Why do women need Women for Sobriety? It has been estimated that of the 14.1 million alcohol abusers in the United States, approximately one third are women. That is a massive 4 to 5 million individuals. When we look at the different alcohol treatment programs available, there is very little options for women only.
There are differences between risks associated with alcoholism for women when compared to men. For example, women are at a higher risk for liver damage, heart disease and breast cancer when compared to men. Women who drink during pregnancy can put the fetus at risk for developing health concerns.
There is no discrimination, no bias toward one sex or the other, all are welcome to attend. Explicitly this may be so, but implicitly it has proved very different for many women.
When we consider research that has been done, there is no evidence that gender-specific treatment options have better outcomes for women compared to programs with men and women.
There is however, a clear preference among some women who prefer women only programs which can contribute to their engagement in the program which would hopefully provide better gains. The question would be, can the same findings be applied to self-help meetings?
There is a small number of alcohol treatment programs that do offer women’s only treatment programs, tend to be on the more expensive side and may or may not accept insurance as coverage.
The main issue WFS (Women For Sobriety) has with AA can be illustrated by comparing the second step of Alcoholics Anonymous with the first affirmation of Women for Sobriety:
· The Second Step
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
· The First Affirmation of WFS
I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life. I accept the responsibility.
One of the main tenets of AA's philosophy is that the recovering alcoholic needs to relinquish control, embrace humility and hand over to a 'power' outside of him or herself. Some identify God or another spiritual figure as their higher power, while others do not. The Big Book does reference God throughout, the belief in God is not a requirement.
Understandably a majority of women alcoholics feel alienated by this notion; many women have been powerless all their lives. They have exerted no control over in any sphere of life and have been subject to the whims of men.
This could be due to the environment they were raised in or experiences they had. Childhood experiences with abuse and neglect can contribute to this feeling as well.
For many women, their very powerlessness has been one of the causes of their drinking. That is why, as seen in the first affirmation above, those in WFS do not look outside themselves for the power to defeat alcoholism. Inner strength and determination are the key.
By having a focus on inner strength, participants are given the opportunity to work on the underlying concerns that led to their feelings of powerlessness. Many find this to be empowering and encouraging them to improve the relationship that they have for themselves.
Thus is not to say WFS is anti-AA. In the 1990s a survey revealed that one third of women who went to WFS group meetings also regularly attended AA meetings.
WFS is an additional tool that women can add to their toolbox for recovery.
There are many similarities between the two groups:
· Both advocate complete abstention from alcohol
· Both have group meetings in which members support, share and learn from one another
· Both are non-profit making, relying on donations and sales of books for funding
· Both have at their core a list of essential 'truths' or 'commandments' (For AA the 12 steps and for WFS, the 13 affirmations)
· Neither has a central figure at their head, meetings follow similar patterns but are essentially autonomous
Where WFS differs from AA:
Women for Sobriety was set up by Jean Kirkpatrick in 1975 after suffering from alcoholism for many years. Having tried AA and other treatments for her condition, she seemed a lost cause.
But then she began to read Ralph Waldo Emerson and more specifically his essay 'Self-Reliance'. From Emerson's writings and those of other thinkers she began to deal with alcohol by first dealing with her thoughts.- she realized negative thoughts/feelings led to negative action (in her case drinking). By applying this theory she was able to control and eventually quit drinking altogether.
With her new found knowledge and technique, Jean Kirkpatrick set in motion what was to eventually become Women for Sobriety. An alcoholic self-help group that promotes the power of the individual to overcome alcoholism rather than an outside power.
This is, at least in my opinion, the central tenet of the WFS not the fact that it is only open to women. This is reflected in the fact that a separate group has now been set up called MFS, Men For Sobriety utilizing Jean Kirkpatrick's recovery ideal.
This program encourages:
· increased self-esteem
These qualities can be realized by repeating the 13 affirmations every day when you wake (self-reinforcement).
1. I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life. I accept the responsibility.
2. Negative thoughts destroy only myself.
My first conscious act must be to remove negativity from my life.
3. Happiness is a habit I will develop.
Happiness is created, not waited for.
4. Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to.
I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me.
5. I am what I think.
I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.
6. Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.
7. Love can change the course of my world.
Caring becomes all important.
8. The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.
Daily I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities.
9. The past is gone forever.
No longer will I be victimized by the past, I am a new person.
10. All love given returns.
I will learn to know that others love me.
11. Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.
I treasure all moments of my new life.
12. I am a competent woman and have much to give life.
This is what I am and I shall know it always.
13. I am responsible for myself and for my actions.
I am in charge of my mind, my thoughts, and my life.
Group meetings are also an essential part of the program. These groups are used for much the same reason as they are in AA. That is a place for members to share their stories of, struggles with, and recovery from, alcoholism. It offers a place for women to connect with each other and build their sober support network.
Other options available through the WFS program is phone support and online support. Women For Sobriety have a presence on several social media outlets, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Having multiple different avenues to access support can be convenient in times that make it difficult to travel to meetings.
Some women may find that they are able to share more in a WFS meeting compared to an AA meeting due to the group being only women. For some, having this underlying commonality can help develop a sense of similarity and safety in the group.
WFS Literature is available through the official WFS website, and the brochures give you a good idea of what the program involves and how to access it.
There is also an online aspect to Women for Sobriety, called WFS Online. Due to the small number of WFS groups this is a very useful tool for women who can't get to meetings for whatever reason. You have to register with the site first and approval can take some time. Patience is the key.
If you are interested in learning more about alcoholism in women, this link can be a helpful resource.
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