Horror Stories
True Tales of Misery, Betrayal and Abuse in NA, AA and 12-Step Treatment

Rebecca Fransway
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This book is here courtesy of See Sharp Press and Rebecca Fransway, Ed.

19. Dora
They Should Have Taken Me to the ER

I was at a well-known East Coast recovery house, which I will call Hope Lodge, from November 6, 1996 until February 12, 1997, under the direction of an old-timer AA member, who says she was personal friends with Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith.

Since then, I have read a few of the books about alternatives to 12-step recovery, and also material on Moderation Management. This information has helped me a lot. I am now in therapy and am feeling somewhat better than I did when I left the recovery house, although it took my grandmother many days to deprogram me. Yet I doubt I will ever be the same.

My story has nothing to do with heroin or cocaine -- I have never used them in my life. Nor have I ever been a drinker. It all began when I was having migraines along with other health problems, which included depression and anxiety. I was taking prescriptions for these problems. Although I always took the medication as prescribed, within four or five days after starting the new migraine medication, I had a bad drug interaction, with very severe symptoms. I had been visiting my parents when this happened. I now feel my mother's decision -- to send me to rehab -- was an extreme overreaction. They should have just taken me to the emergency room. Instead of calling an ambulance, they waited a few hours for me to wake up. The medicine had put me in a deep sleep, and if they really thought I was in danger, they should have gotten me to a hospital.

A few months earlier, my mother had stopped drinking cold turkey, after having drunk daily and heavily during my formative years. She never did call herself an alcoholic, although she still carries on and on about AA stuff. I really think I ended up at Hope Lodge because one of my parents' friends lives AA day in and day out, or so he says. I think he's just a con man, but he told them he went to Hope Lodge himself, and thought it was fine. Because of my experiences there, my father is no longer friends with him and does not keep in contact with him. My father now fully supports my point of view and helped me get the excellent medical care that I now have.

I first went to a detox house for 15 days before being transferred to Hope Lodge. I hadn't been eating very well for months; I'd been on a protein powder diet. The powder had all the necessary vitamins and minerals in it, but I had dropped to 110 pounds. I am 5' 7" and had always weighed around 135. So when I first got to the recovery house, I thought I was going to a place that addressed eating disorders. However, at this detox, I had nothing to detox from. I was allowed to keep the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medication -- Zoloft and Xanax -- prescribed me.

Later, when I was transferred to Hope Lodge, they told me that no one ends up there by accident. I heard a lot of that kind of God's will stuff. But even the head nurse asked me at the intake if I really thought I should be there.

Before signing in to Hope Lodge, you are not told that they will take all your credit cards, money, and I.D. They tell you there is a phone at Hope Lodge -- but there are no phones for clients. I read over the papers they gave me upon admission, but they were so vague I had no idea what I was in for. So, yes, I signed myself in, but I will never sign anything so ambiguous again.

My parents told me they would come every Sunday to visit, but we were lucky if Hope let them visit once a month. The location of Hope Lodge was remote, and leaving was discouraged, if not made an overwhelming task. And at Hope Lodge you don't even have to relapse to get back in. When one of the clients was simply fearful of a relapse, they told her to come back for a few weeks. She was still there four months later.

Upon arrival, I was subjected to a standard search of my things and me. Then I was introduced to my buddy. At such 30-day recovery places, the buddy is supposed to be just another client appointed to hang out with you for a few days to make sure you get to where you are supposed to be. But in actual practice, having a buddy means having to spend two weeks with that person no further than six feet away, ever. If one of you wants to stand, the other must. And all the while you are continually being observed by staff, who note how you react to this very unnatural situation.

The routine at Hope Lodge was regimented. We had a strict schedule of when we got up, ate, went to meetings and groups, wrote in our journals, and did step work. We were run ragged -- it was like a military regimen. All day we were inundated with a constant barrage of AA stuff. They held hotseat, where the counselor and other clients would all gang up on one person to break him or her down emotionally. This was especially done to clients who said the wrong thing, or disagreed with some aspect of the program. I was in so much fear I would hardly say ten words; I just went along with everything I thought I was supposed to say and do.

