Shortly after I came into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, I was raped by two men. I was a young woman of 24 who had just finished college, graduating with a bachelors degree and a drinking problem. I landed in a “low-bottom” meeting, and suddenly, in AA as a new-comer, I was the lowest on the totem pole. The other AAs with more time enjoyed higher status.
I learned that since I was the new arrival, I was sick indeed. Insane, they said.
I befriended a group of young people in my first year; one girl in particular, a wild and happy MTV type, took me under her wing. We went to meetings, sober dances, day trips to the city. She introduced me to the various AA members at the clubhouse, including a young man named Chuck, who lived near the AA club. He had five years clean and sober. He told me his sad story. Chuck had been adopted by one of the wealthiest families in the United States as a white baby boy. They were not aware that he was really a mixed-race child, but as he got older he “turned black.” Because of this, and some behavioral problems which manifested only later in life, he had been banished by his family to live in a low-supervision group home near the AA club. I felt sorry for him after hearing his tale of woe. But luckily he was on the right track now . . . he was “working a program.” Despite his living arrangements, he seemed to be more gentle and together than the other people at that meeting, who appeared quite bizarre and were speaking in contradictions.
My early days in AA were confusing to say the least. I got a sponsor, a young woman who spoke to me a few times on the phone, then ran off with one of the men from the meeting, never to be seen again. Most of the other women seemed angry, and many of them were dating the men in the group. Since I had never been to AA, I had no way of judging this. I had heard “men with the men and women with the women,” but it was not repeated often, and the members modeled behavior which went contrary to this catch phrase. In fact, a lot of the behavior went contrary to what was preached. Nevertheless, I figured that people date and opposite genders mingle in the outside world, so it didn't seem wrong to me . . . besides, they weren't drinking. That's what I cared about.
The AA members kept asking if I would go to any length to get what they had; but despite their claims of happiness and serenity, many of them seemed worse off than my drinking friends. I relapsed several times in the beginning, for two reasons. First, I really couldn't accept that I would have to go to these meetings and be among these people for the rest of my life, even if it was one day at a time. Second, I had fully internalized step 8 -- made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. I felt so much guilt and shame over having hurt my parents with my drinking that I felt an overwhelming compulsion to make it up to them. The looming steps as written on the banner hanging on the wall of the meeting room, seemed to tower over me and remind me on a daily basis of the pain I had caused my family by rebelling against their values. (This is a normal developmental stage for any adolescent, as I later learned.)
This time around, I made a promise to myself that I would obey all the family rules. After all, I had learned from an early age that it is God's will to honor thy parents,. and I now learned in AA that, as a recovering alcoholic, I was to do God's will, which was not-so-subtly hinted to be that which is taught by Christian religions.
And so I did. But living life that way was extremely stressful. (Perhaps this is why I had rebelled in the first place.) It was so stressful that relapse was inevitable. The relapses came, and they were coupled with the usual guilt and shame, but I kept returning to AA because I knew of no other answer to my drinking problem. AA did a good job of indoctrinating fear into me, the newcomer, someone who was already coming from a fearful place.
My new friend Chuck didn't object to my relapses. He would come with me to bars to keep me company while I drank. It felt kind of strange that an AA member with five years should be coming with me to bars, but I let it go -- after all, he wasn't pouring the drinks down my throat.
Life was tough in early sobriety. Very tough. And one night I relapsed on some rum at my parents' house, where I was living. I decided to leave the house before it took effect, since the last thing I wanted to do was break their hearts again by having them see me drunk. I just wasn't prepared to face the shame of such an encounter again. I was acutely aware of
My MTV AA girlfriend had run away to the West Coast by this time, and Chuck was my only friend left, so I drove in my father's car to Chuck's home hoping to sober up there. Seeing me arrive in a drunken state, he appeared to have no intention of letting me wait there until I sobered up. He appeared to have a different agenda, and was behaving in an uncharacteristically aggressive way. I had never seen him this way. (I learned later that he had gone off his meds.) He tried to physically drag me into the house. I was scared and I fought him, trying to get away. My car keys got lost in the struggle. Out of nowhere, a truck arrived at the scene and Chuck's friend, Lenny, got out. (Lenny was not a resident of the home, just a friend of Chuck's.) seeing the struggle, he got a baseball bat from his truck and beat Chuck in the head until he was covered in blood. I remember seeing the dark blood running down Chuck's face; it glistened in the moonlight. I was horrified at what had happened and scared out of my wits, but I was also happy to have been rescued, as Chuck was acting like a madman and I was terrified of him.
Good ol' HP had sent one of his “angels” to rescue me.
Since I had no car keys, and Chuck's home was in a remote area in the woods, I had no choice but to go with Lenny. I was afraid of running, because there was nowhere to go, and Chuck might come after me. I got into the truck and was taken away. Lenny tried to calm me down by talking to me. Then he stopped at a liquor store and picked up a six-pack. We got to his house, and he told me to sit down. He then went into another room with the beers. He brought me back a glass of beer. I remember taking one sip, then losing consciousness immediately. (In rape crisis counseling I found out that there is a high likelihood that the drink contained a date-rape drug, since it was fixed in another room and because it knocked me out so quickly). I regained consciousness in his bathtub, with this man raping me and doing bizarre things to me. Immediately, I pushed him away and got dressed, feeling completely sickened and degraded. This was a new level of shame that I had never before experienced. Luckily, he cooperated, but not without telling me what a “great time” I'd had with him. “Heh, heh, heh,” he laughed in a victorious, psychopathic cackle. I will never forget it.
But there was an up side. AA had taught me that repeated humiliation would help me achieve the requisite state of humility which I needed in order to maintain my new sober lifestyle. Cool!
Lenny then drove me back to Chuck's house to get my car. As I mentioned, the car keys had dropped onto the ground during the earlier struggle. Chuck and I found the key and he agreed to drive me home since I was terribly shaken up, and still coming off of whatever Lenny had slipped me, as well as the alcohol. I realized I was in no condition to drive. We returned to my house, and I told Chuck to go sleep in the guest room (it must have been 4 a.m.), and I lay down in my bed. I woke up a few hours later because I felt someone's presence in the room. Chuck was in my bed. I whispered angrily and instructed him to get out, but he would not leave. He insisted that I have sex with him -- otherwise he would tell my parents about my relapse.
The last thing that I wanted was to hurt my parents again, because I love them more than anything in the world. I could not face the shame of them finding out.
