Rhetoric, ritual, and recovery

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Rhetoric, ritual, and recovery story telling in Alcoholics Anonymous and women's need for a separate place
Hawkins, Carol Ann
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xviii, 169 leaves : ; 29 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Women alcoholics -- Case studies ( lcsh )
Sexism in communication ( lcsh )
Sexism in communication ( fast )
Women alcoholics ( fast )
Case studies. ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )
Case studies ( fast )


Includes bibliographical references.
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Arts, English.
Statement of Responsibility:
by Carol Ann Hawkins.

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Source Institution:
University of Colorado Denver
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Auraria Library
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All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
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28478202 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L54 1992m .H38 ( lcc )


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RHETORIC, RITUAL, AND RECOVERY; STORYTELLING IN ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS AND WOMEN'S NEED FOR A SEPARATE PLACE by Carol Ann Hawkins B.A., Montana State University, 1988 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment. of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts English 1992


This thesis for the Master of Arts degree by Carol Ann Hawkins has been approved for the Department of English Sheila Shannon Catherine Wiley Date


Hawkins, Carol A. (M.A., English) Rhetoric, Ritual, and Recovery: Storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous and Women's Need for a Separate Place Thesis directed by Associate Professor Liz HampLyons ABSTRACT This study looks at storytelling in Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) and in a community of women from A.A. who formed a separate group. The central questions that guided the study were whether or not women's stories were heard in A.A. meetings, and if so, were they different from men's stories. Women were noted as conforming to the discourse of the A.A. community to gain acceptance into the group; therefore, many of their stories were similar to the men's stories. Some women in A.A., however, expressed their need for a separate place--a place to tell the stories they either couldn't or wouldn't tell in A.A. Four different A.A. meetings were observed by the author who is also a seven-year member of the A.A. community. She weaves her own


story throughout this study and plays an active role as both participant and observer. The methodology used to gather and record these stories is one of "conscious partiality" in which the author is not only a participant/observer, but also politically committed to eXposing the minority position of women in the A.A. community. The women's group evolved as a result of the findings in the A.A. study; and, as with the A.A. group, the women's group was observed and notes recorded over the course of four different meetings. In those meetings, women talked about shame, anger, hurt, and pain. They also talked about body image, relationships, feminism, gossip, sex, and incest. Their stories are recorded in the order in which they were told and reveal that most of these women are the victims of childhood abuse at the hands of an alcoholic man, either grandfather, father, or brother. These connections to alcoholic men help to explain their need for a separate place away from A.A. The women's stories also raise an important question about language and contexts. How can women with a history of abuse by alcoholic men be


expected to enter an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, become open, honest, and vulnerable, and get well? This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I v


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The work that went into this project involved some very special people. To Sharon, Sandy, Jackie, Rita, and Tanya {you know who you are), thank you for sharing your most precious gift with me--your stories. To my friends in A.A., thank you for your trust, support, and love over the years. I know for many of you, listening to me question A.A. was not easy. To my faculty committee, thank you for your open-mindedness in receiving this project. I would like to express gratitude to Dr. John Lofty for his sensitivity to my needs as a scholar and human being. I also want to recognize Dr. Catherine Wiley who agreed to join my committee late in the process and offered her insights and support. To my teacher and friend, Dr. Sheila Shannon, thank you for your openness and accessibility. My trust in you gave me the courage to tell my own story. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Liz Hamp-Lyons. Liz gently and quietly moved me along the process, from the initial excitement of my topic, to the crisis of my discoveries, to getting me back on track again and-


offering some new directions that proved fruitful. She not only saved my research, she saved my sanity. Thank you Liz. Finally, I want to thank my family. Thank you dad, Charles w. Hawkins, for your wisdom, sensitivity, and pride in my academic accomplishments. Although you didn't live long enough to see me graduate from a university, I know you're watching and guiding my steps. To my mother, Norma Jean, thank you for listening even when you didn't understand just what it was I was up to in graduate school. You have nurtured me and my children through this project. To my sister, Barb, who stands behind her barber's chair and brags about her sister in college to her customers (as only a sister can), you have no idea what your love and recognition of my work means to me. Finally, to my children, Shannan and Dawn, who often sacrificed having a mother while she was off taking a class, typing a paper, or doing research somewhere, thank you for your quiet acceptance and for never asking me to stop. vii


