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.

1. Robert
Rejected by AA

I'm a psychiatric social worker, 21 years out of graduate school. One of my first jobs was as an alcohol and substance abuse counselor in a large community mental health center in the Midwest. Back in 1978, I had one of my first encounters with AA. I made the suggestion that there might be some similarities between alcohol abusers and substance abusers. This was greeted with wholesale disdain among the AAs. At that time, substance abusers were viewed as the scum of the earth by the AA crowd, while they tended to see themselves—when they were alcohol abstinent—as model citizens in touch with some kind of secret knowledge that non-alcohol abusers would not and could not ever know. They used this secret “knowledge” to disqualify anything said by someone who was not a recovering alcoholic.

At another time, I started working with a young, very attractive single mother who had recently gotten divorced and had a little daughter. She'd had some problems with alcohol abuse during the time of her stormy divorce, and had come to me for support during her transition into single motherhood. She also made the mistake of going to a couple of local AA meetings.

While at the meetings, she was told that she was clearly an out-of-control alcoholic and that if she was serious about recovery she would have to attend 90 meetings in 90 days. As a newly single mother trying to raise a daughter and transitioning back into the work force, she told them that she would be unable to do that, as the babysitting costs would be more than she could afford, and the meetings would take time away from her daughter, who was about three years old, and who was also transitioning to life without daddy.

Essentially, this woman was told that she wasn't serious about recovery and that she would undoubtedly relapse and get worse and worse. She was told not to think about coming back to another AA meeting until she was ready to get serious about her sobriety and do 90 meetings in 90 days.

This woman reacted to all of this with severe discouragement, and about a week after the rejection by the local AA group indeed started to drink again. About three days after she started drinking, she got herself and her daughter into a head-on accident on a local country road. The woman's little girl was fine, but the woman herself went through the windshield face first. I saw her in the ER, and her face was all messed up. Her jaw, as I recall, was broken, as was one cheekbone. She had severe lacerations all over her face, and she was told she would require extensive plastic surgery to remove all the scarring.

I've always remembered seeing that formerly very attractive woman with her face all bandaged up talking to me about the rejection she faced at the local AA meeting.