Here is the post that I put up on the awesome website http://www.leavingaa.com and it sums up how I was feeling on the day I decided to finally leave:
Who knew? Here you all are! What a relief. My story is LONG and complicated and all I keep telling myself is I congratulate myself for my tenacity in hanging on to myself whilst I figured it all out. The short version (there is so much more to say!) of my story is this:
In the late 1990’s I presented to my GP in London, where I was living at the time, and he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety – gave me antiDs and sent me to his practice counsellor (I should add this GP eventually went to prison for 12 years as a paedophile, he was drugging children and filming himself rape them whilst their mothers sat in the waiting room, his name was Dr Timothy Healy). So we could say his clinical judgement of me was ‘doubtful’ at best.
The therapist was a Freudian and a committed Christian (not knocking all Christians by the way) and I saw her for psychoanalysis for five years – I was in my mid twenties and had no idea, I thought doctors knew what they were doing, and all ‘counselling’ was the same, I’m now appalled at the amount of bad ‘help’ there is out there!
It wasn’t all a waste but she knew nothing about childhood trauma, and whilst diagnosing me with ‘attachment disorder’ she also said my problem was ‘penis envy’ … even today, this diagnosis staggers me, and as you can imagine, this made me very angry. You only need to take a look at women in our culture to have a few problems with that theory (and with Freud as it happens!). My childhood was tricky. My parents are kind, decent people but brought their own difficult upbringings to the party, and we also have to remember the child rearing practices of the 1970s, and indeed, the gender politics, were very different to how they are today (in the most part). So, with the best will in the world, despite all teh good stuff that was there too, my childhood was pretty repressive and sexist. It was at times, highly insecure and chaotic. My parents tried to raise me as ‘good wife material’ and as a result I had very different treatment to my brothers, despite my very good intellect and clear capabilities. I was one angry young lady and I believe my anger helped me hold onto myself.
Anyway, I clearly had issues with a sense of self, boundaries, self esteem, taking care of myself, owning my power, all that good stuff. And why wouldn’t I? There was some trauma ( a couple of instances of sexual abuse as a child outside the home, some traumatic childhood instances, some traumatic experiences at college, and then the death of the boy I loved in a car accident). I was lost, very unhappy, struggling with symptoms of PTSD, trying to marry my ‘nice girl’ upbringing with my growing awareness, and drinking and drugging to cope. I was in a fast party set in London too – a long way from the rural community I grew up in – where heavy use was normal. I’d also been a straight A student and a very uptight good girl and I finally rebelled. With hindsight, I think my rebellion was also ‘sane’ in the midst of the insanity and repression I was surrounded with. I was trying to help myself (albeit not very helpfully).
This therapist sent me to AA and being the ‘good girl’ I was, I went. I was scared about my drinking, my acting out when drunk (I now know a bit about trauma and the compulsion to recreate it) and I’d heard of AA, knew nothing about addiction, and she told me I was an alcoholic so I went. I arrived and everyone ‘identified’ and warned me about the ‘fatal progression’ and about ‘denial’. They pointed out passages in the book about, ‘the first nip of the wringer’. It appeared I’d arrived just in time … yet to lose anything, not even a job.
Fast forward three years and I’m the poster girl for AA – chairing meetings, sponsoring, going to conventions. And I see now how vulnerable I was, lonely, scared, ashamed of myself, inauthentic, feeling out of step with the world and here was a community, a family, friends, escape from the shame. Also stopping drinking did help (more on this later) and life got better in lots of ways. But all the cultural and familial issues that were part of my story were ignored, my problem was now ‘me’.
But I always had that knot in my gut. I came away from meetings sometimes feeling something was ‘off’ – despite the laughter and camaraderie I felt strangely ’empty’ but of course this was my ‘disease of perception’. I tried to take the advice of ‘oldtimers’ who gave me feedback without me asking for it as ‘wisdom’. I had some real friendship issues, and sponsor issues. I could write a book, in fact I think I might! I had a four week brush with Greysheeters anonymous but I’ll write another thread about that, suffice to say if AA was insane, this was off the charts!
At three years in, I got into a relationship with a man outside AA who was very charming and seductive but abusive, and wham! All my childhood issues were triggered and I crashed. All my friends deserted me as I spiralled as ‘they were protecting their recoveries’. So having had lots of affirmation for ‘sticking with the winners’ I was now a ‘loser’. I didn’t drink, and I continued not to drink for 12 years. But happy joyous and free seriously eluded me. I was put into treatment by my extremely worried parents – a posh treatment centre in Surrey meant to be ‘the UK Meadows’ as recommended to me by people in recovery and by a 12 step counsellor, where I proceeded NOT to get any treatment for my issues, where I was re-traumatized in a ‘codependency’ ‘treatment’. I came out of there gibbering, unable to cope, on the floor with unbelievable panic and anxiety etc. I had to give up my job and my home. I was “spiritually bankrupt”. I was now an alcoholic, ACOA, codependent, sex and love addict with a borderline food disorder. I had so many labels I felt totally f**ked!
