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.

17. Sara
My Moment of Clarity

The day I knew I would never go back to AA again was when, after five years in the program, I realized my life was worse, much worse than I ever imagined it could be. I was poor, I was depressed, and I was living in the same house as my sponsor, who had gone totally nuts.

By that time I did not really need a sponsor at all. But everyone I knew had a sponsor, and I really thought I needed one too. My last sponsor had dumped me for questioning his treatment of me at a meeting. But when I asked Minnie to be my sponsor, I had no idea she was a closet lunatic. I should have picked up a hint when she always wanted to meet at my house and never at hers. But I thought maybe she just had good boundaries.

Then I learned that she had been staying several days at another sponsee's, Linda's house. The reason was supposed to be that Minnie's landlord had found rats in her house. Minnie wanted to stay elsewhere until the rats were exterminated, because she was afraid. Later, there was a grapevine rumor about some kind of a big fight between Minnie and Linda. Apparently, Minnie called Linda's boyfriend and got confrontational because she thought Linda was at his house when she was five minutes late meeting Minnie.

I didn't know very much about those problems. I just figured, like most folks in AA figure, that it was probably the sponsee's fault. I asked Minnie to be my sponsor. Later, I let my daughter, a new mother, and her boyfriend take over our apartment. My plan was to rent a room somewhere to live in.

Minnie asked me to share a house with her, since she had to move out of the rat-infested house. Having nowhere else to go, I agreed. Minnie had eight years of sobriety, had a good job, looked good, offered good shares in meetings, and was a good listener. I did not foresee any problems. The trouble started when Minnie had to move out of her old house and needed help. That's when I learned why she had rats. I have rarely seen a house so dirty. There was mildew on the living room walls where Minnie's furniture had been. The corners hung with cobwebs, the bathroom was a nightmare of mold, hard-water stains, and soap scum, from about five years of turning the faucet on and off with soapy hands and never cleaning it. Minnie said she would pay me to clean the house before her landlord came in to inspect. I felt sorry for her and accepted.

I spent about 12 hours in that house cleaning. I couldn't bear to charge her for all that, so I only charged her for six hours. She kept forgetting to pay me. When, needing the money, I finally asked, she paid me, but she acted angry about it. Then we had some trouble because I'd had sex with a man I'd begun to date (at his house), and I had not mentioned it until a week later. After I told her about it, she acted angry. I couldn't understand why, so later I asked her why she was angry. She admitted it was because I had engaged in sex with Ralph and had not confided in her immediately. I simply did not agree that sex was a big deal, with both the guy, Ralph, and I being divorced and free to date each other. I didn't think it was a big enough deal to to tell her about it. It was certainly no threat to my sobriety. It was then that I realized sex was a big deal with Minnie.

But I had already moved in with her. Real trouble started when I stopped going to the Baptist church she'd wanted me to attend with her, and kept seeing some of my AA friends she didn't approve of. She didn't like what I call their AA politics. Some of my friends were less conservative AA members, believing in goddesses or no god at all, and following the AA program somewhat differently than Minnie did.

Then Minnie was horrified when I started going to a Mormon church with a family I worked for taking care of their mother, an Alzheimers patient. I had no plans to become a Mormon; I just wanted to see what they were like. But this was a big deal to Minnie. She seemed fearful of anything and anyone unusual.

She also wanted me to go to way more AA meetings than I wanted to go to, and she hinted constantly that such-and-such a meeting was at this time or that time, although I knew very well what time the meetings were held. Also, I felt totally unaccepted by her in many different ways. She seemed angry at me all the time, and eventually I would just come home and stay in my room.

The shit hit the fan when she wanted me to pay a utility bill I thought I had already paid. I was simply trying to get her to remember that I paid it, but she went bonkers. She seemed to have trouble communicating about money, or talking in a matter-of-fact way about it. I think she might have been ashamed that she had forgotten to pay the bill, and we had a two-week notice. She ended up screaming at me in the kitchen, and she pushed me into a corner. Later, she barged her way into the home of the people I worked for to tell me the next time my homeless friend Bob came to the door for a cup of coffee, she was going to call the police.

I waited a day or two until everything had calmed down, and then told her, in a nice way, that I was going to move out. She looked shocked. She asked if I was going to be responsible. I said I would give her two weeks notice, but she said she needed at least next month's rent, so I gave her six weeks. I then ran a newspaper ad soliciting a room for rent.

I should have been able to stay another six weeks, but as soon as I gave Minnie the rent money, she began to drive me out early. She was absolutely enraged with me. I still do not understand the levels of her rage. Her fury seemed all out of proportion to anything I could have said or done.

I knew I had to move right away, instead of waiting until my ads panned out, when I came home from my job in the afternoon and saw that she had left piles of notes for me, one after the other, in stacks in the kitchen: Sarah be sure you close and lock the door tightly. Sarah turn the volume down on your message recorder. Sarah please don't bring Betty (the Alzheimers patient) over here. Sarah, take your clothes out of the washing machine. Sarah, fold the white quilt neatly and put it on the couch. Sarah, make sure the screen door is closed tightly. Sarah please put all my books back in the bookshelves. She also called my phone number while I was gone, again and again, and filled up my message recorder tape with long, insane messages. She began to stalk me, showing up at a meeting she knew I loved and sitting right behind me until I would feel prickles go up my back. I learned later that she had to see her therapist on an emergency basis every evening during this period. Apparently, she had worse problems than alcoholism, for she had gone almost completely psycho.

I was scared to death of her. I needed more time to find a place to move, though I was calling around for apartments. The ad wouldn't work, for I could now not even depend on being able to get my messages. Naturally, being a good AA, I knew I must need spiritual help, and, of course my sponsor Minnie could no longer be turned to for this. So I called another AA woman, a doctor's wife who had many years of sobriety, and seemed very sane and well liked, a good speaker in meetings. I needed help, advice, validation. I started to tell her what was going on,but she wouldn't even let me talk. Immediately, she started harping on her experience with God curing her breast disease. She nattered on and on about Saved by the Lights, and angels, and crystals, visions, rainbows, and whatever. I sat and listened to this crap for 45 minutes, slowly realizing I was totally on my own. I doubted that any of what had been taught to me in AA was true -- God was not managing my life, or, if He was, then being on the streets was His will. The steps were not helpful to me in true times of need; AA sponsors were not helpful; and meetings were not helpful. I had to help myself.

It was an enlightening moment. It was the last time I ever expected another human being, or God, to help me solve problems that adults solve every day on their own. I was a capable adult; I had not had a drink in five years, and I was probably more together than the assholes I was looking up to for advice and solutions just because they had been sober longer than I had and sounded good at meetings.

A girlfriend who also had to move let me stay with her during her own last three weeks at her house. We went into the house and moved out my things while Minnie was at work. My dear Mormon friends let me store my things at their house. I left a bed that Minnie pushed me to buy at her house, because I never had wanted it. She was beside herself calling and calling, coming to where I worked to try to get me to pick up the bed. But I never did go get the bed, and I'm glad.

It was such a relief to get away from Minnie. For the first time in months I felt like I could just relax and be myself. Later I found a tiny apartment in an old motor hotel. It was small and I had very little furniture, so I slept on a mat on the floor. It was warm, though, and it was mine.

I stopped going to meetings as well, and started therapy. It took a few months, but I began to feel much better about myself and my ability to make my own decisions. I started doing many of the things I'd always wanted to do, such as taking art classes and going to poetry readings. These were things I had avoided because I thought I needed meetings and step work. How I loved lapping up all the good things I had been missing. How free I finally felt! I have now been sober many years without AA.