I Was 13th-Stepped (And I Kind of Liked It!)
In 12-step programs, the infamous 13th Step comes when an old-timer seduces a newcomer. Here's the view of a recipient.
When I had 60 days sober, I started dating an AA member with 19 years. His sponsor told him he could do what he wanted, as long as he was willing to pay the consequences. My sponsor told me it wasn't a good idea because I was newly sober. I didn't listen.
I liked the guy because he didn't talk my ear off about recovery. Guys with four years tend to tell me how to work my program, and how they won't get involved with me until I have a certain amount of time sober.
“How come you donʼt lecture me about my program?” I asked my old-timer one day.
“Because Iʼm trying to date you, not be your sponsor," he told me. "And I donʼt consider you a ʻnewcomerʼ because you've been in and out of the program for 17 years. You just donʼt have any time.”
If you have daddy issues—and I plead guilty—dating an old timer will totally scratch that itch.
When I told him I was fucking other people, he told me he didn't care. Not trying to control a newcomerʼs behavior is the best way to control their behavior, as we are defiant by nature. But our self-esteem is low and if youʼre too nice, weʼre repulsed or suspicious. I broke up with this guy three times in three weeks.
This is not the first man with double-digit sobriety that I have “dated.” Iʼve been 13th-stepped numerous times (given that I've been “new” over and over) and my experience is that men, no matter how long their recovery, are still men. Lust is usually the last of the instincts to be tamed.
Men with a lot of time are usually very grounded. They've done so many inventories theyʼre not easily riled. Most of their “buttons” have gone away. But you can still find them. As much work as theyʼve done on themselves, you can still get their goat.
When I was brand new to the program, and had four months clean, I dated a man with 17 years. It was easy to put him on a pedestal. I needed the love and validation he provided, but the balance of power was off. I felt like I brought nothing but admiration and sex to the table. He made me feel like a little girl, constantly telling me I knew nothing. He was always berating me about my less than perfect program. I later found out he had a history of dating newcomers.
One day I asked him what was wrong and he yelled at me for bringing my "toxic alcoholism to my house." That was the end of that two-month affair.
When I had just days off a relapse last year, I hooked up with a British guy with 20 years. It was fun but brief. I had just separated from my husband and was far from ready to be involved. He was understanding but when he told his sponsor about me, he was advised to get an exorcism done on me immediately.
Iʼve had a few male sponsors, all very attractive, and I wonʼt deny that dating an old-timer is like getting to have sex with your sponsor. The general consensus is that dating old-timers is bad for newcomers, but I've seen that itʼs a helluva ride for the old-timer, given that the newcomer is crazy. They know going in that they will not be dating the same girl two days in a row, but they think theyʼre bulletproof and donʼt care. They generally know theyʼre gonna get their ass handed to them in this dynamic.
Only a handful of times did I get the condescending “Iʼm so excited for you to work the steps” speech, to which I would act highly interested while trying to unzip his pants.
But, as a newcomer Iʼm always telling them about what steps Iʼm working, bringing them my latest recovery news, like some eager puppy. “I just finished my Fourth step. Iʼm such a good girl. Iʼm getting better. Look.” And theyʼll pat me on the head and throw me onto the bed.
Another man, with 12 years, told me he rarely slept with newcomers because it only leads to mayhem. When youʼre newly sober, youʼre changing rapidly. As an old-timer, the changes are more subtle and have slowed down. “If youʼre dating a newcomer,” he said, “itʼs gonna be a roller coaster of emotion. If theyʼre working a program, theyʼre going to be changing rapidly. If theyʼre not, then itʼs just drama.”
He was wary of the predatory daring of the newcomers. “Young girls in short skirts at meetings is a con and they donʼt even know theyʼre doing it. I have to protect myself. Sometimes they just dare themselves, ʻCan I fuck himʼ?” He never picks up girls in meetings and wonʼt give a girl a ride home at 1 am from Swingers. “If Iʼm gonna stick around the program, I donʼt wanna be known as a guy who trolls."
So how did he end up with me? “Well you werenʼt new new. And we had a real connection. I never fuck people who are truly new to the program because they get their hearts broken and die.”
Old-timers develop an AA swagger; they're usually confident, calm and wise. Girls are very attracted to that. These guys end up hooking up with girls they would never get in the real world. Ironically men are not as attracted to the same thing in women with time. Girls who are crazy still take the prize.
If you have daddy issues—and I plead guilty—dating an old-timer will totally scratch that itch. They have an air of authority and experience which is hard to resist. They tend to be older, solid and sometimes paternal. You can always ask them for advice. When an-old timer says “good girl” to me, I lose my mind. Itʼs sick, I know. I should probably head back to therapy.
Another draw for dating an old-timer is that it is taboo. In spite of their better reasoning and the general AA consensus on the matter, they canʼt resist you. I must admit I initiated three out of four of these liaisons. If you have a decent body and bombard men with, um, “self-portraits,” they pretty much cave. Nobody is THAT sober. They are still powerless over women and sex.
Iʼm not gonna lie: I have a fantasy of being “saved.” Not just from my alcoholism but from myself. Itʼs easy to think old-timers have the all the answers and that they might lead you to the promised land of sanity and recovery.
The bottom line is that there are newcomers who are ready to be in relationships and women with 12 years who are not. Everybody moves and grows at a different rate. The standing suggestion for newcomers is that they should not get involved with anybody for the first year because their sobriety is still very tenuous and we, women in particular, tend to get loaded over romance.
But who listens to that? Love and sex are the next drug in demand when you take the booze away.
Amy Dresner is a regular contributor to The Fix. She recently wrote about her life as a tweaker.