his lovely wife Elham, invited us to stay in their spacious apartment for the night. Eventually we would stay there for a full week: Luc got a mattress in the study room, our hosts slept on a mattresses in their own living room I was the lucky one to get the bedroom. Elham was a good wife and an excellent housewife and looked after us with great love, care and hospitality. Elham and I bonded quite quickly and she showed me all the proper things to do as a woman in Iran, reminding me to cover my hair, also giving me a gift of a long overcoat and lent me some nice sober clothes for our mixed talk in front of other men.
Luc: We used the Twelve Step Workshop designed by Nicholas which you can find on www.sexaholicsanonymous.eu > resources > Workshop, complemented with some string exercises we had learned at Dave T’s workshop last November in France plus a couple of extra group-dynamic exercises. The workshop gives a really strong visual and experiential journey through the Twelve Steps and shows each attendant his/her weak spots and working points. In each city the workshops took from Wednesday evening till Friday lunch time (Friday is in Muslim countries like Sunday in Western countries), which was an intense and long time to be together and the results were very spiritual.
Hamed: On Monday evening when Luc and Yvonne arrived in our apartment the workbook was not fully translated yet, we still had to make strings for 120 persons, make 60 blindfolds and cut 120 papers in a special way, …. and the first workshop was due to begin just 48 hours later! And yet a loving God made it all possible, we all did our part by working against the clock: Wednesday afternoon the last pages had been translated, 120 workbooks were freshly printed and put into plastic covers, my wife Elham had made 60 blindfolds, and all other paraphernalia were ready.
The fellowship in the area around Isfahan is the biggest in Iran: around 700 men and 15 women. Currently there are 19 groups/23 meetings. Isfahan gets about 10 newcomers per day, of whom 2 stay. Over the last 3-4 years, the fellowship has boomed especially because of the website. In Isfahan members have carried the message to 90% of the local therapists/psychologists/psychiatrists.
Luc: The male workshop in Isfahan numbered 88 participants and was held in a beautiful and spacious place where family parties are usually organized. I loved the huge space and the daylight that came in through the glass walls. It was fun to work with the Iranian members as they were disciplined and eager to learn. Fortunately however I had a mike to speak before such a huge group. Although Hamed and his team had only a couple of days before decided to go for it, everything was super well organized. At noon a delivery service brought the lunches (chicken or kebab with rice) and at certain hours the organizers served us with tea or a fruit.
Yvonne: The female workshop had 11 participants and was held in the local meeting room of Narcotics Anonymous. While carrying out the workshops for the women depending on the things that came up I also included other dynamic exercises which, in my professional life as teacher and workshop leader, I had noticed worked well with women.
As the room of the local NA meeting for the female workshop was very small, I suggested for the second day that we go to a park or some other open space (as it was a 9-hour day of step work). One of the female members asked her father if we could go to his plot of land to spend the day there. So we did. It resulted in an amazing experience, as we were in a closed green area and we women were able to take off our chadors and scarves, and relax. We spent the day there working the Steps, having lunch, preparing tea in the beautiful sun and nature.
The workshop being separate male and female gave the opportunity for the members to bond with their own sex: we both found this experience very important as we noticed how the members were able to open emotionally, share and by the end of the workshop there was a great feeling of true connection.
The day after the workshops in Isfahan a meeting was held in the sport class of a school with about 100-150 male & female members attending, at which Luc and I shared our personal stories and answered questions. After that the first Iranian S-Anon information meeting was held. The Spanish S-Anon members had sent me by Whatsapp the main tools and positive things the program had done for them. I shared this information at the meeting. This meeting was attended by 10 women and 3 men. God had pre-arranged that Elham, the wife of our host Hamed, would feel called to be the first S-Anon contact person for Isfahan.
Hamed : The workshops which were held in Isfahan had a great and revolutionary impact on our fellowship in different aspects, such as :
1. A more true and deeper definition of sobriety in SA by clarifying that watching pornography or entertaining willfully deep lustful fantasies and enjoying them is not true sobriety since some of the fellows here never reset their sobriety while doing so.
2. How to work and conduct the Steps in a practical way as in Iran the Steps were MAINLY conducted by just reading the text from the Step-Into-Action books and questions were answered at the end of each Step. (Of course inventory steps are done).
3. We believe that it’s very crucial and important for the Iranian fellowship to be more in contact with the international fellowship of SA and keep the unity in order to have a deeper recovery and help others who are still suffering by spreading the message of SA and recovery .
The impact of the workshop has been so great and magnificent that even today after several months from that time fellows are still sharing in our meetings their experience, gratitude and the positive effect which the workshop had on them and their recovery.
