“When AA Hurts” revealed more about my personal life than I have ever shared before, and there a few additional remarks I’d like to add in response to the piece.
People make all kinds of excuses for drinking too much: “Work was hard,” or “My sweater shrunk in the dryer,” or “It’s St. Patrick’s Day,” or “It’s Saturday.” These are excuses people can easily shut up about. A person who finally is brave enough to share a traumatic experience, such as abuse or rape, is not making excuses. They are finally coming to grips with core issues that made them self-medicate with alcohol or drugs.
I had a narcissistic parent, which gave me the perspective to recognize narcissistic patterns in AA. I could not question my mom’s authority, even when I lied to protect her paranoid, irrational behaviors. At one point, I did not question AA’s authority when members told me there was no other way but AA.
This example of abuse seems overly simplistic because it is. Still, when these subtle techniques to control someone else are repeated over a long period of time, it becomes abusive. Telling people their abuse was an “excuse to drink” trivializes their bravery for coming forward and asking for help. Silencing people who have been abused is as bad as the abuse itself.
At age 15, I didn’t want my teachers to find out I was cutting myself because I didn’t want my parents in trouble for not helping me. A 15 year old kids shouldn’t spend hours at the library studying depression in the attempt to cure themselves. But I was more concerned about protecting and obeying my mom. I had to keep her happy. As Karyl McBride, the author of Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, explains in her blog: “This causes the child to repress or deny feelings, and to determine that their feelings are not important. It translates into adult life as the child grows up not trusting themselves or their own feelings and thus creates crippling self-doubt.”
I convinced myself that the incidents I mentioned above were no big deal. No, I wasn’t beaten or sexually molested as a child, but that doesn’t discount the emotional and mental abuse. I was prompted on several occasions to conjure up memories of my uncle molesting me, but I didn’t want to lie. It became difficult to trust my own memories. That is abuse.
At 18 years old, I started to drink regularly, but I wasn’t consciously thinking about my childhood memories. That’s proof that abuse is not an excuse for drinking too much. Well into my adulthood, my emotional attachment to my mom made me behave like a child towards her. She was a power greater than myself. It wasn’t until an abusive relationship with a man who threatened, beaten, and raped me, that I found myself court ordered to AA as a consequence of being forced to steal for my abuser.
Initially, I was grateful to be given the chance to rehabilitate myself instead of jail. I didn’t refuse their help.
Actually, I believed I might be the worst alcoholic in the world because I became angry with AA. I was unable to understand how an “honest” program pretended the wives of Alcoholics wrote “To Wives” in the Big Book” when AA co-founder Bill Wilson actually wrote it. (As retold in Susan Cheever‘s biography: My Name Is Bill: Bill Wilson–His Life and the Creation of Alcoholics Anonymous) .
The cracks in the perfect facade of AA triggered reactions inside me that reminded me of how my mom made me feel. AA was not sick. AA was religious, not spiritual. It’s ok for AA to contradict itself. AA is never wrong. Who are you to question AA? I could not fix AA; I could not fix my mom. As much as I would like to lie about how great AA was, I couldn’t.
My experience as a survivor of abuse that helped me realize how AA was not helping me. Members consider all life events before AA to be excuses for people to drink. Anything wrong about AA is, of course, just another excuse to drink.
Supposedly it is not insulting, or hurtful, when AA people joke around the “13th Step,” or the a playful term members use to describe sexual harassment. Not only is it ok for their books to be dishonest, but it’s also ok to not care if others make unwanted sexual advances towards you, or stalk you, or rape you. The AA organization to lack concern for its members. I don’t feel bad at all about not wanting to be a member.
One of the biggest excuses I’ve heard about rape happening in AA is that rape happens elsewhere, not just at their meetings. Now, that really is an excuse. If I was sexually harassed at work, I could report it to upper management. The employee could get fired. I don’t have to inundate the police with reports that I was leered at and propositioned, which probably won’t result in arrest anyway.
All anyone wants is accountability from AA when there is a problem in the rooms and a clear outline on how to handle 13th Stepping. I seriously doubt the loving God who is AA’s ultimate authority would be pleased with AA’s decisions.
I don’t need a group of people or books that remind daily that I am a bad person who deserved bad things to happen to me. AA does not want me to concentrate on why I drank, just how much I drank. AA wants me to believe it’s not my fault for having my disease, but at the same time it is my fault and I must repent. I don’t have any desire to argue and critique AA’s books at meetings because, quite honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make sense of their books.
As Stanton Peele writes in Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life with The PERFECT PROGRAM (with Ilse Thompson): “As sports psychologists teach people, you will head in the direction that you look toward and fulfill the goals you visualize for yourself.” All I want is a full and happy life, and in order to do that, I need to speak out and be honest even if AA members don’t like it.
Stanton Peele’s website: http://www.peele.net/
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