Court-Ordered Into AA? You Could Use The Satanic Temple Instead.

    Two-and-a-half years after a bad relationship left her homeless, and 16 months after Child Protective Services took her children, Stephanie Hahn was living in a makeshift tent on the side of a freeway. Her alcohol and heroin use had deepened after she lost her children; she shifted from smoking methamphetamine to injecting. A judge had mandated her to a live-in drug treatment program, which she entered in January 2021 and “failed” out of by March.

    By summer, she’d left her hometown of Hanford, California, and isolated herself 45 minutes away in Fresno. With the Central Valley sun baking her tent as her next court date loomed, her former life seemed further and further away. Her parents had turned their backs on her. Her children were up for adoption. She’d taken a loan out on her 401K.

    “I was just super lost,” Hahn, 38, told Filter. “And I was in hot water. I had a warrant out for my arrest, I had no money, no phone, missing my CPS visits. The only thing I had was my Satanism.”

    Two days before her September court date, she went back to Hanford and entered a new recovery program.

     

     

    The Satanic Temple (no relation to the Church of Satan) is a nontheistic organization that rejects superstition as a prerequisite for religion. It describes its Satanism as one of compassion, bodily autonomy and anti-authoritarianism. TST members don’t worship a literal supernatural Devil, but view Satan as a symbol of resistance—the “Eternal Rebel” fighting unjust power.

    Sober Faction is TST’s peer support program for addiction recovery, hosting the type of group meetings broadly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. It first met in June 2020, and was popular enough to become an official TST campaign by April 2021. 

    Sober Faction’s main focus is substance addiction, but supports a number of members in or seeking recovery from process addictions (gambling; eating disorders; video games; sex; porn). Its practices integrate components of cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing with seven physical rituals.

    “A lot of people come in here and hear the word ‘ritual’ and think it’s some spooky woo-woo stuff, so, that’s not our approach,” TST Reverend Jon Eldritch told Filter. “For us, ritual is not a belief in the supernatural; it’s practices that we’ve found really give us a sense of empowerment. As opposed to just, ‘Alright, I’m done with Step 1, let’s start Step 2.’”

    “We have a largely queer membership, and a lot of that has to do with them not feeling safe or comfortable in other rooms.

    Sober Faction respects that many people benefit from and enjoy AA, Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and similar peer recovery groups. But it was undeniably created as a response to the side of 12-Step that is frequently cult-like, anti-science and dangerously moralizing.

    “There is nothing within AA that incorporates the actual science behind addiction and recovery and withdrawal,” TST Priest Joe Dee told Filter. “So we made sure to create our program with scientific understanding in mind.”

    Though Sober Faction might sound like an abstinence-only group, harm reduction approaches are welcome. Recurrence of use isn’t shamed. Medications for substance use disorders aren’t stigmatized. Sober Faction does not define “sobriety” or “recovery”; each member can give the terms whatever meaning they want.

    In a rejection of the traditional AA sponsor/sponsee relationship, Sober Faction uses a non-hierarchical peer model that encourages participants to work with whomever they feel comfortable, regardless of experience level. Multiple partners are encouraged, to provide a sturdier base of support.

    “We very much wanted to avoid the teacher-student dichotomy,” Eldritch said. “If there’s one thing Satanists don’t like, it’s arbitrary authority.”

    Dee described Sober Faction meetings as consistently upbeat and full of laughter—rather than somber and critical—an approach that has helped make its meetings especially welcoming to those who have felt the least welcomed by 12-Step groups.

    “It’s such a different energy. And that psychological benefit is what brings people back, just knowing you’re accepted and not having to hide your truth or who you are,” they said. “We have a [largely] queer membership, and a lot of that has to do with them not feeling safe or comfortable in other rooms. If you ask what does one of our meetings look like, it’s fun.” 

     

     

    The recovery program that Hahn walked into in September was not TST. It was a residential treatment program, like the one she hadn’t finished at the beginning of the year, and it held AA meetings in-house in addition to the ones available over Zoom.

