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.

5. Kevin Yriondo
A Saga of Real Honesty

My first experience with drug treatment came early in life. I went through high school using drugs moderately, for the most part, sometimes every day, other times not at all. My grades fluctuated, but not necessarily because of my drug use; I lacked interest in school as well.

When I was 19 years old I met a girl who liked using cocaine intravenously. So I probably used cocaine intravenously 30 or 40 times -- not occasions, but doses, rather. However, I realized this had an addictive hold on me, and I didn't think that was right, so I asked my parents if I could talk to them - not that I have a close family. They were kind of stunned that I wanted to talk to them both at the same time. I told them that I had a problem and I wanted to do something about it.

My parents decided they would go see what help was available. They ended up speaking to the people who were running a therapeutic community -- one of these programs that last two years. These people convinced them that unless I attended this program I was doomed, as they say in 12-step programs, to "jails, institutions, or death." They told my parents they needed to give me an ultimatum -- get out of the house or go to this two-year program.

Out of the house seemed a lot more attractive at the time, so I left my home and lived at friends' houses for awhile. When I got tired of that, I took a car that didn't belong to me and went back to my home town in Mississippi. While down there, I got arrested for the stolen car and put in jail.

Meantime, my mom had talked to folks at another program that seemed a little more mellow -- they said I would only have to stay in that program for two weeks. They didn't have a max. The program was called Notsostraight, Inc.

Unfortunately, that's were I went. When I got in there, these people held me by the belt loop in a big room filled with people. This was for confrontational "therapy" where newcomers had to get in front of a group of about 120 people. One by one, these folks raised their hands, and when they were called on, they screamed at you in front of the other people -- they got right in your face. After about four hours of this, your face is covered with spit. Victims got extremely mad or broke down crying. Most of them broke down crying.

I realized that after you release all these emotions, that's your weakest and most vulnerable time, a time they can then use to start brainwashing you. They break you down to the point where you don't know what's going on anymore -- you're totally malleable.

So I decided I wasn't going to break down. I decided I'd try to treat it like a bad acid trip. I was watching what was happening to all these new people, and thinking, wow, this is really weird, this couldn't really be happening. I tried to think of it that way, since I knew what their intent was.

So after they got done with me, the counselor, because I didn't cry, etc., asked what I had to say for myself. I told him I was an adult, I was over 18, I didn't want to be there anymore, and that he had a legal and moral obligation to release me. So he starts talking all this shit. He told that group of about 120 people, You know what this guy did? He stole a car, and got caught. He can't do shit right. The counselor kept it up, trying to humiliate me in front of all those people.

I didn't show that bothered me -- I just sat there smiling. Then he asked the people holding me to move back. He asked if I wanted to hit him. I said No, I don't want to hit you. I want to leave. He kept pressing the issue, kept asking if I wanted to hit him. Well, it was true that by that time, I did want to hit him. So I did hit him, and broke his nose. They jumped on me, and as a result, years later, I still have a knot on my forehead, which had crashed on the hard floor.

And they wouldn't let me out of there.

Four days later I stole a pair of scissors. I broke the scissors in half, so I had a pointed piece and a curved piece. They had the doors barricaded with mattresses and so forth, and bars on the windows so people couldn't get out. But I got out.

On the way to the parking lot, I was accosted by one of them. I had to put the scissors up to his throat. It even drew a little blood -- not a lot of bleeding, not bad. When they saw how serious I was, they let me out of there. They didn't call the police or anything, because they knew they were wrong to start with. I was justified in whatever I had to do to get out of there. I was an adult being detained illegally.

I got in a little more trouble after that. My troubles, in fact, persisted for another two years. Eventually, I was arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. This made the Washington Post as well as the Fairfax Journal. I got arrested with a sizable quantity of cocaine and $18,000 dollars. I was sentenced to 18 years in the penitentiary.

