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.

45. Teresa
We Will Love You, They Said

I had a favorite joke during my 15 years in AA: whenever I was asked to lead, I referred to it as the blind leading the blind. I thought that was funny. In fact, there was more truth in it than I cared to admit. eventually, there was no humor in it and, sadly, it became a statement of fact to me.

They said, We will love you until you can love yourself. Please tell me how a bunch of dysfunctional people in a cult know how to love in the first place! How can you know how to love if you were never shown? You sure wouldn't be sitting in AA meetings, that's for certain. The people who love you would be helping you!

There were many, many contradictions within the AA program, but I didn't question or examine them during my first years in AA. I started going to meetings in 1982, and I was so damned glad I had found relief from my drinking that I blindly went to the 90 meetings in 90 days.

I kept going to meetings because they told me I had to, or I would drink, go insane, or die. I made coffee, sat on steering committees, was a secretary for an AA convention in my state, and so on. I was doing regular fourth and fifth steps, being honest at the tables, and going to therapy when I felt I needed it. Yet, I never felt a part of the whole picture. It seemed like there were people who really got the program -- the "AA gurus" -- and I seemed to be trudging my way through. Working the program seemed more difficult for me, for some reason. I found out why later, while working the steps.

I began to have the feeling that there had to be more to life than sitting in AA meetings. I was barely a year clean when my stepfather asked me how I wanted to be remembered after my death. At the time, I could see no further than endless membership in AA. I knew there had to be something outside those smoky rooms that was better. I wanted to be so much more than a recovering drunk. I wanted to make a difference. A big difference.

As the result of one of my fifth steps, I ended up suing a man who molested me as a child. The case lasted a few years and at one point I was deposed for five hours in front of the perpetrator and his attorney. It was one of the most triumphant days in my life. Was there anyone in AA there with me? No.

Unfortunately, the court of appeals eventually ruled against me, citing their interpretation of the statute of limitations. It was a technicality to my understanding, and it could have been defined in a myriad of ways. Still, it was a grave disappointment to me. I tried to share this at meetings, and was met with glazed looks. Nobody was really listening, nor did they care. They were just waiting for their turn to talk about themselves.

I had hoped my case would set a precedent and pave an easier road to justice for other survivors, and I hoped that it would help me heal in some way. I felt some healing, but realized that I needed to address behaviors that were a result of the abuse, and I wasn't getting any help from AA in that sense. In fact, I was asked to look at "my part" in the abuse. I had been three years old at the time -- how could I have any part in the blame? That question always bothered me. Now I know why. It's just wrong to suggest that anyone who has been attacked has any part in the blame. I am still looking for peace in the fractured 12-step philosophy, because AA played such a big part in my life for so long. I have only begun to remove the blinders. But I will continue to search for a comfortable place within myself, rather than in a cult or organized religion.

I believe I drank because of the pain associated with residual behaviors resulting from childhood abuse. That is a lot simpler than I was led to believe in AA, but it's my truth. I was told many times that AA was a selfish program. How many interpretations are contained in that short sentence! I still am very confused about that one. They said they would love me, but they're practicing a selfish program. How can you love and be selfish at the same time?

There were many times throughout my AA career when I expected to be loved. When I called someone in the middle of the night, afraid and unable to sleep, or in the hospital, in pain, I expected to be listened to, and I'd do the same if the situation were reversed. Of course, if I mentioned these situations or negative feelings of any sort in an AA meeting, my feelings would be interpreted as sitting on the pity pot (more AA selfishness?), or I would be classified as a dry drunk. Couldn't it just be asking someone to show love or compassion?

My second marriage was to a man in AA. Throughout our marriage, he abused prescription drugs, going from doctor to doctor and clinics all over the state, using aliases and cash to get drugs, yet going to meetings the entire time -- high. I knew he was not sober, but never seemed to be able to prove it. I thought I was in love. But it was not love. In fact, the entire time I was in AA, I did not have any idea what love of any kind really was. Not until I walked away.