Sanaz: SA is already since 13 years in Iran and we have a lot of members who work the program very hard. At the same time there is still ambiguity about the principles of SA and resistance of working this tough program. Unfortunately a lot of newcomers don’t stay in the program, quite some members are relapsing regularly and having a hard time staying sober. The biggest problem I think is that members don’t know how to share correctly and safely in meetings, and sponsors don’t know how to behave well with their sponsees. The workshop helped us to see lust as being the real problem and how to share properly in our meetings. The workshop helped me a lot to work the program better and with more motivation. It is wonderful to know that we are not alone, that there are some members in other countries who care about us and want to come and share with us. It is also helpful to know that most of the members in other countries have similar problems like ours.
For myself I understood better that SA is a daily program of action and that it takes time to get better and have recovery. I was away from SA for some time and the workshop with Yvonne made me come back and start with the SA program again. In the past I felt that SA didn’t work for me, I felt alone as a woman and I was hopeless. I think that if more workshops and conventions like this can be held, SA will progress faster in Iran, and members will more easily work the program and use the principles more correctly.
So please don’t forget us, we need your experience and services! I myself will die without you. After several years of sobriety I’m sober now again since some months. Today I have renewed hope to stay sober again and continue the program better than before.
Luc: On Monday we went by plane to Ahwaz where we were picked up by Mohsen and Mehdi. We were invited to the house of Mohsen, where he lives with his elderly parents. Mohsen, Ilkin (a loner from Azerbaijan, who had travelled to Ahwaz especially for the workshop) and I slept on mattresses in the living room. Yvonne was given Mohsen’s bedroom. Ahwaz is near the Iraqi border and not too far from Kuwait, surrounded by numerous oil fields. The climate was much warmer and more humid. In Ahwaz the male workshop had 45 participants in a “Husseynie”, a place where religious discourses are held. The very spacious place was fully covered by Persian carpets on which the attendants sat.
Yvonne: The female workshop had 8 attendees and was held in the shrine of a war hero. The women came from different towns around Ahwaz and for some it was the first time they were meeting face to face. It was very emotional, they were so happy to be together and share the experience of the workshop. Being a small group, we had time to do the workshop more relaxed and zoom into some details, also time to laugh and share more in depth about our recovery. One woman started a meeting in her hometown after the workshop.
The next day we held a joint-sharing meeting with Q&A for the men and women together.
Mohsen’s mother was a traditional Iranian woman, who cooked for us and spent a lot of time preparing and even cut the food on the floor. It was wonderful to see this. Her food had the real taste of motherly cooking. At the end of our stay it felt like she had adopted us as her European children.
Atefeh: Your entry to our country especially our city was very impressive, because when Yvonne came and gave workshops for women, one of the older members of our town that for a long time she was far away from the program and was in pain decided to come meetings( after the workshop sessions) and keeps to come, although she was relapses for years.
And another member of our province decided to start her own hometown meeting, and since she start meeting God gave her a newcomer to that city.
It was a good faith at the time of the workshop, each member had a sense of intimacy so much, and in the three days we were like a family, very friendly, and the atmosphere was peaceful.
And most importantly finally understand a little bit more members.
Because unfortunately due to the country’s culture members speak speak a non-open, in meetings, or to sponsor, and their fear of the reaction and judgment of others makes them not easily share, and this makes a lot of cases they do not say and keeping them to themselves, so make them the non-sobriety ,as a result of the forced and difficult to overcome temptations, and think lust is impossible to quit, if it is not possible to get rid of lust alone, without the help of God.
Or do they think that their lust for sectional leave, and marriage is the solution, because they feel that SA has deprived them, because they are not spiritually significant growth, as a result, they are suffering after a while here, and leave the program.
Or are looking to get married out or within SA, and are engaged to marry, they think the only way to allow acting out is the way program let them lust in marriage, but the marriage of their condition worse, and this time they are drunk marital relations, and after a while a sense of spiritual failure, then spiritual death, and in the end leave SA!
On the other hand the workshop members had a better understanding of the definition of sexual addiction, it was very open meetings, and members are able to speak clearly, so it was great that the workshop sessions were not mixed, and that was a good message that we can not have an opposite sex sponsor or sponsee ,or we share with the opposite sex, they are not of the same sex and can not understand us , and make us confused!
Because, unfortunately, in Iran is seen that the members of this spiritual empty is filled with members who are opposite sex , and are involved with them, and this is precisely the lust!
Defining illness and addiction and messaging program, through exercising was very interesting and understandable for members.
And at the end of the mission program was excellent which was mentioned about God, and prayed the prayer of every step at the end of each step, and made members closer to God.