    “They said it wasn’t a faith-based program,” Hahn said, “but it was.”

    Despite the common AA assurance that references to God could mean the “God of your own understanding,” house residents had to say a Christian prayer before every meal and at the start of classes each day, after which the house president recited the Bible verse that would be that day’s focus. Christian Radio played in the common areas. Bible Study was on Wednesdays. (Hahn’s Satanic Bible was poorly received.)

    Alienated and increasingly isolated within the program, Hahn was searching for Satanic-friendly Zoom options when she stumbled across Sober Faction. Incredulous, she attended her first meeting.

    It was the most amazing experience,” Hahn said. “I’ve gone to Christian church before, I was raised Catholic, but this was the first time in my life that I actually felt true compassion and empathy and non-judgment from people I didn’t even know. I mean, I was stoked.”

    The house held Church services on Sundays, but wouldn’t allow Hahn to Zoom into TST Temple Tuesdays. Meanwhile, her refusal to participate in Christian-based components of the program meant that she was constantly written up,” and as a result denied privileges like access to her cell phone or the house computers. During group outings or recreation time, she had to stay in her room.

    “If I wasn’t in the classroom or at the table for meals, I was in my room,” Hahn said. “As if I was in jail or something.”

    The conflict around her religious rights came to a head one night in mid-October. Following particularly bad fight, the program director yelled at her to ‘pack your shit get the fuck out of my program, you’ve caused enough problems,’ Hahn recounted.

    Though miserable in the house, she was devastated to be kicked out. She needed to remain in compliance with her court orders for her kids, and she needed housing and peer support for her sobriety. But she still had Sober Faction.

    “I held onto those meetings like they were just my air to breathe,” Hahn said. She told Dee what had happened, and Dee offered to write a letter of support for Hahn to use at her next court appearance.

    The letter explained that Sober Faction was an official campaign of TST, a federally recognized tax-exempt religious organization, and attested to Hahn’s consistent attendance at four meetings a week, plus the Tuesday religious services.

    “That letter turned my whole court case around.”

    If someone assigned AA requests Sober Faction instead, there’s no legal basis for the court to deny them.

    In documents reviewed by Filter, Hahn’s case plan required her to attend a minimum of two (2) NA/AA meetings per week” as well as “attempt to gain a sponsor. The documents included updates on when she was not in compliance with this component.

    “I did express at the beginning about my beliefs and me being a Satanist, and not being comfortable going to the AA and NA, but I really didn’t have a choice,” Hahn said. “They said if I don’t follow the case plan that I wouldn’t be meeting my requirements, and if I don’t meet my requirements I’m subject to having my kids be put up for adoption.”

    There’s some debate about whether it’s unconstitutional to mandate someone to a religious program like AA or just “dangerously close,” David Lucas, clinical advisor at the Health in Justice Action Lab, told Filter. Many in the field discourage drug courts ordering people to attend 12-Step programs, acknowledging that it’s too much of a legal gray area. And yet it happens constantly.

    “Twelve-step is popular in the drug court world because it’s about personal responsibility, taking ownership,” Lucas said. “All those moral overtones that are very much present in the drug court culture.”

    For many people who’ve gone through drug court, AA might have been the only peer support group option that was free and in their region, especially if they live somewhere rural. Even when there are other options, the court might not be aware of them or particularly inclined to look. Pretty much anywhere you live, AA has long been what’s closest, easiest to find and most familiar to the court.

    But just because a court presents AA as the only option doesn’t mean that’s true. If someone assigned AA requests Sober Faction instead, there’s no legal basis for the court to deny them.

    All of Sober Faction’s weekly meetings are publicly accessible over Zoom, so you can attend them from anywhere you can access internet. And you don’t have to be a Satanist; Dee said most people actually find their way to Sober Faction knowing little or nothing about TST, though some do discover Satanism to their liking and go on to join their local congregation.

