When AA Hurts …

If you asked me a year ago if I would share my story, I would likely shrug my shoulders and mumble something like, “who cares?”  AA is a behemoth and my criticisms were not welcomed by former “friends” of mine from the program.  They would rather leave their beloved AA the same than make any improvements that would help more people such as myself.

This blog reveals how AA’s program echoes the pattern of abuse, and instead of helping me heal from abuse, going to meetings only continued the cycle.  Frozen in a vulnerable state, I did not recognize the problem I had with AA for years.   It seemed if I kept myself down then I would always return to AA as a power over me.  “Abusers like easy targets, such as people who are starved for love or attention or who fear being abandoned.  I also used alcohol to tamp down my feelings of shame and disgust from being emotionally, physically, and sexually abused.”

I am truly honored and grateful to Dr. Stanton Peele, author of  Recover!: Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT Program (with co-author Ilse Thompson) for all of the help, support and encouragement.  I’ve waited a long time to share my story and this marks the beginning of my of shutting the door on the past, and making progress into the future.

Please visit the guest column link here: When AA Hurts.


For more about Dr. Stanton Peele’s work visit: www.peele.net


Visit the home of A.A.R.M.E.D. with Facts on Facebook


33 thoughts on “When AA Hurts: Guest Column at Psychology Today

  1. OMG! This is truly remarkable! You go girl! Your story made it in Psychology Today through Stanton Peele? Incredible! Hats off to you!

    It was so sad to hear the story about your Mom and what you endured. It really makes the connection how people who have been abused before they land in AA or NA can be ripe pickings and fall victim to more abuse.

    1. Awww thank you so much for your comment! I had to write something for myself to get through the grief– as my mom did suddenly die in August ’13. There were so many great qualities in her, too, which makes the relationship we had more difficult.

      Deep rooted problems with relationships, especially with mothers & daughters, etc, are virtually ignored in 12 Step treatment. The emotional abuse does make one vulnerable to AA’s strong emotional language. Plus, AA is supposed to be the top group in the world for drinking problems. You’re supposed to trust these experts recommending AA.

      I am so happy to read your comment here. I’m glad to have my story out there and outside of my head now. I hope others who might see themselves in this story might gain the courage to walk away from a destructive abuse cycle. It is truly an honor for me to have someone like Dr. Peele see my story and find that it needed to be told. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity. 🙂

    1. It can either draw in a narcissistic person or create one, in my point of view. I do feel empathy for those who are trying to make AA into something better, for they mean well, but the organization does not want to change their “status quo.”

    2. Sadly very true. Sponsors should be put through intensive training if they choose to do this step to help keep them sober. My sponsor was absolutely dreadful. I TRULY believe that she enjoyed my struggle and only wanted me well if she got the acknowledgment for being my saviour.

      What’s said here stays here is great BUT the sharing between a sponsor and sponsee SHOULD be confidential also. I just quit AA because of my sponsor’s lacking interpersonal skills and personal insight and down right mean spiritedness
      I am truly sad because had it not been for her, I would have stayed. I was benefiting from the group meetings but knowing that she’s yapping from her side of the story kiboshed any feelings of my safety with sharing in the group as a whole. Worst decision I ever made was going. It’s a cult. Thank you for speaking out about this and giving us non-aa’ers a platform to express ourselves about the experience.

  2. (I’m now leaving the fellowship after eight years, with six years of sobriety. It is terrifying, as I’ve been trained to believe I will relapse if I leave. some folks can moderate, but I have a bipolar diagnosis that makes drinking a seriously awful idea…sends me insane, screws with medication…but I am so much happier since leaving.)

    1. Hi Tracy, first off, you are correct; leaving AA involves a degree of deprogramming. They DO train people if they leave AA they relapse. Please understand that is just one fraction of thousands of AA “b.s.” that screws with peoples’ heads. I am glad you are happier, because that is one of the reasons why leaving AA is healthy for the majority of those who try it out. As for your diagnosis, take care of yourself. You come first. That is not selfish, it is called “survival.”

  3. I believe that once an addict/alcoholic is medically/professionally detoxed, that they/we have a choice to choose sobriety. The only way that I am “powerless over alcohol,” is if I choose to ingest it into my system. If I do, then the physiological aspect takes over and I am powerless. So, I/we don’t drink, not matter what. That is empowerment not powerlessness.

    1. I think “belief” you are powerless is dangerous, and a thought one should never have if they slip up and take a drink or a drug if their goal is to abstain. It’s far better to maintain a sense of empowerment if one slips so they can get back up again and pick up where they left off abstaining. The belief one is powerless once they ingest a chemical substance only leads to guilt and shaming. You might “feel” powerless under the influence, but you are definitely not “for real” powerless.

    2. Correct. It is not “powerless, generalized”, or ” powerless, unending”. That would be called impotence. And the Christians did that by branding people sinners so that they would need their savior; AA handicaps people the same way with their “endlessly sick, needing a solution” one-note orchestra.
      Thats crap – we are born with nature’s approval.