And, within hours of admission to Hope Lodge, the harassment started about the Zoloft, the antidepressant I had been taking for quite some time, and the Xanax, which I needed to quell severe panic attacks. I was persuaded to go off my prescribed medication. No doctor oversaw this procedure, and the doctor who diagnosed my depression and anxiety was not consulted. They were fanatics about other medication as well, even over-the-counter stuff like aspirin and antihistimines. When I threw away mine, the result was disaster. I still have not regained the progress I had made while I'd been taking the antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

Although they took any reading material clients had, much of the daily regimen included writing, so they had a dictionary available to clients. I was so hungry for something besides "recovery" to occupy my mind, I took to reading the dictionary, just reading the lists of words and their meanings. I never let anyone see that's what I was doing; had they known, they would have taken it away from me. This dictionary-reading was something of my own, a part of myself I didn't relinquish and that kept me going.

It took me 95 days before I could get over the horror and shock enough to write to tell my oldest and dearest friend where I was. We have been best friends for 28 years. I was so embarrassed. She is married and has a family, and I was afraid she would want to come and get me. She had been calling my family and couldn't get an answer as to where I was. She knew something was terribly wrong. One of the biggest effects on my personality from the abandonment of my medication, and the AA brainwashing that took its place, is fear. While in the recovery house, I developed a fear of many things. I now feel like I am missing out on so much. There are now parts of life -- traveling, shopping, visiting -- that I should not be afraid of, nor had I ever been afraid of before. I will never be able to forget when those little things that many people don't think about were not available to me then, and because of my fear, seem out of reach now. My friends are always asking me to go there and there with them. They already know I won't go, but at least they still call and keep asking me to get out of the house. I feel like I have turned into a little old lady overnight.

Fear. Yes, but next month is a new month so maybe I will then think about going places again. I might not, but at least I have the freedom to make those decisions.

At Hope Lodge the only "decision" we were allowed to make was that we are powerless, which I am not. They told us that we had to relinquish our wills. Hope Lodge was wrong again; I hung on to my will. That's how I survived at all -- my will. They are very good at breaking you down, but they didn't break me down all the way.

The only extra reading we had at Hope Lodge was the daily newspaper, the national edition of the New York Daily News, and a local paper, the Day Ledger. They were not put in the lounge until after three o'clock, which was also the same time as mail call. We had until 5:45 to be seated for dinner. Women had to wear dresses every night, and had to sit at the table, six to a table, until 7:00 p.m. All the while, the staff sat there and watched us to make sure we were interacting. It was such a strange feeling to have these weird people watching us. The evening brainwashing session started at 7:15 and lasted until 9:00 p.m. Then we could watch television until 10:00 p.m. They had a terribly old television with an antenna that only received the four main stations, and whoever got to the TV first decide what we watched. I never got to see the evening news, since the earliest news was at 10:00. But the newspapers where still out to read. I could take leave of the dictionary and read the news, which I did, hungrily, if I got to one of the papers first.

If you insist on leaving, you have to put in a 96-hour notice, and then the staff will dump you at a bus stop in the nearest town. But what would you do with no I.D., no money, no credit cards? I had been physically weak for years, and after the ordeal at Hope, I didn't feel I would be able to make the 60-some mile trek on foot to my grandmother's. After three months of being off needed medication, along with the verbal and emotional abuse, being treated like a child, having no freedom, and being subjected to nearly continuous brainwashing, I was a basket case. I started crying, and I couldn't stop.

They finally called my father, and allowed me to ask him to take me home. Once he picked up on how emotionally unstable I was, and how clients were really treated if they didn't like the multitude of rules and regulations, he came right away. Before that, my parents had simply accepted what they wanted to hear. The day that I signed out, I was so glad to be leaving that it didn't bother me to sign a form absolving the lodge of responsibility for my condition. I was not allowed to say goodbye to the friends I'd made. Once my parents picked me up, they agreed to take me to my grandmother. As soon as my grandmother saw me, she said -- Dora's not leaving this house. My grandmother was born in 1914, well before recovery centers sprang up all over. She had watched the recovery movement over a period of time, and never liked any of it. While I was with her, sometimes I'd spout AA cliches as I was programmed to do, and she would remind me that was not how the world worked. For example, I'd say Let go and let God, and she would remind me that this was quite possibly crap, a way to avoid problems, and that everything that happened to me was not God's will. The leader and others at the center had told me what they thought God's will was, and my grandmother would tell me, How do they know what God's will is? They don't know that.


Thanks to continued good psychiatric care, a good therapist, being able to tell my story, and having someone listen to me and believe me I am getting better. Lately, I've been able to leave the house to go pick up my elderly aunt and drive her to go shopping. I have been able to work in the family business as well. I have survived -- although if something like this were ever to happen to me again, I doubt I could stand going through it.