On AA, Abusive Relationships, and Love

On AA, Abusive Relationships, and Love
Helen Rose
December 25, 2018

I went to an AA meeting today. AA is not where I wanted to be on Christmas Day and honestly, I don’t even like AA, but holidays are hard it was the only recovery group available to me. I figured something was better than nothing.

Meetings are always packed on holidays. Every seat was occupied and the air was thick with the aromas of coffee and life.

Early in the meeting, I listened to a newly sober person speak. They were six days in and beside themself that they could not surrender, that they could not allow God to take control of their life and take their suffering away. The pain and desperation in their voice shattered me. They wanted to know if they were one of those who are “constitutionally incapable of being honest.” They wanted to know if they were one of the “poor unfortunates.” They said they are an addict, and they simply cannot wait for God to come “sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly” because they are hurting now.

I try to keep an open mind and choose my words carefully in most cases. I like to consider all sides and say things that anyone can find truth or meaning in. Right now, I’m trying to find a politically correct way to say “FUCK AA.”

I’m devastated that this person who needs so much love and compassion has received the message that their struggle with addiction is a character defect which can only be solved by divine intervention.

I wonder if anyone has ever told them that they are enough. I wonder if anyone has ever told them that they have inherent worth and dignity, that they matter and they deserve to live a life they love.

I think I’m in an abusive relationship with AA. I don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable and it does not serve my needs, but I keep coming back to it. It is there and it is familiar. Going harms me a little bit every time, but sometimes it’s better than being alone.

I have more experience with abusive relationships than I care to admit. I know the cycles because I’ve lived them. I’ve said I’m going to leave, I’ve relented, I’ve looked for the soft corners in the cruelty. I’ve been gaslighted and manipulated and guilted into staying. I’ve compromised my own belief in my inherent worth and dignity to preserve something familiar, because it is easier than going alone.

I’ve blamed myself for staying. I’ve blamed myself for causing the abuse in the first place. I’ve made myself my last priority to avoid conflict and goodness knows what else.

I have also been shown amazing grace and been embraced by unconditional love and acceptance that I’m finally starting to get used to.

When you’re not accustomed to them, love and acceptance can be like a blinding white light in your eyes. It makes you cringe. It somehow physically hurts, and you can’t figure out why. Light is supposed to be good – why does it make me feel so ashamed and uncomfortable?

The unfamiliarity of it all is frightening, though the love itself is affirming and empowering. Unlearning how you’ve previously known to be in relationships with people and trusting that these new relationships will not harm you is terrifying, but the hope that flickers from new positive exchanges is exciting.

These new connections show you the way love should be. They model effective boundaries and communication. They can serve to show you, relentlessly, your own worth. The external affirmations of “you are enough” “you are talented” or “you are loved, always” will become internalized, and eventually you don’t need them so much anymore.

I’m still getting to that point. I’m still very insecure in my confidence, in my abilities, and in my inherent worth and dignity.

Luckily, I have people in my life who help me remember these wonderful things about myself when I forget.

Next year, I will not spend Christmas at an AA meeting. My goal is to spend it at a Universal Recovery meeting. Universal Recovery is a new program rooted in UU principles and Love. My co-creators and I are hoping to get it up and running early in the new year.

AA demands its members surrender to a higher power. My higher power has always been Love. When I struggle, I try to ask myself “What is the most loving thing I can do? What would I suggest if someone I love was facing this situation? How can I love myself in this situation?”

What I often come back to is that loving myself means staying sober. It means giving myself grace. It means assuming a confidence I may not feel and radically accepting that I am enough.

Next Christmas, I hope the person I met today at AA can find themself in a UR meeting, too, and I hope they leave it knowing that they are loved, they are enough, and they deserve to live a life they love.


This is not actually a quote by the Buddha, but I haven’t been able to definitively find it’s origins. It is, however, a beautiful sentiment, no matter who said it.

One response to “On AA, Abusive Relationships, and Love”

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