Women for Sobriety has a remarkable series of “13 Steps” to serve as an alternative to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.
Negative thoughts destroy only myself. My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.
Happiness is a habit I will develop. Happiness is created, not waited for.
Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to. I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me.
I am what I think. I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.
Life can be ordinary or it can be great. Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.
Love can change the course of my world. Caring becomes all important.
The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth. Daily I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities.
The past is gone forever. No longer will I be victimized by the past, I am a new person.
All love given returns. I will learn to know that others love me.
Enthusiasm is my daily exercise. I treasure all moments of my new life.
I am a competent woman and have much to give life. This is what I am and I shall know it always.
I find these a refreshing alternative to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. As I wrote in my book, Bad Therapy Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference), the 12 Steps send a mixed message.
On the one hand, they tell people to take charge of their minds and their lives; to develop an attitude of serenity based on the rational principle that you can control some things, and you cannot control others; and to take a moral and psychological inventory of your life.
On the other hand, and in total contradiction, AA tends to treat alcoholism as a disease which you neither control nor contribute to, which has a life of its own, and that some sort of higher, external Power (supernatural or otherwise) generates against your will.
I won’t deny that AA helps a lot of people, and when it does I give credit to the rational, positive aspects of AA. However, I find a lot of people sincerely looking for alternatives to the 12 Steps, and this Women for Sobriety program offers an excellent alternative.
I like these steps as an alternative for men every bit as much as for women.
Are these steps really just for women?
In an article entitled, “What’s Gender Got to Do With It?”, Regina Walker says,
Women who suffer from alcoholism face bigger challenges, not just physically, but psychologically as well. All alcoholics suffer from the social stigma of the disease but women are especially judged as morally weak when they deviate from their expected roles as caretakers of others including children and partners. In the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a chapter entitled, “To The Wives.” The goal of the article is to assist the wives of alcoholics in dealing most effectively with their alcoholic husbands. But what of the female alcoholic in AA? Women alcoholics are often portrayed (in books and movies) as sexually promiscuous and lacking self-control.
It is estimated that between 30% and 80% of alcoholic women were victims of sexual abuse in childhood. Although there is no definitive connection between early sexual abuse and alcoholism, the implications for the treatment of alcoholic women are significant. Many women who have experienced physical, sexual, or emotional abuse may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and use alcohol to self-medicate the symptoms of this disorder.
Often, the shame and guilt experienced by women prevent them from seeking treatment. They may be more reluctant to acknowledge that a problem exists for fear they will be punished or humiliated. If the woman is the primary caregiver of young children, she will need support in terms of child-care to access treatment. In addition, these women may fear the loss of the children through the legal system if they request help and acknowledge their alcoholism.
This may all be true. And I’m certainly not against women forming a support group for alcohol / substance abuse which specifically reaches out to women.
But in my view, both men and women could benefit from a refreshing alternative of this kind.
I love the emphasis on personal responsibility for one’s alcoholism. In my experience as a therapist, I find that most alcohol and drug abusers do not really buy the idea that they are helpless recipients of a disease. The ones who do think this way are usually the ones rationalizing their continued use and abuse of a substance.
By the time a person — man or woman — wakes up and realizes, “I have a problem and I have to quit,” he or she is generally way past the disease model of addiction and ready to do the kinds of things embodied by these 13 Steps.
“I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.” I find this an uplifting and yet realistic idea. The point is: your abusive habits do not have to rule you. It may be a struggle, but you can ultimately emerge triumphant. Men and women need to develop this attitude, not just about overcoming an addiction, but just about any life struggle or challenge.
One theory of substance abuse is that people are self-medicating their anxiety or depression. I find this is usually, if not always, true. The 13 ideas listed above, for the most part, serve as a good program for managing and overcoming anxiety or depression (the most common mental-emotional problems), including for men and women who don’t abuse a substance.
“The past is gone forever.” Wonderfully true. It’s not that it’s taboo to think or talk about the past. But the context must always be held in mind: The past is over. Whatever you don’t like about the past need not be true now; not if you’ve learned. As for childhood, you were largely helpless and powerless as a child. You had no choice about the fact you were born, and to whom you were born; and most of the choices that affected you were made by adults around you. As an adult, you have the power to live your own life on totally different terms, if you want to, and you definitely ought to do so if your childhood experiences were bad. Maybe you were a victim back then; but you don’t have to be a victim now. If you feel like a perpetual victim now, it’s no wonder you want to drink or drug.
I am in charge of my mind, my thoughts, and my life. Absolutely and profoundly true. If your mind drifts, you can bring it back into focus. You can learn how to better do this, and competent professionals, or even peers or loved ones, might help you. If your mind leads you to do self-defeating or self-destructive things, you — and only you — can direct it back to a life-advancing, life-fulfilling purpose. Your life ought to have a central purpose; you, and you alone, get to choose what that is. You can get all the help you want — and help is good; but in the end, it’s yourself, and only yourself, who will fix your life.
Do women need to hear this more than men? I don’t think so. Our culture is, for the most part, anti-reason and anti-rational. America, in particular, was built on rationality, productivity, rational self-interest and individualism. Those values and ideas are under assault everywhere today; absolutely everywhere, from public schools to universities to the media to politics to the culture at large.
When those values of reason, self-determination and individualism were more dominant, the false idea was that they applied more to men than to women. One of the tragic errors of feminism was that it largely rebelled against reason and individualism, removing those things as a value for women or men, and replacing them with emotionalism, subjectivism and (in politics) socialism.
If it were 1950, I’d say that women need to embrace these values of self-responsibility and rational mindfulness for themselves, just like men had been trained to do. They can still be women, but they need reason, self-responsibility and individualism just as much as men do, in order to survive, cope and flourish in life.
Today, in 2015, I’m finding (more than ever) that both men and women need help and support in becoming independent, self-governing individualists. Alcohol abuse and substance addiction certainly get in the way of that; but so do depression, anxiety and the various other maladies people tend to suffer from in their daily psychological lives.
In the end, there are no magical 12 Steps or exhaustive 13 Steps that will, in isolation, somehow fix all that ails you. At the core of any recovery program, psychotherapy or “spiritual exercise” worth the name is a deep sense of commitment to loving life and valuing self. Without those two things, any therapy or treatment program is meaningless, and any potential value it has to offer you is wiped out.
At the end of the day, you either love life and yourself, or you don’t. If you do, then you will develop the strategies and actions required to lead a rewarding and purposeful life. If you do not love life and/or yourself, you are free to start doing so … any time you choose.
When seeking help, find people who help you do so.
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