Alcoholics Anonymous is touted as a wonderful program by law enforcement, the judicial system, within the world of chemical dependency, by the media, and just by people in general. It is known as a place of friendship where you can get sober and have a better life. My experience though, was very different than this. I experienced severe abuse throughout my time there by other members of AA. When I spoke up about it, I experienced more abuse. In addition to this, by the time I had 9 years of sobriety I had suppressed so much of myself and my emotions due to the brainwashing I received there that not very much of me was left. Even so, it was incredibly hard for me to leave because by that time I did I was more addicted to AA than I had ever been to anything else.
Upon hearing that I had a negative experience in AA, people that knew me during that ten year period might be shocked. “But she seemed so happy” they might say… “How could she say that?” My answer to this is that yes, I was very happy– in fact, I was euphoric at times when I went to AA. This was because I was suppressing all of the emotions and things that AA told me would lead me to drink: anger, sadness, grief, critical thinking, negative thoughts, my intelligence. This led me to have a kind of false gratefulness, happiness, and peace that only lasted for so long. At 9 1/2 years of sobriety I could repress and suppress all of these things no longer, and the nightmare of dealing with all of the suppressed feelings, emotions, and thoughts over the 10 years of suppression led me to the hardest period of my life. I was hospitalized two time in about two years and was also suicidal for about 2 1/2 years. Over time though I have gotten more accustomed to having thoughts and feelings like I did before I went to AA, and have found that they pose no risk to my sobriety.
In June 2005 I was raped and severely assaulted. It was about two months after that that my parents convinced me to get an alcohol assessment because I had been drinking the night of the assault. This was a result of victim blaming. I was drinking that night with a group of other graduate students for an end of the year celebration, and the guy spiked my drink… but my parents acted like the fault was mine because I was drinking and that I must have a problem with alcohol.
At the time that I took the drug and alcohol assessment I had severe memory loss from the time before the assault. I was assessed as chemically dependent to alcohol and was encouraged to go to intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment. While I do think that I have a drinking problem, I really doubt it was as severe as the testing showed. I’ve talked to friends from the time and recovered some memories that have lead me to this theory. I did, however, go to intensive outpatient and to AA.
In February a woman started approaching me at meetings and asking me questions about myself and my life. She was known to be a solid member of the program. Up until then I hesitated to get involved because I had a bad feeling about AA. When I told this woman that I had been raped she told me that she “knew all about that” and had “been a counselor.” I switched to her as a sponsor because of these statements and it was at that time that the severe brainwashing and abuse that I experienced in the program began. Before that the brainwashing was still severe, but not as ritualistic as when I met this sponsor.
I started to do step work, and during it this woman encouraged me to realize that I was an alcoholic and even though I was traumatized and had memory loss, and pushed me through the steps. At my first fifth step she told me that I hadn’t been raped because I didn’t say no (I did, but didn’t remember at the time) even though the guy physically assaulted me, threatened to kill me, and told me that he had been planning to kill me for six months. I told her all of this but she told me that I seduced him. She also compared me to my terribly sexually, physically, and emotionally abusive alcoholic grandfather and said that I was abusive like him because I was promiscuous. She put my education down, and told me that I have a big ego because of my confidence in regards to graduate school (I won awards for my research on implicit prejudice towards Muslims as a result of media exposure to the Iraq War). She also would tell me things on a regular basis like “To drink is to die” and that AA would solve all of my problems. Because of these tactics, I unfortunately believed a lot of what she said during my step work and in general. I was also impressionable and vulnerable because of childhood abuse (which she said I had a part in) and the recent sexual assault. At that point I started suppressing quite a few things. I actually felt better because of it, but my intellectual abilities dropped and I started struggling in graduate school. I still graduated with a 3.9 GPA but it took me two tries to pass the written portion of my thesis board. Before this I had been an excellent writer.
