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.

31. Toni
Some Are Sicker than Others

First of all, I want to say this isn't really a horror story. However, I believe it has value in demonstrating an important fact about the people who comprise 12-step recovery groups. I believe that many of us, when we first join a recovery group, are extremely vulnerable. Some of us are easily seduced into believing that anyone with "time" -- a long period sober in the program -- has achieved sainthood. In our desire to find easy answers we once again find ourselves looking in all the wrong places -- AA, for instance -- for love, approval, and/or a "spiritual" way of life.

In my case, I failed to realize that some of the people I met in recovery had brought just as much, if not more, baggage into recovery than I had. While someone with a year of sobriety is sure to look and sound more stable than someone who walked in the door a day ago, and while this may look exceptionally appealing to a sanity-starved, shaky newcomer, the fact is that no one is likely to find a lot of sound, stable, well-balanced, unselfish, healthy souls in a room full of recovering addicts and alcoholics. Just because a person is in recovery and talks about the steps and a spiritual way of life does not mean that he or she has forsaken all personal agendas and become godlike.

But many newcomers fall under the sway of 12-step gurus, and I have seen this become a stumbling block in the recovery process. As a case in point, I would like to share a personal experience. I had been sober for approximately a year when I became involved with a non-profit group that served free meals to needy people in a small, West Coast city. They were talking about opening a homeless shelter.

I thought volunteer work there would be a wonderful way to be of service to practicing alcoholics and addicts. Although the work started on a volunteer basis, I eventually found myself on staff, managing the shelter, and working 14-hour days, seven days a week -- and getting high on it.

During this time I met Terry, who, like me, was a member of Narcotics Anonymous. He came into the program about six months after I had. Terry was a perfect example of the "90-day wonder" syndrome. He became a key volunteer at the shelter, formed a couple of clean-and-sober group homes, and landed a job with the local mental health clinic, an organization serving the county's homeless or poor mentally ill and addicted population -- some of the same population the shelter served.

We became friends, working together. Terry had recently married a woman who was a mental health counselor and recovered addict, a woman who had also worked with me at the shelter and was a friend of mine. About a year later when they were divorcing, I offered her a room to rent in my home, and she accepted gratefully. But she decided at the last minute to get an apartment, and Terry, who had nowhere to move, asked if he could take the room. I said, "sure."

That was the beginning of a four-year relationship. It took only about three months for us to get into bed together. Meantime, Terry worked tirelessly on behalf of his clients, as did I. We worked together and got much accomplished. Our shared work was the ground upon which we had met, and on which we lived and prospered.

We enrolled in school together so we could become certified drug and alcohol counselors. In fact, we shared many dreams and goals. I felt I had met my almost perfect match. There were a couple of glitches, but they seemed minor. After all, we shared so much, what did it matter that some of my needs were going unmet? In order to be in this relationship, which seemed perfect to all my NA and AA friends, I could certainly sacrifice some of my wants and needs.

School gave me the opportunity to realize I had some "old stuff" moldering in the recesses of my psyche, so I got into therapy. In recovery one hears over and over that some are sicker than others, and I took that to mean that sometimes professional help should be sought. It was a good move on my part, perhaps the best thing I have done for myself.

Terry and I finished school, and each of us found more promising jobs counseling others with addictions. Terry loved his new job working with mentally ill substance abusers, and his fellow counselors and supervisors seemed to love him.

But then Terry got fired for having sex with a client. He denied it and, of course, I believed him. The incident was unfortunate, but we felt we would survive. And he was immediately hired somewhere else -- it seemed that everyone loved Terry. With his wonder-boy reputation and winning smile, he seemed to inspire confidence wherever he went.

In no time, he became chairman of the local mental health board. I loved and trusted him. I only vaguely missed having a satisfying sex life, and it was easy enough to put sex aside -- we were both so busy.

Then the unthinkable happened. I made an accidental discovery as I was looking through the history files on our computer for a web site I'd forgotten to bookmark. I stumbled upon something I can only describe as shattering. Terry had been meeting people for sex, women he'd found on the Internet. He'd been having cybersex also. Oh my God!

Shortly thereafter, I learned that he'd had a year-long affair with a mentally ill client/co-worker. Thank God I was in therapy. It soon became clear that Terry was a practicing sex addict. I had been totally deceived by someone whom nearly everyone believed to be a "together" recovering person. Well, everyone, especially me, was wrong.

All along, Terry was just a fucked up unit who got off drugs and alcohol and into something else.

I have heard of other such nightmares happening in 12-step culture, and I guess my point is that 12-step groups are jam packed with folks who have more than just substance abuse problems. Those who are too vulnerable and not careful enough can get hurt there as easily as they can get hurt anywhere else. No matter where you are you must beware. AA and NA are not peopled by the most well and recovered humans in the world. Listen when they say, some of us are sicker than others. They speak the truth.