Conclusion collective group of women in Ahwaz (for a rundown):
1. To better understand disease.
2. Clearly patient outcomes.
3. Be aware of the dangers of drunken lust.
4. We understand that the disease is fatal and no solution other than this program.
5. More familiarity Member State and Cities.
Ilkin: It was a great experience for me! I am since 9 months a loner and the only SA member in Azerbaijan. I traveled by bus 16 hours to reach Iran and then take a plane to Ahwaz and I don’t regret it! I got tremendous experience in Iran from Luc and the Iranian fellows. It was my first encounter with sober sexaholics in my life. It changed my outlook on the program. I Learned 2 important things there: to help and to listen. I am trying now to reach sexaholics here in Azerbaijan and give my experience to them.
Luc: On Saturday we flew to Tehran, where we were picked up by Kudrat and driven to the house of a MohammadReza, a single fellow with 5+ years sobriety, who is devoted full-time to SA service. For the full 3rd week we stayed at his house where I occupied the study and Yvonne the bedroom, while our humble host slept in the living room. We immediately felt home at Mohammad Reza’s spacious and serene flat and by his sweet personality. As he didn’t speak English at all, we needed to phone to other members to translate whenever we needed to communicate.
On Sunday evening, we gave respective shares on “how we were, what happened and how we are now”, in an auditorium in the center of Tehran with over 100 male & female members. On Monday we went to the same place to Q&As for a similar audience. There were many Q&As, a lot of them quite basic, specifically around the Sobriety Definition and the true meaning of being clean from lust.
Yvonne: On Tuesday the first open S-Anon information meeting in Tehran was held for about 45 attendees. God had arranged once again that one of the spouses was willing to become the contact person for S-Anon Tehran and another spouse to become the first treasurer. This time I focused on the importance of opening S-Anon in Tehran in order to help the family members who are suffering from this terrible disease. The S-Anon Meeting Format (The Problem, The Solution, Tools etc…) had recently been translated coordinated by Vahid, an SA member who attended the meeting. The Iranian version of the leaflet “Is S-Anon for you?” had been photocopied and was handed out to all participants.
On Wednesday till Friday the workshop for 21 women was held in the house of one of the female members, it had a spacious area and the attendants sat on the floor for the workshop. There was also an open kitchen and we could have fresh fruits and tea while working. This was the biggest workshop I have done since starting doing these workshops. It was a challenge but all went well and after being the only woman in Barcelona Spain, for 4 years and a half, being with 21 SA women for 3 days healed me in many ways.
Luc had proposed to me just a couple of days before in a little park near Mohammad Reza’s apartment and when the workshop finished, the women called Luc up to the room where I was sitting on a chair and Luc sat next to me, while they poured sweets and chocolates on our heads and sang an Iranian chant for engaged couples. We were really impressed!
Luc: The workshop for men was held in a marriage hall for more than 100 members.The sound system, meals, tea, fruits, everything was excellently and respectfully organized by MohammadReza and his team. The Tehran workshop was finished off by a full hour of dancing together, in joy and connection, while members were singing and playing music!
The workshop goes through all Steps 0-12. Its goal is to offer its attendants a spiritual awakening (as described in Step 12 and explained in Appendix 2 of the BB). Yvonne and I had given this workshop for a first time in February in Finland but it turned out to be no problem at all to give it for fellows of another culture and religion. In all 3 cities 95-100% of the participants stood up when asked, in Step 12, whether they had experienced a spiritual awakening since the beginning of the workshop!
Mohamad Reza: The fellowship in Tehran has 100-150 members, including about 15-20 women. Tehran has about 10 meetings of about 10-20 members. Hearing the reactions of the attendants during and after the workshop, both the workshops were a big success in enthusing the participants, getting them through the Steps, giving answers to personal questions and inspiring them to carry the message to other sexaholics.
- The quality of this very practical workshop was great.
- The workshop was very effective in Tehran and other cities for women’s unity and also for the men’s.
- The staying sober and continuing in SA of many fellows have dramatically increased and the members became more serious.
- Fellows reported that they learned a lot of very good tips and things related to Steps that they use now together.
- The number of fellows has increased.
Luc: In my younger years I had traveled to many countries in Europe, Asia and South-America, but I prefer Iran for many reasons. Everything I saw was very clean, people are really gentle, calm and very hospitable. The traffic, however crowded at times, was courteous and not noisy. The cities were well kept, with a lot of flowers and colorful lights, and the food was really delicious (important for this foodie!). I felt really safe and very respected at all times. The members were really very loving and looking to be of service in any way they could. I found their expression of love and kindness very honest and sincere.
Yvonne: The most wonderful act of love I experienced was that Luc and I were met by several fellows who had come to say goodbye and brought us flowers and gifts at the three different airports (Isfahan, Ahwaz, Tehran) when we left their cities. I felt overwhelmed by such sincere and open-hearted gentleness. I was also humbled by the many invitations for delicious meals at members’ homes: we had to refuse several invitations because of lack of time, being too tired and needing privacy at times! I also learned so much about the importance of keeping my body covered and not exposing it so much to the world, it felt good for me and my sobriety and recovery.