At some point this sponsor sexually assaulted me and began to pull me into ritual abuse that included sexual, physical, emotional abuse, and torture techniques that revolved around enforcing AA principles. She set me up with an extremely abusive man from AA who was a sex addict, who participated in this ritual abuse with her and was abusive in our relationship as well. Truthfully, though, the ritual abuse started at a psychological level as soon as I met her. She actually only sponsored me for a year though (she tried to force me off of my psychiatric medications so I found a different sponsor) but it still took me about 4 or 5 years to split from her and get out of that relationship (it lasted for almost three years). By that time I had developed chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia and lost a job because of my worsening health conditions.
I was still incredibly happy through all of this. I had a lot of friends, and I actually thought that it was nice not to be as intelligent and have critical thinking because it made it easier to “relate to people”. Everyone thought that I had great sobriety and worked my program well and this gave me a false sense of confidence.
A few months after this breakup a registered sex offender from AA (who was also a friend of mine from grade school) raped me and coerced me into a relationship with him. The relationship was, of course, extremely abusive. The relationship only lasted for four months. Another guy who actually had the same sponsor as the first abusive boyfriend zeroed in on me about a week and a half after this relationship ended. He persuaded me into a relationship with him which lasted about two or three years and also included ritual abuse. At 7 1/2 years of sobriety he broke up with me, and at 8 years of sobriety I finally refused to get back together with him (he had a history of breaking up with me and then pleading to get back together). I’m not sure if the ritual abuse ended then or later, however, I was getting stronger due to spending less time at meetings and taking up hobbies such as exercise and playing the ukulele. In addition to this, I found a boyfriend who was outside of the program and was not an alcoholic, addict, or drinker (most of my boyfriends throughout my life were drinkers or drug users). In June of 2015, I started to break cult mind control. It has led me to where I am today.
When I first started to realize that I had been in domestic violence in July 2015, I started to worry that I hadn’t been working my program. I was so brainwashed to believe that everything was my fault and related to my sobriety and whether or not I was “working my program” that I panicked and worried incessantly about it. I was extremely brainwashed. Over the years the brainwashing has lessened as I have worked through my trauma. Even so, it took me about two years after realizing that I’d been in domestic violence with two men in AA to actually leave the program. At that point I had figured out that I didn’t agree with a lot of what was said in the program, I was getting suicidal after meetings due to being triggered by so many phrases and by people’s stories, and I was experiencing a lot of abuse by members at meetings due to sharing about the abuse I’d gone through by AA members. However, I still had a really hard time leaving. My counselor told me that I was addicted to AA, and I believe it to be true because it was harder for me to leave there than it was for me to stop drinking. Much, much, much harder. The truth is, though, that all that euphoria that I had felt while suppressing my emotions due to brainwashing and conditioning led to addictive behaviors surrounding the program, such as still continuing to go to meetings habitually despite them causing suicidal feelings and flashbacks that were so bad that it was dangerous for me to drive home afterwards. I believe today that my life was in more danger for the last few years that I went to AA than it ever was when I drank. This is probably the true for my whole sobriety.
When I first went to AA, I was a top performing graduate student. By 8 years of sobriety I could no longer work due to debilitating PTSD, physical health problems, and suppression of mental abilities. I haven’t worked since 2013 and do not know if I will again. It is shocking to me how addicted I was to AA despite all of the problems that I experienced in it.
I have tried to talk to District 11 (where the abuse occured) and Western Washington Area about the abuse that I went through. They dismissed me, saying that “We do not police AA members” and “It is better to have a sex offender in the program than drinking on the streets.” I was also told that there are safety workshops being put on by AA members, however, they are not professionals. Plus, safety workshops like the ones that are being done today would not have kept me safe from the coercion of members in the program. There is just too much brainwashing for something like this to have had an effect on me. The victim blaming in AA is rampant, and when members talk about “their part” in abuse openly at meetings it makes for an environment where offenders get a free pass at assault and abuse. I swear that AA is run by sex offenders and seriously deranged and abusive people. At least that was my experience, and most people are so influenced by their methods of manipulation at meetings that they don’t even know it. It’s a terribly toxic culture to be in, and I wish that all of the professionals and people that send people to AA meetings would realize this.
