Dr. Patsy Staddon is a medical sociologist at Plymouth University who researches women’s alcohol use and abuse. In this week’s Big Issue she gives a personal and professional perspective on alcoholism and the many possible approaches to recovery. Her route into academic research of this topic came through her own alcoholism and recovery. Like those that dismiss the government’s apparent abstinence only approach to drug use, Patsy takes issue with the disease model of alcoholism.
“I wanted to write about my recovery from alcohol addiction because in so many stories that I read and hear, the person who has recovered has a picture of himself or herself as a person with a flaw – a person who could descend in degradation again at any time, and whose survival depends upon retaining the view that ‘once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’.
I respect the views of people who see alcohol addiction in this way, but I came to see recovery differently, based on my own experience and the experiences of women who became involved in my research, and who joined a ‘survivor group’ that we started together.”
Having started drinking as a shy teenager, Patsy always liked drinking. She “loved alcohol because with it [she] felt more able to be [herself]“. Nevertheless, alcoholism crept up on her gradually. In her twenties a young family and a lack of money made a drinking a luxury but her addiction progressed until at 44 she was homeless and begging for money for drink. Living in an abandonded building but spending nearly as much time in her local accident and emergency unit.
It was at this point that the friendship of a hospital porter and a recovery program from her local NHS day centre began to turn her own life around. Nevertheless, she has issues with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) approach.
“I found some aspects helpful – in particular the one-to-one counselling and the art therapy.
But the AA meetings and the 12-step approach had me in despair. How could I accept seeing myself as diseased, forever needing to be in recovery, never a fully acceptable member of society?”
Her own recovery lead to a degree in sociology and then a doctorate in which she studied the experience of women with alcoholism. Many were using alcohol as means of escape from problems with domestic abuse and depression. The AA programme wasn’t helping them. Later Patsy set up her own Women’s Independent Alcohol Support. Now aged 67, a visiting fellow at Plymouth, an active campaigner on alcohol issues and director of a service-user group Shaping Our Lives, she feels the there is no single ‘magic formula’ but that
“Shame is the enemy of and everyone’s road to recovery will be different”
Quoted and paraphrased from The Big Issue Monday, 10 January 2011. The Big Issue don’t have an online version for obvious reasons so I urge you to go out and buy a copy to read the original article.
- Another Perspective On Women And Addiction [From The Commentariat] (jezebel.com)
- The effects of Alcoholics Anonymous on women returning from prison (physorg.com)
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