Unhelpful AA sponsors

I try not to be critical of other people’s recovery solutions. I feel is a private matter for the individual to decide which solution is best for them. I have been critical of those who call themselves anti-AA. I feel that they often exaggerate the problems in the fellowship. However, I chose to leave the 12-step world, because I did not feel it was the best solution for my recovery, and also because I was wary of some of the members. It is certainly not perfect.

Today I was sitting in a cafe in London and I witnessed both the good side and the bad side of the fellowship from my table. I was reminded why I left AA, and felt sorry for one of the group, I could overhear, who clearly had issues with working the steps.

I was sitting on my own, when three middle-aged women sat at the table next to mine. They seemed in good spirits and it became apparent that they had come from and AA meeting. Two of the group had obviously been members for sometime and seem to have done well. They were offering encouragement to the third member, who had not completed the steps, and had some concerns about step six. They were talking about this in a low-key way, and not attracting attention. I would not have heard their conversation unless I was sitting right next to them. They were helping each other, which is what the fellowship should be about.



Their little chat, and privacy, was broken when two men sat down next is them. One was obviously the Sponsor of the other. The Sponsor type instantly butted into the ladies conversation and offered his wisdom. Despite the fact that the ladies were obviously not impressed by his intrusion, he offered to drive them to another meeting. When they declined, he carried on, and suggested they attend a different meeting in another area later in the week that he thought would be good for them. This meeting was one of the cult type meetings that I remembered from my time in the fellowship, where are people go to impress others, rather than help them. He seemed to think going to one meeting after another was the norm.

They were saved by Mr Sponsor’s phone ringing. He answered it very loudly, and it was obviously a call from another sponsee. This gave him a chance to show off. He certainly took the opportunity. Instead of being subtle, he answered as loudly as possible, and made it’s obvious he was talking about AA. The whole cafe could hear him including the waitresses who are pointing at him, making comments in Romanian and laughing. He started talking about the steps and God, as if they were the only solution to alcoholism, which is often what devout members of AA actually think. He was making no attempt to emphasise with the other person on the phone, but just talking to impress the other members of AA in the cafe.

He was precisely the type of person that annoyed me during the period I went to 12-step meetings. He was somebody that likes to perform to a group, but does not have the sensitivity to really help others. All he can do is quote the big book, and tell people to go to meetings. He is critical of anyone who does not work the AA program in a strict way. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people like this in London meetings. He had completely ruined the ladies conversation with his intrusion. They were the ones helping each other and it was ironic, that it was the hard-core stepper that ruined things.

I certainly don’t think recovery groups are for everyone, but many do benefit from membership of a sober community. Unfortunately it is important to be on guard for people who want to dominate and control others, in these groups. I think this type of behaviour is more common in AA due to the sponsorship part of the program. I certainly felt a relief at not having to deal with the self-righteous critical types, who are often horrific gossips, after leaving AA. I valued my privacy, but people such as the man in the cafe, do not. For them AA has become a way of life, and they love to tell others that they are members, even anonymous people sitting in a cafe. They feel blessed to be members of AA.

This brought back a memory for me, as the first time I was embarrassed by a member of AA in public, was in this very cafe over a decade ago. That person was my sponsor, and I realised he was very similar to the man in there today. He would have used the same phrases, and was equally tactless. I had chosen him as my sponsor, as he had latched onto me at meetings and told me about other meetings that he felt were good. I realise now that I was being guided to hard-core 12-step meetings, rather than the more laid back meetings that I later found helpful. It was odd to experience this again. It made me realise how far I have come. I realise now that I was never going to fully fit in to AA. I’m not religious and I’m not spiritual. It suits some people, but is not the only way and as I value my privacy, I am better off not doing recovery in a group any more.


Commenting area

  1. What a great post – can identify with it very strongly. Ashamed to say that’s the kind of sponsor that I was. AA Taliban, and proud of it.
    “People like you are killing newcomers” was my usual line when anyone was sponsoring someone not according to my own hardline interpretation of the programme. Spoken as loudly as possible so everyone could hear my conspicuous virtue signalling.
    Weren’t you tempted to intervene? I would have. Cult talk is cult talk, whether you’re in a hardcore AA group, Scientology, or the Socialist Worker’s Party. It’s all the same psychological mechanisms.
    That’s why, today, I’m keen on a more free-thinking approach. “The God Delusion” and Robert Jay Lifton’s “Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of Brainwashing in China” should be on the literature table right alongside “Alcoholics Anonymous (the “Big Book”) and the “Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions” at every single AA meeting — especially the hardcore culty ones!
    Roy Eskapa’s “The Cure for Alcoholism” and the SMART Recovery Handbook would be good too.
    That would be an interesting podcast: “Books that should be available at every AA meeting”
    We could live stream it and ask for recommendations.