So, I gave in angrily, knowing that I was already just a worthless hole. Anything to keep my parents from finding out. When he finished, Chuck went back into the guest room. A few hours later my mom and dad woke up. I made up a story about why Chuck was at our house. Despite the fact that I was furious and disgusted with Chuck, I now had to drive him home. (I had been raised with the rule that it is the polite thing to take care of one's house guests.) By the time I returned home from dropping Chuck off, he had done what I feared most -- he had called my parents and told them in detail about the drinking and the “sexual escapade” I'd had with his friend Lenny.
I was sickened and furious beyond belief!
Only he did not mention the dubious circumstances surrounding the events, nor did he mention his coercive sexual encounter with me. He framed his call as if it were coming from a place of concern! -- that he was calling because he was looking out for my welfare! “you had better watch your daughter . . . . she's got some problems . . .” Having learned all this from Chuck, my mother sat me down and called me a disgusting tramp who had better sober up and shape up. I was completely at a loss for words. I literally could not speak. I have never, ever, ever in my entire life felt so betrayed, humiliated, used and misunderstood. Never!
The rape and humiliation, topped by the reaction from my mother, completely crushed me. I felt like a dead piece of wood. A few days later I started to feel a large lump of emotions well up inside me. I had no idea what to do with it. I knew that as an alcoholic I wasn't allowed to be angry. That was The Word, as written in the Big Book. Anger was labeled as dangerous for alcoholics, an unsuitable emotion for someone with my affliction. I remember swallowing that large lump of emotions. If only I had been working my program better, perhaps I wouldn't have felt it at all . . . .
I didn't even know how to start to fix my life, but I knew that I had to take care of my alcohol problem.
“First things first.”
The rape and subsequent events had hurt me deeply, but I had grown up in an old-world European family, where we handled deep emotional pain in the same way that I learned to handle it in AA.
“I turned it over . . . I let it go . . . I gave it to God . . .”
After the rapes, Chuck continued to call my house and come by dropping off gifts and letters. Sometimes it was once or twice a week, other times two months would go by and I would think it was over, but there would be another call or there would be another “gift” in the mailbox or on the front step. This continued for a period of two years. He attempted to convince my father to talk me into rekindling my friendship with him. Years later I found out that Chuck had told my dad that I slipped a drug into my own drink, causing my loss of consciousness prior to “having sex” with Lenny.
“Let it go.”
“Turn it over.”
“Give it to God.”
“Work a fourth step on it.”
“Find out what your part is.”
“Make amends for your part.”
“Keep your side of the street clean.”
My mom and dad were furious at their drunken daughter, and I was too filled with shame to discuss the situation with them, so I didn't say anything. I spent the next few years making “amends” for all the “harm I had caused” them through my drinking by working extremely hard in their family business. I workaholiced my way through early recovery. The rapes, the stalking, and all of the feelings that went along with it were left unaddressed, or, should I say, they were left to God.
Many things didn't sit right with me in AA on a core level, but AA had such a good public name that I figured that there must be something of merit there. . . . Also, I knew of no other solution to my alcohol problem -- everyone knows that alcoholics must go to AA. Also, there were plenty of fear-inducing tactics that kept me there.
The steps were offered as the solution to my alcoholism and my resentments; and it was crucial to eliminate my resentments. According to AA, I was to do this by finding “my part” and making amends to the people against whom I held resentments. According to AA, I was in the wrong for feeling anger toward Chuck and Lenny, and I was to make amends to them for holding a grudge. It was critical that I forgive everyone who had wronged me in the past. It did not matter that the rapists had shown no signs of remorse. It did not matter that, given the change, they would probably do it again. It did not matter that according to the statistics I learned in counseling they probably will do it again; according to AA, I was in the wrong for being angry, resentful, and unwilling to forgive, and that was that.
In AA, resentments are poison and they can only be eliminated by forgiving the people who wronged us. To challenge this notion is impossible, because it is akin to challenging the word of God. I also learned that the grouch and the brainstorm are not for us alcoholics, so being grouchy or thinking too much is dangerous.
Unfortunately, the rape and the ongoing stalking by Chuck became unbearable. No matter how much I prayed, there was no real relief. I felt disgraced and humiliated (which was helping me to get humble according to AA), and I felt so much rage that it was as if someone had injected a metric ton of anger into my system. It wasn't blood that was circulating in my veins, but rage. Pure rage.
Nevertheless, it was repeated over and over that I must avoid anger, and that I must forgive, Forgive, Forgive. My emotional truth and the things that I was learning that I needed to do to maintain sobriety were at odds. After one Big Book meeting, when the chapter on justifiable anger was read, I raised my hand to share. I objected heavily to the advice against anger, even citing an example: “I cannot imagine that the program wants us to be devoid of anger. What if someone senselessly murders my child,” I asked. “Isn't anger the natural response?”
After the meeting, the Elder Members, the ones with lots of Sober Time, lovingly encircled me, chuckled knowingly, and encouraged me to keep coming, that someday I would “get it.” The implication was that the program contained some mystical element that had the power to eradicate anger from the human experience, because this was an emotion that alcoholics could not afford to have.
No matter how much I listened, I felt that I would never “get it.” I felt like shit. But AA stepped in again with some handy slogans:
“Fake it till you make it.”
“Act as if.”
Finally, I got tired of practicing acceptance, and started to feel that my Higher Power didn't give a shit about me, so I took my will back and filed court papers against Chuck for the endless stalking. I knew what the legal climate for rape victims was in this country, and I had no “evidence” to prove my case, so I didn't even attempt to file charges.
“Spread your legs ma'am, we need evidence.”
“Innocent until proven guilty.”
“How ya gonna prove it?”
Nevertheless, I did have evidence of the stalking - a big bag full of stuff Chuck had been dropping off at my house. Enough was enough!
I marched down to the police station to file a complaint and to get the ball rolling. The nice policeman who assisted me groaned and asked me if I was sure that I was being stalked. He had to make sure that I wasn't just one of those hysterical women who makes up this kind of stuff.
I filed the papers, but unfortunately they could not be served because Chuck had become homeless. As far as Lenny was concerned, I had no idea of his last name or address. So, I was back to square one.
“Let it go.”
“Turn it over.”