When my husband finally crashed and I put him in treatment, I questioned my situation. He had never really been honest with me about himself or anything in his past. Today, four years later, I am discovering and realizing things about his activities that make me want to smack myself on the forehead with disbelief. Why didn't I see it? I refused to see so much; I refused to admit something was wrong. His sponsor was a pillar of the community, sober decades and the director of a local treatment center. This man, I strongly suspect, lied in a court of law in an embezzlement case. I know he lied later, when he testified against me when I divorced his sponsee.

Before the divorce, my ex-husband beat me. He had a teenage son from a previous marriage and visited him three or four times a year. Now sober, he wanted his drug-addicted, molested, cigarette-smoking 13-year-old in our house every weekend. Around our six-year-old daughter! I told him I could not deal with the stress of having his son over every weekend. He ended up screaming and swearing and beating on me one day because I would not back down from trying to work out a compromise. He felt so guilty and desperate about his son that he lost control of himself. It was not the first time, but it was the last time he ever hit me.

As I look back, I see things that happened all around me in AA that I closed my eyes to. I watched a few people in AA commit suicide or die senseless deaths -- all of them sober for more than ten years.

"Danny came into AA in 1982. He had tried to commit suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He finally succeeded in 1994. He overdosed on Prozac.

"Chester" was sober about 27 years when he supposedly passed away from complications of diabetes. Like hell. Chester was only in his fifties when he died. He could never hold a job as long as I had known him. He did not care about himself, and I really believe he had a death wish. He smoked and abused his diet to the point that he went into insulin shock twice while renting a small apartment from me. But he didn't miss a meeting. I was disgusted by his followers hanging on his every word and defending him: He has such good things to say!, they would exclaim. I knew how he lived and pretty much how he died. This god had clay feet . . . but I was being judgmental.

"Bill" had a very bad time trying to recover. He could not seem to get it together after a freak car accident. He was driving a carload of people to an AA meeting in the winter and lost control of the car, slid off the road, and side-swiped a tree. A young man sitting in the backseat was ejected out the side window and killed instantly. Bill tried for years to go to AA meetings and live with the guilt of the young man's death. He began using drugs but still went to meetings for a few more years. The end finally came when he was shot in the head by a drug dealer.

These three men had serious problems and thought AA was the only way to solve them. It ended up killing them. AA degraded them with guilt and shame. It worked for a while because of the pink cloud effect (which is a temporary reprieve from guilt and shame often experienced after being introduced to AA). But because the core issues behind the guilt and shame were not addressed and/or resolved, the pain cycle continued to the point of suicide.

My last meeting was my 15th sober anniversary. I really didn't know it would be my last meeting. I had been chastised for bringing my own cake; they already had one -- for about six people at a 100-person meeting! The tiny cake had been some kind of twisted tradition for as long as I could remember, and I thought it was time to share. The person who bought the little cakes by the dozen on sale and froze them told me she spent a whole $2.50 on the cake, and why didn't I call her and tell her I was bringing a cake? A petty little thing, I agree, but the last straw. I walked out of that meeting and never went back.

I know I am never going to be perfect. I thought all those fourth and fifth steps were going to make me perfect, if I did them right. All the time I was in AA, I thought if I got rid of all my imperfections I would finally be lovable. I'm still a little afraid of confronting or being confronted, but I don't back down. And I continue to ask questions. A lot of questions.

Days before I was to be married this year, my husband's son was tragically killed. I loved the boy and had adopted him as one of my own children. The pain was, and still is, a very big hurt. I am learning how to deal with grief and loss without shoving it under the rug or using inane slogans that don't mean jack squat and don't change the way I feel. I would not trade what I have experienced for anything. Being able to feel deeply and accept life with its gray areas are the biggest changes I've undergone.

Since leaving AA, I have felt the greatest joy of my life, as well as the deepest sorrow. These have been lessons long in coming. I am at peace with myself now that I know there are many more people out there like me that question an institution like AA -- and actually disagree with what it represents and teaches.

I doubt if I will ever drink. My life is good, so why take the chance? It is not a life-or-death issue for me anymore. I have continued my abstinence and see no reason why it will not continue. I have encountered many stressful situations and have not had to fall back on going to meetings, drinking, or even smoking. I am capable of standing on my own two feet. If I were to need help, there are many places I'd go before I'd go back to AA.