  2. By the way, he wasn’t “ruining their conversations” at all. Far from it. From his perspective he was “saving their lives!”

  3. I did think of saying something but actualy felt he was doing a better job of making himself look mad than I could do by countering his arguments. You could have done a better job with him and probably out quoted him from the Big Book as well, which would have really pissed him off.
    I did think of you and what you would say if you had been there and also what kind of cartoon Gary could have drawn about the situation. He would have had the ammunition for a masterpiece! Monica would have exploded!
    I tend only to talk about recovery to people, if they ask me about it these days. It tends to lead to an argument otherwise. I think we all need to take responsbility for our own recovery and the information is out there now if people want to look. They all seemed to be sober and functioning, so it seems to be working for them. The flip side is those that turn up to meetings, don’t find tem helpful and drift off doing nothing, believing AA is the only solution. feel Aa should ackowledge other solutions.
    We could do a live podcast, although I have not done one like that before. I suppose a google hangout would be the way to do that. If you are free we could do one.

  4. Good post. I can relate quite strongly to what you describe…. kind of like the self-elected guru… yeah, such people are quite dangerous, actually.

    Oh and I’m with you on groups or “groupism”. Not for me either.

  5. Enjoyed that, thank you! I’ve experienced the same scenario many, many times! Here in Bristol we have unofficial recovery cafes where it is important to be seen in after the meeting (almost as much as the meeting itself) where a lot of these ‘Alpha AAs’ congregate, swarming around for new disciples. Its very uncomfortable to watch. In the early days of my recovery, I was seduced by these types and i wanted their confidence and ‘swagger’ but It wasn’t long before i realized that these people (my old sponsor included) were Ego driven and dangerous! I never really fitted in either and i’m just so glad that i’m out of it now.

    • Sounds like we had similar experiences. My original sponsor had about 40 sponcees and I thought this was great at first as he must be really good. In reality he wanted his own little cult, following him about, and spent most of his time critiquing other’s recovery.
      Some of the meetings after a meeting were good for me, especially when I was travelling to different towns and staying over night, but too much of that can take you away from normal living. They certainly attract some Alpha AA types!

  6. Well done on those three Ladies working on true recovery!

    There are many paths up the mountain and sage like people push a lot of people off.

    “Today’s Rooster is Tomorrow’s Feather Duster” 😀

    • I love the Rooster quote!
      I certainly found being in a sober community helpful in my early days. The meetings after a meeting kept me out the pub and there were some people in the rooms who were level headed.

  7. Thank you for what you typed. I had a sponsor many years ago who acted just like that. Eventually, I figured out that if someone is giving me summands (demanded suggestions), ask for clarity on what they mean. So I HAVE to do it THAT way? It MUST be ONLY that way? Right? Ask them if I don’t do it that way if I will relapse. Then go out of my way to do the opposite of that while following the literature. If I stay sober, that pushy person is a blatant bold faced liar and is not to be trusted and when called out on that during the inevitable confrontation, hold them accountable on EVERY LITTLE DETAIL. I LOVE watching them squirm and the entertaining mental gymnastics they inevitably perform, just like Ringling Brothers lol. I ALWAYS tell new comers about that technique (only if they ask me, and I never push it on them). I also tell newcomers if I ever start acting that way (can’t fathom me doing that as I DESPISE people acting like that in ANY area of life, in meetings, on a job, friends, etc), do the opposite of what I say and see if I am lying to them. Anyway, I find going to meetings, the healthy non pushy ones I actually like, I do find them helpful to me. When someone in a meeting tells me they don’t want to work the steps, I point them towards SMART recovery or Rational Recovery and tell them that I combine the steps with concepts from both of those programs but those other programs by themselves didn’t work for me but in all honesty it might be a better fit for them. Ironic that that attitude is much closer to the Big Book if a person reads it verbatim…dogmatic fundies are INCAPABLE of rigorous honesty…I almost wonder if those dogmatic types are illiterate as they go on and on about “my sponsor says this my sponsor says that” lol…

