Women in Recovery
What recovery barriers do women face?
While recovering men and women have many similarities in the issues that surface in their Step Four inventories, there are also a number of issues that are unique to women in recovery. Some women have extreme issues of guilt and shame. They may have been abused or have a child that suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. They may have problems with perfectionism or approval seeking. In addition, women have higher rates of mental health diagnoses, including anxiety, depression, and panic disorders, and they often have more severe medical problems than men to address in recovery. These various issues are discussed below in more depth:
Women gain deep satisfaction from relationships. Because of this, they may deny their own talents and dreams in order to keep from threatening a relationship. Ultimately this leaves them feeling as if they have betrayed themselves. If you have a habit of seeking approval from others or trying to be someone you are not in order to please others, you may feel lonely, sad, and resentful. It helps to name these feelings and get support from your therapist, sponsor, or recovery support group to resolve these issues.
For many women, alcohol and other drug use is intertwined with experiences of partner violence, rape, sexual abuse, and childhood physical abuse. Sometimes these issues need to be addressed in therapy outside of treatment. If these issues aren’t addressed, they can become barriers for women who struggle to maintain a successful recovery.
Women have a higher rate of mental health/dual diagnosis issues to deal with when they leave treatment, such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and panic disorders. These issues typically require ongoing therapy after leaving treatment. If they are not addressed, they often contribute to relapse or an eventual return to use.
Many women feel that they need to do everything perfectly. This tendency to pursue perfection often reaches into every area of their lives. They feel that they must look attractive at all times, never make mistakes, always be the good mother, wife, daughter, or sister. The truth is often that women may have trouble accepting themselves as they are. You may be afraid others will reject you or hurt you if you appear less than perfect. The ironic part is that while you are trying so hard to be perfect, you alienate the very people you want to impress and pull closer to.
Fetal alcohol syndrome
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is one of the leading and most preventable causes of mental retardation. Drinking during pregnancy causes FAS. Women who drink heavily (an average of five drinks per day) can have babies with withdrawal problems, abnormal reflexes, sleeping disorders, and other problems. Women often experience feelings of shame if their children suffer from FAS.
Guilt and shame
Guilt and shame can be especially difficult problems for women in recovery. They can be the result of one incident or the culmination of many things that have happened over time. If you have feelings of shame that have not been addressed, you are at risk for relapse.
You’ve worked hard in early recovery, but to maintain your ongoing recovery, you’ll need to keep working the Twelve Steps. Step Four and Step Five are particularly helpful when dealing with issues of guilt and shame. Recovery is the process by which you will be restored to a more fulfilling life with fewer emotional hardships and freedom from addictive behavior.
How can women avoid or overcome recovery barriers?
First and foremost, it is important for women to work their 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 things will help keep your life in balance.
Recovery Action Step
- Make a list of the potential barriers and high-risk situations most likely to set you up for relapse.
- Pair each problem with a solution, a coping strategy for that high-risk situation. When your list is finished, make plans to learn new skills, develop new ways of thinking, and take concrete steps to keep your life in balance.
- Discuss your barriers with your sponsor and recovery support group. They can help you come up with additional coping strategies.
Keeping your life in balance is possible by keeping needs and wants on an even keel. Prayer and meditation, relaxation routines, and exercise are good ways to stay centered.
How can you start practicing these new behaviors and ways of thinking? Give yourself positive feedback when you’ve worked hard on your recovery, and understand that if you slip and use alcohol or other drugs again, it doesn’t have to lead to a fullblown relapse. There’s still time for you to step right back into your recovery. Don’t minimize all the progress you’ve made; just go right back to the Twelve Steps and start again. It’s as simple as that. Don’t give up on yourself and your chance at a healthy, happy life just because you make mistakes. Simply learn from them and plan to avoid them in the future.
Remember to work the Steps, utilize your sponsor and sober friends for support, and go to meetings. These things will help you let go of guilt and shame, receive support, and develop and maintain a healthy, happy outlook where you can enjoy the freedom and peace of sobriety.
Each time you overcome a recovery barrier, you will gain confidence. You will understand that you can face highrisk situations, you can cope, and you can resist relapse. You can take back your life.
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 site provides information and research on women and substance use disorders. The site also offers information on prevention and treatment.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA): The NIAAA site offers research on alcohol and women, information on prevention and treatment, and a list of workshops and meetings.