So now here comes Al-anon and Coda where I’m told I need to detach from (not leave) this man (who is abusing me). I spent another two years disappearing up my own backside focusing on my own pathology and if only I could detach enough I could get comfortable with this man and his unbelievable rages and controlling behaviour. As they say in recovery, look in the mirror and you are looking at the problem. I looked in the mirror and felt broken beyond repair. To say I was miserable would be understatement of the century. Around this time I got my hands on Charlotte Kasl’s awesome books and my consciousness started to grow.
THANK GOD I finally found a therapist who knew what the hell she was doing and with her help we did enough work to ‘grow me up’ and contain the PTSD and trauma bonding, and get me enough functional boundaries, that I could get the hell out of there. Therapy did help me enormously but she also used the 12 step model alongside her other methods. But she was an integrative psychotherapist, and well versed in trauma and she she also had a very sane spirituality which really, really helped me.
In 2008 and 2009 in therapy I started getting really really awful symptoms of racing heart, weight loss, trembling in my hands, gastric issues, sore eyes, sore neck etc. I felt totally and utterly INSANE. I was told this was my ‘core stuff’ and if I ignored these neurotic manifestations it would go away. Alas, my therapist got sick and had to end her work with me whilst I was still in this state. Overlapping this time I also had a relationship with a guy I met in AA that I’d known around the rooms for several years. He was popular, funny and seemed to be living a successful sober life. As I got involved with him it turned out he had real issues with women, had fingers in several pies, an insane relationship with his ex, and was acting out with new girls in recovery (I don’t think he was actually sleeping with them at that point, but lifts home, late night texts, inappropriate emails etc). Once I got the full measure of this I left him. And I should add that my behaviour was totally sane in this relationship – I did nothing wrong.
Unable to cope with my rejection this man went beserk. Having promised we’d never make an issue for each other in recovery no matter what happened, he proceeded to tell very vicious lies about me, and have several very torrid affairs with a few very poorly girls in AA (one of whom, I am sure is a full blown narcissist (that’s a whole other post), others were just vulnerable and messed up). It was horrendous, there were nigh-on pornographic pics of them all over the internet etc, lots of gossip, it was humiliating and so tough as rumours circulated about me that weren’t true. He was also using drugs, valium, weight loss pills etc and I heard he was sitting quite literally dribbling in meetings. But the people around him said ‘at least he hasn’t had a drink’.
The people in these particular meetings were waiting for a reason to ‘get me’ as I was the thorn in their side, the lone voice in the wilderness, trying to speak up, asking for group consciences to deal with the 13th stepping behaviour, calling out guys giving girls lifts home, pointing out all the cross talk and ‘bleeding deacon’ behaviour and daring to speak about childhood issues and misogyny. So now I’m ‘crazy and dangerous’ and people are told to stay away from me. This was a very lonely time for me.
THEN it turns out, I have a very, very serious physical health problem. I have Graves disease, hashimotos disease, hashitoxicosis and thyroid cancer. Thus begins the rounds of trying to find a doctor who knows what the hell they are doing. Not easy, and I’m a member of another forum for thyroid patients as treatment in the UK is so bad. Turns out the symptoms of this treacherous combination of metabolic and endocrine diseases are panic, anxiety, agitation, ‘mental health’ type symptoms, and alcohol intolerance. Turns out I’ve had it ALL MY LIFE and towards the end I could have DIED and all the trembling and ‘neurotic symptoms’ were in fact very serious symptoms of a very seriously inflamed and overactive thyroid.
I believe that my time in ‘recovery’ prevented me getting diagnosed as armchair psychologists in AA gave me a lot of unsolicited advice, and labelled my symptoms as part of my ‘disease’. If one more person mentions Louise Hay to me, I swear I’ll punch them in the face. I am sick to death of new age bunkum spouted by people with no authority to tell me how to live my life. You know the stuff, surrender to God and your cancer will be healed etc….
So here comes round two of my ‘waking up’ as I start to move away from psychology, and pseudo-spirituality, and start getting interested in medicine and science. So much finally makes sense. I had a horrible time getting the right treatment and the surgeon who finally removed my thyroid was my fourth opinion – he said he had no idea how I was ‘still standing up’. I was moved immediately to his emergency surgical list and that’s when they found the cancer. I have had to fight every step of the way to quite literally save my own life with the NHS.
So, now people in AA are totally unable to cope with my distress, and I’m avoided, I’m ‘too needy’ – this was a very hard lesson to learn after being indoctrinated with ‘you’ll never be alone’ – 12 steppers have been the least support I’ve had in this whole nightmare. I’m told my cancer is a manifestation of my ‘lack of love’ and I’m told to ‘surrender to my doctor’ (I will not surrender to any human being, not least one that is incompetent). Again my anger and my tenacity got me through, just about, and I’m now on my way back to health.