At my new meeting, through many tears and sobs, I shared with the group in broad terms what had happened during my last relapse. I told them how I fought off an attacker, and that I had been rescued by someone else, and that my “rescuer” did something to me which was worse than what I was fleeing from!
After the meeting, no one responded to me. No hug, no kind words. I was breaking down emotionally, and no one seemed to give a shit. In retrospect, I think they were probably too afraid to be around someone who was experiencing such strong feelings, since being in the proximity of such a person is disruptive to their serenity, and thus a threat to their sobriety. If it wasn't my experience, strength and hope as it pertains to alcohol, it didn't seem to belong in AA. The silent message was that members are expected to take their unsightly emotional messes elsewhere, or to work the steps on them.
I experienced firsthand that in AA it is impossible to point the finger without “three pointing back.” Based on this philosophy, it was clear who was in the wrong: me. If I hadn't drunk, if I hadn't befriended a male, and if I hadn't gone to his house to flee my own shame at home, I wouldn't have been raped. (The message to the men? Drunk women are fair game; a woman who befriends you is fair game; and any woman who comes to your home is fair game.)
Wow! If three fingers are pointing at me, it only follows that I should probably go to jail for my own rape.
AA is a place where we look for our part, make amends for our part, and we disregard the other person entirely. I was in pain, so I “owned” the problem. It was my fault for having expectations that I wouldn't be raped. End of story. What about Chuck and Lenny? I was to avoid taking their inventory, and keep the focus on myself. According to AA, my duty was to pray for them. I was to think of them as sick children of God, and I was to get on my knees night after night and pray tat good things happen to them. I was to keep doing this until my resentment went away. Maybe it was my “diseased” mind, but this sounded like a good way to fuel a resentment rather than a way to get rid of one. The idea of it made me sick.
According to AA's prescription for serenity, in my heart I was to treat them with the same patience and tolerance that I would grant a sick friend who has pneumonia. Boy, it's a good thing that the sentencing judges who put away Charles Manson, David Berkowtiz, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer weren't well-indoctrinated AA members!
According to AA, my feelings were the problem. The problem is not that two men are freely roaming the world, having satisfied their own power and sex needs by raping a woman without any thought whatsoever of her feelings or the effects on her life. The problem isn't that they have experienced no consequences whatsoever for their actions. The problem was my feelings, which I was to change by using prayer.
I learned that I was to pray for them. But who was to pray for me? No one of course -- how selfish of me to even ask. Could I at least feel sadness over what had happened? No! Why that would put me on the pity pot -- a place reserved for dry drunks. It felt wrong, it all felt so very, very wrong. I simply couldn't meet AA's emotional demands no matter how hard I tried. I felt like a failure.
In retrospect, I ask myself why I didn't go to a rape crisis center sooner, but I can now see that going for therapy or seeking outside help was subtly shamed in my family as well as in AA. We were strong Europeans who pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. Come to think of it, every time I went out the door to go to AA, I felt shame. But I went because I wanted my parents to see that I was doing something about my problem.
Soon thereafter, I got myself a new sponsor. She was the young “happy, joyous, and free” type. She had what I wanted: a big smile and lots of friends. I had neither. I called her nightly in the obligatory way. I got the answering machine most of the time, but finally, I needed to discuss the rape, so I confided in her. Her response? She told me to read page 449 of the Big Book ten times to get rid of my resentment. Dutifully I turned to that page:
I almost puked. In essence, my sponsor was telling me that what I needed was an attitude adjustment. This is the advice I got about the rapes -- from a woman!And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God's world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.
I stopped trusting people in AA. I tried to distract myself from my feelings by taking a coffee commitment. Maybe “what's at the bottom of those urns” would help me. (in AA, the practice of preparing caffeinated beverages for ones' peers is highly touted as a remedy for emotional pain.) The overwhelming message was that I needed to get out of myself. Accordingly, I made coffee, I scrubbed urns, I bought cookies. I ritualized my life, and slowly and methodically managed to repress, reframe, and deny the truth of both the incident and the rest of my life.
I felt broken and desperate, and could have used some love, empathy, and support, but I couldn't find any at home or in the rooms. With my parents, I simply didn't have the psychological or emotional strength to sort out the situation and tell them what had really happened.
Nothing in AA validated my feelings; in fact, everything about it countered my internal truth. My internal truth produced symptoms of rage and depression which were chalked up as “disease symptoms” for which more meetings were the remedy. I knew I needed to stay sober, so I kept going to AA. The whole world seemed to support this organization, and I knew of no other way.
Fortunately for me, my Higher Power stepped in again, and a dashing AA prince who was very well liked in the meetings became interested in me. I felt fortunate indeed that someone like me, a woman who was damaged goods for sure, could win the attention of such a well-liked Sober Man. He took me on several dates to fine restaurants. I was completely swept off my feet. Everyone who met him was charmed. Shortly after we started being somewhat physically intimate, he stopped taking me to fine restaurants. In fact, he stopped saying hello to me at meetings, and one night when we were to go out, he drove me behind a convenience store. He parked his car by the dumpster and said he just wanted to “make out.” So I did, thinking that his was the best I could get. (As you can tell, I had lots of experience with humility.) Nevertheless, my feelings were hurt. I felt him slipping away from me, and knew I had to look for and fix my part. My part must be that I am too fat. That's it! So I responded in the usual way, by losing weight. I dropped from 125 to 105 in a month or so. If I was prettier, he would treat me better. I also got a cassette and workbook on improving my relationship skills. I had been used by this Sober Man, and I blamed it on my relationship skills. I listened to the tapes while I jogged, trying to burn off my nonexistent fat. Everything about the gender messages embedded in my culture reinforced this response as being the appropriate one.
At that point, I needed to be cared for so badly that I was willing to go to any lengths to keep this Wonderful Sober Man. However, I could not ignore his change in behavior and my subsequent hurt feelings, so I decided that I had to talk to him. We went to a restaurant where I told him, “Jim, it really hurts my feelings that you used to take me to nice places, but now you park beside a dumpster and you only want to make out, and you won't even say hello to me at meetings.” He responded by pulling out a Big Book from underneath the table. he said, “Sweetheart, you have to remember that you are powerless over my behavior, but there are some steps that you can work to change the way you feel about it.”
His attitude toward women seemed to be “take what you want and leave the rest.” I felt like a piece of toilet tissue, used and disposed of once again. I felt incredibly bad, hollow, broken, unlovable and lost. Even though I had learned that “God never gives you more than you can handle,” I relapsed.