I went to Virginia state pen. During my years in prison, I became extremely good at prison legal work. As a result, I got out after six years. Also, I had no drug problem by then. I had not used drugs the whole time I was in prison -- no AA, no NA, just didn't use. While in prison, I had been forced to go to AA and NA, but I didn't like it. I told them I thought it was cult-like, and it wasn't for me, and because of my own religious preferences I did not think it was right for them to force a male monotheistic God or any other religious structure on me. So I was barred from those meetings for speaking my mind.

I was clean all on my own when released from prison. I did well, bought a house, and got married to my former prison counselor.

During mid-1984 I got depressed, which had actually been my problem all along. I now take antidepressants, but at that time I didn't know what I needed. So I got very depressed, and whenever I got depressed, I'd want to use drugs. The options would sort of narrow down for me -- take drugs to numb the pain, or commit suicide. When I was depressed like that, the drugs would seem the lesser of two evils. It's not that I was attracted to drugs or that my life was centered around drugs -- I just didn't know what else to do. It wasn't an ingrained behavior -- it was just an option. And I had access, through some I knew, to a lot of opiates.

I started using opiates. Eventually, I forged several prescriptions and got caught in Bay County, Florida. I got caught by the pharmacist, but I knew a warrant would be issued eventually. I told my wife, who did not handle it very well, which I can understand. I told her I had to get out of town.

So I flew to Amsterdam from New Orleans, and from there to Berlin, then to Zurich. At the time my wife was a juvenile probation officer in Florida, so she could check if there were any warrants for my arrest. There weren't any.

So, I flew back to the good old U.S. Within a week, the police called my wife's workplace, my workplace, and our home looking for me. So I departed again. this time I was going to Spain, but I had a layover in Mexico City. My parents talked me into staying there, then taking a bus to San Miguel to see a therapist some relatives knew. He told me he couldn't help me, that I was as close to hopeless as a person could get. I was very addicted to narcotics at that time, to an extreme that most addicts in NA with their little drugalogues never get to, because they rarely have the unlimited access to drugs I had.

Have you heard of fentanyl? It's anywhere from 200 to 1000 times stronger than heroin, depending on the variety. They don't make pills with it -- they've got a lollypop now and patches for terminal cancer patients and so forth. It's undetectable -- you can't get caught by a urine test. So I was wearing my 400 mcg patches of fentanyl, and getting 80 mg of methadone a day, and shooting dope. I was doing really bad.

My wife made arrangements for me to go into XYZ Clinic, in a university hospital. They detoxed me there. There's a famous doctor there who holds the patents on two prescription drugs. He detoxed me. No 12-step nonsense. I could sign out and leave if I wanted.

I got caught drinking beer there. I had brought two cans of beer back in my coat, and the maid found the empties in my room. The doctor called me in. Hey Kevin, were you drinking beer in your room? I admitted it. He than asked, "How many did you have? I said two He asked me how I felt after two. I told him fine, a little more relaxed. Then he said, well, that doesn't sound like alcohol abuse to me.

XYZ Clinic is also where I learned that my drug problems were rooted in depression, which is, of course, treatable.

However, the law wasn't through with me. After the arrest on the prescription forgery charges, I went to jail for six months. The probation people then ordered me into a six-month drug treatment program called "Clinton." It was run by a company called Doesn't Work Programs, Inc. They get state contracts for drug treatment. The whole thing is based on 12-step nonsense. So from the time I went in, I was, because of my opinion of the 12 steps, public enemy #1. From the beginning I had a hard time in there.

They told me I had to call myself an addict, or I would be kicked out. I didn't want to be dishonest in that way, and I didn't feel like I should say this as long as I wasn't using addictive drugs. But then I realized I could probably say I was honestly addicted to nose spray, since I needed to use it constantly to keep my sinuses from getting swollen and my nose from running all the time. So I figured, well, I'm addicted to nasal spray, so I can honestly say I'm an addict. I would go through mental gymnastics like that so I could feel like I was being honest with these people and still be able to stay in the program and avoid going back to jail.

