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.

14. Little Wing
Betrayal in AA Put Me in a Psych Ward

I got clean from a crank addiction at 19 years old, after seven years as an IV user. I did not go into AA because I simply could not take all of the religion in the rooms and instead went to NA. The NA group I went to was the only one in town, and none of the regular members had more than one year clean time. In fact, the group had been around for only two months. My sponsor had also been a crank addict; she had only three more months clean than I had.

This is not the horror story -- this, in fact, was the closest I have ever felt to a bunch of addicts in my life. But at 18 months clean, a problem developed. I finished my fourth step before my sponsor did, and she promptly fired me. I said I would wait until she finished hers, but she refused. She said she was following the rules.

I looked around for someone to do my fifth step with, and -- to be honest -- I wanted to impress her in a big way, so in an act of sheer bravado I asked an AA member who came to our meetings occasionally to sponsor me. This person is nationally famous in AA circles, and a Catholic priest to boot. It took a lot of courage for me to ask him, but as soon as he said "yes," I started to feel like there was something wrong.

At our initial meeting, he let me know what he expected, starting with Christmas and birthday presents -- which he would by no means reciprocate -- and ending with perfect punctuality. Then -- I am Comanche -- he went on to explain what is wrong with Native Americans. Then he began to harp on problems with blacks. (My husband is racially mixed).

When I objected, he said he was just being "realistic" and proceeded to explain how I was "emasculating" my husband by cutting up his credit cards when he spent us into debts we had no hope of repaying. He added that I was in denial when I disagreed with his statement that Indians' problems all stemmed from the "fact" that Indian women psychically castrate their husbands.

Against my better judgment, I continued with him. I just didn't want to admit what a mistake I had made. He was universally idolized and, with rare exceptions, still is in our area. I put off actually doing the fifth step with him as long as possible. But finally, after more than a month of stalling, I agreed to do it.

I had barely begun, and had reached the part I had written about being sexually abused by my stepfather when I was a child. My priest-sponsor stopped me right there and told me that this sexual abuse had no place in my fourth step. I said it had shaped my using behavior, preparing me to trade sex for drugs, and to devalue my sexuality. The silence sort of roared between us for a few minutes. Then, he repeated, what you have written is not a fourth step.

I shut down. He told me to call him when I had written a real fourth step. He then gave me a fourth step guide he had written. In closing he said, You aren't nearly as intelligent as you think you are.

I could have argued, but I left. When I got home, I looked at the fourth step guide -- all 1500 or so questions -- and found that most of it was just insane. A good number of the questions were totally irrelevant things about whether or not you masturbated, and if you did whether or not you used a vibrator. Suddenly my choice was clear -- I might end up totally ostracized, but I had to dump him.

I called him right then and told him I needed a female sponsor. He seemed surprised. I thought the ordeal was over. Little did I know that he would want revenge.

I proceeded with my life. I did the fifth step with a former prescription drug addict, and received little solace as she was totally overwhelmed by my story. But at least she didn't belittle me.

Meanwhile, my husband was having sponsor problems of his own and he relapsed. I was trying to hold my marriage together, keep my sanity, and not use drugs or alcohol.

But when I went to my fellow sufferers for help, I discovered I had been sabotaged. This man, this priest, this paragon of sobriety, had gotten even with me the best way he know how -- he lied about me. He went to the trouble of personally contacting my former sponsor I loved so much and telling her I had lied to him and he had fired me for it. In fact, he said, she's probably been lying to you all along. I couldn't even say for sure she's really clean.

I had followed the 12-step edict to stay away from old friends, so when I suddenly found myself a pariah within the 12-step community, I was totally isolated. Against all odds, I did not use drugs or alcohol. However, I did become suicidal to the point that my husband committed me for a brief stay on a locked psychiatric ward.

It took two years before I returned to an NA meeting. I have stayed totally clear of AA. Still, even today, it is impossible for me to feel completely at ease at a meeting, even with almost ten years clean.