Not on alcohol, because I didn't want to get raped again. But on cough syrup. That way I could change the way I felt while maintaining some sense of control.
I found another sponsor. I picked one of the “career sponsor” types, someone who was big on “helping others” and really seemed to grasp and revere the Big Book. I must do it by the book, I thought. I must follow the rules (thinly veiled as “suggestions”). Please keep in mind that during this time I had even started to reframe the rapes because of the responses I had gotten from others as well as the 12-step programming. We can only look at our part, was drummed into my head at repeated meetings, and with each repetition of the Lord's Prayer, I was reminded to forgive those who trespass against us. Meanwhile, I was to avoid strong emotions, as they were implied soul poisons.
No matter how hard I tried to “fake it till I make it,” my new sponsor detected that I was an angry person, so we made plans to remedy the situation immediately. I would have to work The Steps -- the fourth step in particular. She handed me some forms and explained what to do. I was to write down the names of all the people against whom I had a resentment, and then find “my part” in each situation. She even gave me an example from her own life. Many years ago, she had an incident with a police officer who had acted as a peeping Tom. This cop had spied on her and her boyfriend as they made love in a parked car, late at night in a public park. My sponsor explained to me that the steps helped her reveal her part, and thus allowed her to get rid of her resentment. She explained that if she hadn't put herself in that position, the cop would have had nothing to peep at. Technically, there seemed to be some truth to this, but it still rang of abuse of power to me. I did not understand why that aspect was completely ignored. The idea of excusing Chuck and Lenny in this fashion made me sick beyond belief.
I stopped using that sponsor.
I didn't understand why my alcoholism demanded a thorough and fearless moral inventory in which I only looked at my part. What about everyone else's part? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed that throughout my life I had been on the receiving end of other people's immorality. Why am I the sick one for feeling angry over hurtful treatment? Is this logic bi-directional? Does it mean that I can hurt anyone I want and it's their fault? If a newcomer male goes to a bar and relapses, can I follow him there, slip a date-rape drug into his drink, sodomize him with a Vaseline-coated baseball bat, take Polaroid pictures of the act, mail the photos to his children, invade his personal life and terrorize him psychologically, and it will be his fault?
The answer? In AA I found that I sure can do that (although it works much better if women are on the receiving end because our culture tolerates this type of behavior toward women much more readily than toward men)!
My experience reflected the sickening fact that in AA, as long as
the perpetrator maintains a serene exterior, offers an optional
meaningless amends to whomever he's hurt, and confesses his wrongs to a
supernatural being as well as to his sponsor, he will be let off the hook.
Sponsee: Shucks Joe, I got a little rough with another newcomer this weekend, if ya know what I mean . . .
Sponsor: It's OK Lou, so did I . . . couldn't help it . . . my character defects get the best of me.
Sponsor & Sponsee to newcomer: Sorry hon, forgive us. Don't be angry. It's not spiritual.
The perpetrator will be absolved and he will be accepted into the group. He will receive the social reward of pats on the back and hugs for having gotten honest. At the same time, the perpetrator's victim will be shamed, shunned, and expelled from the herd for reacting with anger and for feeling resentful over the abuse. She will be expected to react in a “sober way,” without strong emotions. She will be pressured to forgive, and she will be blamed for having put herself in the position to be hurt.
Throughout this entire ordeal, it was virtually impossible to find a healthy response within the herd. Hardly anyone said: “how horrible that these people raped you!” “How horrible that they're using date rape drugs these day!” “How sick!” “Shame on them!”
Why did I stay so long in AA? Fear, desperation, and a very powerful force which I later learned to be a form of mind control. After leaving, I read several books on cults and psychological manipulation, and learned that the AA theology is replete with contradictions and circular logic which serve to make the program look perfect, and that AA employs many devices for psychological and emotional control which are characteristic of the ones used by cults. The more rigidly one works the program, the more powerful the mind-control effect.
Despite the dubious aspects of much of its lore, AA also has a very powerful human element that keeps people sucked in. Relationships are formed, friendships are forged, and meetings satisfy a voyeuristic desire. By hearing the struggles of others, I was kept riveted to my seat. This kind of personal exposure is hard to find anywhere else. It is very alluring. The promises were the carrot and the steps were the stick. There was an evangelical power to the meetings which was mixed with a strong “spell” that was cast on us all.
Knowing nothing about mind control when I entered, I was not able to identify what was happening. I intuitively knew something was wrong, but I couldn't put my finger on it. For this reason, I fell under the AA spell. Being desperate and therefore willing to entertain almost any new idea certainly contributed to it. AAs openly say that “the Program is brainwashing, but our brains needed washing.” Well, they are at least half right.
Another reason I kept coming is that there was a climate of shame at home. I was still in the doghouse with my family, so naturally I gravitated to my new AA family, even if it employed similar dysfunctional methods for keeping me “in line.” I kept on coming, trying to make the best of it.
The resentments I had against Chuck and Lenny took their toll. I refused to do the fourth step in the fashion presented to me. I was seen as a bad seed in AA -- the rebellious alcoholic. Over and over, I was warned against being willful. Compliance and obedience were rewarded with social approval; free thought was met by rejection. I learned through repetition that those who do not take the “suggestions” do not make it. I was to concede my will to the better judgment of my sponsor or group. I was to take her suggestions.
But I just couldn't do it. The thought of it made me sick. If I refused the “suggestions,” I would be shunned by the group. If I took them and felt worse, it was my fault for taking them since they were “only suggestions.” Because of my broken state, I could not at the time recognize this as circular logic which is used to make the program look perfect at the cost of members' sanity. I learned that nothing happens in God's world by mistake. “Why,” I wondered, “does God want me to live like this?”
The internalized rage took its toll, and I developed a pathological compulsion to both abuse men and find one who would protect me. Even if I learned that a Big Benevolent Supernatural Patriarch was there to protect me, provided that I bow to him with humility, he didn't seem to be picking up the signals from my prayer antenna.
Nevertheless, I had scraped together a few years of sober time. Not because of any thorough moral cleansing, but simply because I was terrified of having to go through an incident like the rape again.
What was the culmination of these events? It wasn't good. Often, sexist behavior by the men in the rooms would trigger hostile, reactive behavior on my part. This is not my natural state, but was a result of the internalized trauma.
