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

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

22. Jerry
Shunned and Slandered

My story's not that bad compared to what I've heard and seen in my time, but professionals may not realize that it's not just the clients who can get into trouble with AA.

I was four-and-a-half years clean and sober before I walked into my first 12-step meeting. I only went because I started volunteering to help set up and run a much needed detox, and my new co-coworkers (funny how it turned out they were all AAs) were on my ass to go, to support our clients and avoid relapse myself. I felt fine without the meetings and had known for years that I would never use again, but I wanted to know more about AA.

AA is very seductive. At first they had me fooled, and I was spouting the party line even though I didn't believe I was powerless, diseased, or that there was such a thing as a higher power. Not for me, for you, I'd say to clients. But that just didn't sit right with me. I didn't fight my way back to the good life just to act like a junkie again.

After a time I realized why most of our clients (by this time I was involved in other addiction recovery projects and training to be a counselor) continued to fail to stay clean and sober. They seemed to be taking the ideas of powerlessness, disease, and higher powers and twisting them to where they were now an excuse for why they didn't have to go through the discomfort of quitting forever. I decided to look for something else. I found out about Rational Recovery and opened a small RR office and an "open all day" meeting room next to the office.

I made the mistake of getting some publicity for the place, and I expected all of my friends and contacts to refer clients to it. My real business pretty much ran itself, and I was free to hang out and volunteer in the RR meeting room most of the day.

That's when the trouble started. Almost everyone from the recovery community turned on me. First my so-called AA friends were giving me the cold shoulder, and then my contacts at Social Services, Salvation Army, treatment centers, shelters, etc. also turned their backs on me.

I was disappointed and a little hurt, but figured it was better to find out what they were like before getting in any deeper with them. Surprisingly, some AA people secretly supported me and helped me through the whole thing, by letting me know, for instance, what was being said and done about me. But even those who supported me privately refused to do so publicly.

Despite everything, the RR meeting room had at least some success. A lot of AA and NA failures joined RR and did quite well. And lots joined and failed at RR too.

The strange phone calls (most only wanting to "save" me, but there was abuse from a few angry nuts) coming to my home at all hours of the night and day started to scare my wife and teenaged (at that time) daughters. We had to change our home numbers to unlisted ones, and we ended up changing those one more time. Attacks on my reputation (at the time I owned several small businesses) followed, and then a reporter started doing surveillance on my house. He had been told that my wife, who appears about 10 years younger than me, and my two daughters were hookers who were living and working out of my house. I got a lawyer and managed to get the story stopped before it went in the paper. The guy didn't even want to meet my wife, he was so sure the story was true. He just wanted me to quick-quick deny it so he could print it.

The most disturbing incident was a break-in at my RR office. They (I have no real proof who) pried open a file cabinet and took all the files, but left a new lap-top computer (sitting open on my desk with all attachments packed and ready to go in the computer bag sitting next to it) as well as other valuable office equipment that I'd put in there. The only things missing were files.

It's about five or six years down the road now and my name is still not too good in the local recovery community. I keep my head down now and do my little addiction recovery counseling thing very low profile. I try to go out of town to the clients whenever possible, and I still do volunteer work, but I try to do it out of town. I've got too much to lose. How do you fight someone who's on welfare trashing your name? My lawyer says you can't get blood from a stone, and I'll just look like the bad guy if we sue.

I think it's harder on 12-steppers when they see you walk away dissatisfied than it is for them to see you walk away a failure.

And here I was, speaking out that I didn't believe in a higher power, didn't think I was powerless or diseased, and didn't need to go to meetings. I talked about being "recovered" and respectfully rejected their assertions that I was in denial. But I also made sure they knew I respected what they were doing if it made them happy.

And they had always accepted me as I was -- until I walked away and started doing something else. My fall from grace was swift and absolute. Lois Trimpey (of Rational Recovery) called it "the gift of rejection" and I guess I have to agree.