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.

35. Lisa
AA Made Me Worse

Let me start by saying that AA provides a useful framework for many, many people, and I always encourage new members of the alternative recovery group I now use to give AA a shot and at least check out a few different meetings. I also encourage participation in other alternatives to AA, because I think it's important that individuals explore anything that might be helpful to them. I believe that recovery is an intensely personal journey, and every person must find his or her own mix of recovery-supporting activities and beliefs. I also believe that a coercive and close-minded approach to sobriety does a terrible disservice to people in great need of help.

My experience in AA was not a good one. For about two years, I tried earnestly and desperately to "make it" in AA, and to stick with and be one of the winners -- with an alarming lack of success. This was a very dangerous and self-destructive time in my life, and one in which I was repeatedly told that AA was my only option, my only chance for salvation and survival.

I got involved in AA after years of dependence on alcohol and after a number of serious incidents, which eventually made it clear to me and to the people closest to me that I was in serious trouble. Initially, I wasn't convinced that I wanted or need help, but attempts to control my drinking resulted in disastrous lapses, and I began a long string of hospital treatments. A few weeks of outpatient treatment was followed by a week of inpatient treatment, which was followed by two weeks of inpatient treatment, and eventually a 28-day stay at an inpatient treatment center. During every one of these treatment stints, there were mandatory daily AA meetings. AA was presented as the only means of achieving sobriety; no mention was ever made of any other program, philosophy, or possible way to get sober. Indeed, it was frequently stated that there was no other way, and anyone who believed there was, was fooling himself or herself. Lack of enthusiasm for any aspect of AA was deemed resistance to treatment.

So, desperate to get help, I threw myself wholeheartedly into AA. My drinking had, in fact, been life threatening, and I took a medical leave from work to attend AA twice daily. I got a sponsor, I collected and used phone numbers, and I spoke at meetings. I asked for help. I tried to do everything that other people told me to do, since I was told that my own judgment was of very little value.

But every time I had questions or issues, I got platitudes for answers, or my concerns were discounted. Instructions like leave your brain at the door and just don't drink were not helpful. Nor was the emphasis on humbling myself and discounting my own needs and intuition -- both of these were tendencies that I already had, and that I actually needed to counter in order to get sober. In spite of very active participation in the program, I spiraled into deeper and deeper depression, with periodic bouts of drinking and suicidal behavior, which only served to demonstrate that I clearly wasn't working the program or that I didn't want to get better. Such thinking led me to hate myself even more, and believe in myself even less.

After a third DUI, which ultimately resulted in a mandatory minimum prison sentence, I finally decided that I didn't really care anymore what other people thought. My family and my husband had about given up on me. They no longer cared how hard I was working and how many meetings I was going to. There was no longer any reason to try to prove myself to other people. Things were bad enough that I was really and truly alone with myself and my problems. And I knew that I was going to have to find something that worked for me -- screw what everybody else thought. I was going to have to start doing what I felt was important.

Finally, I found an alternative recovery method, Women for Sobriety. Unfortunately, there were no meetings I could get to. But, with a foundation of personal recovery based on writing to other sober women and using the philosophy outlined in the WFS literature -- plus a year of sobriety -- I started a group one year later.

I've found that learning to take care of myself (instead of focusing on everybody else), recognizing my own needs, and believing in myself have been critical to my sobriety. I think it's a travesty that AA is presented as the only viable way to sobriety. I find AA a tad cultish, and I have a real problem with anyone who believes in any kind of blind obedience and "one true way." That one true way didn't work for me. I had to find my own.