I wanted men, especially men in AA, to be attracted to me and to suffer because of it. I wanted them to want me, and then get absolutely nowhere. Ever. I was young and attractive enough to pull this off, and since I had become completely sexually dysfunctional, I was able to be “just friends” with almost any man, with no feelings of missing out on my part. The trauma affected me in so many ways. The more I internalized it, the more powerful its influence became.
I felt a pathological compulsion to lash out against men who were openly misogynistic, and who openly objectified women. Fellow AA members witnessed this behavior, and to this day some of them think that it was this behavior which invited the rape, and not the untreated rape which resulted in this behavior.
What I had turned into was not good. As yesterday's victim, I was now driven to be the victimizer. This behavior seemed to flow naturally because I had not found any empathy or compassion for the original trauma. No one felt sorry form me, so why should I feel sorry for anyone? This behavior continued until I finally crossed paths with someone who fed me a dose of my own medicine, and I could taste how bitter it was.
Without the necessary healing, the therapy, the human compassion, the empathy, and the support of my loved ones and peers, I became completely wacky. I tried and tried to turn it over to God, but “it” must have been tied to a boomerang, because back it came every time. And when it came back, I would feel like a failure for not being able to turn it over like the others seemed able to do. This contributed to my feelings to shame. I even lost my best friend in the rooms because I was “too angry” to be around, and because I wasn't “nice” to men. At the time I couldn't explain why, because I had internalized the whole incident.
Instead of healing me, many of the slogans wounded me, and the platitudes I heard, which were supposedly quick fixes to deep emotional pain, were more like salt thrown on a festering wound. The steps . . . well, they claimed to lead to a peaceful place, but for me, emotionally, they seemed to descend into hell. I felt so out of place. I couldn't share my experience, because mine wasn't a good experience, and sharing bad feelings was seen as being “whiny” or unaccepting of God's world. (This is why the atmosphere of meetings often seems so positive and uplifting despite the fact that alcoholics are often hiding extremely painful histories -- because revealing the true nature of deep emotional pain is often discouraged.)
I wanted so much to be part of the in group. The happy recovering drunks. The grateful AAs who were part of the in crowd. But I had one thing going against me: I was never good at hiding my feelings. If I was angry on the inside, it would show. For this, I was shamed, sometimes subtly, other times not so subtly, for not working the program.
I still hadn't given up on AA, because its control over me was powerful, and I did see people who seemed happy, and I wanted so much to be like them. I got another sponsor. This time, when I told her my story, I knew that blaming Chuck and Lenny would get me a reprimand, so I reframed the event entirely to blame it on myself. This fit the program better, and this is what got me the approval which I needed so very badly. Of course, my sponsor gently reminded me that I needed to share my experience, strength, and hope, and that she found no strength or hope in my story. That was because I didn't have any. I continued to go to her home group and to call her. She was gentle and kind, and I appreciated that. Nevertheless, she went off to pursue higher education and no longer had the time to sponsor me. My bulimia was acting up very badly by then. I couldn't even sit through a meeting without going off to puke up the cracker I had eaten for lunch. I knew that if I was skinny that men would be nice to me and they wouldn't hurt me anymore, because I would be too pretty and valuable. I was driven to correct “my part.”
I learned that in AA the greatest possible transgression is not the rape or exploitation of newcomers. It is not robbing, cheating, or lying and making a meaningless amends afterward. The greatest possible transgression is challenging the Big Book and AA lore. A person who transgresses in this manner will be labeled as a sick and diseased person. The rejected member seldom has any friends outside of the program by the time this happens, because the group encourages its members to cut ties to others, and because it encourages members to stick with the “winners” -- winners being people who “work a good program,” who are serene and content because of the program, and who experience a shallow emotional range because of the serenity they derive from the program. Period.
Finally, I went back to my first home group. I felt like a big loser. I would never be able to attain the upbeat gratitude of the cheerleader types in AA. These girls seemed to be clones of the same peer group who rejected me in high school. The “fake it till you make it” crowd. I went back to the club where the lower level of drunks seemed to gravitate. I went and took the seat which had been waiting for me. The one with the invisible sign: loser.
Over time, I stuffed away the trauma in a little corner of my mind, and managed to not even think about it much. Occasionally, when running or driving, memories would come back and I would burst into tears. It became incapacitating. But ordinarily, especially at meetings, I would “confess” to the group that it was I who treated men badly. My behavior was now a “disease” symptom. The group would nod in agreement and give me their approval for my “getting honest.”(Note that this “getting honest” was the highest form of dishonesty. It required that I go against what my insides were trying to tell me for years. The truth was no my truth or even “the truth.” It was the AA “truth,” which was a result of AA's power to reframe memories.)
By this time I had absorbed the indoctrinated idea of personal powerlessness to such a degree that several years had passed, and I was still leeching off my parents (living rent free), having long overstayed my welcome. Since I did not seem to be moving out, my parents decided that they would move out. They left for California, taking the family business with them. I was now out of a job and a home. I helped them with the packing and moving, in accord with the do for others mantra and out of residual guilt as well as genuine concern for their welfare, but I had failed to plan adequately for myself. Luckily, I found a place to live at the last minute, and one of the men whom I had known for years from the AA club offered to assist me. Why a man? Well, he had a large truck, adequate upper body strength, and enough free time to help me move my personal belongings to my new abode.
Help he did. The help with moving turned into help with finding work, and to help with a bevy of other tasks. In retrospect (hindsight is 20/20 isn't it?), I see that I should not have accepted so much help, but 1) I really needed it; 2) on some level, I felt that men “owed me”; and 3) he seemed willing to give it. Nevertheless, I was very grateful for his kindness. My Higher Power had sent me a real jewel this time! I kissed and hugged my new hero! I truly appreciated his help and his company. But the sweetness of affection soon turned to control through kindness and then control through fear. A violent outburst resulted in my drawing the line and his responding by leaving at least 25 apologetic messages on my answering machine. I was seriously concerned about this behavior, but my AA head took precedence over my gut and I forgave him. Big mistake! By doing this I had given him back his power, and the controlling behavior and violent outbursts started up again. The more I resisted, the more he persisted, until once again I was faced with a stalker. This “excitement” went on for about a year and a half this time.
