The program of Prostitutes Anonymous took off like a shot. Catharsis had pretty much folded by this time. It had become more of a meeting where everyone was showing off how miserable they were and how much worse it had gotten over the last month. Their members were very hopeful about coming to a group that would help them to get better, not hold their hand while they got worse.
We had a lot of trouble finding someone who would let a bunch of hookers come meet. All the churches turned us away. So did the conference meeting halls. The Alano Clubs offered us no privacy. Then Tarzana Treatment Center said we could meet there and even let some of their residents come. Our first meeting at Tarzana Treatment Center was incredible.
We had the residents there who were undergoing drug treatment – and then our “ladies” as I called them would arrive. These were the escorts, and their madam, who had been going to Catharsis but now were coming over to try us out. So we had Shelly in her red Ferrari. Kelly, our resident madam, would come in her Mercedes. Maddie had a BMW. We would always hear Jaime coming in her muscle car. It had to be a muscle car to carry her now 400 pound body. She was smoking medical marijuana but it made her eat. And eat.
Then we'd have a bunch of other women show up who all worked for Kelly at one point in time. Kelly had called up all of the women who had used to work for her and told them about our meetings. So they were coming to check us out because they were all saying they weren't doing too good either. They liked to come to the Tarzana meeting because it was in a private conference room that you had to buzz security to get past –so no one would know what they were really there for. Everyone valued discretion as you would imagine. Sometimes I'd even laugh as they'd show up in the middle of a Saturday afternoon with their Jackie O sunglasses, and big movie star hats because they wanted to make sure no one recognized them. I'd always found a fine line between escorts and temperamental actresses!
This meeting usually had Michael 1 in attendance. Michael 1 was a man who would dress up like a woman and hook on Santa Monica Blvd. Michael 2 we used to call “professor” because he had a degree from Cornell University. He wanted to work with kids like him after what he'd gone through. Being sold as a child to a biker gang, You wouldn't miss Michael 2 because he was very very tall. Must have been at least 6'6" tall with his facial skin as smooth as a baby's butt. He said it was from all the hormones his pimp had forced him to take when he was younger.
This pimp was a horrible man who ran a child prostitution ring in New York. He was a white man who wore a suit Michael said so no one would suspect who he was. Once a month he'd kill one of the kids in front of the others to “keep everyone else in line”. No I take that back he'd have one of the kids kill one of the others to not only keep them in line but also make them be afraid to go to the police for help.
One day Michael 2 knew it was his time coming because he said he could feel the tension that would always be in the air as he would start building up to the murder. So he decided to strike first. When he was handed the gun to kill the other kid - Michael turned it on the pimp. So he had killed his pimp when he was only 13 years old. It was in all the papers but of course Michael was still charged with murder. While in juvenile detention he would be locked into his room at night and raped by the guards. He lost all of his teeth then from them punching them right out of his head he told us. Then the guards started bringing in tricks at night to rape them in the dorms. Finally he managed to run away. He worked as an independent” for a while until he got his degree.
Now he was looking to work with other troubled youth but finding no one wanted to hire a man to work with kids. He said everywhere he looked they wouldn't hire him as a man. He'd been forced to dress up as a woman as a child prostitute and he said he'd considered doing this to find work in the field but knew his ID would give him away as a man. His depression was that he'd worked all those years to get his degree so he could help other kids like himself and now no one would hire him because he was a man.
Then we had the ones in treatment who usually worked the streets would always sit in the back of the room. Our escorts would all sit by Queen Kelly like her court ladies. Every meeting the fights would break out. The escorts would all insist they weren't “prostitutes” while the street walkers would tell them to get off their high horses – that “sucking a dick is sucking a dick”. But the escorts, and especially the madam, just choked every time they were having to identify as a "prostitute".
This is when I realized we had a seating problem for one thing. So I started assigning seats so that people who were fighting with each other would wind up sitting next to each other. It's easy to fight someone sitting across the room from you, but harder if they're right next to you. So I learned to stop open sharing and I gave seating assignments. Instead of random sharing which would turn into an attack or a dump it seemed - we focused on the literature only. All we had to work from was the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text so we used that for our first literature. But this prompted a riot from everyone insisting they wanted to “share”. I said we could “share” at coffee. But no - they wanted a captive audience.
The residents said they didn't have permission to leave the program. I learned that if we put sharing at the end of the meeting it ended everyone on a “bummer” note. I tried having the sharing at the first part of the meeting. It started turning into a pattern also. Some new member who had never been to a meeting before would spend 20 minutes telling us how horrible their life was dumping all over us. Then we'd never see them again. The regular members felt like they weren't getting any attention. It wasn't working.
