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.

44. Jane
AA Suicides

I had been sober almost four years when my boyfriend's "sponsee" committed suicide. John was 24 years old and had been in the program for about two years. He mainly hung out with a group of extremely hard-line AAs who were half-jokingly referred to as The Trudgers -- as in trudge the Road to Happy Destiny. (from the Big Book) John asked my boyfriend to be his sponsor, because his previous sponsor, a Trudger, had called him a "wimp" and an "asshole" whenever John tried to discuss personal problems. Apparently the Trudgers' line of thought was that if you were working the program rigorously and correctly you wouldn't have problems, such as not being able to talk to girls. And if you did, these problems shouldn't matter because the program was supposed to be your entire life. It was an attitude shared by the Trudger crowd, along with a certain arrogance -- after all, they were the ones who were working it correctly. in other parts of the country, such groups or individuals are often referred to as "AA fundies" or AA fundamentalists."

John emptied the medicine cabinet into himself and hopped the first streetcar out of his neighborhood. He was found on the waterfront unconscious, having drunk a bottle of vodka to wash down the pills. He was taken to a local hospital. Since no pill bottles were found on him, an assumption was made that he was just drunk, so they didn't pump his stomach. He died a few hours later.

I went to his funeral, and the Trudger crowd was there, including that rat-bastard ex-sponsor. Everyone was standing around in the lobby of the funeral home, and here were these AAs hanging out as if it were just another meeting. None of them looked so much as sad. John's family was sitting off to one side of the room, and on the other were AAs analyzing amongst themselves just why John had done himself in.

I heard a lot of talk over the next few weeks that maybe he'd held something back in his fourth step, or maybe had something else he just couldn't face, and I felt my own rage building up. A lot of things that had merely irritated me about the Program and the way people interacted within it began to seriously piss me off. I went to meetings for another four months but, eventually, I had to abandon AA.

John had been ill served by the Program when alive, and his memory was found wanting by its members after he was dead. He'd been a sweet, bright kid. He'd been rather immature, but he certainly didn't deserve to die. Also, he'd had wide mood swings, and I think he could have been helped by medication. But, had he taken it, the self-designated recovery experts in AA would have stood smugly by and told him he wasn't sober.

Another tragedy occurred with Tess. She had been in AA for a number of years before a cab driver beat the living shit out of her one night for refusing his advance. He beat her so badly she had to have vertebrae in her neck and back fused, and she was in constant pain the entire time I knew her. Some days she'd be hysterical with it.

She wouldn't take the painkillers she'd been prescribe, because she didn't want to "lose her sobriety." But the attitude toward her in the meetings was that Tess was a "drama queen" who wanted a lot of attention, when, in fact, she was half out of her mind with pain.

Finally the Catch-22 got her. She took her prescribed medication all at once. A small group of her close friends were genuinely affected by her loss, but the general attitude of the same people who thought of her as a hysterical attention-seeker was that she just didn't work the program hard enough.

Fuck, yes, I still "have a resentment."

Because of these kinds of tragedies, I left AA after four-and-a-half years. I had no money, no real job prospects, and although San Francisco was a big city, I couldn't go anywhere without running into another AA. So I ended up doing a geographic cure . It was the best move I could have made. I moved to a town where I knew absolutely nobody; I had to rebuild my entire social life from the ground up. It was terribly lonely for the first year, and if I'd known the job market was as bad as it was, I might have done things differently.

But after four years here, I can honestly say that I made the right choice. I got to remake myself in my own image, and I was able to make friends with a pretty cool bunch of people just by showing up for Saturday morning coffee at the same place every weekend. I have told my friends about my time in AA, and none of them can figure out why I ever thought I was an alcoholic.

I remember being incredibly depressed as I was leaving AA. I couldn't continue in it, yet I hadn't really found anything to replace it (although school helped). I felt cut off from the entire human race, so I ended up contacting a couple of people I used to drink with in my bad old days, mainly because I could recall better times with them than I could with my AA cronies. They've turned out to be great friends after all; they remember me at my worst, and forgive it.

If you really think moving elsewhere will help, it probably will. Even if adjusting to a new place is tough, it beats having to deal with the same old shit -- the expectations people can load on you. If you want to be new and improved, it really helps to get as far away from the old patterns as possible. So, if you think it's right, go for it. Trust yourself.