PREFACE CHAPTER CONTENTS . . . . . 1. INTRODUCTION Purpose of the Study Methods Settings Alcoholics Anonymous The Women's Group Background . Alcoholics Anonymous The Women's Group 2. OBSERVATIONS Alcoholics Anonymous A.A. Storytelling Meeting one. Meeting two. Meeting three. Meeting four X 19 27 28 35 36 37 38 39 42 45 45 58 62 69 72 78 Comments on A.A. Storytelling 82 /


3. 4. The Women's Group Sharon Sandy . Jackie . The Women's Meetings Meeting one. Meeting two. Meeting three. Meeting four. COMPARING A.A. STORYTELLING WITH THE WOMEN'S STORIES ... CLOSING COMMENTS APPENDIX 88 92 93 95 96 98 108 114 139 148 156 A. The Twelve Steps 164 B. The Twelve Traditions 166 WORKS CITED . . . . 168 ix


PREFACE The questions that guide this study began in 1984 when I attended my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I was immediately uncomfortable with the language: words like "powerless," and phrases like "God as we understood Him." The A.A. texts were dated and seemed to be written by men and for men. Many passages were difficult for me to connect with because I am a woman. For example, the basic text of A.A., Alcoholics Anonymous, reads: "As soon as a man can say that he does believe, or is willing to believe, we emphatically assure him that he is on his way" (p. 47). I couldn't help but question. I was told by members in the A.A. community not to question. If I did have doubts about the A.A. community, it was my disease talking, a common symptom called "denial." I quickly learned that it would be best if I just "shut up and listened." So I did for the first year or two, attending meetings irregularly but always returning out of fear of a "slip." Again, I was told that the most common circumstance for a slip (the return to drinking) was


when alcoholics quit going to meetings. I tried to believe everything the A.A. group told me and followed the rules of "the program" to the best of my abilities. Still, I had doubts about whether or not I was an alcoholic. I didn't know who I was. I began my own journey towards self discovery through the pen long before I entered A.A. Writing helped me to quit smoking pot, deal with my depression, and come to terms with my feelings. My writing began as letters written without an audience. I was writing to myself, but I still had not idea who I was. When I began to feel more in touch with myself, the letters slowly turned into poems, short rhymes that helped me to focus on my thoughts. Through poetry I was able to apply structure, rhythm, and sound to my inner world. It was my new love of poetry that led me to study the English language and other genres: literature, literary theory, rhetoric, and composition. The active pursuit of my studies at the university, however, only complicated my ambivalence toward the A.A. language. xi


Meanwhile, I had since moved from Montana to Denver where I was attending A.A. meetings regularly for the first time in my "recovery." Seven years into my association with A.A, I found myself having to choose a topic for my thesis. I wanted to study writing and healing. This topic eventually brought me closer to the A.A. group. I knew many people in A.A. who wrote as part of their recovery process and I hoped to talk to people about their writing and gather some writing samples. I attempted to work the program as it was meant to be worked: by going to meetings, sponsoring newcomers, donating time to service work, and studying the A.A. text nicknamed "The Big Book." Slowly I began to "act as if" my doubts and questions no longer existed. Eventually, I got to a point where I had become completely indoctrinated into the program. Then something happened. I began to change my perspective, a change that left me feeling not only ambivalent but threatened in the A.A. community. I talked to people I knew in A.A. about my topic of writing and healing and they were xii


supportive. Many volunteered to share their writing with me. I conducted interviews and collected writing samples. I listened attentively at meetings for those voices that said they had to "write about it" when faced with problems, anxieties, fears, etc. I was on my way to gathering some interesting stories that related writing to healing. As I was listening to the "talking stories" I began to wonder. Why did it seem as if mostly men were telling their stories? Of course, I already knew that most meetings were made up of a majority of men, sometimes twenty men to three women. Yet, even if men did make up the majority at meetings, when women were given opportunities to tell their stories, I was sure they would tell them differently than the men. After all, men were known to "talk the talk" but women talked more about their feelings. My assumptions were only half right. Men were "talking the talk," but women weren't talking about their feelings. I became troubled, angry, and confused. I was redirected by new questions xiii


about men and women storytellers in A.A. It was then that I knew I couldn't approach the topic of writing and healing until I first focused on my questions about the storytelling of men and women in A.A. meetings. I used my questions to write part of my title: "Rhetoric, Ritual, and Recovery: A Look at Language in A.A." I took this title with me to the English Department and presented it to a few trusted faculty. I said I wanted to explore language in A.A. from a feminist perspective and I knew to do so may involve telling my own story. I was nervous about losing my own anonymity and credibility within the English Department and among my fellow graduate students. I was fearful of the anonymity issues I may be breaking within the A.A. community as well. So many things were pulling at me not to do this study, but something stronger was pulling me in another direction. I had a story to tell. This study then shifted from writing texts to oral texts. The "talk stories" in A.A. had to be told first before I could explore any written texts xiv


