I’m home for a visit and I get to see my kids and some friends. I’m also going to drop in on the lone Women for Sobriety group in my home city. I decided this post should be a commercial for WFS because I am surprised that WFS groups have never achieved the kind of traction they should. I got this idea from my daughter’s girlfriend. I was telling her all the things I liked about WFS and she suggested a blog. So here it is!
I am not going to diss AA, but I will respond here to some common criticisms of AA and talk about why WFS might be an alternative. (This is directed at women, of course, but I’ll point out that WFS does have a Men for Sobriety branch.) I’ll also offer the very important caveat that I have not attended AA meetings. So, I’m just going from what some other people have told me has been a “put off” for them in AA. I’m agnostic on AA; I really can’t offer a personal opinion.
BUT well hey, the point is that if you are not into AA for whatever reason(s) here some reasons to think about WFS as an alternative. Because I do believe we need, need, need sober communities to stay sober, and it is great that there are alternatives.
AA Objection: I Don’t Like Dwelling on the Past
I know, I know. AA folks will immediately object that they do not encourage stuck-ed navel-gazing once you’ve done the grown-up work of accepting responsibility for dumb shit you’ve done in the past, and/or forgiven those you need to forgive. Nonetheless I expect that some AA meetings and members have trouble getting out of stuck, and that this may contribute to the perceptions (fair or unfounded) that AA is too much about remorse and regret.
In WFS, twelve steps are replaced with Thirteen Affirmations. The affirmations are written specifically to encourage women to think forward about building a new, positive life and self-image. In fact, the ninth statement explicitly stated: “The past is gone forever. No longer will I be victimized by the past. I am a new person.”
In my experience, this statement doesn’t preclude the work of reconciling past actions and relationships; it’s not like you’re chastised for talking about the past. Instead the statement is a reminder that we only have control over how we direct our lives in the future. Which kind of leads to the next objection:
AA Objection: I Don’t Do/Get/Like the “Higher Power” Thing
I have consistently stumbled over the idea that I am powerless over alcohol and have to give my power over to…yada yada. I get why you have to admit defeat in the sense that you quit the futile effort to “control your drinking,” but I’ve had some unease around the way that AA frames agency, or one’s personal power to act and change.
WFS affirmations address this by focusing on taking control over one’s life in positive ways. This is captured in the first statement, “I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.” I think this focus on assertive self-care may be especially important for women, who generally tend to give away a lot of their personal power in their focus on caring for others.
AA Objection: Guys
I have nothing against guys. I like guys, and I have no trouble attending my mixed-gender Buddhist recovery group. But, for some women, substance abuse issues are tied in to past or present traumas that may include sexual or domestic abuse or violence. Someone or something (I can’t remember) made the very valid point that as a women-only space, WFS may provide greater safety for women who have had traumatic experiences with men in their lives. I’ve also heard that some AA groups have difficult managing those members who think the meetings are a great place to meet women.
Something I really like about Women for Sobriety is its focus on the positive. I tend toward cynicism (I think its an occupational hazard), but its hard to stay cynical when a meeting discussion turns on something like the tenth affirmation, “All love given returns.
I will learn to know that others love me.” It’s possible that these affirmations can be interpreted as “Pollyanish.” However, meetings are, like AA, focused on a given statement/affirmation, so they are places you can explore any feelings they might prompt in you – even cynical ones.
I think it is also helpful that these affirmations are stated aloud among a community of other women. It’s more powerful than trying to say things to yourself in the bathroom mirror. If you’re someone like me who has a default loathing of affirmations saying these things out loud can be challenging, but… well it’s a good challenge.
If for whatever reason you’re not feeling AA, Women for Sobriety may be an option for you. If I still lived in my home town I’d be back at my group in a heartbeat. At the end of the day, though, you really do have to find the group that’s right for you. Some of the folks I’ve met at my Buddhist group have told me that the “culture” of AA varies considerably from one group to the next, so if you’ve been put off by a past experience with any group, don’t give up!