Meanwhile, memories from the rape were flooding back, and I was dying on the inside. I went through a phase of heavy prayer. I bought many religious candles, read the Bible, bought meditation books, read the Big Book. I was trying to use prayer to tamper with my emotional reality. It worked! I was able to deny the facts about my life by praying for several hours per day. Bingo! I had finally “gotten it”! I proudly went back to the rooms to speak in praise of spirituality and prayer. I had stumbled upon a marvelous discovery, one that mankind has employed for centuries. The use of prayer and religion to escape the pain of reality. How marvelous!
I got myself another sponsor. She was very pleased with my spiritual ways. But I had a troublesome habit of asking too many questions. Questions that were often answered with “read the book.” I read the book, but I still had questions. I did my fourth step. I'm amazed today that the rapes appear on the fourth step as some minor inconvenience. This is evidence to me of the power of the program to alter memories and perceptions. Nevertheless, we determined during the fourth step that I had been raped, and while my sponsor asked me, mustering all of her tough love, “Now what was your part?” (I could have slapped her), she also suggested that I go into therapy. I promised that I would pursue it. Ultimately, I figured out that therapy was what I needed all along. It was only by releasing the rage and working through the anger in therapy that I finally felt the leaden overcoat lift from my soul.
During the time that I was attending crisis intervention for the rapes, the harassment by the man who had helped me move had gotten way out of hand, even to the point of requiring police intervention on more than one occasion. My life seemed to be a never-ending terror flick with men as the monsters. Feeling fearful and powerless, I did what I knew, and started to pray to my Higher Power to help me.
My street-wise roommate, who had grown up in a major city, was quick to point out that only nincompoops pray in response to threats such as those I was receiving, and she talked me into feeling my anger so that I could take proper measures to defend myself. She was absolutely right. I had discarded the emotion of anger in accordance with working a good program, and I literally could not find it when I needed it! I was then able to see how, once again, AA's indoctrination had done me a great disservice, in this case, by tampering with my natural fight-or-flight response. Instead of the healthy response of anger -- the primal survival response -- I had been programmed to pray and forgive! Boy was I shocked when I made the connection!
Immediately, I made effort to procure a weapon for self-defense which I carried with me at all times. I also went down to the courthouse to request a restraining order, hoping to secure some peace of mind, but the judge (a woman), didn't find the latest transgressions serious enough to warrant a restraining order. (It is always issued based on the latest incident.) She said she would have gladly issued it based on the incident before last. I asked her for special consideration, explaining that I was currently in therapy for rape, telling her that the harassment on top of it was psychologically unbearable, but she declined my request with the following comment: “I'm sorry, miss, that you've had problems with your previous relationships [!} as well, but I will not grant you the restraining order.” By this time I had become used to such responses, so I left the courtroom quietly.
When at last the therapy was successful in breaking down the wall of denial which I had built with the help of AA, I began to see how it had been the AA theology which had hindered the natural healing process. This was why I had accumulated five years of “sobriety” in the program yet I was bursting into tears at regular intervals. I had a moment of clarity at that time, which I felt compelled to confirm.
I decided that either I was crazy or AA was crazy. I knew that it was time to find out. I was attending a meeting in an Ivy League town, which was frequented by doctors, lawyers, university professors, and other upper-crust drunks. I decided that I would march down to the old meeting hall and drop a bomb on them. The speaker qualified for ten minutes, some other people shared, and I raised my hand. They called on me, and I stood up and walked right into the middle of the circle and told them.
I told them everything, using my own words and using all of my emotional truth without any of the AA step-talk that I always had to tag on to receive their approval. I wasn't grateful for anything, and I wasn't looking for the hidden blessing sent by God. I was hurt and I was mad!
I told them where I came from, what happened, what it was like now. I told them the truth! I showed them the pain, I showed them the confusion of banging up against yet another brick wall in the rooms of AA. It was one of the most important days of my life, because I broke through. I broke through the mind control of the AA program, and I could see the men sitting in the circle. Not one of them thought it was funny. In fact, Paul, the 13th-step guru, started shaking visibly. Something that I said had really hit home! None of the other men laughed the way the rapist had laughed. “Heh, heh, heh” -- “Don'tcha remember how much fun we had?” I'll never forget it.
One of the women from the meeting had connected with my story, and she crossed the room to give me a hug. It was so wonderful to finally have one human being understand! Finally . . . someone . . . The meeting continued, albeit in a semi-shocked state. I wanted to run out of there; my heart was thumping like a bass drum. But a very kind social worker that I had met in the rooms encouraged me to stay. He was a newcomer so he wasn't under the “spell” yet. I will never forget either of them.
Many people, both men and women, gave me a hug and offered kind words after the meeting! I was amazed and thrilled! Compassion at last! The kind people seemed to be the quieter ones, not the ones who “talked the talk” but the ones who were more human -- the ones who weren't too programmed.
But I can also attest to the sickness in the rooms. A notable portion of the meeting (the Party Liners it seemed) focused on how I had disgraced myself and compromised my dignity by revealing this story. My dignity would have been preserved with silence -- the very same silence which protects the rapists and gives power to the crime. I later learned through the gossip mill that the kind woman who crossed the room during the meeting to offer me a hug was reprimanded by an old-timer for doing so! The reasoning was that it went against meeting format! Can you imagine! Reprimanding someone for exhibiting kindness because it breaks the Goddamned format! Also, some men, whom I had know from the meetings for years, reacted to my story by pointing and laughing at me as they elbowed each other in the ribs! I know what they think: “You reap what you sow, baby.” Never mind that our culture infects women with a horrible double message: to find love, be sexy and alluring, but if anyone rapes you it's your fault because you were sexy and alluring. Never mind that women are called whores, tramps, and sluts for engaging in the same sexual activity which elevates men to the status of “stud,” and that almost no such derogatory terms even exist to describe male sexual behavior. Never mind that Christianity, the religion which laid the groundwork for our culture as well as the AA program, flat out tells us that woman was fashioned from the rib of a man . . . man who was created in God's image.
And you ask me why I drank.
I can't even begin to describe the sexist behavior I have witnessed in the rooms over the years. I remember one father and son team in particular who were both in AA. I learned from one of my girlfriends who was living in the local halfway house that the son had made the moves on her in a big way, even before he had gotten his “one year” piece. The father, an old timer, had told him it was OK to have sex with the halfway house girls as long as he didn't get into an emotional entanglement. It's OK to screw'em as long as you don't feel anything above the waist. Of course this makes him the stud and her the slut. He gains and she loses. This double standard is so deeply embedded in our culture -- not to mention AA -- that it goes by without the wink of an eye.
