This post was originally published on January 27, 2016.
Remember the lawsuit that was a central part of the anti-AA doc The 13th Step, where a family was suing Alcoholics Anonymous for its alleged role in the death of their daughter? It was a tragic case—Karla Brada, a Santa Clarita woman on the seemingly right track, was fatally suffocated by a boyfriend she met in program. It was awful, but it wasn’t AA’s fault, which is why I was relieved to learn that Los Angeles Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit. Though it makes no sense that an organization like AA could be blamed for anything, let alone two adults meeting and deciding to date, more nonsensical cases have been entertained by the courts so it’s consoling to know that the sacred and simple structure of 12-step programs has been protected.
Can’t Blame Them for Trying
I don’t blame the victim’s parents, Hector and Jaroslava Mendez, for filing the suit. They lost their child and it’s natural to want as many people as possible to pay. And they were lucky in the sense that the person responsible for their daughter’s murder, Eric Earl, was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison. That is justice. But I imagine it got quite confusing for them, as there are passionate anti-12 steppers out there who are thirsty for a case like this to forward their own agenda. I am sure that Mr. and Mrs. Mendez received more than enough validation and support to feel like what they were doing was right.
But this isn’t about right or wrong; it’s about a lack of understanding of what AA actually is. I don’t expect anyone who isn’t a member of a 12-step program to comprehend how they work as there really isn’t much out there like it. The mistake made by the Mendez family was their inaccurate conception of AA as an organization with policies that are enforced. The administrative arm of Alcoholics Anonymous has little to do with the program and nothing to do with the meetings. There is no policing of the traditions in an individual meeting, other than someone calling the police if a person there is breaking the law.
What a 12-Step Group Actually Is
Twelve-step meetings are essentially just slightly more organized than hiking groups posted on Meetup.com. It’s just a bunch of people with a common interest (a desire to stop drinking) who feel that getting together with like-minded individuals will help them. While I am sure that Meetup as an organization has policies and procedures, users and groups on the site are autonomous, self-regulating, and if applicable, self-supporting. If someone were to get murdered by another Meetup member they met in their hiking group, it would be ludicrous to hold the company responsible.
We all know that anyone can create an account on Meetup and there is no individual screening process. They don’t ask for your social security number or if you have a criminal record, so there is no expectation of security. However, one way in which online groups like Meetup do differ from 12-step is that they take names (don’t have to be real ones), email addresses (that could also be fake) and some other personal info. So if someone got hurt by another member, this could be a lead in tracking down a suspect. But it doesn’t put any member of Meetup in a safer position, as they know just as little about the people they are hiking with as members of AA know about who is sitting next to them at a meeting.
The fact is this: AA is a place were anyone with a desire to stop drinking can go to get help. There is no discrimination of gender, religion, race, sexual identity, financial status, marital status or criminal status. You can be a woman beater, a fugitive, even high on crack and attend a meeting as all those factors are considered outside issues. And while the only requirement for membership (an evasive concept that is self-determined and self-regulated) is a desire to stop drinking, many don’t know that anyone can attend an open meeting.
What You Are Responsible For
While there have been murders in AA—or rather between people who met in meetings—Eric Earl isn’t a killer because he is an alcoholic. Being murderous is not a trait of alcoholism. Karla Brada isn’t dead because she was an alcoholic. Dating criminals is not a trait of alcoholism (although I know some women who might beg to differ). She is dead because she is a victim of a man she was wrong about, as many of us have been in one way or another, and as a result she met an unfortunate, tragic and unfair fate.
My continued condolences go out to Brada’s friends and family.