To Thine Own Self be True: Why Alcoholics Anonymous has not been the key to my sobriety
The fan whirs overhead in a crowded church. The coffee maker in the corner gurgles as people begin to trickle in and find their seats. I’m sitting in the back of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting texting on my phone while an old lady gives me the evil eye and tells me how I won’t stay sober if I don’t pay attention. I’m surrounded by my peers. Junkies, crackheads, tweekers and drunks. I used to come to this same Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting when I was in inpatient rehab. That was two years ago. In case you didn’t already know, I’m a tweeker and an alcoholic. I’m a crack ho and a junkie. In recovery. I first came into the halls of a twelve step meeting when I was 13. I’m 32 now. In that time, I’ve been to inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, detox… multiple times. But never had as much clean time as I do now. My two year “birthday” is September 3rd- a mere few days away. Two years ago, almost to the day, I met up with a meth dealer off of the Craigslist casual encounters “PNP” section (“party and play= get high and fuck). We met up on Aurora avenue, which is the only track left in Seattle, and he got me high on tweek in exchange for some pussy. It was a dark time in my personal history but not because I was ho-ing. My addiction- fueled by a lifetime of trauma and abuse- had caught up with me in such a way that I became my own abuser. Reveling in finding different ways to make myself suffer. I was taking over for all the others who had long since become ghosts of my past. The point I reached that made me turn it around was when I attempted to hire numerous men to film me being raped then kill me on camera (otherwise known as a snuff film in which I am the one who gets “snuffed”). Luckily for me, I couldn’t find any willing would-be murderers at that time.
Nobody can tell me I don’t know the rhetoric of twelve step programs, or that I don’t have a right to speak on this issue. I was literally raised going to meetings since childhood. I’ve been a part of this program for nineteen motherfucking years. More than half my life. But I got some shit to say about it and this is particularly important that all you other addicts in recovery hear this. My journey to sobriety has been (to quote a Marilyn Manson song) a “long, hard road out of hell.” The programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have never and will never work for me as a sole source of support for my recovery. And guess what? I’m not the only one. The culture of these programs is, in many ways, extremely oppressive. When I’m in a state of bipolar psychosis and I’m curled up in the bath tub because the FBI is outside, my executive brain functioning is nonexistent. I don’t have the rational thinking skills to say to myself, “ oh I might use here, better call a sponsor.” Sit in a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous and you will sense not only extreme dogma, ridgidity of thought, and intolerance but bigotry and especially toxicity. I’ve fucked guys at AA meetings, I’ve seen other people fuck at meetings, I’ve seen people doing coke right there in the open, fist fights, and the list goes on. The AA model does not work for everyone. It does not help everyone, and in fact it can even be harmful at times. It’s pretty fucking triggering to go to a meeting in search of love and light and just find open drug use and rampant dysfunction. If you have never been to a meeting or aren’t familiar with chemical dependency, then you might be thinking to yourself, “okay, so AA isn’t for everyone? Big whoop, where’s the controversy in that?.” If you’re in recovery like me, you might be laughing right about now because you know just like I do that independent thought that deviates from AA doctrine in any way is NOT tolerated or accepted. So it is a big deal to speak against the program. Also problematic is that there are no alternative models of sobriety offered or accepted by chemical dependency service providers and institutions. It’s no longer 1935 and Bill Wilson is dead and gone. Yet the AA model has not evolved at all since this time. As people in recovery, if we want a sponsor to take us through the twelve steps then the program decrees that it has to be someone of the same “biological sex.” This is incredibley hetero-centric, homophobic and transphobic, yet no one is calling AA on this. Honey, believe me- people are fucking at meetings irregardless of whether AA “allows” men and women to “mix.”. That ship has sailed, so you know what, let people have the fucking sponsors they want and stop reinforcing primitive gender roles through your policies. Most meetings are indeed “mixed”- both men and women. However, the intrinsic problem with this is A) the program does not recognize gender as a social construct along a very large spectrum, therefor I question if AA makes any room at all for Trans or gender nonconforming folks. And B) As a woman with an extensive trauma background- all at the hands of cis men, mind you- I am made extremely uncomfortable by the machismo and open sexism displayed at these meetings. Men monopolize conversation (which isn’t really anything new) and openly use words like “bitch” or “slut” in passing during their “shares.” Why the fuck would I want to open up and be vulnerable about my struggles with rape, domestic violence, sex trafficking and even consensual sex work in general when the message is so clearly put out there that there that no matter what my pains, my struggles or my successes I am still a “bitch” and a “slut.” I believe that every individual who has made a decision to abstain from mind altering substances has the right to decide for themselves what the key to maintaining sobriety is for them. As someone with extreme mental illness, it is imperative for me to incorporate serious attention to my mental health as pretty much the foundation of my sobriety. Yet the AA model scoffs at this. Diligent medication management, regular cognitive behavioral therapy and also basic self care is what really works for me. I still go to meetings but maybe only once every month. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely good stuff to get out of the program. But for me, it has primarily been the community of people that being a part of the fellowship offers. Not the literature, not working the steps, not doing everything according to AA doctrine. The miracle of this program is in the prescence of other human beings going through similar struggles with a desire to make themselves vulnerable and connect. Because when we come into the program, we have nothing left to grab onto. People in meetings frequently say “this program saved my life.” Well, that’s fine for them but this program did NOT save my life. I saved my life. Behind closed doors I have talked to many other addicts in recovery who struggle like I did for so long with feeling frustrated because the singular road that AA offers wasn’t working for them. Well I’m here to say that’s okay. I know you can’t talk about this at a meeting, because we get such angry, dogmatic backlash if we question the program in any way openly. So let me put it out there that I heavily question the program. And I take it with a grain of salt. If someone relapses, they say it is because that person stopped attending meetings. And when people are sharing about how thankful they are for their five, ten, thirty years of sobriety it is all because of the program. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t want AA meetings to have that much power over my life. That’s a lot to invest in an abstract, intangible concept. Especially when it’s your sobriety you’re gambling with. Don’t be ashamed to talk about how the program isn’t meeting all your needs. Especially when it’s related to the lived experience of being Queer, Trans, a person of color, a woman, or someone with a disability. This program openly doesn’t give a shit about making sure folks on the margins feel safe enough to occupy space, so we need to just take it. We have got to start pushing back against this stuff because it’s time for a change. And if you need me, you can find me in the back of an AA meeting on my phone running my motherfucking sobriety the way that works best for me.