The pink cloud is real. This rose-colored haze of early sobriety may seem innocuous. But aside from too often leading us into a full-blown relapse, the pink cloud also acts as a social lubricant to what’s become cheekily known as the 13th Step in AA. It’s not a sanctioned or encouraged practice in the recovery community. Named after the AA 12 Step program, the 13th Step describes the tendency of old timers habitually trying to jump into bed with newcomers (less than a year of sobriety). These flings can seem fun and harmless at first. They even become the main draw of AA for some newcomers. But the 13th Step introduces complications too often overlooked. And though the 13th Step predates Tinder as a “dating” platform, newcomers should heed the scruples surrounding romance in early recovery.
Pink Cloud’s Heedless Excitement
Addiction acts as a numbing haze. And when a person emerges from years of feeling out of touch with their own senses, they often circumvent the logic part of decision making without even realizing it. Entertaining the advances of an experienced AA member seems like a solid choice for a few reasons. But it upon closer inspection, the logic behind those ideas begins to crumble.
- Old timers act as positive sober role models. Sort of like a sponsor, right? Wrong! There’s a reason AA recommends same-sex sponsors. Sober role models should not be romantic interests. That person will not understand your unique struggles as a man or woman recovering from substance abuse.
- It motivates you to go to meetings. Once the novelty wears off, it can be difficult to find the same motivation. Dating should not be the reason you go to AA.
- You spend sober time with them outside of meetings. There’s no guarantee that this old timer has actually been sober for very long, if at all. And again, once the relationship ends or goes bad, it’s a short road to relapse.
- It encourages interpersonal bonding. Addiction does make us isolate, true. But the 13th Step acts as risky low-hanging fruit that should be avoided. For the most part, old timers seeking “relationships” with newcomers are seeking to take advantage.
The heedless excitement of the pink cloud blinds newcomers to some conflicts of interest.
Imbalance of Power
The core of this issue rests at the imbalance of power between a seasoned AA member and a person new to the scene. Newcomers often lack the experience to understand that not all AA members have your best interests at heart. Although the community is supposed to be about fellowship, it harbors some baggage as well.
AA’s core tenet of anonymity protects predators. Court orders regularly send violent and sexual offenders (whose crimes may or may not be related to alcohol) to AA. This population puts newcomers at risk. To be fair, many AA old timers are honest people who will protect newcomers if they notice any funny business. They are all too familiar with the 13th Step game and may have even fallen victim to it early in their sobriety.
Tip: Same-sex sponsors can also offer excellent guidance for avoiding the 13th Step.
Don’t Date in Early Recovery
Early recovery is the time to rediscover yourself. Spend this time focusing on what YOU want and building a sober foundation for your life going forward.
Eventually romance can come back into the equation. Just not during this formative time in your life. But other than potential bad influence, there’s a bigger reason to avoid the 13th Step in AA.
Getting Distracted by the 13th Step
We all know the routine. You’ve been clean for a few weeks or months. You’re going to a few meetings a week. The speakers start to seem less interesting. Their voices seem to drown out as you survey the room. Smoke breaks become more about finding singles than finding fellowship. And down the rabbit hole you go.
The 13th Step serves as a distraction. At its worst, it can derail newcomers off recovery entirely. But ideally, all people in AA should have a solid foundation of sobriety first so that doesn’t happen.