The Thirteenth Step

AA has very few official “rules.”  It works so very well for me in my time and place.  I hope it continues to work for as long as people need it.

There are “suggestions,” things that people in program tell a newcomer or oldtimer to do or not do.  These vary from place to place.   They aren’t written down in official AA literature, and following them or not following them falls to the individual.

The word “suggestion” is, I think designed to soothe and attract hard headed, skittish new people.  A list of demands or “musts” would turn many people away.  “Suggestion” comes from the Big Book, where the steps are “suggested” as a program of recovery.  Even when referring to the very basis of the program, the founders knew they’d lose people who need help but who will not respond to a demand presented as such.

“No relationships during the first year” is a suggestion I’ve heard often and in varied places.  Someone who comes in and begins unattached should not get romantically involved for the first year.  Relationships are often the hardest thing in life, and often the thing people drink over.

It’s also called the “thirteenth step” when someone in AA gets romantically or physically involved with a newcomer.  “Twelfth Stepping” is when someone within the program tells someone who isn’t about it, and brings that person in (as it states in Step Twelve, to carry this message to alcoholics).  It’s cynically called the thirteenth step when the people get sexually involved.

I’m happy to say that in my experience, this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.  It was brought to my attention twice within the past 24 hours, once on the phone, and once online.  In my opinion, it is just wrong.  The AAs involved in these two situations both have around 20 years sober.  In the one situation, which has resolved, the newcomer did drink and go out.  That is such a waste.  Waiting a year is not all that long.  I do realize as I write this that I’m being judgmental toward the people involved, I just can’t imagine that anyone would think this is a good idea.  It seems like too big a risk.

27 thoughts on “The Thirteenth Step

  1. It happens get used to it, and no one can stop it. its in na , aa, ca, rehabs. we can mention thats its not a good idea. Men do it to women, women do it men. men to emn and women to women. were recovering addicts not saints.

  2. I won’t get used to it. In a rehab, I think you’re writing about two newcomers. That’s not a good idea, it’s a recipe for disaster but it’s not the “Thirteenth Step.” The situation I describe is when someone experienced in AA has sex with someone who isn’t. And yes, it applies to gay people as well as straight.

    We’re not saints, but neither would we condone bad behavior. Thank you for your comment.

  3. My spouse of nearly ten years quit drinking a little over two years ago. Although he has gone to AA since he quit drinking he just recently started doing his steps. He got romantically involved with his AA sponsor. Exactly what is it about addicts that make them think they arent responsible for ANY of their actions. It makes me sick to think that someone who is supposed to be his sponsor was willing to jeopardize his sobriety. I have been able to kick him out and wont let him back, but we have children and I obviously care about their father’s sobriety. Addicts are people and they make mistakes. The difference is others who make mistakes seem to find it more human to actually blame themselves rather than everyone else or their addiction.

  4. Thank you for your story. I’m so sorry that’s happened to you. Everywhere I’ve attended AA, it has been common for “girls with girls” and “boys with boys.” Of course this doesn’t work with gay people, but the idea is that a “sponsor” should not be someone who is a potential romantic partner. Both your husband and his “sponsor” were very wrong to do what they did.

    Since you and your children will have an ongoing relationship with him, I strongly suggest you check out Alanon. It will help YOU, and it’s for YOU, and it will help you be a better parent to your children of an alcoholic.

    I don’t find placing blame elsewhere to be a purely alcoholic trait. I promise you though that someone who is honestly and earnestly working the program of Alcoholics Anonymous will not blame others for their own bad behavior. I hope you find, as I did when the father of my children left me, that it is for the best in the long run.


  5. My husband too started having an affair while only sober a couple of months. This woman had 10 + years sobriety and obviously knew what she was doing. He spent so much money on her I was unable to pay bills and we have gotten so far into debt. A lot of people in the group knew they were seeing each other. What is it about these people that are there to guide a person that is just out of detox, letting them do this to the wife knowing all along that this newbie hasn’t tried to reconcile any of the past with her.

  6. Dava – I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I don’t know your situation, so I really can’t comment, but I suggest you check out Al-Anon. It can help YOU. Peace.