  4. I was raped by a fellow narcissistic AA member and recently got involved with another one who refused to take medication due to his sponsors advice. I am so fed up with people in AA sometimes. I have 20 years sober and I ready to move on. I am really happy with my life but I don’t see others getting better. My hope is that people find a better way to stop drinking. I have been bullied in AA and I’m done.

    1. Hi Laura, first of all thank you for sharing your story, that is a horrible experience and it’s part of the damage AA causes in people’s lives. I hope you’ve been able to get real therapy to address the rape and the problems AA has caused you. You can stay sober without AA, in fact, you have been doing that for 20 years already— give yourself the credit! Don’t credit AA for that. You can find other support groups- like SMART Recovery, SOS, Women for Sobriety– or you can go your own way. Get involved in your community or church, join a sports league, book club, or other activity to keep yourself busy. Organize a girls’ night out every few weeks and keep it consistent, go to concerts, painting workshops, watch a movie. Plan more family activities, Sunday dinners, meet up for coffee regularly with family and friends or co-workers. I feel others are not getting better in AA because they’ve isolated themselves to AA-only activities, and they haven’t grown out of it, so nothing changes. They get bored, they start acting out in many disturbing ways whether its gossiping or using AA as a dating-club, even preying on others to force sexual acts on them. Normal people do not quit drinking and stay stuck in AA where they’ll eventually change for the worse, become closed minded, and even hateful towards anyone who found sobriety without AA.

    2. Laura, I had over 20 years of continuous sobriety and then a very, very unfortunate thing happed to me when I was away on business out on the West Coast (I had a real monster of a boss), we lost some business and of “course” I got blamed for it and got emotionally beat up all day (then, at dinner that night he poured a drink in front of me, I told him on a previous business trip, that I didn’t drink). I had no support, the person that I put all call through to, didn’t return my call, there was no Bible in my room; I was set up; finished. I’ve had several people in a.a. blame me for this and say: “You helped me,” to me. I worked a junk job at a gas station after that (because I was 60 years old that is all that I could get,) then I retired 2 years later. I attended 88 trade shows in my 22 years of business and survived 87 of them sober. Towards the end of my career I was covering half of America and part of Canada too. I took heat from everywhere and stayed sober for over 20 years, but be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong people and I get “all the blame for it..” Totally unfair, unChrist-like. I’m so, so sorry to hear what happened to you. And “yes” there are alternatives. Wish you the best.

  5. I could really relate to the story in Psychology Today, re: When A.A. Hurts. I went into treatment, the description of it’s being “individualized” was misleading. An abusive encounter with and A.A. member that came in from the outside to “help” or be a facilitator, cause me to relapse. I won’t repeat the exact incidence and words, the same thing happened at an outside meeting recently and I said: “Enough” and have set hard boundaries to protect myself. I go to another type of support group and also a Church based one as well. I appreciated the article. Now I know that I am not alone in my feelings about A.A.

    1. Individualized treatment is misleading. Supposedly “clients” (and treatment centers do not call people patients because they are not ran by doctors) also have a Bill of Rights guaranteeing no discrimination (but prayer during sessions is against those who do not pray the Our Father)… It’s great you set hard boundaries, and found a church and other support group that helps you more. You are totally not alone. And, AA and its members are not always right.

  6. It’s hurt me a lot as well. Sponsors that use make-fun-of-you type of putdowns, other’s that try to play “professional” and mess with my mind (when they were not that). Kicking sand in my face when I was down, instead of offering a helping hand to me. They have hurt me much more, I feel, than they have helped me. My pastor told me not to go anywhere near them, and now, I’m considering cutting most ties. I still have one group that I am very, very fond of. That’s it though.

    1. Would be nice if every AA meeting operated at the same standards, instead of having to find that just “one group” that’s liked. I guess it’s like the Bob Evans restaurant concept where no matter what Bob Evans I go into I know exactly what I’m going to get and have a familiarity with it. I think your pastor sees the situation from an outside perspective, and if that one group turns sour that may prove both your pastor’s and my own point on the matter. I do not recommend AA for anyone.

  7. Wow!
    Someone that speaks the truth 🙂 I have been attending ACA (Adult children of Alcoholics or other dysfunctional families) meetings since about 9 months but coming from a final “full” understanding of narcissism. I have had a hard time to handle the narcissim in the program itself as well as with my fellow adult children, worse of course… the longer they have been in and the more dedicated……. ACA was created for those that had suffered as a way to “get all the way”, not “just” stop drinking but it was soon “taken over” by AA……

    I wrote a blog post on ACA shortly after I found my way to their meetings but today I wrote an update and promised to get back with more details. Don’t know when that happens but until then here is the post I uppdated: https://healcptsd.com/2017/09/11/adult-children-of-narcissists/

  8. Hi I’m from the UK, I have three years of sobriety but am starting to become increasingly uncomfortable with A.A. A young girl died from the meeting died recently and I heard someone say “she didn’t get it” it made me so angry. your article really struck a chord with me, I’m doing a lot of Reading lately, and have found yourself and others to have clearly and concisely pointed out so much that is not just wrong with this programme, but dangerous. I do wonder how a change could come about

