Safety for Newcomers in Recovery including AA.
The new year is fast approaching and many will be taking the chance, to try to change their ways. New Year’s Day, and the week after, are often the most popular times for people to join groups such as AA, which use the 12 step method. I realise this site is aimed at people who have left the 12 step Alcoholics Anonymous, but I am finding that people are coming here from other sites, and are often quite new to the recovery process.
There are many sites in the blogroll, which concentrate on issues that have happened in 12 step groups which are quite alarming. I’m not trying to say, that everyone in AA is suspect, but I think it is fair to point out some of the problems that exist.
AA members are a mixed bunch. They can vary from a business man to a convicted felon, and pretty much everyone in between. There is now a wide range of ages. AA is no longer a collection of derelict, middle-aged men as it was in the days of Bill Wilson. There are quite a lot of young members, many of whom are female and they are often sent from rehab. This can cause a few problems, especially for those who are perceived as needy, by those who are predatory.
Rehab is very different to AA. It is a controlled environment, that it is supervised by medical professionals who are accountable. This is not the case in AA where anyone can sit in the room. There is no supervision in the meetings, it is a fellowship, where people are supposed to help each other out. It also gives the impression of being trustworthy, because it often takes place in churches and has a heavy religious influence. This made me a bit more trusting than was wise, in my early days.
Anyone who ends up in a recovery program is going to be screwed up to a certain extent. Nobody joins AA because of the scintillating Big Book, or the thought of sitting on a plastic chair in a church basement, drinking tepid instant coffee, night after night. They join because they are desperate, or in some cases, because they have been made to go, via a court and may not have any interest in being there.
A lot of people are really vulnerable, when they come to the rooms. They may not have had much love in their life, for a while, and can be the type of people who are rejected by society. There are some, who are on the lookout, for this type of person. They look at a newcomer as somebody they can manipulate into some kind of a relationship. They can be really predatory and messed up people doing this, and if often leads to a disaster. The case of Karla Brada is a really sad example. I accept that it is an extreme example, but it happened none the less. She was killed by an AA member, with a long history for violence . You can read about it here – http://www.propublica.org/article/how-alcoholics-anonymous-can-be-a-playground-for-violence .I sat next to somebody who had killed in my third meeting, it freaked me out a bit when I found out, as I had given them my phone number, and I am hardly some little innocent type person. Use common sense, in your early days, until you get to know people. You can take lots of numbers if offered, but you do not have to give out yours, if you don’t want to.
The term given for picking up a newcomer, is called 13 stepping. It is generally looked down by the vast majority of AA members, but that does not mean it gets stamped out. Here are a couple of links from mainstream sites talking about the matter.
This one is from the fix and has a lot of relevant comments, where members and ex members share their experience of the matter. http://www.thefix.com/content/13th-step
There are a dangerous element in the cult type meetings, who will try to cover this type of activity up. They are desperate to keep the name of AA clean, but in fact, their lack of action, and resistance to change, is what is stopping it move forward, and change things.
Here is a discussion on a Yahoo group http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080310121542AAERROZ
Here is a page from a blog about these matters. The site author was in AA for over 30 years, and when I first saw her online, was attempting to change AA, from the inside. This proved to be virtually impossible, as so many are resistant to change. AA was simply not designed, for large meetings, in modern-day cities. http://stop13stepinaa.wordpress.com/old-timers-aa-members-hitting-on-newcomers-sick-sick-sick/
Leaving AA, has many stories on the subject and they are making the film “Stop the 13th step” which will hopefully be released next year. This contains interviews, with many people from the 12 step world who have seen problems, as well as family members, who have suffered. You can find links to them and the film on my links section of the site, as well as other helpful people.
The 13th stepping, is probably the most serious problem that a newcomer may face, especially if they are young, and attractive. Recovery groups are supposed to be places where people with addictions, come together to share experience, not pickup joints. Do not forget,that many are going to have come out of dysfunctional relationships, or cannot be successful forming relationships outside AA as they are considered to strange, to normal people, who would not date an ex addict.
Saying you are an alcoholic, is probably not going to attract the sanest potential partner, on a dating site or in a club! So some get a bit desperate, and take advantage of those who are new.
There are other problems. Many are out to manipulate in other ways. Often those who are obviously desperate to sponsor, and do the love bombing bit, get a feeling of power, from sponsoring somebody who is vulnerable. If somebody wants to sponsor you, ask yourself why. You may be better, taking your time for a bit, and getting used to living a different way, before you get into something like the steps. You may be better off with somebody, who has a job, and does not spend all his time in meetings. Somebody, who is living life and is more into the fellowship side of recovery, rather than somebody who just likes, making others, work the steps, which are his religion, that he wants validated. My first sponsor was one of these. I heard some really disturbing stuff about him, yet others in my home group, did little to stop him trying to sponsor everyone.
The steps can also cause major problems. Step 4 and 5 involve a large amount of confession. Many relapse, during the time they do these steps, which rather defeats the object of them! Bringing up resentments, in an uncontrolled environment, can lead to really bad advice about amends, etc. If you have major issues with this type of stuff, get some help from somebody who is qualified, not somebody, who is just an ex drunk. Remember, when you have spilled all your secrets, somebody else knows them . There is not the same kind of confidentially system that exists between a client and a lawyer, or a Doctor and a patient. You are telling intimate details to an ex drunk, from a self-help group.
Be careful what you share. In big meetings, you have no idea who is sitting in the room, especially if it is a place where the courts send people although the problems can exist in those meetings that do not have members who are forced to attend. Although members are urged to be discreet, many are not and do not respect privacy or anonymity. I was a victim, of malicious gossip, which I found out about, after my first year. It was one of the main reasons I left, as I could see through a lot of the people in the group.
Don’t get pressured into things you do not want. Many give out poor advice, without thinking, many hold up the Big Book as the answer to life. Be careful who you mix with. Many are really good people, but other’s, have serious mental problems. Take your time with recovery, but take it seriously.
Be especially careful if you have come from rehab, where you are encouraged to open up. AA is not controlled in the same way. It is a shame that many rehab centres, do not offer a really good aftercare service. There are some, that do, but the meetings are not daily and numbers are limited. These are controlled environments where unsuitable sharing and other matters are dealt with. These are what are really needed, in the world of today. In reality, people are pushed towards 12 step groups, which may not be suitable. Many rehabs, are 12 step based, with staff who have come from places like AA. Many would probably not get a job, anywhere else. It is worth shopping around if you are looking for a solution, and find something suitable for you.
There are other recovery groups such as Smart, which is growing and who offer a non religious solution. In my opinion, Smart meetings are run better, by people with some training. There are not as many meetings as the 12 step method, but there is nothing to stop you doing both for a bit if you want.
Some of the things I have written about are quite frightening, and I do not want to put people off, going to any recovery group. Let’s face it, most addicts have been in dangerous places for years. I know I did things, I would not dream about doing now. I am serious, when I say that these type of things go on. There are even some other things, such as financial predators in some of the trendy type groups. People are not always on guard, when they go to this type of group. They hear the stuff about God, and that brings up the idea of safety. Many want to be saved, and are ready to throw themselves at people who appear to offer some love.
My best bit of advice would be to simply use a recovery group for recovery, not as a dating agency and get your life together, move on and find somebody decent. Many relationships, that are based on recovery are often disastrous, and just think what your new partner could be telling their sponsor, who then tells somebody else!