Something that’s always irritated me about the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is the way in which the literature is written. It’s obvious that it’s written by men for men. Some of it, straight up, makes me gag.
Honestly, it kept me from getting sober for a long time. I couldn’t get past the “boy’s club” attitude I felt permeates the AA books. It still bothers me, but I’ve learned that’s my ego running rampant. I’ve learned to take what I need and leave the rest.
There is a book, though, that I absolutely love, called A Woman’s Way through the Twelve Steps by Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D. From the back of the book:
By teaching us to pay attention to how recovery raises special issues for us as women — from questions about sexuality and relationships to essential topics such as powerlessness, spirituality, and trauma — A Woman’s Way through the Twelve Steps empowers us to take ownership of our own recovery process and grow and flourish in sobriety.
I turn to this book when I need to read something about sobriety that’s written for me. Sometimes, I just need to hear things from a woman’s point of view. That’s why women’s meetings are so important for me.
I’m thinking about Step One and this book in particular today because of this article:
Addiction is not a disease: A neuroscientist argues that it’s time to change our minds on the roots of substance abuse
[…] there’s a growing body of evidence that empowering addicts, rather than insisting that they embrace their powerlessness and the impossibility of ever fully shedding their addiction, can be a road to health as well. If addiction is a form of learning gone tragically wrong, it is also possible that it can be unlearned, that the brain’s native changeability can be set back on track. “Addicts aren’t diseased,” Lewis writes, “and they don’t need medical intervention in order to change their lives. What they need is sensitive, intelligent social scaffolding to hold the pieces of their imagined future in place — while they reach toward it.”
I would encourage you to read the whole article. It’s got some interesting ideas, especially regarding the notion that alcoholism and addiction is not a disease. The neuro-scientist that the article is about says addiction is just a really bad habit. And bad habits can be broken. We just need Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and good social structure.
What a relief! That’s exactly what I’m doing for myself. I’m getting myself to a therapy group every week, and I have good social structure. So why do I still want to drink/use? Why is it that when I take that first drink/drug I decide to take the whole bottle?
Personally, I would be relieved to believe I do not have a disease called addiction. It would be nice to know that I just need to change some really (really) bad habits. But I think we are going to need to see more scientific work in the neuroscience field before we truly understand what addiction is (or isn’t).
For now, let’s just discuss this idea that AA requires you to admit complete powerlessness.
I struggle with this. Hard. And with good reason. I already feel quite powerless in most other places of my life. In fact, I was taught to give other people power over me and my decisions.
But in Step One of A Woman’s Way, it explains that “For women, recovery is about empowerment–finding and using our true inner power […] only when we admit our powerlessness and lack of control over our addiction can we begin to find out where we truly have power in our lives” (pg. 12)
It’s a paradox. By admitting I cannot control this one thing that’s ruining my life, I am taking my power back and empowering myself to live a better, healthier life that is full of joy and peace.
The article I posted above looks at powerlessness in very simplistic terms. It does not allow for the nuances and the paradox I am discussing here. It takes a surface level view of “complete defeat” and seems to think that AA members assume a lack of free will.
But that is not the case!
By surrendering the fight and saying I am powerless over alcohol and drugs, I am exercising free will. I’m taking back my power from the alcohol and the drugs.
I think one thing missing from the article is a definition of “recovery.” What does it mean for an alcoholic/addict to be “recovered?” Is it a certain length of sobriety? Is it the ability to “successfully” drink/use? (Is there such a thing as successful using?) Is it the lack of desire to use?
If it’s the lack of desire to use, that’s just setting me up for failure. I’m craving right now. But I’m choosing not to act on that craving. I’m exercising my power to live a better, healthier life.
I consider myself to be “in recovery,” meaning I have the choice today over whether or not I will take a drink or a drug. Right now, I have power over alcohol/drugs because I’m sober. It’s when I start using that I become powerless.
So maybe science will one day tell me my disease is all in my head. For right now, I’m comfortable knowing that I’m a sick person, and I need to take steps every day to take care of myself so I can live a fulfilled life.
This is just my perspective. I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions!