The Day the 12 Steps Died

The last sponsor I worked with ruined what little faith I had left in 12-step programs. Let’s call her Monica, since she does have a law degree. I’d like to begin by thanking her because I was already standing on the ledge of freedom – I just needed that little extra push.

Monica became my sponsor the way most unfortunate things happen to me. Mostly by accident, with just a dash of social anxiety to blame. This was during my imprisonment at the Lighted Home for Wayward Boys in an unfamiliar part of Pennsylvania.

My little brother went to undergrad in this backwoods area and student-taught at one of the high schools. I was at the family home one weekend and stumbled across a pile of reports he was grading. My brief look through them suggested that he was teaching special needs students in grade school.

These kids cannot be in high school” I said, throwing a hand-written blurb on the ‘American Revolusion’ back to him like a turd I’d found in my bathwater.

“Yeah dude it’s bad…this is the sorry state our country is in“.

I could go on and on about the decline of our once great nation, but this story is about Monica, not the sad little nowhere she chose to call home.

I’m required by my captors at the home to obtain a sponsor before I can graduate to ‘phase two’. I’ll then be rewarded with such extravagant privileges as getting to find my own rides to AA meetings, and… actually that’s it.

I shouldn’t have asked anyone. But I give myself a deadline knowing that my basic fear of people will let me keep making excuses until it’s time to go home.

I know I want a woman instead of a man because my last male sponsor tried to fuck me and move me into his gross house. What you’ve heard is true. This is a typical occurrence at 12-step meetings. Lots of sexual predators, rapists, and general ne’er-do-wells, just a few of the thousand reasons to avoid them.

It’s the night before my self-imposed deadline, and I decide to ask a girl who is around my age and seems easy to talk to. The girl says she needs to ask her sponsor because blah blah blah, and Monica walks over. Turns out the girl doesn’t drive because her life is sadder than mine, and Monica mentions that she used to sponsor a guy at the Home for Wayward Boys. Not wanting to miss my deadline, I ask Monica to sponsor me.

I notice that Monica has an aura of smug self-satisfaction. Normally you see this in environmentalists or people with perfect families. Since neither of these apply it’s mostly just confusing. I chock it up to her being a lawyer, but I am wrong, wrong, wrong.

When I tell Backup Therapist who I’ve asked to sponsor me he laughs.

She’s at the center of a lot of arguments“.

Backup Therapist is brilliant though and knows to let me set my own traps.

Just keep me posted on how things are going

Later, when I ask Monica about the previous boy she sponsored at the home she says she doesn’t know if he’s still sober. He hasn’t spoken to her since he moved back to civilization. I’m still naive at this point, so I tell Monica that he must be a real dick.

Monica is also married to the anti-Christ. See A Real Spiritual Experience for more on this piece of work. This is Satan’s fourth or fifth marriage. Sad, for everyone involved, but mostly for me.

Like most 12-steppers, Monica loves talking about herself. I can’t tell you how many times I hear the story about how she used to think she was a good mom because she would prepackage a bunch of meals for her kids. Then she would disappear for days. Another one of her favorites is when she finally left her first husband (I don’t know where the kids went, maybe she prepackaged them?) and moved in alone.

She claims she didn’t even know how to grocery shop. “I mean they had to tell me, Monica, you have to eat something other than olives“.

Yeah, ok dramatic, but you graduated from law school and made an entire weeks’ worth of meals in zip lock bags? Something didn’t add up.

Another day, while riding passenger in her car, she starts telling me about her day in court. An unmistakable grin spreads across her face as she recounts how she made an underage girl cry. I start laughing because she’d obviously taken great pleasure in being responsible for the tears. On the way home from the meeting I tell her that I lack a sense of purpose.

Well that’s awfully self-centered of you” she responds.

My growing disdain for Monica is held in check by two things. She is taking me to meetings and generally trying to help – it isn’t her fault that I don’t like her approach. I would also soon be moving back to an area that didn’t smell like cow shit, and we could have a graceful parting of ways. Unfortunately, Monica ruins my plan when she shows me why anyone who stops drinking for a few years, and still frequents meetings about not drinking, should be avoided at all costs.

The incident involves my fourth step, a ‘thorough moral inventory’. Basically, a list of my sins and resentments – very Catholic. I’ve done a couple in the past so I’m already familiar with the process.

This is the step zealots will accuse you of not doing ‘thoroughly enough’ if you drink again or need antidepressants to stop you from eating a bullet in a church basement. “But Nick, you shouldn’t need a psychiatrist anymore if you just do a really good fourth and fifth step!“. I can’t even pin this one on Monica, but I’ve heard it from numerous others.

Thanks to Favorite Therapist’s contagious optimism, I’m able to set aside most of my preconceived bias towards this archaic process. And to be honest, I have nothing better to do. So, I grab a new notebook, slap a Mr. Yuck sticker on the front, and get to work.

A week later, I have 12 pages full of over 150 names with resentments next to them. I have a memory like an old Jewish woman, so it wasn’t very hard.

Now let’s be very clear on the instructions Monica gave me.

I know you over think things, so just use bullet points because we will be discussing them later“.

Two weeks in a row, Monica picks me up for a Monday night meeting with plans to discuss my progress. Instead of reviewing my work she tells me about the problems she’s having with her son, mother, and sister.

It turns out Monica was charged with assaulting her sister last year. She said it was just a small push but knowing Monica it was probably a full-on mollywhopping. The fact that she hadn’t taken a drink in almost a decade adds to the richness of the story. I have no issues with listening to her problems since I appreciate the rides, and hearing her drama adds some welcome excitement to my sad life.

This trend continues into the third week, and Monica finally just says “do you want to give me the notebook, and I’ll take a peek at it before we meet this weekend?“.

I hesitate for a moment since this doesn’t seem like normal step-work operating procedure, but I want to get this over with before I leave town. Reluctantly, I hand her my red notebook.

Three days later, Monica comes over to the home and we sit outside at one of the dilapidated picnic tables. She sits across from me and hands me back the notebook.

Let me ask you something…” Monica says, leaning across the table, “do you always do the bare minimum?”

I’m so mad I can’t speak.


I just didn’t see any attachment or feeling to it” she goes on.


Really, I should have taken a page out of Monica’s book and smacked her upside the head. But I do what I always do and try to see her side of it.

Well maybe I could expand on some of these…“.

Sometimes I really hate myself. This woman did assault a relative though (while her elderly mother watched in horror!), so I feel like I may have been justified in fearing her.

I tell Backup Therapist what happened the following Monday, and I get the same laugh.

This is what I always see with Monica. After a while you either accept her for who she is, or say I need to get away from this woman“.

Favorite Therapist comes back from vacation the next week and seems equally horrified by the exchange. But because she isn’t just my awesome friend who lives in a messy office down the hall, she makes me call Monica. I’d planned on just avoiding her until I left, like the last boy she sponsored.

The conversation is awful and just ends up making me feel bad for her.

I had a feeling you were angry” she says, “and that’s ok, you should have strong emotions towards these things“.

So, you made me mad on purpose? Ok Monica, you’re the worst.

The conversation ends with her telling me that she just ‘really wants me to get this right because she loves me‘. Sure…maybe bare minimum love.

And here’s where I again make myself queasy, and I swear it’s just an automatic response, but I grumble “I love you too” before I hang up the phone.

Part of me wonders if Monica recognizes that she’s the common denominator in all of her short relationships.

Part of me hopes she’s ok and that her sons are doing well.

Part of me still wants to tell her off.

The last little part of me wonders if her mom and sister ever had to re-file those restraining orders.