Is AA the only way for women to recover? Does recovery have to mean total abstinence? Are there aspects of AA that are harmful to women?
Those are some of the challenging questions in the new book by Gabrielle Glaser called: “Her Best-Kept Secret” and subtitled: “Why women drink and how they can regain control.”
Now maybe, like me, you immediately recognize that word “control” as a red flag. I went right to, “Whoa, wait a minute, recovery is not about getting control; its about giving up control.” And yes that’s some of the philosophy we have absorbed from participation in AA. But let’s remember that if we are active in AA we are, in fact, participating in a strict program that has a strong and specific philosophy.
This is a provocative and challenging book and I think, it’s a very good book. My caveat—though this would infuriate the author, is that I wouldn’t recommend this to a newcomer in AA—especially if they are starting to do well in the program. The book is to some degree anti-AA in that it discloses some of the flawed thinking inherent to the early program, some of our outrageously sexist history and some of our, “my way or you’ll die” single-mindedness.
If you are around and in recovery for along time you do come to meet enough people who have stopped drinking or eating or using drugs via methods and programs that are not twelve-step based. I am thrilled and grateful that twelve-step recovery worked for me and I always recommend it, but I no longer shame people who try other approaches or who change their addictions in other ways. I’m glad when people change their lives for the good whether they do it with AA, in their faith community, with the help of loving family and friends, or with direct medical assistance. That said, I am also an AA booster. A contradiction? Oh well.
The very good part of this book and why I do recommend this for folks in recovery is that Glaser has done her medical, historical and sociological homework. I was fascinated by how the wine industry moved table wine from a product few women would drink or serve at home in the 1940’s and 50’s to the drink that comes with socializing, cultish education and is the center piece of Mommy blogs. Ladies, we were targeted, shaped, persuaded and made into wine drinkers. Grab this book and read the chapters on wine and marketing to see again the power of Madison Avenue. Do you think learning about wine or having a taste for particular kinds of wine is all about you as an individual? Not so much. She also documents the increase in women’s drinking over the past two decades in all demographic categories. Alcohol consumption—addictive or not—is a women’s issue of great concern
Glaser is a good writer and a fierce fighter. As I read the book I had the sense that one too many friend tried to push her toward AA or she watched a friend disappear into what felt like our cultishness—and it can seem that way to someone outside our program. She’s pissed. But I strongly recommend this book to people in long-term recovery because we can stand to learn some of our own history and we can dissect the marketing and the romancing of early AA.
The best gift of a long recovery is the reclaiming of our own minds and intelligence and being able to tolerate feedback and criticism—whether directed at us or our beloved program.