Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a peer-led support group focused on helping members recover from substance use disorder. To do so, sponsors, or spiritual advisors, guide AA members through the program’s 12 steps.
By completing the steps, attending AA meetings, doing service, and working with others, AA members learn spiritual principles that teach them how to maintain sobriety.
Contrary to how it sounds, 13th stepping has nothing to do with the actual 12 steps of AA; in fact, it’s quite the opposite.
Keep reading to learn about 13th stepping, how it can affect your sobriety, and how to avoid it.
Thirteenth Stepping In AA
If you frequent the rooms of AA, then you may be familiar with the saying, “Some are sicker than others.”
This phrase is often used to reference behaviors in AA that are not condoned by the AA group as a whole.
Thirteenth stepping, also known as the “13th step,” is an example of this type of behavior.
Thirteenth stepping occurs when a more experienced member, perhaps with years of sobriety, pursues a sexual relationship or a romantic relationship with a newcomer in early sobriety.
Thirteenth stepping is strongly frowned upon and deemed inappropriate behavior by the more experienced member. People in early recovery are more vulnerable, and thus, this type of “relationship” is regarded as unequal and even predatory.
In this situation, AA group members perceive the more experienced member as taking advantage of the new member and dampening the shared trust that exists in the rooms of AA.
Why Does 13th Stepping Happen?
Nothing is mentioned in “the big book” of AA, titled Alcoholics Anonymous, about the 13th step, but it’s a phenomenon that members have witnessed firsthand, time and again.
You may be wondering why, if so many people are aware of the risks, do 13th steppers continue to act out? Well, there are a few reasons.
It’s normal to experience feelings of attraction to someone, no matter where you meet them. But an AA meeting is not necessarily a place to meet eligible bachelors and bachelorettes; it’s a place to recover.
Even if an attraction exists, there’s an expectation for people in long-term recovery to have the self-control not to take a relationship further with a newcomer.
People with more experience in AA should give newcomers the respect of focusing on their recovery, and not allow themselves to distract from a person’s recovery journey.
Different Stages Of Development
“AA is not a hotbed of mental health” is another common saying in AA, and that’s because addiction and mental health issues often go hand in hand.
For some people, the rooms of AA must be used in tandem with other treatment programs, like outpatient treatment and talk therapy.
Even though people in AA are bound by the common disease of alcohol addiction and the goal of recovery, not everyone is on the same page mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
For this reason, it’s not guaranteed that every person who attends 12-step meetings, and has achieved long-term sobriety, will abide by the unspoken (and spoken) social norms of AA.
Dangers Of 13th Stepping
Thirteenth stepping is strongly discouraged because of how it can affect a person’s sobriety. Folks who are new to AA are vulnerable people, and most, if not all, have been taken advantage of as a result of their addiction.
Thirteenth stepping can make a person feel unsafe in their home group – the AA group that a person joins as a member – which is where AA members should feel the safest.
It can cause people who are new in sobriety to become distracted by the butterflies of a new relationship, albeit a relationship they likely aren’t ready for. It’s a time to practice self-work, not to dedicate oneself to another.
What’s more, when a person hasn’t completed their first year in sobriety, they are bound to repeat the same behavioral patterns in relationships as they did before and be drawn to similar personalities as they were in active addiction.
Without time to grow, it’s also possible that a problematic relationship, argument, falling out, or breakup can push a person closer to relapse.
How To Protect Yourself From Thirteenth Steppers
When you begin AA meetings, it’s recommended that you find a sponsor, first and foremost. There are many benefits you’ll reap from sponsorship and, as a sponsee, your sponsor should have your best interests in mind.
A sponsor can more thoroughly explain 13th stepping and the role it plays in 12-step programs. After all, it’s nothing new.
When talking about sponsorship, it’s common to hear people say, “Men with the men; women with the women.” This statement suggests that someone should not seek a sponsor of the opposite sex, so as to avoid inappropriate relations.
In relation to LGBTQIA+ meetings, it’s best to choose a sponsor of a gender or sexual orientation that you’re typically not attracted to.
It’s also OK to ask for a different sponsor at any time should an attraction or other issues of concern arise.
Relationships In The Rooms
Relationships happen in AA and other 12-step groups all the time. There are many couples who meet in AA and develop healthy relationships, but usually not in the first year.
Another common suggestion you’ll hear in AA is, “No relationships in the first year.” Again, this suggestion is to discourage any distractions that could lead a person back to substance abuse.
After the first year and subsequent years, dating another AA member is not regarded as harshly in most cases. However, it’s best to refer to your sponsor for guidance on what is appropriate.
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If you or a loved one is experiencing drug or alcohol abuse, contact AddictionResource.net to get connected with a treatment center today.
Published on January 16, 2024
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- 12Steppers.org – 13th Step
- AA.org – Questions & Answers On Sponsorship
- AA.org – Safety And AA: Our Common Welfare