I’m part of a couple of Facebook groups that are devoted to people who have left AA and are deprogramming from it. One common question that is asked in the group is: what was the one thing that tipped you off that something is wrong with AA?
I remember the event(s) that caught my attention as well as the conversation or series of conversations with a man in AA that sealed my fate of eventually leaving the program. At about nine years of sobriety I started to notice that the number of women in meetings in the area I lived in as well as the area that David lived in was dwindling. I noticed, too, that much of the time I had the most sobriety of any woman in the room, and if there were women with more time it was uncommon to find any that had over 15 years of sobriety. It seemed as though “old-timer” women were leaving in droves, which of course makes sense due to the dysfunction in the halls and predatory behavior that occurs within AA.
This migration of women out of the program began in my area in about 2014 or so. To me it was really obvious and it was to others as well. People were definitely concerned about it and were trying to find ways to attract women to the program and to the meetings that lacked them. Yet, despite their efforts, this participation problem only grew worse.
It was soon after this that I started having repressed memories in 2015. A man in AA who had survived through 8 years of repressed childhood memories himself offered to help me through it. My last AA sponsor, too, had two years of repressed memories. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to have people who had gone through something similar to me help me out with it. But, this man in particular definitely said some pretty weird things about what was happening to me and about me in general.
First of all, when I have repressed memories, they tend to just come. I am not able to control the speed that they come to me. What I do know, though, is that if I am around something that reminds me of trauma (a trigger), or someone mistreats me, that this will trigger a bunch of memories to release. And, this male friend of mine had a similar experience. He let me know that the memories just come and that you need to basically just work through them while at the same time waiting it out.
But, like so many people in AA, he contradicted himself at the same time in order to basically scare me or possibly shame and blame me. He told me that if I went through the memories too fast that I would commit suicide (how positive of course!). I was puzzled by the contradiction, and wonder today if he meant that I should make sure to avoid triggers so that the memories won’t come out too fast. Still, I felt like he was implying that I can control the memories while at the same time saying that I can’t. Of course, though, he didn’t elaborate on any of this and this became one of those weird phrases that someone in AA gives you as “advice” that is pretty much nonsensical.
He also told me that it is important not to regress, and didn’t elaborate on that either. Then he said that he didn’t think that I would regress because I was “too self-aware.” Again, he did not go into details about this, and I remember sitting there just thinking to myself “But I don’t feel self aware”. Still, I think that I believed what he said anyways at least to some extent, as that is what I had learned to do in AA (always listen to older members).
These early conversations with this man when I first started the memories were the tip off that I needed to actually have some awareness of myself and others, particularly family members and members of AA. I eventually began to notice that people in AA didn’t always make sense. I also started to mentally screen what people in AA said in order to figure out if I agreed with them or not and to just try to figure out what they actually meant, which usually didn’t result in much. Before that, I tended to blindly agree to most things that people in AA told me, especially what members with more sobriety told me.
When you think though about it, though, it’s kind of scary that I was taking advice from AA members simply because they had more time than me. Of course they are not professionals in any way. And, it seemed like everyone in AA would assume that you should and are acting just like them or like they would when it comes to practically anything just because we are “alcoholics”. The problem, then, is that you get advice from people with no professional training that you are supposed to believe and act off of just because the person has a certain length of sobriety and is an “alcoholic” like you are. But, as I said before, much of what you hear in AA is convoluted and contradictory and doesn’t make sense. Also, people assume that what worked for them should work for you simply because we are all “alcoholic”, and people there get very pushy with their advice because of it.
But as I said before, this man’s words were particularly confusing, enough so that it raised my very low level of self-awareness just a bit. And when it came to this guy, my sponsor too was very confused by what he was telling me. Her response when she had the memories was very similar to mine and she was confused by this man and his projection of his experiences onto me. Also, this idea of “don’t regress” was weird to her and to my counselor as it is important to embrace your inner child during this type of healing work. Of course the man said this too while at the same time implying that I shouldn’t get in touch with my inner child by telling me not to regress. It was all very confusing. It was very much a power and control game by an “old-timer”.
A lot of people in AA, though, consider themselves self-aware. This is because they feel like they know about their “character defects”, they admit that they are “alcoholic” and they are aware of any issues that they might have. Likely feel like because of this that they know themselves and have self-awareness. I, however, found that my true self-awareness lessened over time as my “character defects” were inaccurate, and my personality changed over time in AA as I embraced it’s messages of who I should be rather than embrace encouraging me to embrace my own internal messages and feelings about who I am.
Since leaving AA and working through my trauma my self-awareness has grown quite a bit. I’m more aware of who I am and how my actions and thinking affect myself and others. Before this, my mind was kind of a free-for-all in some ways in that I just kind of lived by reacting and by following other people’s ideals. Today I am more conscientious and really think about how I am approaching life and how I want to live life. I also really respect myself and my own decisions. It’s not always easy to do this after endearing a lifetime of people telling me how to act, think, and feel, but I’m getting there. I also had to realize too that I was being so self-critical of myself that I was not actually able to live life as I was always looking over my own shoulder and analyzing every little thing that I did to the extreme. It was pretty awful, and I believe that it was learned behavior that I first learned as a child and then was perpetuated and heightened in AA. Eventually this encouragement towards self-critical behavior and thinking from people around me practically did me in.
I am recovering from all of this, though, even though it is taking some time. For the most part, each day is a little easier than the last. My dissociative symptoms are lessening, and I am starting to gain real self confidence. It’s a new world for me today.
If you would like, feel free to comment below about a particular event or conversation that made you begin to question or think critically about AA and it’s members. And feel free to just comment below. Thanks for reading!