“The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist, nor to any one organization, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist.
A Remarkable Woman in Recovery History – Marty Mann
With a privileged upbringing in Chicago in the early 1900’s, Marty was known for her ability to “hold her drink” in social gatherings, but despite her apparent personal and professional success, her drinking began to spiral out of control. After at least one known attempt to take her own life, Marty sought treatment and joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1939, when there were still only two chapters of AA in the world.
Although other women had joined AA already, Marty became the first-ever woman to achieve lasting sobriety through the program.
In her recovery, Marty did incredible work that influenced the recovery landscape in a way that we can still appreciate to this day.
- Originally called Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism, it was Marty who renamed The Big Book that 12-step programs across the world still use today.
- She also penned the chapter “Women Suffer Too”, included in the 2nd to 4th (and current) editions of the book.
- She helped to tackle the stigma around addiction through promoting the “disease model” of addiction, drastically influencing our understanding of addiction today as not being a moral failing, but a condition that needs treatment.
- Marty helped to found the Yale School of Alcoholic Studies (now at Rutgers) and organized what is now known as the NCADD: the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Another incredible woman in recovery history, Lois W. (wife of Bill W. who co-founded AA) is discussed on our Kennedy Street Recovery podcast this month.
Equal But Unique – The Difference in Men’s & Women’s Recovery
Historically, addiction rates among men were much higher than among women, but in recent years this has not been the case. However, there may be reasons for this gap, including the fact that until recently, women would often be diagnosed with physical or mental health issues without doctors ever asking about their levels of drinking, or because the cultural expectations of men and women are so different. But there are also some important differences that should be considered when it comes to the progression of addictions and the approaches to recovery.
Did you know?
The female body processes alcohol and substancesdifferently
Meaning that women drinking the same amount as men may have a higher blood alcohol level and be more susceptible to its effects and related damage.
Connection and community are vital in recovery, and female brains are hardwired for it
Even in the womb, the communication centres in the brain develop differently for men and women. Women’s natural tendencies to develop connections and relationships with others on a similar journey are a key asset in recovery.
Women and men often respond well to different approaches to recovery
Women often respond best to a supportive and relational approach, recognising the high levels of guilt and shame many women have in seeking help.
This might include:
- empowerment vs compliance
- working on self-reliance vs reliance on others
- a program based on action vs feelings
- practicing self-care vs focusing care on others
Women experience certain issues at a higher rate than men, which need to be addressed in recovery
This can include:
- food/body issues
- lower self-esteem
- mood issues (that may be linked to hormonal changes)
- high levels of stress or anxiety
- relationship or intimacy issues
- trauma (that may be a result of sexual or other abuse),
- desire to reduce sexual inhibitions
- tendencies to “self-medicate”
- feelings of shame/guilt
The fact that women in our society are still often expected to be care-takers – responsible for taking care of their children, husbands, households, appearance – at a far higher standard than men may have something to do with society’s perception of women and addiction.
Often when it comes to women and addiction, much of the conversation is focused on issues of motherhood and pregnancy. Are women who are battling addiction more harshly judged, deemed as failures, for not keeping up to the standards society sets for a “real woman”? Is society more accepting, tolerant of and sympathetic to men struggling with addiction? This may be true for many women, and these standards and judgements can be internalized, causing guilt and shame that stop them from reaching out for help.
Other barriers to help may include lower wages or income, childcare responsibilities or the fear of losing their children, or lack of access to appropriate support.
This is why it is important we continue to #BreakTheBias especially when it comes to recovery.
Supporting Women In Recovery Today
At Kennedy Street, we always want to celebrate the amazing women choosing recovery, and help more women find the recovery support that’s right for them. On International Women’s Day this year, we hosted a Celebrate Women in Recovery party, with incredible guest speakers sharing their stories and what they’ve achieved in their recovery. We are so grateful to all who attended and shared, including Soul Analyse, who gifted our guests with some of their gorgeous affirmation jewellery.
We offer a weekly Women’s Recovery Connects Group at Africa House in Brighton for women interested in learning more about recovery and what recovery support is available in the area. More details here.
You can also contact our Recovery Helpline on 020 3416 3643 (9am-9pm) to speak to one of our team who can help you find the right support to start your recovery journey.