I was a stepper too: What I was like while I was active in Alcoholics Anonymous and how I began recovery from it

As you can see by my other blogs, I am not a big fan of Alcoholics Anonymous. I believe it to be a cult and I believe that most people in it are severely brainwashed and have been subjected to ritual, or ritualized, abuse. If you have questions about ritual abuse, see my blog about it.

I was extremely involved in AA for about 11 years or so. Within the first six months of attendance I got a sponsor, worked the steps, and became convinced that I was on the right track. Part of this was due to my desperation to stay sober, but a big part was due to desperation to recover from trauma. I was also convinced that the reason why I was raped and almost murdered in 2005 was because of my drinking. I severely victim blamed myself and truly thought that if I didn’t drink that I would not be raped again. Oh, what denial can do.

Over the years I pretty much always had a sponsor (even though I had a few) and ended up working the steps twice over time plus doing 5 or 6 fourth and fifth steps. I did this because I had a strong desire to stay sober, plus I really thought that they would “relieve me of my difficulties” as one AA religious quote says, and I had quite a few of them (read my other posts for a complete view on what that was like for me). All of my health problems and trauma, you see, made me vulnerable to the ideas in AA that everything could be made better by participating in the program and working the steps. Over time though I realized though that my participation in AA and the steps had only caused more damage through suggesting to me to stuff my emotions and thoughts. Eventually they all exploded and I was overwhelmed for years.

I was heavily involved in service, to the point of eventually being a GSR. I chaired meetings, greeted, helped with clean up, was a speaker a few times, had two different district chairperson positions, and was heavily involved in the district accessibility committee. I even put on workshops about service and the need for help in the area of Accessibility. I had a lot of other service positions as well but suffice to say that I threw myself into the program because I wanted to be as happy as everyone there… but I never really was, and by the time that I was 7 years sober I could no longer work due to everything that I went through in AA.

The program tells us about how important the fellowship is of AA and how we should be involved with people outside of meetings. Like a sheep, I went out to eat with people from the programs frequently after meetings when I was able to, attended get togethers at people in AA’s houses, went to picnics, went to weddings, and even had game nights at my own house. Within a couple of years into the program, though, my friends outside of the program were letting me know that I was ignoring them, and that continued until the last few years. I’m a lot more in touch with them now.

In terms of the philosophy of the program, I believed it all, and I participated in the shaming, blaming, minimizing, and systematic abuse of others in the program. I would encourage atheists or people who had gone through religious abuse like myself to pray, pushed AA religion on people, assumed that those who relapsed weren’t working their program/steps/praying enough, tried to talk people into working the steps, and silently judged people constantly. I even frowned upon people who didn’t like the male oriented culture of AA and criticized the big book. I was a fervent supporter of all of it, and even harped on the traditions at business meetings. My participation in the Accessibility committee only helped me to push AA views onto the vulnerable, as that committee is formed so that people in nursing homes, hospitals, and who are home bound have access to AA. I really thought, though, that I was doing this to help them. I wasn’t the greatest person in some ways, and by the time that I started healing from trauma I swear that I was a learned narcissist. Luckily that is something that I am unlearning.

Most people thought that I had wonderful sobriety, and some still do. The problem with this though is that whenever I went against the grain I would experience pretty severe backlashes and would lose friends easily. It seemed that I was in a no win situation because the expectations of me ended up being pretty high, and when treatment resistant depression and PTSD happened, I pretty much “failed” them all. Many acted like my health crisis was due to not working the program, and eventually leaving AA, despite everything that my doctors were saying.

I was the person who adamantly believed in the steps, had a great relationship with God, preached about my “spiritual experiences”, and knew the steps, traditions, and big book like the back of my hand. I was pretty much a leader in Bellingham AA. Despite “working my program” so well though, I ended up on disability due to increasingly severe health problems, was in abusive relationships with fellow AA members, have cats with severe health problems, and ended up being hospitalized in mental wards twice all still while attending AA. I was in huge denial about all of this though, and used the promises in AA to help me stay there for many years.

I left AA about a year and a half ago and today am coming out of denial about the problems that I have in my current life and the trauma of my past. I am much stronger in myself than I ever was. I am also more compassionate, loving, and have better relationships with my loved ones. I’m able to think critically again and feel smart. It is difficult sometimes not to have the social support that I had at times in AA… however, that support only really happened when I was a model AA member. When I wasn’t, I would hit lows in my mood because of the differences in support that I would have when I fit in and when I didn’t.

Overall, I think that AA really set me up with failure by creating a lot of false expectations about how things should be in life when you are active in the program. I think that this might be what initially caused my treatment resistant depression. Today I try to have a more realistic view on life, and that actually helps me to cope with unforeseen circumstances as well as hardships in life. Right now my cat Patrick is undergoing chemotherapy for intestinal cancer, and since accepting the reality that hardships happen in life I am able to cope much better with his care, which includes the ambiguity and unknown about when his cancer will finally progress beyond where medicine can help him. Whenever my cats got sick during my active time in AA, I would freak out, call everyone I knew incessantly, and basically not be able to function at all. Today I am functioning well despite caring for a cat who has cancer.

So how does someone like me change? The main thing that I have done to change is to work through the trauma and abuse that made me vulnerable to AA in the first place. This has helped me to become strong enough so that I could then take a critical look at AA and work through the abuse that I went through there. Without finding a solid foundation of self by working through the abuse that I went through as a child I doubt that I ever would have been able to leave and recover from my time in AA. The truth is that I never would have guessed that working through childhood sexual abuse would have led me to then leave AA, but it did, and it caused to have an entirely different view on AA and life as well. It’s funny how much one decision (the decision to heal from childhood abuse in my case) can change your entire life.

Thanks for reading my daily post. Keep reading as some of my later blog posts will center around feeling and experiencing emotions, my two cats’ reactions to the trauma they experienced at the hands of AA members (their journey out of AA), personal evidence that AA is indeed a cult, a discussion about thoughts, dealing with guilt and shame after leaving AA, some of my Shamanic journeying, and more! Stay tuned.

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