From what I see, people stay sober more out of fear than anything else but can’t even see it. Towards the end of my time at AA I started to see all of the constant justifications and rationalizations that people make for going to AA and the underlying fear in their voices when they spoke at meetings. I myself had justifications and rationalizations for being in AA and they were far more damaging and delusional than the justifications that I ever made for drinking. I also told stories that weren’t even true due to my participation in AA. For example, I told a story about how my cats that I found in early sobriety were my “sobriety cats” and how they were my first pets, even though I intermittently had a number of different pets as a child. I was so focused on my time drinking and time in sobriety I just forgot about those pets (I had them before I started drinking). It’s really weird to think about how much AA caused me to focus on only my drinking as well as my sobriety, with the former including the negative parts and the latter including the positive parts. By the time that I started deprogramming my thinking was so black and white that I now see it as terrifying that I ever thought like that. Also, as I said, I simply forgot big chunks of my life because I was too focused on what AA told me to focus on. It was scary.
I believe that the best part of leaving AA is that I am able to focus on my whole life and to see the positives and negatives of every time in my life. As I said, in AA I was taught to look at the negatives of my drinking and the positives of my sobriety, and this skewed my cognition and life and kept me in denial about my childhood as well as adult trauma. Today I have a more balanced view of things and I see sobriety or not drinking (I try not to use AA phrases anymore) as only a part of my life rather than my whole life. When one thing consumes our whole life it is never a good thing, but that is what sobriety was like for me. I can’t believe that more people can’t see that this is a problem in AA.
It’s been over a year and a half now that I left AA. My stability has increased, I no longer think about drinking, my PTSD symptoms are lessened, I am not suicidal (even though it took some time for that thinking to end), and I am intelligent and can think critically. I am beginning to practice Wicca again and Shamanism like I did in 2005 before I got pulled into the Christian mentality of the program. As part of deprogramming, I have read a lot of spiritual and self help books and gone to a lot of counseling. I am still, however, trying to find just the right counselor. I finally got a true mental health assessment and got diagnosed with ADHD and autism as well as PTSD. I just started on medications for ADHD and this is already changing my life for the better. Because I am thinking critically I can take better care of myself, make better choices in my life, and have a better life overall. I will say, though, that it is incredibly hard to go through the process of getting your brain back, I am doing it and things are finally getting better for the first time in my life. I’m glad that I put in all the work that I did to get here.
I know that I turned on commenting for this post, and I would not be surprised if I get some abusive and/or coercive comments from AA members. That is pretty much expected when you speak out against AA or its members and has happened to me many times before. Sometimes, too, members are so brainwashed that they think that they’re being helpful to you when speaking of these matters when really they are being jerks. So, I’m expecting that if an AA member reads this I’ll hear some kind of comment like this. When I was active in AA I probably would have said something stupid too.
I rarely talk to people in AA anymore because I consider them all to be too influenced by it to be reliable or good friends to me. I have a few friends who still go who are working through the same things as me, but overall I try not to get too involved with people from there. Most people from the program really don’t talk to me anymore anyways. When I started speaking up about the abuse I was going through in 2012 I started losing bunches of friends in AA. I lost more over time, however, this turned out to be a good thing because having less involvement with people in the program, especially the heavily involved one, was one of the things that led me to break mind control. So I see this as an overall beneficial series of events even though it was painful to go through. I will admit that I still sometimes think about going back…. but I know that would be a terrible thing for me. Today, then, I am learning to live without AA. It’s hard but it is good, actually… it is great! The freedom that I feel today makes up for everything that I went through to leave the program. I am happy that I did. I am becoming a whole person again.
Feel free to comment, or share your own experiences with leaving AA. Thank you.