So to solve that problem we made the meeting work like this – to share you had to be a “home group member”. To be a home group member, you had to have come to four meetings first, and attend at least two meetings a month, while having a service position like making coffee or giving out literature. In other words, to do open sharing, you had to first earn it by coming to four meetings, with at least two of those meetings within one month (not spread out one a month in other words).
Now that worked. To be able to share at the meeting – they would come to those four meetings. I knew it was on their minds because they'd ask me “which meeting is this – 2 or 3?” It was so much on their minds I had to start keeping a meeting list to keep track. Funny thing was by the time they got to the 4th meeting they'd started to focus more on the solutions instead of the “story”. You know the “story” - it's what many prostitutes tell other people to explain their behavior and make people feel sorry for them. So by the time we'd get to the 4th meeting – the “story” seemed to have dropped away and people started talking just as people by then. It was like our form of detox to hear the "story" melt away and them start to talk like people again.
To give them “social time” - we put into the format that if you “wanted to share privately we'd stay after the meeting and talk then”. So during the meeting we'd focus on the literature and the process. It was important to keep the conversation on the steps, and what part of the program were they dealing with today otherwise it would just turn into a "who had the crazier trick" kind of conversation which was just a trigger. What was their goals for the week and that sort of thing. Then to talk privately – we'd go into the break room and talk over coffee like old friends after the meeting.
I found that actually this was a very important learning process for all of the members – street walkers and escorts alike. No one was used to having conversations as “themselves”. They knew how to negotiate for money. They knew how to play a “role”. What they didn't know was how to talk about their feelings or interact with another person they weren't trying to “get something” out of. So we learned that this was really one of the most ideal ways to run the meetings – focus on the literature in the meeting, let one or two share at the end who were “home group members” and then break into
talking over coffee for an hour or so after that.
The meetings built from there. The men wanted to have a meeting in West Hollywood. Many of the men who lived there didn't have cars. West Hollywood was built pretty much to be a city you could walk to whatever you needed. The men said they liked to “walk” anyway because it kept them in shape and they could meet people often that way. The problem was finding a meeting hall that was free though as space was a premium there. Finally the owner of an Alano club where a lot of meetings were held agreed to let us have a space once a week.
The Beverly Hills ladies didn't want to go “over the hill”. Okay where am I going to find a free meeting space in Beverly Hills? One of them knew a rabbi – and we got space donated by a temple. These women didn't rent by the hour but more by the month or marriage. I could see whenever anyone talked about things like “$100 a pop” they'd feel uncomfortable. These were the “sugar babies” who had one or two “boyfriends” who paid the bills. Honestly, they were much more stressed out because they had to really play some head games in exchange for their rent every month. I never knew what they worried about because if you lost one “boyfriend” another would always be right in the wings. They also seemed to be always having plastic surgery so I could see why they didn't want to drive far to come to a weekly meeting after I got to know them better. They were always in bandages and on painkillers.
Then I added our south central meeting. I got a call from a small halfway house out there where the women were really struggling with trying to stay clean and not going back to prostitution because everyone they knew thought of them as prostitutes. So they'd go to the corner store to buy cigarettes and the store owner wouldn't understand why they didn't want to go in the back room to pay for them any more. The woman was afraid they wouldn't like the “white lady” running the meeting – but I told her “after five minutes they'll know I've been where they are and it will be fine”.
Which it was. Long Beach was next. Tarzana Treatment Center had a branch in Long Beach. None of these women had cars, and almost all of them had kids, so there was just no way they could make an hour drive into the valley. So I set my week up pretty much to have a meeting somewhere just about every night. I needed one night to myself as my “sabbath” and of course I needed another day to work with my sponsees. I set aside every Saturday to spend the day working with those who needed extra help with their steps. I also had an “open house” then if anyone wanted to come over for coffee, do some book study, just hang out, etc.
Did everyone “love” me? I was the “belle of the ball”. I would get hi-fived and hugged to death and everyone really seemed to love me as a close personal friend. Certainly I was getting my self-esteem and ego built high. But I didn't start these meetings to make friends. I started this program to see people get better. As time went on – I'd see people build up to maybe a month or two but not more than that. It was always something. The car broke down, they lost a job, the rent got raised – it always seemed to be some excuse would come up and they'd “relapse”.
When they would announce a “relapse” - I started seeing something disturbing They'd get a lot of attention after this. People would hug them, go up and talk to them, give them a cell phone number, invite them out to coffee, and of course offer up a whole bunch of sympathy. While the ones who were quietly plugging away on building “time” were being shoved aside like they weren't even in the room. I began to wonder where the “pay off” was for those who were building time when the ones who were relapsing seemed to be getting all the attention in the room.
I also started seeing that many of these women were telling me that when they had relapsed – that it was Kelly that had given them the call. I confronted Kelly about it and she said “I didn't call them – they called me”. So I confronted her about why was she even in the rooms? I mean what was her “big plan” to quit being a madam? She told me she was building up a cleaning business and when it hit making $1,000,000 a year then she'd stop being a madam.