Luc: On our departure in Tehran we were brought at 1:30 at night by two wonderful fellows to the airport. On the way to there we got a flat tyre while outside there was a very sharp cold wind. But Kourosh and Aminreza repaired the tyre without complaining and said that that it was the effect of the workshop that they looked at it even as the will of their HP! We arrived on time in the airport and our drivers were so gentle to wait for another 1,5 hour until we let them know we had well passed the border and baggage control. I felt really sad to leave Iran after these 3 intense and transforming weeks.
Yvonne: The women were very physically loving towards me. I experienced a great improvement in my openness to being hugged and kissed, where in the past I would have frozen, for which I am very grateful. I was very very sad to leave Iran, it was such a wonderful and amazing trip and experience all round, it still some days seems like a dream and I like to look at the pictures, but really the Iranian Fellowship and acts of love touched my heart in so many ways I will carry them forever.
The women reported especially in Tehran the constant breaking of anonymity, gossip and telling each other’s business. To the point that they do not share openly or honestly at meetings out of fear and only share with their sponsors, which I personally found very scary and against our 12 Traditions. I shared with them my experience on anonymity and the importance to have safe and trusting environments for recovery.
Luc: We are following up with Skype meetings to get the Persian-speaking Region well connected to the international fellowship:
- Mohsen from Ahwaz was elected 6 months ago by the Iranian Regional Assembly to be the Iranian GAD. On the GDA of 15 May he was joyfully welcomed by the other delegates at his first GDA. After the teleconference he answered to some questions of several glad and interested delegates. We asked the Iranian fellowship to count their meetings again to see to how many GADs they are entitled and explained how important it is to be properly represented at the GDA.
- Hamed from Isfahan has been elected as liaison person of the Iranian Information Committee with the international PI Committee, in order that we can learn from each other on this field of carrying the message.
- MohammadReza from Tehran has been elected as the chairman of the Iranian Workshop Committee. He already asked to give the workshop again in order for some fellows to follow it as trainees and to give the workshop afterwards to members in smaller cities over the whole country. They are even very interested to use it for NA. The credit for this goes to Nicholas who designed the general outline of the workshop, which can be easily adapted for other Twelve Step fellowships. MohammadReza is also very eager to get someone over to give a dynamic and playful Traditions Workshop.
- Long-term sober American members could lead workshops via Skype (as has already been done in the past, but it could be done for bigger groups and on a huge screen).
- We are discussing the possibility of organizing a convention in Istanbul, as Iranians do not need a visa to travel there and Europeans can get a cheap and easy-to-get visa. We would hope that even some Americans and Israelis could go there and make it into a truly historical event! We addicts like to cross new boundaries: well here is an opportunity to do so in recovery!
- We are looking how we can help the Iranian fellowship to obtain national registration in Iran in the shortest possible time. Maybe the experience of how other fellowships around the world got registered in their countries can help them.
Yvonne: As a result of the workshop one woman has started a new face to face meeting in her hometown – Khoramshar.
I keep in contact with the English-speaking female members who were also translators at the workshops (Sanaz in Isfahan, Atefeh in Ahwaz, and other female members who spoke a little English) sharing my ESH.
Getting the Iranian and European women in contact with each other. I have been contacted by one Iranian woman in France (who attended the recent EMER Regional Convention in Madrid) and another one in Germany, who now are connected to the network. Three Iranian women have asked to be added to the Women’s SA Whatsapp group which numbers now 36 women and is very active, especially with surrendering lust and daily gratitude lists.
About 45% of the women would be interested in attending a convention in Istanbul if organized.
We believe S-Anon has the potential to become very big in Iran, but it needs the support of S-Anon members from abroad, as they have no experienced members. In Tehran S-Anon meetings have been started. We keep in contact with Vahid (an SA member who is coordinating the translation of the S-Anon literature) and are acting as a liaison between S-Anon Iran and S-Anon Europe. They have begun translating the S-Anon Blue Book (12 Steps). A weekly Skype meeting in Iran is being set up and the S-Anon pioneers have asked for a speaker for the opening meeting. At the Madrid Regional Convention last May an experienced member of S-Anon from the Netherlands offered to take on this service.
In Isfahan a few women have got together to start Sanon and have a room to meet, but they find they are lost on how to work the program and have asked for support from S-Anon more experienced members, being the language a barrier to communicate we are trying to think how to serve them best.
This experience has made a deep impact on our personal recovery and growing trust in our HP who choreographed every single second and encounter. We really recommend sober members from Europe and the US to travel to this beautiful country to go to the local meetings and meet the local fellows!!
For the editor: