Over the years, I’ve had some interesting – and some difficult – conversations about A.A. Why some people didn’t like it, or didn’t find it helpful. Friends have asked how I, as a feminist, could encourage women who have been abused to “forgive and forget” (a common expression used in A.A.). Or, as someone who doesn’t go to a church / synagogue / mosque regularly now, how a program based on “turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him” (Step 3) could be comfortable.
A.A. is based on 12 steps and 12 traditions. They have stayed the same since Bill W. and friends (the founders of A.A.) first wrote them in the 1930s/40s. We know a lot more about the many women and children who have been abused – physically and sexually – often at the hands of parents, husbands, boyfriends. From my own experience, by reading about abuse, and through conversations with many other women who have been abused, I’ve learned that it takes support and understanding – and therapy! – to recover from abuse. And I truly believe that a lot of abuse has been so damaging that forgiveness and forgetting is neither possible nor appropriate.
So how does the A.A. slogan “forgive and forget” apply to abuse? Early in my sobriety, people at meetings encouraged me to “take what you want and leave the rest.” To me, that means take on what makes sense in the A.A. program and let go of the rest, let go of what does not feel comfortable, what does not fit. For me, that meant working the A.A. program without having to forgive abuse. It has not been possible to forget some of my abuse experiences, but they don’t hurt me as deeply anymore, they don’t threaten my mental health, they don’t push me to take that drink.
Very fortunately, I have been able to forgive some of the abuse, and build better relationships with some of those individuals. For that I am truly grateful.
I will write about “God as I understand him” in other posts, so I’ll end by saying that it was very important to my sobriety journey to see that I didn’t have to take on, agree with or understand everything in A.A. to work on getting and staying sober. Instead, what was important was to “keep coming back.”