  7. situation is that these sponsors and several other people at the group knew what was going on and had every opportunity to tell her with her 10+ years sobriety that she was a thirteenth stepper and him that her need to do his 9th step with me before he decided that he no longer wanted to be with me. no

    No one did!!!! for over 6months he was spending well over 800.00 a month on her our household money I was paying bills on credit cards and trying to feed me and our son on the left overs in the bank. We are so far in debt now we may still lose our house. Now that we are back together and he says that he loves me and things like that I don’t know if he is telling the truth because so much of his sobriety has been dealing with lying and cheating. Every time I bring anything up he get mad and yells at me that I just need to let it go and that I should read the big book to show me how to be happy. Hey I do have a right to be hurt and angry My Husband went out had a sexual relationship and spent money that I stood on my feet to make and now I have a reminder every time the bill collector calls to find out when I’m going to pay them or having to tell my kids that I am not going to be able to get much in the way of Christmas this year for them. Ya the program works but so far not for me

  8. Dava (and others) – As much as I can, I understand your pain. If you read “my story,” you’ll see that my husband, sober in AA, left me with two young children. People are people. No matter how long sober in AA, people are people and we all have faults.

    It pains me to see people on the internet and people I know in person suffer so much. I’m afraid the only solution I know of is to go to alanon. I’m so terribly sorry that so few people are willing to do this one simple thing. I understand it to a point. But it’s the only suggestion I have. I think it has the best chance of truly helping lessen your pain.

    Your husband is wrong. The people who condone his behavior are wrong. Yet the only person you have control over is you. The fact that you’re right and they are wrong (if they are – I only have your words to go by) won’t help your situation one tiny bit. People are wronged every single day of the week.

    Please, please, check out alanon. Try it. You have nothing to lose and the whole world of serenity to gain, if you turn out to be one of the lucky ones. You are in my thoughts – Lydia

    • My partner left me a month after coming out of rehab. She met the guy at a AA meeting and started disappearing leaving me and my four year daughter with out a clue where she was. On the forth occasion she rang me to me she was in another mans bed and for me to vacate the house that i had built with my own hands, this only occured two weeks ago, the hurt is unreal, but i to have being going to al-anon, early days but you have to struggle on.

      • I’m so sorry to hear that, and I truly hope things work out for you. I also hope she’s involved with another newcomer, and not someone who has time in AA.

  9. Everyone, please realize that the A.A. and Al-Anon program does work, and gives both the addict and their family peace of mind if everyone works their program. for 17 years, I struggled with a person who had many starts and stops, and finally stopped drinking and smoking pot. Yes, he had the wildest justifications for what he did. I honestly thought that his behavior would improve when he stopped using. WRONG! But now I know that it is his personality along with his disease that prevents him from seeing how sick he truly is. He has a long journey ahead of him. The stress of having to go on a roller coaster ride with him for all those years has resulted in many sick days at work, a surgery, and when I was working being so stressed that I messed up a lot. Yes, I did a lot for him, but that was my responsibility. He hasn’t changed. BUT I WILL NOT WORRY ABOUT PEOPLE, PLACES OR THINGS. I am not responsible for him. You see, if the addict was able to stop, he would have a long time ago. But now, his ego is out of control, and I no longer have to worry about him. It took my body getting worn down to finally realize that you can love someone all you want, but they have to love themselves before they can love you. An alcoholic/addict has used many, many people so that they can acomodate their first love, alcohol and drugs. Yes, a part of me was angry, but now I realize it is a disease and I need to stop enabling by providing a roof over his head (yes, of course he let me buy a house and I pay for just about everything). Using is the operative word here, they use drugs, alcohol and people. You have a choice to stop enabling. Now, we have three children to worry about, but I will do what is necessary for me and my kids. But this has to stop. You do not have to be a doormat for someone in recovery. You have to realize they are not normal. They have a behavior pattern that has helped them survive for years. You are just a part of their survival. No matter what they say or tell you with tears in their eyes, they only mean it so that they can continue to do what to them is normal, everyday life. But it is your decision to change your life, and don’t beat yourself up if you hang in there. You love this person, but they are simply not capable of understanding your love. They are in a way, like kids who simply do not comprehend their behavior until someone (courts, or employer through a drug test), and blame everyone else for their behavior. I am in foreclosure, in a house that sadly I let him into because his behavior was so bad that someone would have killed him. They will act desperate, and when that doesn’t work, will become angry. If so, call the police and get a restraining order. Don’t be embarased- DO IT! You ever see a zombie movie? I have saved his life four times. But each time, he is grateful for three or four days and the “stinkin thinkin” resumes. I get told how “bad” I am, he starts looking for mistakes, anything to get the responsibility off of him. So, I honestly wish him well in recovery, and I am sad that he has not hit bottom yet. Perhaps, he will get it. But if not, I won’t be around for him to take me to the grave by giving him another chance (enabling). He attends A.A., so now he is aware of programs that will help him. I have to say goodbye and hello to a life without the drama.

