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.


One poor chap committed suicide in my home. He could not, or would not, see our way of life."
—Bill Wilson
Alcoholics Anonymous, p.16
Why 12-Step Horror Stories?

Why would you want to put together a book like this?, asked one of many AA members who e-mailed me about this project. Many were none too happy about it. But others said things like, "It's about time. The truth can only help, not hurt, AA.

And this book is about helping those in AA and NA, not hurting them. We have been very careful to change the names of writers and those they name in stories, as well as the names and locations of treatment centers and 12-step groups.

But the fact is, that as horrifying as many of them are, these stories are not at all unusual, and I am quite certain that many groups and individuals will recognize themselves in these tales. These stories come from all over the world, yet the same scenarios have taken place over and over within 12-step groups and treatment centers right here in my town. And all of these scenarios have very likely happened in 12-step groups and treatment centers in your town.

This book serves several purposes. To me, the most important is that it acknowledges the experiences of hurt and angry AA and NA members and former members, and to reassure them that they should not be held responsible for being abused in 12-step groups or treatment. Another important purpose is to assure them that they can stay clean and sober, or learn to moderate, without treatment and without participating in AA or NA.

One of the most significant wrongs in AA is that if AA members hurt you, or if working the program makes you worse, you will have a great deal of trouble finding anyone within the program who will listen to your story without blaming you, dismissing your story as unimportant, or dismissing you as foolish, crazy, or defective. Quit playing the victim is a very common reaction of staunch members to anyone who complains about ill treatment. Get off your pity pot is another.

When I became suicidal after five years of working the AA program and being the subject of gossip and abuse by insane sponsors, here is what I heard:

Some therapists can be less blunt, but more harmful, pathologizing anyone who objects to AA. When members of a list for drug counselors in universities and high schools heard that this book was being prepared, one of them wrote:

I just wanted to share something I find helpful about people's "resistance" to 12 step programs. I think it provides us with wonderful diagnostic information as to where they are in their addiction and denial and what might be helpful for them in their treatment and recovery.

For example, when someone says, "I don't want to rely on others for my sobriety so I don't like AA," this might suggest that they are struggling with dependency in relationships or with not being able to trust others or ask for help with getting their needs met.

If someone says, "meetings are too depressing," this could suggest that they have an underlying depression or that they might benefit from sharing some of their pain, hurt, sadness etc. with a therapist or someone before they are able to become more aware of it or address it with the help of AA.

If people say, "I don't like the God stuff," it might be that they had difficulty with family or religion in an authoritarian way cramming morals or dogma down their throats. It could have more to do with authority or a domineering parent.(emphasis added)

In my opinion, this pervasive belief that there is something wrong with anyone who objects to 12-step groups and 12-step treatment is dangerous and destructive to self-esteem, spontaneity, and the capacity to be honest and true to one's inner voice. If counselors won't allow clients to make simple value judgments, or trust their own feelings and beliefs and become independent, who is going to take care of these clients? AA? NA? Read the stories here and decide. Ask yourself and, if you care to take the time, ask the folks at your local addiction counseling center: What do professionals like these think they are doing?" Doesn't the aim of 12-step treatment -- to make those labeled as alcoholics or addicts dependent on 12-step groups for life -- run directly counter to the normal therapeutic goal of helping individuals to become self-directed adults free of dependencies?

One example of the anti-therapeutic nature of 12-step groups and treatment is that many drug/alcohol counselors and AA/NA members have forgotten or have never learned the rules for active listening: validate the hurt and angry person; acknowledge the person's objections, and don't belittle them for having objections. The very act of listening to the stories of those who have been hurt, and acknowledging their reality -- Yes, you have every reason to be angry; yes, I too have experienced this, and what happened to you is wrong and should never happen to anyone -- has helped many victims to cross the line from feeling crazy to being able to get on with their lives. Here is a quote from a person who submitted a story:

Having someone believe you is definitely a preventive remedy to the onset of insanity. It also helps heal afterward, and for that I am extremely grateful.

