Relationships in AA


September 4, 2022

By Andy F

Categories: Relationships

Alcoholics, relationships, and recovery

An essential piece of recovery literature is “The Twelve Steps And Twelve Traditions.” It contains valuable insights into alcoholism, which the AA literature presents as an illness. The 12&12, as it is affectionately known, is considered second only to the AA Big Book.

On page 53 in the chapter on step four, Bill W, the author of the 12&12, makes a startling statement:

“The primary fact we fail to recognize is our total inability to form a true partnership with another human being.”

(12&12 p.53)

I remember feeling quite offended by what I saw as a sweeping generalization!

Was Bill implying that alcoholics are incapable of having normal relationships? In terms of ongoing recovery, it’s an important question. We all need to find an answer that feels honest to us.

The first 25 years in AA

The plain truth was that Bill’s ominous words became my reality for many years in the fellowship. What happened after coming into AA is a story that needs telling—my numerous attempts at relationships in recovery ended in one disaster after another.

I didn’t believe in the AA program, certainly not in God. I rejected them because God and a higher power appear in six of the Twelve Steps. Many of us went into therapy instead. I was no exception. With such a troubled childhood, I, too, believed that it was the only way forward. The steps were for losers!

At the time, I convinced myself that therapy was the only intervention that would help me deal with the “wreckage of the past.” (BB p. 164) I just wanted to find happiness and fulfillment, believing I would only find them in a relationship.

The language of therapy

I persevered with therapy for over ten years. I read many self-help books and attended all kinds of personal development workshops. A healthy relationship with another person would be impossible unless I could first love myself. With my history, I had no idea how to start loving myself.

Sadly, all those years in therapy did not help me to love and accept myself. The opposite was true. I used therapy to inflame my anger and bitterness even more. I had a lot invested in continuing to blame* my childhood for becoming an alcoholic. With this approach to recovery, it was impossible to stay sober, let alone learn to like myself.

* Blame – “Where other people were concerned, we had to drop the word “blame” from our speech and thought.”

12&12 Step Four, p.47

The ‘victim belief system.’

In therapy, I was never able to find any solutions. If I wanted to heal, I would need to forgive and forget.  I continued to flounder in the problem. As I see it today, it was impossible to recover as long as I was blaming my childhood in therapy. I had a lot invested in seeing myself as a victim of harm inflicted on me when I was a child. I spent a great deal of money in therapy reinforcing this idea. The victim belief system, and all its different manifestations, was the primary cause of my failure in life as well as my relationships.


All these relationships were codependent. I had no idea how to overcome these dysfunctional patterns. Despite searching everywhere in the self-help community, I never found any solutions I could use. Unable to let go of the ‘victim belief system,’ I repeated the same mistakes.

*Step two – “Insanity is repeating the same mistake repeatedly, expecting different results.” 

Author: – Albert Einstein

(This slogan is also used in AA to define the insanity mentioned in step two)

I recently heard an interesting definition of codependency. It fitted me perfectly. “Codependency is a self-love deficit disorder.” Why was it that after all the work I had done on myself in therapy, I was still unable to love myself?

The language of the twelve steps

These attempts at romance would invariably end in relapse—my best attempts at recovering on my terms failed. I finally got what is sometimes called the Gift ODesperation (an acronym for GOD) in AA. 

Life continued to be chaotic and unmanageable. Eventually, I had to admit that my very best ideas about how to approach recovery failed. There was nothing left but to surrender to the guidance of a sponsor.

I went through the twelve steps to the best of my ability. I had so many issues that I had to go through them several times. Gradually, with the help of a sponsor, I began to see the root cause of my problems.

In chapter 5 of the AA Big Book, on page 62, Bill W states:

“Selfishness – self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles.”

Rather than focus on the harm inflicted by others, the time had come to face my behavior. What was the real reason that I had been unable to overcome dysfunctional patterns in relationships? Finally, while working through steps four to nine, I was introduced to my defects of character. It was humbling to discover that it was my defects that were at the heart of my inability to create a healthy relationship. Not only was I not a victim, but I was frequently a victimizer.

Surrender to win

Through a daily surrender of the alcoholic ego, I remain teachable to the suggested program. I keep the focus on my faults. Carl Jung was a world-renowned psychoanalyst. He believed a person could never become complete until facing what he called ‘the shadow self.’ My shadow self was the ego-driven defects that turned me into a selfish, self-centered alcoholic. These defects made it impossible to have functional relationships.

Latent inner qualities

My sponsor helped me to see that I also had character assets that had always been there but submerged under a sea of alcohol. Gradually, I began to acknowledge them. With the program’s help, I learned to integrate them into my life. They are the polar opposite of the defects that made life so dysfunctional. I knew in step seven that two specific fears create my defects.

The fear of losing something I already had

The fear of not getting something (or someone) that I demanded. 

(Paraphrased from 12&12 Step 7 p.76)

The twelve steps are teaching me how to be honest and faithful. They are helping me to grow towards integrity. When, through daily surrender, I connect to humility, I am empowered to seek cooperation, peace, and happiness. 

When I keep in “fit spiritual condition” (BB p. 85), these priceless gifts empower me to “form a true partnership with another human being” (12&12 p. 53)

In fellowship,

Andy F

If you are struggling with unhealthy relationships, you may be interested in CODA

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