I remember bands of men assembling for private Big Book meetings. These “spiritual” sessions would result in the pack members acting as if anything they did was excusable because anyone who they hurt had “put themselves” in the position to be hurt. I remember one guy (a grandfather, for heaven's sake) who was sponsoring eight or more guys at once. He used to throw parties at his house, after which the younger women from the club (ages 17-20 would be invited to sleep over. One of the girls, just a few years past the age of consent, ended up becoming his girlfriend. I really didn't think much of this at the time, but today I shudder, because this grandpa is one of the men who laughed upon hearing about my rape. His attitude is that rape is no more than slightly aggressive sex that the woman didn't plan on having that day! (Our legal system defines it as a felony, but the Big Book seems to override legal definitions in the rooms, since it's held up to be “spiritually inspired” and therefore the word of God.) The psychological fallout, which can last for years, is just an overreaction in their eyes. It's up to the women to mop up the emotional mess, so the men never have to see what effects such crimes have on women.“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.”
And you ask me why I drank.
In their defense, however, I must say that the natural socialization of males is bullshit as well. Since childhood, men are desensitized to pain. They are encouraged to kick, hit, conquer, and to be aggressive. They are discouraged from crying, and are encouraged to swallow (repress) their pain which ends up coming out as violence, controlling behavior, and aggressiveness against anyone who is lower in the hierarchy. AA does a great job at keeping men's pain repressed. Instead of becoming angry at a father who shamed him, a peer group that ridicules him, and a culture which demands macho behavior, a man is encouraged to deal with his own pain with the same useless platitudes: Give it to God . . . . Turn it over . . . . Practice acceptance.
When the AA house of cards tumbled, I could see the abuses against women which were happening right under everyone's nose. In addition to the lost and confused garden variety alcoholic, there were also predators lurking in the rooms. The pressed shirts and crisply pleated slacks couldn't hide it any longer. When my Big Book blinders fell to the ground I could finally see what was going on. I could finally see that the AA gurus were “spiritual leaders” of the TV-evangelist kind rather than the kind-hearted “trusted servants” that they were pretending to be. I could see that these charlatans were actually driven by a thirst for power over their peers rather than true philanthropy. I could also see that they operated from the belief that their status of self-appointed leader entitled them to special privileges with young and naive women. Get 'em while they're hot . . . preferably the same day they get their one-year piece!
I could see how certain men scanned the rooms for naive or severely codependent women in order to exploit them for sex. “Accept the fact that you're powerless” has a very different meaning when administered to a codependent woman with extremely low self-esteem than when it is administered to a bull-headed, arrogant, power-abusing male, the type for whom the AA program was originally written.
I saw the racket the predators were working: Do anything you want to them . . . they will be shamed by the group for reacting with anger. They've been socialized to be “good girls” -- to follow the rules. You need to give up control. Their self-esteem is so low it doesn't matter anyway. Just tell them they're powerless! They'll have to forgive you. The group will shame them if they don't. Their sponsors will tell them they put themselves in that position! To challenge the game, they'll have to challenge AA, and nobody in their right mind would do that!
We all know that the Big Book specifically states:
“Even when a situation was not entirely our fault, we find that somewhere early on, we made a decision base on self that placed us in a position to be hurt.”
What does this mean? If I had been thinking of the welfare of my group, none of this would have happened? That I can actually control unpredictable events by restricting my life to the scrubbing of coffee urns?
When the wall tumbled I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I spoke out against the 13th-stepping. I told the meeting that in the rooms lurks:
“Sober Man . . .
he's got so much Time in the Program . . .
he comes to the beginners' meeting to S-P-R-E-A-D the good word of recovery to the young and the newly sober women.”
But I made a grave tactical mistake when I spoke out against 13th stepping: I had anger in my voice! The AA cement that is packed into everyone's ears -- another thin layer is added with every meeting -- blocks out anything that is delivered with anger. In most cases, the longer one attends, the thicker the layer of cement. I asked to be escorted out of the meeting, and two members did so. They had no clue what I was raving about. One of them told me to remember that I am my own worst enemy! Imagine that! Me! I'm the one I should be afraid of! What a frightening way to approach life! If my children are gunned down by hoodlums in the street, if politicians take away my rights, if my doctor abuses his power, assaults me during a routine examination, and the police fail to protect me, I should remember that I am my own worst enemy?!? Like hell I am!
I saw a woman react when I spoke up against the predators. I saw her facial expression change from the usual smile to horror. I called her that night to ask if she had ever run into a predator. The tone in her voice was a dead giveaway: she made a hasty and reactive effort to compare and not identify . . . “Nope . . . nope, not me . . . I never put myself in that position.” The “nos” were too quick, too defensive. She was hiding something. What could it be? And what could be the message to the predator in such a response? Anyone whom the predator exploits “puts herself” in the position to be exploited. It doesn't matter if the predator preys on a newer member's innocence, ignorance and vulnerability; it's the victim's fault for not being all-knowing and all-seeing. Essentially, for not being God.
Two other women whom I encountered had similar disturbing reactions. One of them offered her phone number because she had been raped. But the way she dealt with it was by “letting it go” the AA wave-of-the-hand way. She also mentioned that her artwork reflected a powerful sexual theme. (I learned later in art therapy that this is normal in the case of unresolved trauma, since it cannot be hidden from the subconscious and will come out in dreams, art, creative writing, etc.) Luckily, I knew that this response was not healthy.
Another gal, I learned, had been attacked on her way home from her very first AA meeting. A man had followed her out of the meeting and pushed her into some bushes to do God knows what. Fortunately she was able to get away, but she too “let it go” the AA way, without signs of strong emotion, in accordance with what is modeled in AA. What next? Will armies someday be able to slay our children while we will remain emotionlessly “serene”?
I know today that it will be only a matter of time before their memories come crashing down on these two women. It happens like clockwork, just around the four- or five-year mark.People in step groups who are hiding abuse issues suddenly find themselves feeling crazy, severely depressed, or suicidal.
I can see why AA members don't want to acknowledge this. It's hard to do so in a weakened state, and reality is quite frightening when we stop “keeping it simple” for a moment and really take a long hard look at the bigger picture. AAs are discouraged from probing into the mechanics of the program anyway:
“Utilize, don't analyze!”
“Keep it simple, stupid!”
“Resign from the debating society.”