produced by members in this community. Consequently, I attended my regular noon A.A. meeting with a different set of eyes and ears--those of a participant/observer. It became burdensome. I felt like a spy within my own community. I wasn't listening the same way I had been listening in the past, keeping my ears open in the hopes that someone would tell my story. Instead I was listening to hear the answers to my questions about whether or not men and women in A.A. told their stories differently. The more I listened, the more alienated I felt. I wasn't hearing my story, nor did I hear women talking about their feelings. Instead, the women often sounded like the men. Most of the women I heard speak at meetings (which were few compared to the men) quoted the texts, talked the A.A. jargon, and used abstract language when referring to incidents in their lives. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Even my own contribution to discussions in A.A. meetings were stories told in A.A. rhetoric for the purpose of being accepted by the group. XV


I went to my committee chair and a former committee member. I expressed my anxiety over the observations that I had made. Not only were the stories I heard homogenized texts that fit the A.A. format, but I was feeling more and more distant from the group. I was no longer a participant and I could no longer be an observer. I didn't want to go back to A.A. All of the doubts I had ever had about the program were magnifying and glaring in my face every time I entered that smoke-filled room of alcoholics. I didn't belong. I was an outsider, maybe even a traitor because I was questioning the whole dynamics of "talk" as it took place in the A.A. meetings. My questions included how people were chosen to speak, howtopics were established, how men told stories, how women told stories, and why all of the talk had to be so abstract and full of A.A. jargon. I wanted to hear my story but didn't. I also wanted to tell my story but couldn't--not in A.A. meetings. I questioned whether or not this was a safe place for me to be. If I no longer belonged in A.A. then where did I xvi


belong? I felt like I had hit bottom again. I reacted as I had with all of the other losses in my life, I sunk into a deep depression. I told my committee that whether I was alcoholic or not, I was afraid that I may get drunk over this study. Thanks to my committee chair, Liz Hamp-Lyons, I didn't find it necessary to pick up a bottle of wine at the grocery store. I also didn't have to abandon my research. Instead, together we began to explore alternatives for continuing with this topic, but perhaps in a different context. Liz asked whether or not any other women in A.A. may be feeling the same way as me, particularly about telling our stories in A.A. meetings. I answered that I knew of some women who did feel some resistance to A.A., its dominant gender, and its From there a new women's meeting was formed. Three women and I began to meet at my house once a week. The format, topics, and stories grew and changed as each meeting progressed. Even the participants changed. I never knew from one meeting to the next what would take place, what we'd talk about, or how the meeting xvii


would end. The meeting place was fertile ground where most of the women felt safe and willing to grow. The growth they experienced was through the telling of their stories, the stories they couldn't tell and wouldn't tell in an A.A. meeting. Because of the organic process of storytelling that took place in the women's meeting, it was important for me to present the stories as they were told and in the order that they were told. Each meeting seemed to grow from the meeting before, until each woman opened up, like a rose bud that was finally ready to bloom. The A.A. meetings required the same presentation and were told in chronological order. Although A.A. meetings were very different from the women's meetings, I felt the need to retell the stories in the order that I heard them. After all, it was my observations of the progression of talk in the A.A. meetings that led to the formation of the women's group. xviii


The effective use of language is its means of thwarting powerlessness, victimization, and illiteracy. It's an alternative to losing. William Coles CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Language is more than just words on a page, spoken utterances in a dialogue, and meditations of the mind. Language has multiple definitions. Language explored in this study is viewed as a powerful reflection of who we are, what we think, and how we feel. It is the representation of our experiences. Language, however, does not lead automatically to reflective, abstract thought (Sigel & Cocking, 1977). In order for reflection to occur, the oral and written forms of language must pass back and forth between persons who both speak and listen or read and write--sharing, expanding, and reflecting on each other's experiences (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986, p. 26). This study began as a personal reflection on my own life. Seven years ago I entered a twelve-step program. I was led to this program after fifteen years of using drugs, particularly pot, to deal with depression. I didn't see myself as someone