    • Thanks Alex, I certainly found that using a varity of methods helped me,rather than just sticking to one such as AA and relying on the steps or a higher power. I think AA was originally all about sharing experience and that the importance of the steps has come after the growth of the 12 step rehab industry. People forget that sponsors are just other alcoholics trying to beat the booze. Some certainly get carried away, and attracted to culty type meetings rather those that are about helping newcomers. I think it is important to keep an open mind in recovery and try a variety of approaches or at least learn about them, in case extra help is needed down the line.

  8. I liked this post. Do you know that based on AA 12 steps philosophy many others groups have been created? Others groups to help with other addictions. One of those is codependency anonimos. Is for people who emotionally depend on others to feel worthy, loved or accepted. And this can become highly addictive. Is more subtle because there’s no substance being used, but it is an emotional addiction. Like love or sex addiction.
    Anyway I am attending one of those and they certainly use the 12 steps methods used in AA, you need a sponsor and definitely have to stick to the 12 steps and
    the program. From time to time they do refer to the AA blue book, they also call this addiction a disease and you have to have a higher power to help you.
    Fortunately I am spiritual not religious so I have no problems with that, but the rigidity they have about believing that only this program can help you overcome this problem is to strict and close minded in my opinion. Last time I asked if they knew about some literature outside the program that they could recommend to read, they reacted like I was not respecting what this program is all about, that no other book or literature could help me besides the literature from codependents anonymous. That this program is based on the successful program from AA and that I should stick to it if I want results.
    Another time I called a member of the group just to talk about an incident that happened with my spouse and also made comments that I was reading interesting literature about how to heal defeating emotions. Her answer was very judgmental, and she criticized the fact that I was trying to replace the program with outside literature. She said that I should find an sponsor and start working the steps immediately.
    Anyway I have been attending this group for like four months now, I have serious doubts that this is the only solution. BTW this program exists over 20 something years ago, is not that new, andnot as old as AA.
    I have had more succes by reading books about it, meditating and by doing affirmations on my own, like you said, recovery from any addiction dependes solely in what you do and if you take responsibility for your own life day by day.

    • Thanks for your comment. There are lots of 12 step spinoffs that are fairly similar and have their own devotees. Some people become mebers of many of these groups and tend to feel that the steps can solve anything. I think it is best to avoid the over zealous types in these groups who have made their support group a religion.

  9. Because of your interest in addiction you may find http://www.answersforteens.com and http://www.thedrinkingwomanrevisited.com of interest. Let me know how I may help.

  10. I have observed in meetings that sponsors can be much more unhealthy people than the people they sponsor. if your fortunate you can find a good match. I have observed as well that sponsorship can turn into a sort of codependency when the sponsor is the kind f person who finds self validation and worth from helping others kind of as way of fixing them selfs as well, then it turns in to a case of people throwing people a life jacket before they have there own on. To be honest people go to university for years before there allowed to work with damaged people. In my own opinion i feel people would be beter of using there energy to heal them selfs first before trying to take on helping other people.

  11. You are absolutely right. I had two sponsors in the 5 years I spent in AA. They were both educated. One of them even had a MSW degree. Both of them projected their phobias and problems on me through the interaction I experienced. One even told me to commit suicide when I was depressed and drinking because of her enormous ego. I have no regard for making connections with or giving respect to individuals with sobriety in AA. I left and have no problem staying sober.

  12. This websites seems to irrefutably claim that “whatever works for each person is good & OK”. But AA members do not only effect them self when they choose to participate in AA meetings. In Truth, ALL AA members are abusive when they read “AA, How it Works” which claims that “relapse victims” are dishonest.

    ALL AA members are also abusive for lying to vast numbers of victims every year by proclaiming that “AA rarely fails for those who thoroughly follow their path” i.e. accept and work the AA program. This is a mental trap and vulnerable victims get stuck believing AA should work – when AA surely knows that AA does not help most people.

