Further Reading

How should I deal with a clinging man I met at a 12-step group?

Hi Stanton,

I have been going to Alanon for about a year, and at first it helped a lot. Recently I have had a problem with a guy whose wife is an alcoholic, who vaguely hinted that I should be his sponsor, and didn't wait for a response, so I didn't have the chance to say no. He has been phoning me with his problems constantly and although I keep telling him I can't talk, he will phone back the next day and spend ages going on about his emotional lows. It has got to the stage where I feel I am being emotionally blackmailed. If he wasn't such a desperate case I would call it harassment, and get rid of him. However, he has had so much rejection in his life, I can't do it up front like that.

I don't really know if this is a question. If you have any advice, then it is. If not, then it is probably another warning about the dangers of putting your name on a phone list in Alanon. Because AA and Alanon are virtually the only known approach to addictions in South Africa, it's either this or nothing here. I was delighted to find your Website, and discover that there are other alternatives. I hope to spread the word here.

Cheers,
Liz


Dear Liz:

It's great to have your letter. You describe both a problem in AA and Alanon, and one in life generally. How do you deal with a person who approaches you in a helping situation and won't let go? You want to help, you certainly don't want to hurt the person, but you worry about your own well-being and peace of mind.

Especially in a support group, I think you are well within your grounds in politely demurring from being a person's primary outside helper. You could do this acting almost as a therapist: "Tell me, ___, do you see any parallel between your behavior towards me and you dependence on your alcoholic wife?" Or, "___, I need to tell you that I find that you are clamoring all over me. Has anyone else ever told you they had a similar problem with your behavior?" Perhaps it's time for someone to be frank with the man.

This situation, of course, raises the specter of dating people you meet at AA or Alanon or related 12-step meetings. If you yourself have any chance of progressing beyond the 12-step group — that is, you have some consciousness of yourself and your problem and your sense you have a chance to progress — then never, ever date some you meet at AA or Alanon et al. Never. It would be better to data a therapist. This goes triple for marrying such a person.

There are really three possibilities underlying such a relationship:

  1. You are highly dependent and will attach yourself to any available object. In that case, you will find at AA someone with the need to control you.
  2. Even if you are not in a subjected state in the relationship, you will continue to mediate your life with your 12-step pal entirely in terms of 12-step values. This means that if your inertia alone was not sufficient to trap you in the group, your allegiance to your partner will suffice to do so.
  3. Finally, even worse, you can outgrow the group and then be stuck with the albatross of your former 12-step buddy. He (or she) will be so bereft that anything is possible. If you have actually married such a person, or had children with them, you will never escape the constant pressure of being an ex-12-stepper associating with a 12-step junkie, one made the more desperate by your independence.

This was just a little glance into the future, in case you needed any support to stiffen your resolve. As for your Alanon colleague — he will probably quickly find someone willing to serve in the role you reject.

Yours best,
Stanton