“So what you're telling me is you're not ready to quit right now today?” I asked her.
“No I'm not. I'm not going to quit and be broke. When this other business of mine reaches a certain income – then I'll quit.” she told me quite bluntly.
“Okay you're out.” I then told her.
“You can't do that.” She rebutted.
“Of course I can. We have a 'requirement for membership' and you aren't ready to quit yet meaning you don't meet our requirement for membership so you're out.” I told her.
She then threatens “if I leave – so will everyone else that comes with me”.
I explained to her anyone who would leave the meeting to follow her didn't meet our requirement for membership either if they would choose her over us and that maybe we were better off without the dead weight. There was some reason why almost everyone who was relapsing was doing so by calling Kelly for an appointment who just happened to be at every meeting. I likened it to having everyone's drug dealer at a meeting. How are they supposed to get clean with the dealer standing right there?
Now if the dealer wants to get clean then he can't come into the meeting while he's still dealing is what I thought.
At the next meeting, true to Kelly's threat – none of our escort ladies showed up either. I was talking to my uncle then who used to be Venice Beach's largest coke dealer for many years. He said that he thought I should reconsider throwing Kelly out. When I asked how he could say that – he said it was because he dealt for his first five years that he was clean that he could say I shouldn't boot Kelly out like she was the problem.
“As addicts – we always try to solve problems by making it someone or something else other than us. What I suggest you do if you're having a problem with people achieving long amounts of “time” in your meeting is go back and take a real good look at what you're doing and leave Kelly out of the equation. If you change yourself – she'll change in relation and then you won't have this war going on.” he explained.
He was right. I had started to clean house by directing the blame onto Kelly instead of myself. I called her and said I'd made a mistake. If she wanted to come to the meetings, she could come to the meetings I mean there were bound to be this problem come up at other meetings so maybe I had better figure out a solution that wasn't all about her. She thanked me and said she'd be back as she really did want to quit being a madam one day.
I could see that the relapsers were getting all the attention – while those building time weren't. So I had to think up ways to get those building “time” more attention. So what I did was I started having little “mini-birthdays”. Whenever someone would get 30 days together – I would bring in some coffee cake and balloons. I got cards I would have everyone in the room sign. We needed key tags so I found a place to buy them. I started making people state their time when introducing themselves. I promised any member who got six months I was going to give them two movie tickets. Most important was the tone I set. When someone would relapse – I would not give it a lot of attention. But when someone made a milestone like getting their first paycheck, or paying the rent with “legit' money, then I'd make an announcement of how proud we were of them and make everyone applaud. But we still weren't getting anyone past really 90 days of “time”.
It was still a revolving door.
Watching all these relapses though – I started seeing definite patterns. Patterns that were so clear that I could predict within a window of three days when this person was going to relapse. I wrote about it more in the “Recovery Guide” but it was things like they'd start talking about the “good times”. They'd start talking about what they “missed”. The bad times seemed to fade from memory. They'd start wondering how “so and so was doing”.
One woman started exhibiting these signs pretty clearly. In Narcotics Anonymous when an addict was showing signs of a relapse the old-timers used to go over and visit that addict unannounced to see if they could interrupt the relapse. So I thought maybe we ought to try doing that. When Maddie started showing the relapse signs – I gathered up a few members and said “let's go pop over and visit Maddie as a surprise and take her to lunch”. When we arrived at Maddie's house – the massage table was in the middle of her living room. She was clearly expecting someone.
“What's that up for?” I asked.
“Oh I was just cleaning it before putting it in storage.” she said looking very guilty.
We all rolled our eyes at her and said “come on”. In getting her to talk to us, we learned she hadn't even stopped. She would come to meetings, and then come home and turn a trick. Clearly there was something wrong with how we were doing things. This was when I realized I needed to figure out what the hell I was doing. I mean what did I know about how to help others? Sure I was out of the business – but what did I know about how to help others to get out?
That's when I decided to go out and form a “mentor board”. I was lucky enough to know some of the founders of other 12 step groups who were still alive. I realized I had never bothered to ask them any questions about how they got their programs off the ground and working. No – addiction is about “self-obsession” and I'd spent the time I was with them talking about me, my goals, what I wanted to do. I never bothered to ask them about how they achieved the building of a successful 12 step program. So I pulled out a pad and pen and started writing down names of people to call to get some advice and mentoring.
I located Ruby, the founder of Overeaters Anonymous. Roy K., the founder of Sexaholics Anonymous. Certainly Bill Wilson was dead – but there were people around who had been sponsored by Bill. I heard there was a big AA service meeting in town – I could go there and ask people for advice. So I found myself talking to the treasurer for AA, the woman who ran the Grapevine, the regional head of AA, someone who interacted with treatment centers, etc.