    AA is a medically unethical exclusive belief culture, victims are never told that AA almost never works and that TSM-Naltrexone works 78% for the same demographic of stone cold rock bottom drinkers. see Claudia Christian’s qualifications. Thus AA is willfully dishonest, and All AA members are allowing themself to be complicit with AA dishonesty that further undermines victims. who are told they are dishonest over and over. It’s really hard to watch this abuse continue when you allow yourself to be open to knowing better. which is punished by claims that you are negative with a grudge against AA rgar some people like. But obviously some people mindlessly like AA’s rank fraud and abuse becase AA makes member self identify with AA in each step so that any criticism of AA is experienced as an attack they must defend as if it any criticism of AA was an attack against them self. AA was never subjected to proper ethical peer review prior to becoming a medusa monopoly with to much double speak to tie up in normal discussion, defender jump from a million different limbs to deflect any direct confrontation which is impossible because AA says so many thing that its like arguing with a schizo hiding in AA BB pages that change meaning with ever flip of a page,

    AA also has hijacked the Medical System with it’s Rehabs which created the licensing protocols for addcition treatment specialist that only requires knowledge of AA and sitting in on a few hours of group therapy with an “more experienced” ATS often in the Rehab their just graduated from. These so called specialists then become AA rehab lobbyists who create so called statistical studies to justify Government founding of their Treatment centers.

    AA’s unproven belief of “total abstinence” has become an Institutionalized Medical Stigma against Alternate Recovery Methods. Claudia Christian was not able to find a doctor to to proscribe TSM Naltrexone because they all believe that abstinence is the only way that works. AA’s lobbying of all levels of society over 80 years via marty mann etc has created a stigma against Alternate Methods that don’t follow AA’s definition of “total abstinence”. AA never warns relapse victims that “total abstinence” causes ADE alcohol deprivation effect which results in worst binge drinking after a victims tries to go “totally abstinent”.

    There are more than 10 vastly better methods and AA members lazy choice to flop their butt in readlily available AA chairs is denying and blocking the rise of a vastly better Alternate support system that would save 85% more of the so called primary purpose they is a harmful wasting away due to laziness.

    Thus to sum up: “what ever works for each person” is not intrinsically good or OK for society as a whole. Please don;t condone that misinformation as valid as your websites world view.

  13. If you look through the site, you will see I am no great fan of AA, but I do credit it for giving me a community to be part of at the start of my long period of stopping drinking which is 12 years continuous at the moment. I never managed more than a year when I attempted to stop on my own. AA helped at the start, but the steps were not for me and I had a lot of private counselling which helped me sort my issues out.
    I am very keen on TSM and know Claudia Christian as well as Dr Roy Eskapa. I was in contact with Dr Sinclair before he passed away and link to the http://www.the-sinclair-method.com in the top nav bar, as it contains information fro Dr Eskapa’s book.
    I don’t find simply bashing AA is a very positive thing to do as it generates bad feeling and often reflects badly on people who are trying to educate people about alternative recovery techniques such as Smart or TSM.

  14. I have been clean 38 years. I was initially in AA but stigmatize for being a drug user, and i was in NA for 15 and i was stigmatized and censored for discussing therapy that honors all feelings [12 step is not therapy and claims your are at fault totally selfish and self willed whenever you are disturbed etc] and i have been to childhood sex abuse victim treatment and john bradshaw’s dysfunctional family treatment and inner child past emotion processing back in the early 90s. and ive read all of the authors you mention and books from all recovery views with an open mind for critical review as you do to some degree to be commended.

    Yet You say “””I don’t find simply [1] bashing AA is a very positive thing to do as it generates bad feeling and often reflects badly on people who are trying to [2] educate people about alternative recovery techniques such as Smart or TSM.”””

    [1] Telling the truth about AA Member’s complicity with AA’s unethical abuses is not simply “Bashing” and it does not makes Advocates of Alternate Recovery “look bad”. You just made that up to suit your own bias. And in fact, your bias unjustly discredits [?bashes?] AA critics. You made up bias enables the abusers to have a free cop out. Your bias also aligns with AA’s inhumanly simplistic emotional ideology that says “whenever you are disturb you are at fault” keep you own side of the street clean” etc. You display classic signs that you are still not recovered from your AA emotional brainwashing. I am not bashing you. This is a my observation of specific behavior patterns that I know all too well from my AA experience.

