THE DEMONESS DRINK

 

ARE women who become dependent on alcohol driven by particularly female demons? Prof Anthony Clare, medical director, St Patrick's Hospital, Dublin, believes they are: "Many women who are remorselessly haunted by the past, mutilate the present and erode the future. Primary alcoholism problems arising from nowhere in particular are much less common in women.

"Many women who have trouble with alcohol seem to have to overcome relationship problems difficult child parent issues, child abuse. When they stop the drinking, they may be faced with a lot of misery, disharmony and problems. I began to feel that women need their own organisation, and this seemed to be the one that reflected the concerns these women had."

He was speaking at the first anniversary last month of Women for Sobriety, a self help organisation set up for and by women alcoholics. So how do women who abuse alcohol differ from men who so do? And, at a time when female admissions for alcohol addiction are rising, has the new all women approach something important to offer?

Women for Sobriety (WFS) was pioneered in America by Dr Jean Kirkpatrick who had a 27 year battle with problem drinking.

Researching the subject, she found that recovery rates for male alcoholics were higher than for females, leading to assumptions that women were less co operative. Dr Kirkpatrick saw it differently. She began to believe that while the physiological recovery is the same for both sexes, women have particular psychological and emotional needs, and so may need a different kind of recovery programme.

She developed a programme for women based on a personal development model. Attendance is open to anyone who has not drunk alcohol in the previous 24 hours, and abstinence is the ultimate goal, rather than a return to controlled drinking. The organisation sees itself as complementary to AA, and some women attend both groups.

A WFS group is small, typically six to eight women, and meets once a week. At its heart are 13 affirming statements designed to build up esteem, self confidence and encourage emotional and spiritual growth. Each group works slowly through each statement, discussing and reflecting on what it means for each woman.

Typical statements are: "I am what I think", "I am a competent man and I have much to give life" and "The past is gone forever".

As an approach, it may sound deceptively simple.

Vivienne Lee is a vibrant 36 year old. She stopped drinking at the age of 21. "Giving up alcohol was relatively easy, but it left me in a tremendous void of deep anxiety, loneliness and low self esteem. I thought I was ugly and stupid with nothing to offer. I was hospitalised twice for depression. I longed for my life to end, I said to my doctor: `If I was a horse, they would shoot me'."

"Three years ago I began to look at my life. I was a single parent with a teenage daughter, I had a good job, I had brought her up, I had never lost a job, I was doing a university degree, I owned my own home, I had good family and friends. My thinking was totally wrong, I begun change the way I thought".

She was very ready for the WFS philosophy and has made strides since becoming involved. "I would walk to work saying I am a competent woman and have much to give life. My shoulders would go back and my head come up. Gradually I came to believe it. We all have a script we have written for ourselves, a tape we play in our head. But faulty thinking can be overcome and corrected. Today I am making choices, I am choosing to have a happy and healthy life, fun and laughter is a huge thing with me. I am no longer a victim."

Frances Nugent stopped drinking 20 years ago, and has been a prime mover in promoting, Women for Sobriety in Ireland. She works as a group volunteer in St Patrick's Hospital: "Being an alcoholic doesn't let you off the hook, you still have to live your life."

Sitting with a group of women in WFS, gender specific issues relating to alcohol prevention, the experiences of being an alcoholic and going through rehabilitation emerge again and again. Very many women, it seems, begin to drink to numb the pain of early childhood, and find out too late that the cure becomes the toxin.

"Child sex abuse is something that comes up regularly at meetings, not for every woman but a significant minority," says Jane who facilitates a group in north Dublin. "It is referred to in Jean Kirkpatrick's literature. If not abuse, there may be neglect. Self esteem is also a large factor. A lot of women don't have self esteem, it is the way society treats women in general, you are not encouraged to speak up."

Secondly, because women are regarded as mothers and nurturers, women with drinking problems may have to run the gauntlet of a particularly judgmental society. Often there will be far less support for the woman drinker from her partner than if the roles were reversed.

"The experience of women when drinking is different than for men," said WFS member Helen. "Women have often placed themselves in a compromising position when they are in a state of drunkenness, it is easier to discuss this with an all woman group.

It was felt that women alcoholics are often perfectionists very hard on themselves: "There are huge expectations put on women to be the nurturers, the moral arbiters of society," says Vivienne, Lee. "Women drinkers are still judged differently. A drunken woman is a disgrace, a drunken man is one of the lads, it's double standards all the way."

Finally, women in recovery may need the safety of women only groups. Love, stories begin in AA as well as Zhivago's it seems, but many of the former are ill fated. Hard earned experience has shown that a vulnerable man, [and woman meeting in AA could begin a relationship too soon, which could be destructive and harmful to both. When this happens, some of the unhappy ever after stories recounted piled tragedy on top of tragedy, and are another reason why the WFS organisation is being promoted in some alcohol treatment centres.

Prof Anthony Clare, who says, he is still waiting on a national policy on alcohol, welcomes the advent of WFS in Ireland. "Other, countries have a national policy which may include control one selling, control on young drinking, but despite promises from, government ministers, we have nothing here as yet."

IN a separate development, Horizon House, an aftercare facility for women coming out of treatment for drink or prescription drug addiction will open soon in Barna, Galway, it will be a bridge between home and hospital, and a resource for women who want to restructure their lives.

The programme includes personal development, and the rebuilding of self esteem and self confidence through assertiveness and life skills training. There will also be an abuse survivor programme.

"Research has shown that up to 70 per cent of women in treatment for drink and drug related problems are adult survivors of incest and/or child abuse, says director Carmel O Dwyer Campbell. She is a psychiatric nurse who conquered her own alcohol addiction 20 years ago.

Why a woman only facility? "Such women have special needs. There is usually a loss of morals/values and feelings of inadequacy and neglect with respect to children. By, working in women only groups with women only staff, the comfort level and the freedom to, speak unencumbered greatly aid in the healing process.