When I was attending SLAA meetings, everybody would talk about “the steps”. “Are you working the steps yet?”; “The steps changed my life!”; “Everything will get better when you start working the steps”. The steps can be found in the SLAA basic text, first published by The Augustine Fellowship in 1986. I just couldn’t see what the big fuss was about with this book. I’ve read plenty of books on sex and love addiction, and this one was pretty unmemorable, as far as I was concerned. In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I found some parts of it objectionable.
My main problem with the book is that Rich, the person who started SLAA, after being in AA for many years, was a white, middle-class man, and the basic text was written, mainly, by a white, middle-class man. Where am I – a woman – in this book? If I mentioned this to my sponsor, she would just smile knowingly, and say “Oh, but, deep down, the emptiness sexually addicted men and women experience is the same”. I’m not a moron, for Chrissakes. I know that an addict is an addict is an addict, and I know that no matter what we are or who we are, we all suffer. But that doesn’t change the fact that we are all living in a patriarchal society where women’s and men’s experiences are not the same. While I don’t doubt that Rebound Guy from last year (ugh, remember him?!) is in a huge amount of pain because of his drinking and all the casual sex he has, I doubt he’s ever felt used, and cheated, and humiliated because of his addictive involvement with a woman. That’s how I felt, though, after our little fling was over. For him, I was just another notch on his bedpost, another sexual conquest he could boast about to his friends down the pub.
In the SLAA basic text, Rich writes about the addictive sexual relationship he has with Sarah although he is married to a very pregnant Kate. Sure, it’s not great he cheats on his poor wife, but, OK, I get it – he’s an addict. Lying and cheating is pretty much par for the course, so I don’t think he’s necessarily a terrible person for committing adultery. It is, however, the way he writes about his lover, Sarah, that really disturbs me. He very subtly paints her out to be an arch manipulator. Just read the break-up letter he sends her!
I am terminating our relationship. I have come to realize that for all the love there has been between us, and there’s been much, at least an equal part of sickness, obsession and neurosis has been present also.
My long term needs have been consistently sold out to my getting my short term feel-good buttons pressed, and you are a master button presser. My own personal center has been thrown askew through my trying to constantly service your needs, which are also excessive
My inventory has been exhaustive and has led me to the lamentable truth that you are bad news for me. Therefore, I’m getting out now.
We are all through.
If you are tempted to contact me, I ask you to re-read this letter.
He might as well just have called her Lady Macbeth instead of “master button presser”. And look at his interesting choice of verb tenses: “my long term needs have been consistently sold out to [...]” and “my own personal center has been thrown askew [...]“. All his verbs are passive. You would think that some external force was making him “sell out” or “throw himself askew”, but that’s not the case at all. He was the one who chose to be with Sarah, and to give in to his addiction.
And as for the “you are bad news for me” statement….? What the fuck?! Oh yeah, Rich, in contrast, was such a catch, what with his very pregnant wife, about to give birth any second. Sure, Sarah herself chose to get involved with a married man, but did Rich ever stop to think how much he fucked up her life? He does eventually devote some of the book to talking about the pain he caused his wife, but Sarah? Nah, she’s just collateral damage.
When my concerns about the basic text were poo-poohed by other people in the program, I began to think that maybe I was just some bitter feminist harpie who was getting her knickers in a twist for no reason. But, it wasn’t like I went out of my way to do a feminist literary critique of this book. Fundamentally, it just makes me feel uncomfortable and icky.
Going back to the steps again, I also felt strange when I looked at the some of the steps to come, especially steps 4, 5 and 6:
Step 4: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
Step 6: Were entirely ready to have God remove all of these defects of character.
The language in these steps is incredibly ponderous, moralistic and serious in tone, especially for people who probably have just found their way to a 12-step meeting because something very serious and nasty happened to them. I’ve had enough seriousness and judgement in my life. I need to lighten up and have fun! And by that I don’t mean that I want to get drunk and party, but just that I want to focus on the simpler, more beautiful parts of life. As Charlotte Kasl points out in Many Roads, One Journey : Moving Beyond the 12 Steps, “there are no steps about expressing love to people, having fun, celebrating life, and becoming powerful or healing the physical body” (160).
When I contemplated working step 5, it felt like it would be such a chore. Again, I felt guilty, and imagined that I didn’t want to do that step or the steps immediately after it perhaps because I was trying to avoid taking responsibility for my actions. But Charlotte Kasl to the rescue again:
The term defects of character might be apt for perpetrators, narcissists, and other exploitive people, but it doesn’t fit for shame-based or guilt-ridden people who all too easily focus on their failings and weaknesses. “Defects of character” is a culture-bound, Christian concept stemming from the idea that we are all born sinners and must redeem ourselves through a life of confession and atonement” (317).
Thank you, Charlotte! Now I understand why I had such a negative reaction to step 5. Why would I, somebody who has beaten myself up forever, want to focus on my “defects of character”. Of course I need to take responsibility for the bad things I’ve done, and the people I’ve hurt, but I’ve already done that! I can’t spend one single second more obsessing over how I’ve fucked up. I desperately need to realize what’s good about me for a change!
Coming Tomorrow: A list of all my good qualities!