  10. Alcohol is but a symtom of the problem, if we are not willing to work the steps and turn things over to a higher power and to practice the principals in all our affairs. we need to give up our old bad habits of justifying our bad behavior. We must change our attitudes, behavior and thinking. We do not have to be perfect but we at least must be willing.

  11. I am one of those who got “thirteenth stepped”. My (now ex) husband had left me for an affair. I was losing my home and life as I knew it and was in deep shock. My self esteem was on the floor. I drank myself stupid everyday and finally picked myself up and took myself to my first AA meeting. There -on the first night- a man offered to give me rides to and from meetings and I accepted. I was flattered by his attention and impressed by his knowledge of all things AA (he had 9 years.) We began an affair and as time went on I found out he had a history of hitting on new comers and was a womanizer extrordinaire (a 58 year old who had had an affair with a 23 year old newcomer prior to me). I went through an agonizing time and this man still owes me 4,000 dollars. (I stupidly lent it to him, he promised to pay me back.) I would like to see more information about AA predators (literature) given to all newcomers so that more people are protected from them. AA’s anonymity clause should not be used to protect criminal activity.

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you. I absolutely agree that anonymity should not protect criminals. I hope that it actually doesn’t. Having affairs with newcomers, even 23 year old newcomers, isn’t against the law, though. It’s so very important that women keep their wits about them. AA is a collection of some very sick people. Most are getting better, in my experience, but some are not. I personally would not send a brand new woman home with most of the men I’ve known for some time. It’s just not worth the risk. I hope you find peace.

  12. Pingback: It Is Only Where Boy Meets Girl on AA Campus (or, no relationships for the first year – Step Twelve continued) « Don't Drink and Don't Die

  13. Ah yes, that famous 13th step. My husband left me when he was less than 90 days sober for a woman in AA. now after after 6 months he want to come back. he also never accepts blame for anything somehow it is always my fault. This time there is no coming back I ended up with the house all the furniiture and he has absolutly nothing. After 13 years of loving helping and forgiving him this was the best he could do. I a much better off alone. Much happier people tell me I look ten years younger.

  14. my husband has been sober over 20 yrs and got involved with a newcomer who had been in treatment 9 or 10 times. He wanted to help her. One thing lead to another and then he was involved in an affair. He tried many times to break it off but she was dependent and can’t get it together without his help or him at her side. In the end this has wrecked his health, his marriage and she probably will drink anyway because over the last year she did drink every time something didn’t go her way. The reasons behind a person with sobriety not to get involved with a newcomer of the opposite sex are very legitimate. It can be a huge downfall for everyone involved (including other AAers). Other AAers look at the messed up life this person with 20 yrs has created and ask – what’s the use. He’s sober and still a mess. His long term sobriety is at stake and she has a crutch that won’t last forever.

  15. My boyfriend joined AA and I was SO proud of him, I thought “Thank you LORD for leading him to his sobriety.”
    As time went on he became very distant and began preaching things to me that are not even in the bible…
    when I told him this he would get so angry and say my sponsor said it was.
    I have read the Bible from front to back…I believe in the Almighty without doubt or question!!!
    anyways a while later in our relationship he broke up with me this was 3 months into his AA
    his sponsor and him had already began their relationship before he ended it with me, she convinced him
    that he NEEDED another person in AA to be with because she understood him more and she knew what he needed…

    I was so hurt by this… They dated for 3 and a half months and then she dumped him, he did So much for her, paid her bills,
    was her shoulder to lean on, gave her everything physically mentally emotionally and when he had no more to give and was broke she let him
    go and was done with him…
    I do feel bad for him and I have prayed for him even though we are no longer together
    So I believe he was a victim of this 13 stepping…

    • I’m so sorry that happened to you. In general, AA recommends the girls with the girls and the guys with the guys, though obviously this can’t always be hard and fast rule, especially with gay people. But yeah. Not good AA.

