Welcome to single and sober
Former peer support group members attest to not-so-safe space that exposes recovering addicts to sexual harassment — and derails their journey to sobriety. A t 23 years old, Asia Blackwood was the proud stay-at-home mother of three young children in a quaint Connecticut neighborhood. Day in and day out, she prepared snacks and watched with pride as her toddlers learned to share with each other while her husband worked. Life was picture perfect.
She was often exhausted, and felt sad for no reason. This listlessness and unhappiness made her feel guilty, since she had nothing to complain about. It lessened my depression and gave me more energy. During that time, she saw how unhappy her marriage was and divorced her husband. She met John not his real namea recovering heroin addict, just weeks after her divorce and began dating him.
John introduced her to a much cheaper alternative: heroin. She soon lost custody of her children and became homeless for a while, still shocked that her life was now about finding her next fix instead of fixing her kids dinner. After a very dark year, she decided to make a change, dropped John, and started going to Alcoholics Anonymous. I was newly sober, clueless and craving love.
Blackwood said she began dating a man with nine months sobriety within her first weeks at AA, and later found out he was sleeping with dozens of other women in the same support group, many of whom she had considered friends.
Women trying to recover are falling into the trap of dating in which the goal is not love or mutual support, but a power play in which they are the losers. Joella Striebel, a behavioral health specialist at Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin, says that women have a different pathway to addiction than men.
To recover, they must believe they have control over their own lives and can make decisions for themselves, rather than admitting powerlessness — which is one of the main tenets of AA. At 15 years old, Hankel not her real last name was already addicted to drugs. By 18, she was running Narcotics Anonymous meetings in her community in New Orleans.
Hankel said it was an expensive four-week rehabilitation center that finally helped her; a luxury most people suffering addictions cannot afford. At her facility, she was set up with a personal therapist who paid attention to the specific issues beneath her addiction.
If people in rehab programs only focus on their dependencies, they are only scraping the surface of the problem, painting over a broken-down foundation without fixing the splintering wood beneath, Hankel explained. Without delving down to the root of the problem, it becomes more likely to grow again.
Treatment, such as rehabilitation and therapy, is run by professionals who start with their clients from where they are and work with them through a variety of medical and psychological means to build their autonomy, he said. In contrast, support groups like AA or NA provide merely a peer-to-peer network of individuals supposedly working toward the same goal.
In essence, an environment that is touted as a safe space can be anything but. From easier access to substances to sexual harassment, abuse or even outright murderthese programs can inflict further damage. While there are certain AA meetings that are women-only, the availability of these meetings is scarce at best. Hankel said she was frequently the only woman in a group of 15 or more men, because there was simply no other option in her area.
Before a couple years ago, she said, there were no women-only meeting at all. AA boasts over 1.
No kid wants to see their parent dating, anyway, but the guys from AA bring it to a whole other level. I was offered drugs there every single time. But what about me? I should put up with that? When she turned 22, she decided to get help, and started going to AA and NA. Her first week there, she met a man who had four years sobriety and began dating him, only to find him isolating her from her friends and family, policing the way she dressed, and eventually hitting her.
Alexia broke it off and left AA, only to fall back into deep depression and substance dependency. When she tried again, months later, to recover, she found AA to be a dangerous place even without an abusive relationship tinging it.
I loved that all eyes were on me all the time. In hindsight, I realize I was never really able to focus on my sobriety. She states that the type of attention paid to young women in the programs is detrimental in all ways. She said the drug courts in south-east Georgia, where she and Alexia reside, mandate offenders to go to AA meetings. When she complained about this procedure, she was told they could go to any meeting and to find a different group.
Stern said the problem is compounded when sex offenders go through the drug courts and are ordered to go to step meetings, which he said is a fairly common occurrence. Stern suggests the judicial system should be revamped.
Walton, Stern and Striebel all highly recommend a new peer-support option called Smart Recovery. It is similar to AA and NA, but does not involve citing powerlessness as part of recovery, and does not insist on invoking a higher being to belong to the club.
More importantly, Smart Recovery has a hour online option. The program encourages members to build their own motivation, find ways to cope with urges, manage behaviors and feelings, and start living a balanced life. The only way to combat this that I have found is through empowerment. Blackwood is about to go to court to win visitation privileges with her children again.
Hankel is raising a six-year-old girl by herself, while staying clear of drugs and alcohol. It was through truly learning to love themselves.
Darlena Cunha. Tue 22 Sep That discovery was devastating. The next AA? Welcome to Moderation Management, where abstinence from alcohol isn't the answer. Reuse this content.