I’m So Sorry You Were Assaulted. But It’s Not AA’s Fault
While it’s nothing new, it pains me every time I read a story that paints AA as an organization filled with rapists and predators. The latest came out last week.
What pains me the most is not that this happens to women—as our current climate shows, this happens to more women than it doesn’t.
What pains me is these stories come from a profound place of ignorance.
I’m Just as Ignorant as Everyone Else
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance”
I, like anyone, only know what I’ve experienced so I understand that I, too, am ignorant in many ways.
But, just like every other person in the world, my experience matters.
I have experienced being in the rooms of AA since May of 2000 and have never once been sexually harassed.
I have been in this world since 1970 and have been sexually harassed, starting from about the age of 12 on, pretty much everywhere else.
This does not mean that sexual harassment does not go on in AA meetings.
It means that this is the one place I’ve ever been where men were far more protective than they were lecherous. If anything, I craved attention in the beginning and most men I encountered would not acquiesce to whatever it was I was trying to get them to engage in (usually just inappropriate flirting).
When I Was Assaulted
“Blame doesn’t empower you”
-Shannon L. Adler
When I lived in Cambridge, England my junior year in college, a Japanese man grabbed my breasts in the elevator of the public library.
I did not conclude that all Japanese men were dangerous to be around.
I did not make a documentary about how Japanese men are sexual predators and how all women who were around them were at risk.
I did not conclude that elevators, and particularly elevators in libraries, were places where women would be assaulted.
I did not launch a lawsuit against this library because it was where the assault took place.
I concluded that this was a sick man.
If, instead, I had gone on a mission to stop women from going to libraries because this could happen to them there, that would be seriously misguided (not, of course, that anyone even goes to libraries anymore).
With the recent, bizarre, unprecedented and thrilling shift in culture ever since Harvey Weinstein was exposed, we have started holding these men responsible. (Sometimes we hold their advisors responsible, too.) We do not hold the hotels and meeting rooms and restaurants and conventions and comedy festivals and office buildings and parties where the victim and perpetrator met responsible.
We don’t do that because that would be ludicrous. And yet every one of these AA-is-filled-with-predators stories does that.
These Stories Make Both Valid and Ridiculous Points
“I don’t expect anyone to just sit there and agree with me”
The concept that people in AA will end up facing jails, institutions or death is clearly not true today, when many people enter these rooms before they’ve descended to the point that the people described in AA literature did. It’s unfortunate that this has not been updated. I know plenty of people who have left AA and are thriving.
But so much is skewed where the author of this recent piece strives to make a point. The fourth step—arguably the most life changing step for someone like me, which is to say someone who spent the first 30 years of her life riddled with resentments—clearly does not state that women need to look for their part when they are raped.
If the unnamed sponsor in the story did say that, she was profoundly misguided. In the same way that I cannot and am not speaking for AA, however, she is not a spokesperson. She is not AA. She is a misguided woman.
I Suffered From Childhood Abuse As Well
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
I did fourth steps on the people who caused me to suffer when I was a child.
I did not conclude from those fourth steps that I somehow subconsciously asked to be abused.
Instead I uncovered the fact that I was still holding onto something that had happened decades earlier. It would be overly simplistic and Polyanna-ish to say that because of this epiphany, I instantly let go of my resentment. But it did launch me into the process of trying.
We forgive, as the program literature states, not to let the people who have mistreated us off the hook. We forgive to let ourselves off the hook. As the saying goes, resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. People who have been abused have already had enough emotional poison to drink. Step work, in my experience, helped me to put the plug in that jug as well.
Come on, Guys—We’re Not in High School Anymore
“I firmly believe that respect is a lot more important, and a lot greater, than popularity”
Another point which bothers me is this talk of hierarchy within AA. Yes, I have heard of old-timers in the program being revered. I have also heard of and seen old-timers who are clearly not living the sort of serene lives many of us aspire to be derided.
Still, not to state the obvious, AA has no hierarchy. Sure, you could argue that being revered—or “popular”—gives a person power. But I’m 47 years old, not 17. Popularity was a crucial part of my life three decades ago. While I’m still of course influenced by social standing, I’d like to think I’ve grown beyond ascribing someone popular the sort of power I gave them when I was in high school.
The Lone Voice of Reason
“The voice of reason is small, but very persistent”
At least they quoted one person who wasn’t a part of the anti-AA mission. “If you’re expecting it to be a room full of saints, you’re an idiot,” Amy Dresner is quoted saying with typical Dresner bluntness. “It’s a place where sick people go to get better.”
Hell, yes. To paint sick, unsaintly people (which well describes me when I came into the program 17 years ago) as rapists and predators deeply hurts the destigmatization of addicts that many of us are trying to change.
And scaring women off from a place that could save their lives—that has saved mine and thousands of people I either know or have interacted with—is myopic, ignorant and ultimately deadly.
I’m so sorry for the women who were assaulted. It’s awful.
It’s also awful to blame AA—a program that has either given me or helped me to achieve and appreciate everything in my life that I value.
Image courtesy of WikiCommons