“Your thinking is stinking.”
Acknowledging abuse problems shatters the illusion that finally, in AA, we have found a safe place. People are so desperate to find a safe place at last that they delude themselves into believing that they have. It is precisely because of this delusion that AA is decidedly unsafe. Until people start looking at these problems and taking action, the predators will have the power in the rooms. The existing message which the women reinforce with their “by the book” responses acknowledges that men hunt down women, and that women must simply accept it.
“Nothing happens by mistake in God's perfect world.”
This is why predators continue to revel in their remorseless exploitations.
It took a long time and a lot of therapy to be able to write this down. When I told my last sponsor that I felt I must speak out, she exclaimed that I should do no such thing! She said, We can't reveal the story to the newcomer! This is a very revealing statement. It is exactly the lack of willingness to expose the dangers with AA that makes AA such a dangerous place. Reporting these facts is not an attempt to dismantle the institution of AA,. It is simply a way of cleansing it of some of its vermin. Personally, I've had enough of hiding. I don't think that the newcomer is helped by hiding this information. I knew when I heard my sponsor's stern attempt to silence me that it was my cue to speak.
This is a piece of my life. I've cried a bucket full of tears over this. When I first wrote down my story, I sent it to The Grapevine. The original version had a gung-ho, pro-AA message about women not turning it over and empowering each other. But The Grapevine returned my story with a form letter saying they didn't have enough room in their publication for it.
When I left the last meeting I attended, I told everyone that I would write a book. Well, I may not have written an entire book, but I did write this story. I went onto the Internet to find someone I could speak to, and amazingly ran into a woman in cyberspace who was collecting AA horror stories of misery, betrayal and abuse. I certainly had one. Apparently so did many others. I hope this helps someone out there.
If you are reading this and you are an AA member who loves the fellowship, please use this information to help others. Not all groups are bad, and I believe in the people who make up the program. Many women who have rape in their history end up leaving AA. It's too much work to re-educate the world, and rape just doesn't fit well into the AA belief system. For this reason, there are few women to catch the newer women when they begin reliving the pain.
I believe that many in AA are hiding horrible pain and trauma, and are using the meetings as an artificial boost to get them through the day. I also believe that AA uses thought reform to steer its members in that direction. The problem isn't members' foolishness or lack of willingness. AA is a machine which promotes repression, denial, and escape through “spirituality.” It encourages members to fit their lives into the AA myth. The myth is that we drank because we were selfish and self-centered. (Says who?) That we need a moral inventory. (Some do, some don't.) That we must abandon the self. (Whatever that means -- sounds like the ultimate form of self-hatred to me.)
The real answers lie in the truth and not some artificially implanted myth. Most people simply don't have an awareness of what mind control is, and how powerful it can be. (Read up on cults and mind-control. You will be amazed at the similarities to AA!) I showed my story to a couple of friends who are still in AA. One of them said “Nope . . . nope . . . sorry you were raped; this has nothing to do with the program.” Most of them don't speak to me anymore because I don't go to meetings, and because I am speaking out against the in justices I found. Think again if you believe I'm exaggerating the power of the programming in AA. It's called a “program” for a reason. It's like new software loaded onto the hard drive of your brain, overwriting what was there.
Why are so many AA members marching in line in this strange parade of lemmings? First, abject loneliness and a hunger for social contact in a world in which community and family is disintegrating contribute to the success of AA. Second, so much in our society encourages and rewards individuals for obedience and compliance. Childrearing, education, and workplace dynamics all have strong elements of this. Throw fear into the mix, and reward “faith” in the form of unquestioned obedience, and you have a huge, fear-powered recovery machine which possesses the characteristics of a totalist movement.
“The movement has all the answers.”
“Everything you need to know is in the Big Book.”
“We have the monopoly on the truth.”
The bottom line is this: In order for the love-starved newcomer to receive peer approval, s/he must “work the program.” The more the member employs a totalist approach to the program in her life, the more she works the program in all areas of her life, the more she is seen as working a good program. Crimes such as rape simply cannot be defined within this totalist approach. It is not possible to blame someone else for our pain while simultaneously applying the AA theology in a totalist fashion. It is not possible to experience anger, rage, and indignation (the healthy responses to rape and similar transgressions) while simultaneously applying the AA theology in a totalist fashion. The Program Code simply does not allow it. Challenging the Program Code is heresy, and it often results in peer rejection -- something the desperate newcomer cannot afford. For these reasons, rape, exploitation, and similar abuses do happen within the AA subculture and the perpetrators of such transgressions are often able to hide behind the Program Code, e.g., “she put herself in that position.” I find this extremely frightening.
Care should be taken by current or would-be predators, because this logic may be used in reverse. The predator should keep in mind that somewhere, sometime, one of his conquests (even if she is a newcomer) may have the blood of Lorena Bobbitt surging through her veins. Even if hunting down newcomers seems like a safe pastime, and even if the rooms of AA appear to be a consequence-free rape safety zone for predators, there are women within the fellowship who have had enough of that kind of treatment. And if just such a woman should become possessed by the Spirit of Lorena, it will be the predator who will be left to his own twisted theology in order to cope with his feelings:
“I am grateful that at least my testicles are still attached to my body” doesn't look so good on the ol' gratitude list, does it Mr. Predator?
In summary, I do not think that the various women who reacted to my story in the disturbing ways that they did, did so out of malevolence. I simply feel that they were looking for the answers within the theology of the AA program. The ritual of daily meetings makes for very intense indoctrination. It is hard to remain rational when a singular belief system, especially one which is as problematic as the one espoused by AA, is thought of as the be-all and end-all of how we should define reality.
If you are an AA member who is suffering while trying to work the program but are finding no real relief, you may try not working the program to see if it helps. It helped me. I have parted ways with that dreadful organization, am staying sober just fine, thank you very much, and most important, my self-esteem has soared.
The lessons that I learned from this multi-year ordeal are as follows: 1) If the rules seem ludicrous or harmful, don't follow them. (Remember, tens of thousands of Germans participated in the extermination of millions of Jews, and none of them felt personally responsible; after all, they were just following orders -- i.e., obeying the rules.); 2) My brain is my best friend, and not my worst enemy -- no one has the right or authority to interpret reality for me; 3) I should never, ever, ever go against my gut feelings, even if a great many people or revered institutions encourage it (and they will). The messages from deep within are my survival instincts. To ignore them is insanity.