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The Dark Arts of Unrecovery: Addressing Unhealthy Behavior in the Rooms of Recovery


A person considered to be a founding member of a Twelve Step recovery program often said, "Whatever it is that you're looking for, you're going to find."


For a long time, I believed his words wholeheartedly. However, after more than 30 years, I no longer agree. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we find ourselves faced with destructive and harmful behavior within the very rooms meant to facilitate our recovery. Emotional grifters, who exploit the vulnerability of others for personal gain, can be particularly detrimental to our communities of recovery and healing. Today I'm sharing my experiences on this issue, because it hurts too much not to share my truth. If you'd rather not read about the darker side of recovery, I encourage you to skip this post.


In the early days of my journey, there was a man who had an incredible message of recovery. He was funny, sharp, and inspiring to many newcomers. However, I later discovered from a friend named Keith, who helped me get clean, that this same man would use drugs to seduce women in the fellowship. He was an emotional grifter, using the vulnerability of others for his own benefit.


Keith and other members in good standing eventually confronted the man about his behavior after learning that he had stalked a female member and tried to entice her with drugs. They told him they wanted him in the fellowship, but not his toxic behavior. They needed a safe environment for recovery, not a hunting ground for predators and emotional grifters. After this confrontation, the man stopped attending meetings because he literally told his sponsor he wasn't willing to stop.


Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. I even left Rooms of Recovery for about 10 years after one of my sponsees took advantage of my girlfriend during her mental health crisis. He apologized and blamed his defects, but it was clear that he had planned his actions and was another emotional grifter.


In more recent times, I've witnessed people close to me entering toxic relationships with individuals who seem more interested in exploiting vulnerable people than seeking recovery. These emotional grifters manipulate others, and when things go wrong, the result is often relapse, domestic violence, and added trauma. As Larry North used to say, "Two sickies don't make a welly." Tragically, I've also learned of a fellow member being murdered by someone who may or may not have been in recovery. These horrific events underline the need for change.


Perhaps now you can understand why I no longer believe that "Whatever we're looking for, we're going to find" doesn't hold true in all situations. People may enter recovery with the best intentions, only to be misled or drawn into destructive behavior by emotional grifters.


As someone recently said, "We are each other's eyes and ears." It's crucial that we work diligently to create a safe environment for recovery to happen. Our collective illness exists on a spectrum, and acting irresponsibly can impede our mission to help addicts find healing and freedom from addiction.


It has been clear to me for decades that we need to improve the safety and well-being of our fellowships because it's so easy for things to go way wrong. This will require open and honest conversations that aren't going to be easy. As my sponsor always says, our process is to act with "clarity, decisiveness, directness, and kindness, not character defects that ride on fear and malice." My hope is that we can confront these issues head-on and work towards a future where our community is truly whole and free, as envisioned by the traditions and the values within them, and free from the harmful influence of emotional grifters.


一Dignity and Grace

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