I called the World Service Office of Narcotics Anonymous and Bob Stone, the Executive Director, asked me to “come on down for a meeting and he'd show me how things worked”. I located the founders of Adult Children of Alcoholics, and one of the founders of Cocaine Anonymous. People told me Bob Barrett was the man the story “The Only Meeting in the World” was about and he'd be a good resource to pump for ideas. His wife had started Nar-anon. So basically I went out on a journey to find out how to build a successful program where the members would start putting some time together.
Of course learning I was doing everything wrong. My ego had to take a few knocks in the process – but it was worth it if what I learned would make this program work. Everyone kept pointing out that recovery wasn't going to just jump from me into the others by osmosis. I wasn't defining really what our group was about, what we stood for, what joining us mean, and what the goals were. We were just focusing on “not” doing some form of sex work. Only then what? They made me realize I was running the program like it was AA or NA and it wasn't. What we had been doing was like how children "play house" like they see mommy and daddy do - but in reality they don't understand at all what's really going on because they're just imitating. That's what we'd been doing - imitating what we'd seen go on in 12 step meetings without really understanding the inner workings or the process for us. Yes we acknowledged we were different than those other programs - but we hadn't really defined how.
In AA and NA – all you need to do is stop drinking or using. The rest takes care of itself. Relationships get better. Work straightens out. Health improves. So all that comes after just falls into place. But for us – it creates a train wreck. Stopping what's paid our bills and put food on the table for who knows how many years just suddenly stops the income flow. Then what? One mentor said to think of it like trying to hold your breath – that you can only hold it so long and then you're going to have to breathe. They said “of course they relapse – you have them holding their breath and then they will have to breath sooner or later”. Pointing out that abstinence for us was NOT the focus as it was in other programs.
They were right. I had been putting all of the emphasis on “time” just like it was AA or NA. I wasn't having any discussions about “now what?” really. In other words, it wasn't as simple as I thought it would be. If these men and women already know HOW to quit – they would have. They were coming to us to learn what they didn't know – and instead they were getting key tags and cakes.
But then I got stumped. What these mentors were making me realize was we had to build our program from the ground up. We couldn't just mimic AA or NA and make it work. Even hearing how everyone had an opinion made me realize how much we didn't know. Roy K., kept saying we were "sex addicts”. He said we all needed to deal with sexual abstinence. The woman who handled the money for AA told me “your problem is you're trying to be like us and you're not”. She said to me straight up “alcoholism is a disease – prostitution isn't so of course you're going to have to be different than us because you are”. Ruby thought our core issues were eating disorders which all of us seemed to share.In talking to these people with all their different opinions – I realized we hadn't defined ourselves clearly yet so no wonder it wasn't working.
I realized our meetings were a joke. We were imitating AA and NA and the problem was we weren't. So instead of holding open the door to meetings where I was imitating AA – if I was going to build a program that “worked” then we had to learn who we were and what worked for us. I went back to our groups and said “we need to talk”. I explained we really didn't know what we were doing and we hadn't even really figured out what our “requirement for membership” was which Kelly had illustrated to us, nor did we even really know what our 1st step was. Everyone just fell silent. I looked around the room and said “you tell me – what are YOU powerless over?” No one agreed. Some said they were “addicted” to the industry. Others said they weren't clearly because they quit –but they couldn't stop thinking and acting like a prostitute and people kept treating them like one. Some felt the industry was “wrong” and others said “it's just a job like any other”. Some same “the pimp made me do it” taking no responsibility at all for anything.
THIS was our problem – not Kelly being a madam. My uncle was right. We didn't know who we were – no wonder no one was “getting it” when we didn't even know what “it” was. I told the group that instead of them coming to me for the answers that what we needed to find out first of all what this program was about before we could help anyone.
I apologized to everyone. I said that yes I had recovery and had been arrogant enough to think that what worked for me would work for everyone else. That I had invited them into a program that I didn't even know what the program was yet myself. I then said that instead of telling them what to do – what we needed to start doing was to start listening to each other and asking questions.
I announced that instead of these meetings being called meetings that we were now going to be called “workgroups”. As individuals, and as a group, we needed to discover who we were and how we were going to get there. I explained to them that we needed to figure out what it is we needed, who we were, and how we were going to achieve our goals for ourselves instead of just trying to mimic a program created by a married white Catholic stock broker with no kids who couldn't hold down a job and had spent most of his life letting his wife pay the bills. Not to discount Bill's contribution to sobriety for alcoholics - but when it came to being "fully self-supporting" he had trouble with that most of his life. Whereas our main goal in our program was to be able to stand on our own two feet. Not easy to do when you don't have a wife coming home and paying the bills like Bill did. So now we were going to start to find our own way and the work groups began.
(copyright 2015 J. Williams – all rights reserved)