The Plight Of Women In Recovery.
For women, active substance use often goes hand in hand with domestic violence, sexual harassment and exploitation.
Women who have substance use problems are more likely to lose custody of their children, even if the father is also an addict.
Society continues to view women substance users in a much more negative light than men.
Often these women are trapped in lives of prostitution, domestic violence and poverty, with no visible way out.
Despite the hopelessness and the many barriers they face, women successfully recover from substance use every single day. Lives are restored, and families are reunified.
Women who have previously experienced homelessness and destitution, trauma, violence and uncertain futures go on to live lives they never thought possible.
They improve their lives dramatically, often returning to school and earning degrees, realizing career goals, raising their families and achieving their dreams of success.
At the same time, the end of active substance use doesn’t mean the end of the struggle. While recovery has profound rewards, there are also challenges.
Women often struggle and fight for their recovery in an environment that should be supportive, but in some ways is not, and may even re-traumatize them.
Scenarios that are frequently played out on the streets continue to be played out in the rooms of 12-step programs.
For women today, recovery has come a long way, but frankly there is still a lot more to be done.
It’s important to take an honest look at the recovery community, and acknowledge its weaknesses. To some, it may seem like sacrilege to speak against a community and a program that gave your life back to you.
This is understandable, but ignores the human element at play in the rooms. There is always work to be done. The saying is Progress, not perfection. Defects must be acknowledged if true progress is to be made.
The Dark Side Of Recovery
A common saying often heard in the rooms hints at the this shadow side. It simply states, “Some are sicker than others.”
This truth applies to both sexes, and a key caveat to remember is that this community is made of individuals who often carry with them personal baggage.
They include negative behaviors learned in childhood, behaviors learned on the streets, as well as a wide array of survival skills and individual values and belief systems.
Pervasive belief systems about women are evident anywhere you go, and substance use treatment facilities and 12-step programs are no exception.
For the woman just getting sober, treatment is already overwhelming and intimidating. She’s dealing with cravings, fear, grief, possibly trauma, anxiety, depression, and has potentially been separated from her children.
Coed treatment programs are the norm, and the traditional models of treatment were often designed with male addicts in mind, given that it was not till 30 years ago that addiction was considered an issue for the fairer sex.
Essentially, a woman in treatment is stepping into an environment that was not created for her, that she is now sharing with men, many of whom have very set belief systems around women and sexuality and with definite expectations of how that should look.
And, they are also wounded, traumatized and very often angry. What’s more, men in treatment may or may not have histories of violence.
While treatment is a protected environment, many women do not feel entirely safe and supported in a coed facility and may even be further traumatized. For women who struggle with relationship issues such as codependency, etc., attending a coed treatment center can inhibit the recovery process.
A common occurrence for people who are new is to jump into a relationship, often while still in treatment. This usually ends in disaster, with one or both parties getting kicked out and possibly relapsing as a result.
Sexism And Victimization In 12-Step Programs
12-step programs have offered countless substance users a second chance at life. 12-step meetings are filled with men and women — some literally on the brink of death — who now live sober lives filled with hope and promise.
Because of this, people who participate in 12-step programs are very loyal to them. The 12-step community is incredibly supportive, welcoming and healing.
Meetings are filled with like-minded individuals who, despite their many differences, recognize the shared struggles and challenges that they have faced in the past as substance users, and continue to face as people in recovery.
In 12-step programs, there is an enormous sense of fellowship and community, which appeals to many who have spent years in the isolation of active substance use.
For the woman in early recovery, this environment may be the first place she’s felt truly safe… ever. For the most part, 12-step meetings are safe and welcoming. One thing that must be acknowledged, however, is that there are problems.
One long-standing and pervasive problem involves the at-times predatory behavior toward women in the program, specifically women who are young and early in sobriety.
What makes this especially troublesome is that the individuals who prey on newcomers are often men who have significant amounts of clean time — men who should know better. The results can be devastating.
Women who have come to these meetings for help often feel pressured by men to enter into physical relationships, and just as often, feel judged and shamed when they do.
Men and women are both encouraged to stay out of relationships their first year of recovery, and furthermore, both men and women are encouraged to avoid dating anyone who has under one year of clean and sober living.
While grown adults are free to do what they will within the bounds of the law, when it comes to 12-step programs, there are ethical issues to consider. The woman coming into a meeting is looking for a safe place.
She may have children dependent upon her. She may have a CPS case or even a prison sentence hanging over her head.
The sad truth is that it’s all too common for women to feel they must avoid certain meetings, or meetings altogether, because they felt uncomfortable due to judgment, pressure or unwanted attention from men at meetings.
This isn’t about male-bashing here. The tables are sometimes turned, and it’s absolutely true that the male newcomer is also vulnerable and should be free to focus on his recovery.
But misogyny and predatory behavior are happening in meetings, and women are relapsing as a result.
Women who have achieved recovery after many years of active substance abuse, and have embraced the person they have become, not the person they were, bear testimonies to their children and those around them.
Their ability to not only survive, but thrive, after persevering years of abuse and mistreatment, speaks to their strength of spirit. For those who once carried the scarlet letter of addiction, their past now represents a beautiful future.
Their pain and personal struggle are an inspiration to those who are new and just trying to live this new way of life. For their children, they represent and model that no matter what has happened in the past, the future can be different.
Recovery for both sexes is a beautiful testament to the power of hope and the perseverance of the human spirit through adversity.
Rose Lockinger is a passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. A single mom to two beautiful children, she has learned that parenting is, without a doubt, the most rewarding job in the world. She is currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing. You can find Rose on LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.