However, my surgeon (who has had 4,000 patients like me, he’s very renowned) has taken a very, very detailed history and he’s absolutely adamant that ‘the last thing you are is an alcoholic’ – he says, and the experience of other patients like me backs this up, that the ups and downs of my thyroid disease and the periods of very serious overactive thyroid would have a) created all the severe psychological symptoms and b) meant that I could not metabolise alcohol. Indeed competent psychiatrists will test thyroid hormones given their implication in depression, mania, etc. It staggers me that treatement centres do not routinely test thyroid hormones. My surgeon said Graves patients are often labelled with all kinds of things, even as sex addicts or compulsive over-eaters given the role thyroid hormones play in the brain, in libido, in appetite. Most thyroid hormone action happens in the liver, hence the problem handling alcohol.
So now I’m really confused! In a way getting sick was a gift as it finally taught me to truly stand up for myself and to THINK FOR MYSELF and to really understand this is my life, my body, and I get to say what happens to it. Also, I truly learned that ‘no one is coming to the rescue’ -I’ve got to do it.
I’d been out of step with AA for a long time after I’d done my work around childhood (you know, the AA Nazi’s ‘Your inner child needs a good slap’ brigade’) and now I’m not even sure I’m an alcoholic at all. I’ve started to talking to friends and family about the time I got sober and the general consenus is ‘you were so unhappy, we were worried about you and for sure, you went ‘off the rails’ but I never thought you were crazy, or an alcoholic’. I know I used alcohol in a risky way, I was quite chaotic for a while, but I was never detoxed, never did a withdrawal, was never treated or diagnosed, and never drank daily. Now when I read the criteria for dependent drinking I never met them (why oh why didn’t I read them instead of that stupid 20 questions pamphlet!). I managed to hold down a very good job, friendships, etc. I just got lost ….but I arrived in AA and was told, ‘no one ends up in an AA meeting by accident’ and ‘it’s not just a river in Egypt’.
Another issue is I took the AA advice to ‘be honest with your doctor’ and it’s now on my medical notes, and I’ve had to really work hard to get it removed as it’s interfering with health treatment. Fortunately I’ve had good specialist support but my GP is an idiot who keeps bringing up ‘your psychiatric past and history of alcohol abuse’. I’ve had to pay a private addiction psychiatrist to give me a clean bill of mental health.
Thanks for sticking with this, as I know it’s long, but in closing, I’ve been reading Stanton Peele, and the Leaving AA blog and re-reading beloved Charlotte Kasl and I’ve ordered some books on Amazon but I’m definitely leaving AA, I want to deprogramme my head.
I look back on the last decade of my life and see I was a vulnerable, damaged, lost young woman desperate to ‘belong’ but also that I was strong, had a very strong instinct that something ‘wasn’t right’ which is probably why I was experiencing so much pain. As Charlotte Kasl says, all attempts at healing are sacred. I am not diseased or defective, and whilst I see that the ‘powerless’ idea could be helpful in some contexts I am not powerless. I really think for people like me who received a lot of disempowering treatment, then the focus needs to be on empowerment not on ego deflation.
I still attend one CODA group at the moment as there are people there I like, but I’m rethinking that whole idea as well. Also the gift in this is it turns out my mother also had autoimmue thyroid disease so that explains a lot of what happened to her when I was young (she was also labelled crazy, and treated appallingly by the system, medicine remains a very sexist institution, even though I acknowledge that a lot of my parents behaviour wasn’t helpful) and I feel I’m coming to a new place of love and understanding with my family. I’m also living with them now as I recuperate and watching my Dad drink, I’d say he has intensity issues with booze sometimes but he’s not an alcoholic. Thank God I didn’t listen to the sponsor who told me to cut them off!
I’m sick of feeling guilty and constantly focusing on what is wrong with me. I believe there is not, and never has been, anything wrong with me other than the idea, learned as a kid, and reinforced in bad therapy and AA, that there was something wrong with me!! I think a lot of the recovery movement is a money making racket.
My guilt in this is my sibling, who is 9 years in AA, got in three years after me party because I tried to ’12 step’ him. He is very firmly down that road. I believe the abuse he got in AA was fundamental in him having a full blown nervous breakdown that meant he quite literally could not leave the house for several years. He’s doing OK now but he’s very, very committed to the 12 steps and training to be a 12 step therapist. We are currently not talking (it’s a long and complex story, as most family dynamics are) and I feel very bad about that indeed.
Anyway, phew, it’s so good to finally say it all. That’s my REAL story, not the false story I’ve been telling in AA (for a long time, I’ve been telling my ‘story’ and inside my head this little voice has been saying, ”I’m not sure that is true’).
And if God is Truth and God is Love, then I consider myself to finally be on a true spiritual path.
Thanks for listening.