  9. Thank you so much for sharing yourself so openly. I am grateful for that. I wish you blessings and peace on your journey. From your sister, Karah

  10. After 28 days, the crisis is no longer the apples – its the barrel itself.

    What a rejection of nature itself to be endlessly sick and recovering. It is a dangerous case of literalism to say there is any disease when the booze is gone – welcome to being human. It is an unnatural narrative to see oneself as endlessly sick, it is fiction. It is ignorant. And it is metaphysically incorrect. Nature is not corrupt, needing to be fixed. People drink themselves to death with this wrong information that AA indoctrinates them with – the body and psyche reject it like a body might reject an organ transplant, and it dies, drunk, needlessly. The ignorance, cemented with arrogance (more ignorance) kills, in these countless cases – NOT “alcoholism”.
    If you are a hardwired Occidental type your chances in AA are better, but many are not, and it is essential to honor what you feel and HOW you see.

  11. People in AA are required to remain forever sick. And if you heal, then “thats your disease speaking”. What a desecration of nature!!! That’s called munchausen, and it kills, and its also called trauma bonding (or Stockholm syndrome) – bound to sickness! Love is NOT that.

  12. I’ve been in AA for a long time, and I don’t drink, but ever since I was lied to and treated abusively by a few members at the outset, who appointed themselves my “sponsors,” I’ve never accepted the contemporary practice of “sponsorship” as it relates to managing another member’s private life. I’m well-read enough to know that at the end of the “How It Works” chapter, there is a discussion about the principle of autonomy (agency) and who should decide who everyone’s friends and intimates should be. The individual, of course. Somewhere along the way (probably in the ’70’s) AA members, from the ground up, decided to pitch the valuable principle and start asserting their authority to run their sponsees private life (to get past the important boundary, they say it is only for a year. Not the point). Most current AA members tag along with this dangerous position. I don’t see any resistance. I was told for years I was not capable of having a relationship by those who proved they could not sustain a relationship. It was abusive and the practice continues. It’s good to have alternatives.

    1. Joyous happy and free AA members shouldn’t be upset when others disagree with them. They also shouldn’t become dictators which can be what sponsorship turns into. None of this professionalism and none of it is professional. It’s a belief system, much like a church and the books and literature are the religious doctrine. There is no universal benefit to “going to a meeting” which is an invention of the good ol’ boys club who needed an alternative to going to the taverns and pubs. This is addressed in To Wives. Women weren’t considered part of the collective membership and AA was not designed for women.

  13. I won’t apologize for AA may or may not have done for you, but it could be that you are not in a position to judge, since by your own statements you have not found the answers you seek. I find that you have misinterpreted a lot. You are upset about so many things, it is really hard to figure out whay you do need.. For example, you were upset you didnt get sent to AA until after your third DUI. I’m lost. YOur experiences do not conform to mine. I have been in and out of AA for 25 yeats done a lot of therapy, and while I have some issues I mostly find it and other 12-step groups a great place to heal. AND, they do not pretend to take the place of medical doctors or therapy when needed. Sorry you had a bad experience, but AA id NON-PROFESSIONAL, right? It’s just other people. Cut it a break.

    1. Why would you think you had to apologize for me? AA won’t take responsibility as an organization. Any organization, non-profit or for-profit, that lacks accountability is suspect in the eyes of most people. And this comment is judgmental and upset at my point of view. It’s become clear to me, 6 years after the fact, that all of my hate mail are from AA members who- by their own account- have never felt more peaceful and accepting of the world around them. Right? Instead, they’re reading dissenting opinions like mine and get angry and throw a temper tantrum my way. I had a multitude of issues and problems which manifested with self-injury in different forms- not just alcohol. AA does not deal with self-injury for trauma survivors. Although, for women especially, most women use alcohol to cope with trauma or abuse or feelings of inferiority. Those are facts. AA simply does not deal with alcohol in a modern, scientific sense. It claims to do something it cannot do and doesn’t work for the vast majority who try it. Last house on the block? Then it shouldn’t be recommended for nearly everyone- it’s against the Constitution and the Establishment Clause. Professionals recommend AA- that’s true- but AA can say “No, we don’t do that, do not come here.” Yet, AA hides behind a bizarre cloak of deniability and excuses.

  14. I was wondering if anyone here can tell me how AA deals with verbally abusive members. Example, using racist language, putting down members in derogatory ways, or other such things. Thank you for any information you have.

    1. I believe there is no set standard- each group has to decide for itself (if everyone can agree what qualifies as disruptive behavior)-
      I’d be remiss not to say every AA group is the blind leading the blind, and since there is such lack of control for the wellbeing and too much opinion given how to handle members’ behaviors- I recommend people don’t use AA as a model source for effective group support. The program is set up for dysfunction, and the more I’ve observed it as an outsider for nearly a decade now- I cannot recommend or support AA in any way/shape/form. But if you absolutely need proof that disruptions are addressed by AA- this is all I have from them:

      Click to access smf-209_en.pdf

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