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13th Stepping | The Biggest Danger in AA

13th stepping is when someone with a lot of time sober (2 years+) hooks up with newcomers (people with little sober time—think 3 months or less).

AA is full of predators.

I used to be one.

Just so we’re clear, the 13th step is not an actual step (it is the 12 steps after all…).

There’s this one saying in AA about it that’s truly horrible.

“Get ’em before God does.”

If that doesn’t sound predatory, I don’t know what does.

The danger of this is pretty straightforward. Someone who has a lot of perceived authority who is aware their behavior is wrong is preying on someone with little knowledge, no authority, and who is rarely thinking straight or making good decisions because they’re so early in sobriety.

Both men and women can be predators in AA, and in my experience (as I was one of them), the damage that can be done is serious and often irreparable.

To start with, people who are being preyed on often get run out of the rooms by predators.

13th Stepping—Running People Out of AA

One of the worst effects of 13th stepping is that it runs people out of the rooms—usually just the people being preyed on (and rarely the predator).

There are a number of reasons for this. First, it’s pretty obvious that the predators don’t see anything wrong with what they’re doing. I didn’t during the 5 short months I was sober and preying on women before I relapsed.

I was doing this at my home group, and my sponsor at the time was doing it too, so he saw no problem with my behavior (go figure—I managed to find a sponsor who would cosign my bullshit).

When I would prey on these women, lie to them to get them in bed, and then ghost them and ignore them at meetings, guess what happened?

Usually they stopped coming to the meeting. I stayed for the simple reason that I saw nothing wrong with my behavior. They left (I’m guessing) out of shame, or maybe just because they were so angry at me that they didn’t want to see my stupid face.

And I barely had 5 months sober. Imagine the effect that would have on a person if I’d had 5 years sober, or 25? Imagine if I was someone they looked up to for the simple fact that I’d been sober for a while?

How uncomfortable would they feel if I then tossed them aside.

When people who are preyed upon leave, that’s probably the best possible outcome. There are far worse ones.

Murderers, Rapists, Domestic Violence, and Coercion

We’ve all heard the stories. A guy with 20 years has a girl staying with him that he met at the group. She has a week sober and had nowhere to stay. He offered her his extra bedroom.

Another guy is approaching ever new girl at the group and asking them if they want to make some porn.

Unbeknownst to the group, he’s paying her for sex with heroin.

A guy with 30 years is dating a girl with 6 months. What no one knows is that she’s hiding bruises from when he beats her at night.

An older woman meets a young boy and invites him to her house. She gives him a few drinks before they screw. This becomes a regular occurrence.

These are the tamer stories, and many of them are true (the ones I’ve listed up here There are numerous stories of men raping and murdering women in the program. It’s not at all uncommon for rapists and murderers to be court ordered to go to AA. They might be on parole for years and have so much reason to stay sober and to stay out of jail that, despite not changing their behavior, they put together years sober.

How would you know if the person sitting next to you in an AA meeting has been convicted for rape?

This might sound scary—it is. This might sound alarmist—it’s not.

There are violent rapists who have found their victims in AA.

Others have murdered women they’ve met in AA.

It’s incumbent on us to police ourselves, and the lack of organization and willingness of members to do this leads to all kinds of horrific situations.

But let’s pretend these horrible things aren’t happening—even the tamer consequences can be deadly.

Co-dependency and God

A young man has no job and no way to get to the group. He meets a woman his age with a car. They start hooking up when she drives him home. They get in a relationship and stop working the steps.

They are more focused on themselves and each other than on finding a higher power.

I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve seen get in relationships early in sobriety (and yes, this is also 13th stepping) only to end up with one or both people getting high.

What happens when someone with 2 months sober gets their heart broken?

What happens to someone who hasn’t been to meetings in 6 months because they spend all their time with their significant other?

What happens when we stop relying on a higher power and start relying on each other?

If we could stay sober through the right relationship, many of us wouldn’t need AA.

There’s a reason you hear so many people recommend not getting into a relationship early in sobriety.

Even when there’s nothing inappropriate going on it can still lead to disaster.

My relationship with my wife did not work out when we first started dating in AA. We were both newly sober. I relapsed as a result of my behavior toward women. She stayed with me through a long relapse (she shouldn’t have).

We broke up when I got sober.

We both took a year apart.

We were so much healthier when we tried again. We weren’t perfect, but it worked.

Stay Safe

I’m not saying that no one in AA should ever date and that we should all be terrified that we have murderers and rapists in our midst.

But I am saying that all of us need to be more careful, and that those of us who are looked up to need to protect those who are vulnerable.

It’s not a safe place for alcoholics and drug addicts unless we make it a safe place.

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2 years ago

This is definitely true in my case, getting involved with men from AA in my early sobriety has derailed it more than once. As you wrote it started off innocent enough & then it turned. I’ve realized going to women’s meetings is part of solution along with just staying single because I get lost in guys or relationships.


Adam Fout

I'm a speculative fiction and nonfiction writer. I have a B.A. in English and an M.A. in Professional and Technical Communication. I'm a graduate of the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. I'm a regular contributor to Recovery Today Magazine, and I have been published in numerous literary magazines, including December, J Journal, and Flash Fiction Online, among others.

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