    “Sober Faction is under a religious program, and is just as valid as any other group’s recovery program,” Eldritch said. “Anybody who’s court-ordered to go to AA [and] they’re looking for an alternative that’s not focused on superstition, they’re welcome to come to our program. And we’ve been successfully signing off on those court documents.”

     

    A Sober Faction 1-year chip

     

    At her next court date, Hahn had to tell the judge she’d been discharged from her residential treatment. But, she continued, she was still sober, still attending more than the minimum weekly meetings through another program similar to AA and had brought a letter of support from a priest at her congregation. The judge reviewed the letter and found Hahn to still be in compliance with her case plan.

    Following a home inspection, the court allowed her to move in with a sober family member. Her relationship with her mom is healing. She spent Thanksgiving and Halloween with her kids, whom she can see every day now rather than being limited to one two-hour visit per week.

    At her next court appearance in January, she hopes her record of the required 90 days program attendance, including an updated letter from Dee and her Sober Faction 66-day chip, will be enough for the court to approve her request that her children no longer be eligible for adoption.

    “Whenever I go to check into probation now they’re just amazed at my mentality and where I’m at versus where I was,” Hahn said. “Sober Faction did that for me.”

    Sober Faction can’t fulfill every requirement that might be in someone’s case plan, like urinalysis testing. And it’s no more a medical entity than AA, which is another reason some drug court authorities and legal experts don’t recommend mandated 12-Step programs; they don’t technically constitute “treatment,” the case plan component often fulfilled by more comprehensive programs like the residential one that discharged Hahn in October.

    But it’s not unheard of for drug courts to assign “treatment” that does ultimately consists of just peer support meetings. This would usually default to AA—but it doesn’t have to. In mid-December, Hahn’s lawyers told her that Sober Faction is now being considered her treatment program, at least for the time being.

    “There’s a saying in this field: ‘If you’ve seen one drug court, you’ve seen one drug court,’” Lucas said.

    Even voluntarily attending Sober Faction meetings on top of mandated requirements could help boost someone’s drug court resume. Lucas said that peer support meetings look good on a participant’s record and that drug courts factor them in as extra credit—a sign that the participant is taking their case plan seriously.

    For drug court participants whom AA doesn’t fit, Sober Faction stands to increase their odds of ultimately meeting the court’s requirements—and decrease the odds of a huge range of harms with which drug courts are associated, from incarceration to overdose.

    Mostly people just don’t know Sober Faction is an option.

    Sober Faction is currently signing off on mandated attendance documents for a half-dozen drug court participants, and has served as an AA alternative for around 10 altogether. Dee and Eldritch foresee no issues with scaling up if demand increased; mostly people just don’t know Sober Faction is an option.

    “As long as folks attend the meetings, there’s no cap,” Dee said with a smile. “I could sign off on them all day.”

    Not every judge or other drug court authority may be as amenable to Sober Faction as Hahn’s. But they have no legitimate argument against it, and Dee and Eldritch are prepared to support members who face any ideological resistance.

    “If they have any issue—a judge or someone doesn’t allow it or doesn’t back them up—they could come to us and we can advocate on their behalf,” Dee said. “Which we have successfully done.”

    Scaling up Sober Faction’s advocacy for people who are court-ordered into groups like AA and prefer something evidence-based would be a natural fit with TST’s broader activism—and drug courts precisely the kind of irrational, inequitable power that its Satanic mission opposes.

    “Let us stand firm against any and all arbitrary authority that threatens the personal sovereignty of One or All,” reads the TST Invocation. “That which can be destroyed by truth should never be spared its demise. It is Done. Hail Satan.”

     


     

    Top photograph of Satanic altar with Sober Faction chips, inset photograph of Seven Rituals text and inset photograph of Sober Faction 1-year chip courtesy of Reverend Jon Eldritch. Infographic by Pope Wonka via The Satanic Temple

    • Kastalia is Filter‘s deputy editor. She’s previously worked for outlets including Newsweek and VICE, and is also a peer worker at a syringe program in Brooklyn where she field-tests low-income New Yorkers for hepatitis C and navigates their treatment. She uses meth.

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