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.

37. Tammi
Forced Programming

When I think of AA horror stories, a young woman named Dee comes to mind. I heard her story while working as her counselor in a DUI program.

Dee worked for the county in the department that handles retirement and other benefits and insurance claims. When I met her, she had been working there for about 12 years.

She got her DUI citation because she had been pulled over by the sheriff's department while driving intoxicated. Apparently, in a tipsy effort to be cute, she teased the deputies with comments about what she could do to their retirement accounts if they didn't watch out. I guess they didn't think it was too cute, because there were major repercussions to her statement.

Bear in mind that this was a simple DUI; there was no accident or other involvement. It was her first DUI and her blood alcohol concentration was just over the limit. For most folks, this would have meant a couple of hours in jail, a healthy fine, a couple of days on a work project, and a 90-day DUI program. In Dee's case, that was only the beginning. She was forced onto administrative leave from work and ordered to enter a year-long alcohol abuse program. Failure to complete the program meant she would lose her job.

She had to contract and collaborate with the alcohol abuse program providers. She was also ordered to attend daily (yes, daily) AA meetings for a year. In order to "pass" the alcohol abuse program provided through her medical insurance, it was necessary for Dee to "admit" she was alcoholic -- which she was not. She was monitored very closely, and weekly reports were sent to her boss, even though she was still on administrative leave.

By the time she started attending counseling in the DUI program where I came into contact with her, she was getting pretty good at lying that she was indeed an alcoholic. After filling out an assessment questionnaire one day, I put down my pen and looked into Dee's eyes. Dee, I said, do you believe that you are an alcoholic? She hesitated and asked whether I wanted the real truth. I assured her I wanted the read truth.

No, she said. I have been to six months of weekly classes at the hospital and daily AA meetings, where I must admit I am an alcoholic or lose my job. But after all the time I've spent listening to both those places, I am absolutely certain that I do not fit the criteria for alcoholism. I agreed with her that I did not think she fit the profile of an alcoholic. I have gotten pretty good at it, she said. I really almost believe that I am the person I pretend to be. She went on to explain the tricks she played in her mind to "become" an alcoholic when she walked into treatment or AA meetings.

I was appalled and saddened by her story. By admitting she was alcoholic, she could recover and be allowed to maintain her job. In the meantime, she was treated like someone with a disease and not permitted to work. She was, however, required to subject herself to reviews of her "progress," which were grueling and dehumanizing. I asked her how she managed to submit to these degrading things, and she replied that she closed off herself and adopted a persona which was able to agree with and acquiesce to this torture.

To satisfy part of the review, she was forced to become someone's sponsee in AA and work the steps to the satisfaction of her boss. Dee managed to do it, and as she approached the end of the year as a model recovering alcoholic, the folks at work started to put on the pressure.

She had been permitted to return to work in a demoted status and was subjected daily to abuse from her boss. After all these concessions to retain her position, she attended her last hospital treatment session and was attacked verbally by the program director. He told her she was going to flunk the program for discussing issues he didn't feel relevant. This meant, of course that she would lose her job, which she did in fact lose.

I believe this story says something about the way in which AA is being used as a punitive tool by the courts and employers. Twelve-step programs are supposedly based on rigorous honesty. How in the world can you expect honesty from people ordered into a program or blackmailed into a program? And while these people are present in AA, they are a part of it. This affects the whole organization and has greatly changed its nature. We now hear it said at AA and NA meetings, It doesn't matter how you got here, it only matters that you are here. I sincerely doubt that.