Verbal abuse in Clinton was very common. They had unbridled discretion to discharge anyone, which, since they relied on probationers to fill their beds, gave them god-like power over their patients. This was an excellent set-up for Nazi-like rule enforcement, since discharge for any probationer meant prison for that person. They could get away with forcing obedience to a lot of very stupid rules, and could inflict a lot of emotional abuse. Anyone who spoke out against their 12-step program who hadn't the ability (unlike me) to file a lawsuit could easily be discharged. Selective enforcement of rules was a tool they frequently used to discriminate against people who spoke out against 12-step orthodoxy, or refused to follow it.

On one occasion a counselor at Clinton asked me what I thought of the program so far. I told him I thought AA and the 12 steps were fine for someone who just needed to blindly follow a religion or a superstitious doctrine, but that I thought most people needed something other than that, and that they should be allowed to choose other approaches. I was making this speech, and the program director came in and started raging at me. She had totally misinterpreted me. I was promoting tolerance, but she kep raging. I said, Excuse me, but since you're interrupting me, can I interrupt you for a minute? You've managed to not only interrupt me, but misinterpret me, which takes a real talent. After that she didn't like me at all.

I had one problem after another like that. Anything I said like that, even joking, would become a gigantic issue at Clinton. Once I joked that maybe if Bill W. Was born in a manger on Christmas, the wise men would bring him coffee, cigarettes, and literature, and oh they blew a hole about that.* Then I made a fake flyer for the Billapallooza concert, with the band Serenity playing their hit, Think, Think, Think, and I put it on the bulletin board. Oh, they raged about that, too. These things were jokes -- if there's no humor in the way you live your life, you've got to rearrange something. But they didn't understand; they thought I was making light of this serious, serious issue. When they kept talking about this disease, I'd say, Look, there's no disease cured by drinking coffee and talking in a smoky church basement.

* Bill W., the revered cofounder of AA, was severely addicted to tobacco. He continued smoking even after he began suffering from emphysema and eventually died from the disease. And coffee-drinking is, of course, endemic in AA meetings.

If this were a viable modality of treatment for anyone who was sick, I'd send them to a church basement, give them 25 cigarettes, and talk to them -- they'd get better, right? I'd tell them, What it is, you guys have a social support network, and the problem with that social support network is that you encourage each other to stay sick.

I went through the program, but I ended up threatening to start a lawsuit against them for violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment by forcing me to go to these 12-step meetings and hear this religious nonsense. So they exempted me from going to outside meetings, but when I got out the probation department insisted I still go to two meetings a week.

I went to the meetings, but they were horrible. The people didn't like me to start with, because they'd met me while they had been doing H & I (Hospital and Institutions Service) at the inpatient meetings while I was inside the drug rehab. They already knew I would speak my mind. I'd tell them I was only trying to grow up, to find things in my life that were more appealing than drugs to fill the void, rather than this artificial social circle they'd formed in meetings. All a 12-step group really is is a social club that's made for the socially inept, the maladjusted, and the perpetually needy. As long as you're sitting in that social circle and looking to it for the answer to your problems, you're going to stay sick the rest of your life. They did not like that I said that.

By this time, I'd been clean for two years, but still had to go to these meetings. The people I had to listen to were so miserable. It was just one diatribe after another about how horrible their days were. Half of them in there have to create a crisis in order to have something to talk about at the meeting. If you're too happy at the meeting, you're not honest, and if you bitch too much you're on your pity pot.

I'd hear young women at the meeting say, oh, and my boyfriend said this and this today, but I thought "using is not an option," and I decided I would just let it go and let God. I'm thinking, Didn't I just hear this last week? Wasn't it just last week that your mother said something you felt like using over? And you let it go and let God? It's the same fucking shit, week after week. And they don't learn, because they are trained to think they are going to want to use, and to be needy.

I got really sick of being subjected to that. That's why, once I got off probation, I decided that since I had to have this dogma shoved down my throat week after week, that AA and NA would have to listen to what I had to say about it for an equal amount of time. That's justice. That's why you're reading this now.