Owning My Space as a Woman in 12-Step Programs

By Harmony Hobbs 06/01/18

I am totally within my rights if I say no, you may not sit there, and no, I don’t want a hug and I don’t want a cup of coffee and just back the fuck off because I have mace in my purse.

A woman holding her hand out in front of her in a "stop" gesture.
I’m here, I’m taking up space, and I don’t owe you anything – not even a smile, not unless I fucking feel like it.

Several days after I took my last drink, I was detoxing at home (note: this is not a good idea) when my mother came over to check on me.

“You should go to AA,” she said, not judgmentally but kindly, from her perch on the sofa in our playroom. I was sweating, sprawled on the other couch, ignoring the toys strewn around me, and her suggestion hit me like a crack of lightning. I sat upright.

“Absolutely NOT,” I replied. “I’m not going to sit in a room full of people who have problems.

I laugh about it now, looking back. Alcoholics Anonymous is exactly where I belonged then, and it’s where I belong today, but finding the courage to take that first step is not easy by any stretch of the imagination. I was terrified, physically and emotionally sick, and as vulnerable as a baby animal left in the woods. Truthfully, I belonged in rehab, but our insurance would require us to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket if we chose that route, and we simply could not afford it.

People fresh out of the mire of addiction or alcoholism, are, in a word, weak. I waffled between wanting to die and experiencing bursts of euphoria. I had moments where I would have done any drug offered to me, just to make the unfamiliar experience of feeling raw emotions stop. I was fortunate enough to have a fortress of strong friends and family around me to hold me accountable and keep me on track long enough for sobriety to really take hold, but I can honestly say that I’ve never been as vulnerable as I was in early recovery.

And that is why I am so pissed off at the men who tried, unsuccessfully, to take advantage of my weakened state.

I don’t hate men; I think they’re pretty great. Men have, in general, always treated me well. I have two sons, an amazing husband, a wonderful dad, and multiple examples of loving, emotionally healthy male figures in my life. My life experiences have shown me that men are not only perfectly capable of treating women like human beings, but also that they should be expected to do so. Maybe I’m naïve, or sheltered, or simply have out of whack expectations, but when I began attending 12-step programs, I was quickly reminded that not all men are decent, and it PISSED ME OFF.

I’m not going to bore you with descriptions of how some of the dirty old-timers treat me before they realize I don’t play the 13th stepper game. Some of these people are very slow learners, and others may never get it. If I had not been pushed, encouraged, and sometimes accompanied by my badass girlfriends, the energy it took to ward off the creeps would have been enough to allow me to talk myself into just staying home. It was the perfect excuse, really – telling myself that it wasn’t worth the trouble, or that a women’s only meeting wasn’t until tomorrow, so I could just skip out for today.

Fuck that.

“There will always be assholes,” my sponsor said at the time. “You can’t let that stop you from staying sober.” That was the day I decided not to allow someone else’s sickness interfere with my own recovery.

Fuck that.

I had no idea that I am terrible with boundaries until I started practicing saying “no” when a creeper tried to hold my hand or sit next to me. I learned that nothing terrible happens when I stand up in the middle of a meeting and switch seats, or if I say “this seat is taken,” even when it’s not. I learned that I can simply say no without offering an explanation. I am totally within my rights if I say no, you may not sit there, and no, I don’t want a hug and I don’t want a cup of coffee and just back the fuck off because I have mace in my purse.

Fuck that.

When a known predator walked right up to me and tried to give me a kiss, I stepped away and said “NOPE” as loudly as I could. As time went on and the fogginess of early sobriety began to clear, I forced myself to speak up in meetings, even with multiple pairs of eyes boring into me, mouthing words to me, and generally making me uncomfortable.

Fuck that.

My husband suggested that I start looking rough on purpose; at the beginning, I didn’t have to try. I looked like shit 24/7. But honestly, I don’t think it matters. Creepers gonna creep, no matter what a newcomer looks like.

I refuse to be crowded out of the only place I can go to for safety. I am in a happy marriage, I’m not looking for a sugar daddy or a fuck buddy or even a friend. I can get my own coffee and throw away my own garbage and get my own chair, and don’t you dare follow me to my car. I am in the rooms because I’m sick and I want to get better, and when I watch the newer newcomer get preyed upon like they tried to do to me, it fills me with a quiet rage. All I can do is give her my phone number and encourage her to find her boundaries and more importantly, her voice.

So now, nearly 18 months in, I force myself to look the men loitering around outside of the meeting in the eye; I don’t scurry by, allowing them to stare without any acknowledgement from me. I’m here, I’m taking up space, and I don’t owe you anything – not even a smile, not unless I fucking feel like it.

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Harmony Hobbs is a writer, mother, and recovering addict living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her work has appeared on Real SimpleRefinery29, and ABC News. She is fond of thrift stores and simple carbs. For more, follow her on FacebookInstagram or visit her website, Modern Mommy Madness