    [2] you are not simply educating, you are presenting your bias that claims criticism of AA is bad. as if it is irrefutable fact. your bias protects AA members who are in fact engaged in AA abuses. your bias protects and enables them and the abuse.

    This is classic dysfunctional family behavior. Each family member creates a false persona and false sloganeering language to cope with the elephant in the room that is overwhelming and none has been able to fix for a long time.

    The [dysfunctional hero] copes by claiming he solved the problem, He says the real problem is the complaining. He is above complaining. He discredits the child [the scapegoat] who complains about the real elephant in the room. He says the scapegoat only harms himself and makes himself look bad.

    The [mascot] believes he solved the problem by being nice to the elephant.

    The [clown] makes jokes about it all. see AA war stories.

    etc etc

    If AA abuse was not protected by this type of dysfunctional bias [so often] perhaps you would have had a better support group to attend and would not feel undue need to credit AA for helping you [and greatly harming you and others]

    AA harms 1 million every year with it’s over 90% failure rate and unethical coercive death trap indoctrination that blames victims when AA does not work.

    As Gabrielle Glaser said “recommending AA is simply malpractice”. AA members are complicit in recommending AA malpractice. that is a fact. I am not bashing. They are bashing unwitting newcomers who deserve to be warned before they go to AA where they will be subjected to abuse under powerful social pressure.

  15. I have been recovering from recovery for many years now and when I first found these blogs I was apprehensive to posting as I did not know at the time I could live my life abstinent without AA. I have tried Smart and Refuge Recovery and I do like those meetings better but there did come a time when I was just absolutely fed up with recovery meetings period. How long do I have to spend my free time going to these meetings! I went back into my life history and I realized that the only times in my life that I could remain abstinent for a significant length of time (years) was when I was in AA (going on a regular basis w/no sponsor or steps) or when I was in a committed relationship. So when I was fed up with recovery group meetings I went out in search of a committed relationship to help me get some stability in my life so I could get some decent abstinent time together as I know that the longer I go without drinking, the easier it is to stay abstinent. Like stopping smoking, once you stop for a while you forget you ever smoked. So I started dating and what a nightmare!! I am in my late 50’s and I identify as lesbian. Let me say there are not a lot of high quality older lesbians around and the stress from that experience alone drove me back to the gay bars and to drinking. I know that is no excuse……but really I am quite disheartened by the game playing and lies. I ended up getting a DWI in July 2019 and that has been extremely difficult to deal with as a professional person living in the boondocks trying to get to work and trying to not let this ruin my career. It also was a kick in the head so I went back to AA thinking maybe I could meet some decent friends as loneliness was also playing a part in my drinking. I did meet some great women friends and I was enjoying the social aspect of AA. The speaker meetings were fun, kind of like a variety show and I had some great laughs and felt part of the group. Nice. I even got a sponsor who I thought was very intelligent and had a great sense of humor. What she told me was go to 90 in 90 days and call me every day. She made a point to let me know how busy she was and as busy as she was she still was able to go to 4 or 5 meetings a week. Ok, I was a bit nervous as one of the issues with my DWI was that my license was suspended for 180 days. I did not do 90 in 90 but I was averaging around 5 meetings a week and calling her maybe every 3rd or 4th day. That seemed to make her happy. I tried to make an appointment to talk to her in person as I had some personal issues going on and my DWI (of course). She was so busy that she had no time to meet with me and was really not available for a one-on-one. I suppose I could have told her the story on the phone but I am a face to face type. Long story short I made it through 3 months and 2 days then got pulled over by the police for driving with a suspended license and that was Dec 14th. I haven’t been to a meeting since, have broken up with my sponsor and am sitting here realizing how unhelpful she was. I don’t blame her but I do see this as the types of situations that happen with these sponsors. They don’t relate to you as a person, you are a “newcomer”, it doesn’t matter how many decades you have been either on the planet or in AA. You are a “newcomer” and therefore you must do 90 in 90 and call your sponsor every day. Even though clearly this woman had no time to have any kind of helpful relationship with me she was still raising her had at meetings to “help” the “newcomer”. I will survive the DWI and the driving with a suspended license charge. My task now is to heal from another trip through AA. Thanks for being here.

    • lovinglife52 February 9, 2020 at 8:56 am · · Reply

      Best wishes for the future, I hope things work out. Recovery always seems to have ups and downs but in my experience it is worth persevering

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>