  16. I was a victim of Thirteenth step with an older guy, 47 and I was 26 at the time. He is married and we dated for 2 1/2 years. I was honestly looking for someone to help me and trusted him he will guide me through the steps in the program since he knew a lot of about the steps and the bible. I am not longer in this relationship (thank God) since such experience caused me and others too much pain. It has been almost a year since I ended this relationship and I thank God for this and that I stayed in the fellowship and didn’t go back to drink. However, I haven’t talked much of what happened during this relationship and still found myself attached emotionally and spiritually to him. He also sponsored other women as well and did things (e.g., taking us to hotels and undressing us) saying that it was part of the “liberation process” and would use both the program (e.g. anonymity) so we wouldn’t tell anyone and things from the bible to justify the action. Talking about these and other things now with my sponsor, I find out that what he’d done was completely out of traditions and out of the AA program and considers these actions to be sexual assaults as well.
    She suggests me to talk about it at Al anon or other 12 step fellowship where I feel comfortable. In my head there are so many unclear things still and how manipulation became part of it all because he would taught us classes at A A (by the way this is out of the traditions) and is a leader because people specially new comers follow him, just as I did when I got involved with him. He would also “suggest” that we had to do the same with people we would sponsor . I just thank God he took me out of the group meeting and I pray that he would give me the courage to do what I need to do to overcome all this and pray that other women and men also in the program who have been victim to get out because it is a really hard thing to do (it has been for me). Talking about this publicly is not easy for me because I kept this as a secret for a long time rationalizing that it was part of “God’s plan” as he made us believe. Thank you.

    • I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I applaud you for sharing about it. Seeing this may help someone else get out quicker or stay out of a relationship like this. This is not about AA. Users are everywhere.

  17. What is it called when a person a sober Narcissist in fact appears to be working in the program and really just using it as a dating service? This person is very predatory and has cause a lot of dissonance. Can you ask a person to leave the group?

  18. Pingback: Can You Ask a Person to Leave the Group? | Don't Drink and Don't Die

  19. Boy meets girl on AA campus you know — not much can be done about it. I broke all the rules all those years ago too. I guess that experiences validates my position on letting people have the sober experience — develop those important relationships with the Higher Power, Sponsor, Self — then think about a romance. I know that from the day I got sober to a year later, I was not even remotely the same person I was when I started that trek and miles away from who I was today. I am now deliberately single, having reserved AA meetings for recovery at this point. Forgive the phrase, but “shitting in my own backyard” seems to cover the totality of how I feel about romancing newcomers and oldtimers. I married a man I met in AA. He killed himself after years of “not drinking.” What a stigma. We are not perfect people, but we should be aspiring to live intelligent and mindful lives (as opposed to self seeking oblivion). I do sponsor a great deal and I have been certain to let those wonderful women in on my experience, strength and observations on the matters. Ultimately, it is their call. What usually happens is the glands overpower the honesty, and we end the relationship because I will not work with someone that is engaged in living and acting out with dishonesty. That’s what gets in the way of recovery.

  20. I was in relationship with my biyfriend for nearly nine years. I slowly realised he was an alcoholic and we had so many ups and downs because of it. Each time i forgave him..he went missing for days with no contact, he would go out at night after work and not contact me, he spent all his money on alcohol and had a gambling problem. He was a lovely person under it and i kept forgiving him cause i loved him so much and tbought he loved me aswell. Loads of other things happened and he finally made the decision on his own to join AA which made me so happy and proud of him. Then four months into his sobriety he dumped me and said he doesnt love me anymore and that he has cheated on me in the past on drunken nights out. This all broke my heart and only happened a week ago so i am not coping well with it after giving my life to him and being there through thick and thin. He seems to be handling it okay and seems definate that we have no future after all the cheating etc. Anyone anythinh similiar?

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