Women Speak Out About Harmful Dating In AA

By McCarton Ackerman 09/24/15

There are alternatives for women who fear being one of the few, or only, females at a meeting.

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Those who are well-versed in AA know about the recommendation that users have a year in sobriety before they start dating, but this suggestion is often ignored. Some women are now coming forward to share their experiences about how AA meetings actually led to harmful dating early in their sobriety.

A person making sexual advances on someone new to recovery is often referred to as “the 13th step.” For some of these new members, who may be sober for the first time in years or decades and experiencing the feelings that go with it, they may quickly latch on to someone who shows them affection.

Asia Blackwood, a single mother of three in her mid-20s, began dating a man with nine months of sobriety during her first weeks in AA. She eventually found out he was sleeping of dozens of other women in the same support group, many of whom she had leaned on. Alex Hankel, who ran NA meetings in New Orleans, ended up pregnant while in rehab at age 18 by a man 15 years her senior.

“It never caused a relapse, but it did make me question the joy of sober life, and also consider suicide,” said Blackwood to The Guardian. “The world seems like a really mean place when you are surrounded by unhealthy people.”

New York psychotherapist Scott W. Stern noted that sex offenders who go through drug courts are often ordered to go to 12-step meetings. This can prove problematic for more vulnerable members in these meetings, as well as treatment facilities since 90% are 12-step facilitated.

“I showed up to a meeting once in flip-flops and a black T-shirt,” said Leona Colon, who has been in-and-out of AA programs for decades. “Some guy yelled out, ‘You know what she’s looking for!’ I got in his face about it and shamed him. Then I was told I shouldn’t have said anything to him about it because he was new. But what about me? I should put up with that?”

Stern and other medical professionals are now advocating for Smart Recovery, a program with a 24-hour online option perfect for women who are uncomfortable with being one of the few, or only, women at an AA meeting, as well as those who live far away from a meeting space. The program does not involve citing powerlessness as part of recovery and encourages members to build their own motivation, find ways to manage behaviors and feelings and start living a balanced life.

“Too many people equate the powerlessness in the AA program with helplessness,” said Stern. “Through that, they accidentally transfer their addiction to substances to an addiction to the support group or members within it. The only way to combat this that I have found is through empowerment.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.