Wednesday, October 04, 2006

I Got 9th-Stepped

This post might be slightly more confessional than is typical for me, so brace yourself. Or sit yourself right down, depending on what kind of post you like.

I have long-standing concerns that 12-step programs, while they work, are not the best we can do. And they certainly (in Andrea-world) aren't the best kind of recovery strategy for women. It starts right out with "we admit we are powerless over..." fill in the blank. Women already have deep and abiding understandings of reduced power; what vulnerable and addicted women need to do is reclaim power. Now that would be recovery and revolution.

You should bear in mind that people who are actually in the program typically dismiss my concerns. I have them anyway. (I am powerless over my concerns?) The whole enterprise starts to feel like a kind of aggression towards women. And it's the most insidious "we know what's best for you, dear" kind of aggression.

My concerns only broadened yesterday. I got mail from someone I haven't seen -or even really thought of- in years. We went to the same church and wandered around in the same slightly lefty circles. I remember him as being very nice and polite and gentlemanly and I remember authentically enjoying his company. But yesterday, I got mail from him apologizing to me for calling me a bitch years ago. Where my young daughter could hear. I assume that he's 9th-stepping, here. I don't really know that. It was the formulaic sentences that gave me that thought.

I didn't know he'd called me a bitch -or I'd blocked out the memory of it. And I must tell you, I was laid flat. Was I bitch? Am I bitch? What did I do to make him call me that in the first place?

Just listen to me -taking the blame for his actions! (Even though, without a question, I CAN be bitchy.) But what's the point of the 9th step, again? They say it is to take responsibility and to make amends -and to do it where doing so won't cause further harm. He drops this bombshell in my life (OK, it's a little bombshell; I'll live through this.) and moves on, convinced he can now pass go and collect $200?! Great, I get to hold his unexamined crap now. I feel terrible and he feels better. How is that not hostile behavior?

So, even women who are as[can we say scrappy rather than bitchy?] as I am are alarmingly willing to take blame that isn't theirs. I support all healing from addiction, however it happens. Recovery is just so hard, that if people are finding peace and strength in typical 12-step programs, I'm authentically delighted by that. I would like it, though, if that recovery didn't throw innocent bystanders into tailspins.

Understanding internalized oppression -whether from the victim's or the perpetrator's point of view- can be a powerful encourager of competence and mastery. It can help free people from addiction. Perhaps my former acquaintance needs to come up with a broader definition of recovery -a definition that respects strength and power in other people. And, if I was wrong in whatever encounter precipitated the name-calling, to name it more gently and in a more productive manner for both of us.

Is that too much to ask?


breadchick said...

I can not agree with you more on all your points about 12 Step Programs and how they are geared to (in another good touchy-feely term) feed the societal codependent pressures women already feel (and makes addiction that much harder to over come). And as for the "Bitch" word, why is it that when a man exhibits the same behaviour, he is told he has "balls" and when a woman does it she is a "bitch"? Don't even get me started about that....

Lianne Raymond said...

Oh, I hear ya, loud and clear. My in-laws are heavily involved in the AA and Al-anon organizations.