Several people in 12-step groups have attacked me, stating that I am exploiting people who have been hurt, for money. This could not be further from the truth. The contributors have been empowered, not exploited. Here is what one of them said:

Thanks for the opportunity to ventilate! My best expression of myself is in my writing and an open invitation like yours is like water in the desert.

Another volunteered:

I personally am joining the cause. Helping to shed light on dangers of the 12-step movement and the disease-based victimhood which has overtaken our country is my new mission. Sharing my experiences about the other non-alcohol addictions might help someone, and is a good place for me to start. Therefore, I am happy to share my experiences.

Also, with the limited market for this book, I do not expect to make enough to compensate me for the years of abuse I've received in AA and from AA members (even after leaving AA). I've also donated a great amount of time and some of my own money in the access TV field trying to get the message to people that they are not powerless over their addictions and that there are alternatives to religious recovery. In addition, I've been a member of e-mail lists and have haunted Usenet newsgroups long before the plan to publish this book ever came into being.

It's also well to note that as far as making money from addicted people, 12-step treatment is a $10-billion-dollar a year industry which is largely owned and staffed by 12-steppers. (A recent national survey indicates that over 93% of treatment facilities are 12-step facilities.) A great many of these individuals have profited handsomely from addictions. They continue to do so despite the fact that the bulk of the most scientifically valid studies (those with control and comparison groups) indicate that 12-step treatment is no better than no-treatment at all. One indication of the uselessness of 12-step treatment is that over the past several decades, while tens of millions of Americans have gone through 12-step treatment -- the figure for the 1990s was about 2,000,000 per year -- the alcoholism rate appears to have risen. But this makes no difference to those who profit from 12-step treatment. With virtually no scientific backing, they continue to trumpet 12-step groups and treatment as the only means with which to deal with addictions problems; and they have attempted (successfully for the most part) to block alternative forms of treatment and to silence critics -- in part by charging that we're "killing people" or are "only in it for the money." The hypocrisy of those making these charges is positively breathtaking.*

Yes, I believe this collection will help others. I'll never forget the way it felt when I wanted to leave AA because neither the program nor the abuse I suffered in it were doing me any good. But to get anyone's blessing on my bid for freedom seemed impossible, and at the time I thought I needed AA to stay sober, and hence, to survive.

I never want a single person to ever again think that he has to stay in AA or NA, miserable and depressed, or die drunk or from an overdose. I never want another person to think that she can't get sober unless she checks into an expensive treatment center or abusive county detox unit (when well over 90% of those entering treatment facilities don't need detox). I never want another person to have to suffer the way some of us did.

— Rebecca Fransway
May Day, 2000

The Stories

The names of those contributing stories have been changed, except for the names of those who asked that we use their real names. (All have full names listed.) The names of treatment centers have been changed. We (both compiler/editor and publisher) have made every effort to check replacement names to make sure that those names do not match those of any existing treatment facilities. If by chance one of the names does match that of an existing facility, we apologize. It wasn't intentional.

Other identifying factors, such as location, have been changed or cut from stories. The names of all individuals mentioned in the stories have been changed, unless otherwise specified.

Some story authors refer to writers or activists in recovery reform. For the most part, these names, such as Charles Bufe, Stanton Peele, Ken Ragge and those of other authors, have not been changed.

Finally, while most of the stories in this book recount horrifying experiences, we have included a number which describe more mundane, but still unpleasant and destructive, aspects of 12-step groups. We've done this in order to provide a more rounded view of life in the 12-step subculture than the horror stories alone would provide.

* For a detailed discussion of these issues, see Resisting 12-Step Coercione, by Stanton Peele, Charles Bufe, and Archie Brodsky, and "Alcholics Anonymous: Cult or Cure? (second edition), by Charles Bufe.