What issues in recovery are unique to men?
Living up to male stereotypes
Common social expectations hold that men should always be tough, strong, and capable as fathers, brothers, and sons. Growing up male, you may have been taught that giving in to pain, talking about emotions, and crying were all signs of weakness. As a young boy you may have been taught to accept pain and grief without crying or sharing with others. As you grew up you found that the rules were the same: keep your feelings on the inside; don’t show how badly you are hurt; don’t share your emotions with others.
Male stereotypes include:
- Men are always strong and tough.
- Men should be in control.
- Men are competitors.
- Men are not emotionally vulnerable.
- Men don’t know how to express their feelings.
- Men shouldn’t cry.
- Men should be able to “fix” everything.
- Men shouldn’t need help from others.
Of course, qualities such as strength and toughness may serve us well
in some contexts. But trying to always live up to these rigid male stereotypes of conduct can cause us to be self-destructive and can get in the way of our recovery.
Trying to be in control
Control means power. As a man you may have learned early in your development to seek power by controlling yourself and others. You may have problems with Step One, admitting powerlessness, if you feel that it’s a sign of weakness to surrender and accept things you cannot change. However, once you admit that there are aspects of your life that you can’t control, then you can begin to practice acceptance and begin to heal.
Not allowing emotional vulnerability
Because our society tends to view men as protectors, not as emotionally vulnerable, you may feel uncomfortable sharing your feelings with others at first. Drinking alcohol or using other drugs might have been a way to cover up pain or fear. Now that you are in recovery, you may be facing these emotions with clean and sober clarity for the first time in a long time. Remember that everyone feels sadness, fear, loneliness, pain, and grief—these are all normal. Try letting go of controlling your emotions, and focus on naming them and accepting them for what they are—feelings. Fear and sadness are important emotions that alert you to danger and guide you toward intimacy and closeness with others. Real courage can be found in embracing these emotions and finding ways to share them with others who can support and understand you. When you feel strong emotions that you might tend to suppress, practice sharing them with your sponsor or recovery support group. You might also want to share them with your partner, spouse, family, and friends. Telling your personal stories will not only help you, it will help those you share with feel more accepted. They may be more willing to talk to you about their emotions in return.
How can men avoid or overcome these recovery barriers?
Work the Twelve Steps
First and foremost, work your Twelve Step program and rely on the support of a Higher Power and the fellowship. No one can do recovery alone. Start working to understand your specific triggers, develop your communication skills, cultivate new ways of thinking, plan a regular time for meditation and spirituality, associate with sober friends, and make time for health and relaxation. All these elements will help keep your life in balance.
Acknowledge your emotions
If you have been denying your pain and repressing your feelings for years, you may have some unresolved emotional issues that could threaten your recovery if you don’t address them. Denial of your emotions will only give you a false sense of control and waste the precious energy that could be better spent on communing with your Higher Power, working the Steps, and improving relationships with your friends and family.
Share with others
Instead of shutting down when you feel pain or fear, be open to other ways of coping. You might want to talk to your sponsor, your recovery support group, or your partner, spouse, or family members. Counseling might also be beneficial, letting you confidentially discuss emotions such as fear and anxiety, resentments and anger, or sadness.
Work toward balance
Keep your life in balance by keeping needs and wants on an even keel. Prayer and meditation, relaxation routines, and devoting time to health and exercise are good ways to stay centered.
Recovery Action Step
Begin to open up and share the emotional issues in your life.
Write down ways you can develop a greater support network of men who can relate to your issues. Make sure you have a sponsor who understands your specific issues as a man in recovery. Consider getting together with other men in your recovery group before or after meetings.
Practice emotional honesty. Start with very safe topics, then take the risk of opening up and sharing more personal issues.
Remember to work the Steps, utilize your sponsor and sober friends for support, and go to meetings. These practices will help you embrace your emotions, let go of controlling behaviors, receive support, and develop and maintain a healthy, happy outlook that lets you enjoy the freedom and peace of sobriety.
There are many resources out there. The websites for the following organizations were chosen for their usefulness and user friendliness.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): The SAMHSA website provides information and research on men and substance use disorders, as well as on prevention and treatment.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The NIAAA website offers research on alcoholism in men, information on prevention and treatment, and a list of workshops and meetings.