chronically depressed until I began to reflect on my life in a twelve-step group. Most of my focus had been on my husband's alcoholism. His behavior did not mirror mine (so I thought). I went to work, took care of the children, and attended classes at the local community college. These daily tasks became more difficult, however, as my pot smoking increased. I turned to drugs in order to avoid my feelings of anxiety, hurt, betrayal, and abandonment. During this time, my husband's drinking had also increased. I finally asked him to leave after many nights of his not coming home, losing his job, and not-so-secret affairs with other women. I remember how depressed I was. All I did was cry. My children, especially my oldest daughter, begged me to stop. My pot smoking was racing to keep ahead of my depression. It reached a point where my oldest daughter and I reversed roles and she became the caretaker. She looked after her younger sister while I was preoccupied with her father, whom I let back into the house after his pleas for forgiveness and promises to reform. 20


We moved to a new state in an attempt to start over. It was the fourth state in ten years. His drinking continued and I eventually went to an Alanon meeting to try and learn how to cope. Alanon told me I had to be 110K11 whether the alcoholic was drinking or not. I thought they were crazy. I wasn't capable of such detachment. They read to me The Twelve Steps (see Appendix A) they had adopted from A.A., but the language they used was foreign to me: words like "powerlessness" and "unmanageability.11 Sharing my story in a group was also terrifying. My past was full of empty spaces that my memory couldn't fill. What I did remember of my story was too painful to recite in front of a group. I quit going to Alanon. I also quit smoking pot. Shortly afterwards, my husband entered a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center. The counselors there wanted to interview me as part of the in-take process. They asked me a series of questions that dealt with my own drug and alcohol use. I answered as honestly as I could, but reality was as close as the nearest star and the questions were difficult to 21


answer. I told them about smoking pot regularly over the past ten years, but that I had quit. I was drinking more, however, picking up a bottle of wine at the grocery store just in case I had a rough day and needed a glass or two to help me sleep. To my surprise, they suggested I go through the six-week, outpatient program with my husband. I did. If Jim Jones would have asked me to go to a nice quiet retreat in a remote jungle with him and a few friends, I would have gone there too. I was ready to try anything. Life had become that difficult for me. Part of the rehabilitation program was to attend A.A. meetings every Tuesday night. This was my beginning in Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. is self described as "a fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength, and hope with each other so they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism." The talk that goes on in an A.A. meeting is the telling of stories; alcoholics getting together to talk about their lives before, during, and after drinking: 22


"what it was like, what happened, and what it's like now." In the beginning, I participated in A.A. on an irregular basis, finding myself withdrawing time and time again and not attending meetings at all. I was afraid of the group, particularly the idea of being vulnerable in front of men alcoholics. I would eventually return to A.A., but not without continued hesitation. While attending A.A. meetings, I was also an undergraduate student majoring in English at Montana State University. My studies focused on the dynamics of language and all its complexities. I learned about the history of rhetoric, the development of style, organic forms of poetry, and the critical theories of texts. I learned that when writing academic discourse, jargon, slogans, and cliched language were avoided. I read texts from a feminist perspective to expose and revise the predominate patriarchal language. The troublesome male pronouns were commonplace and excluded half of the human race--women. Unfortunately, the attempts to revise the patriarchal language in the academy 23


did not take place in the A.A. community. The cliches, slogans, jargon, and sexist language are beyond reproach and carefully guarded by A.A. fundamentalists--those who seek to preserve the language in its present form and interpret its meaning literally. In order to accommodate the language of A.A., I tried not to "intellectualize" the rhetoric. I was told to listen with my heart and not with my head. I replaced all the male pronouns with pronouns of my own. I found many opportunities to practice this method of substitution. Although I tried not to be sensitive to the dominance of men and male rhetoric, my private questioning of the A.A. language continued. Occasionally I shared my feelings about the language in A.A. with some of my closest A.A. friends. But I always feared rejection if I sounded too much like an "angry feminist." I was often told that "my problem" was that I was over-analyzing and the best thing I could do for myself would be to "Keep it Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.)." I tried to take this well-meaning advice, but I found it more 24


and more difficult to attend A.A. meetings. Seven years later, as I began to work on this study, I realized I was still sensitive to the dominance of men and male language in A.A. meetings. I was weary of A.A. texts that were written to men, by men, and for men alcoholics. I needed time away from the program to deal with my confusion--a confusion that was painfully turning into anger. I didn't know what was happening to me, but I knew I had to talk about it. I kept asking myself if I was losing my objectivity or if I was really only hearing men's stories in A.A. meetings. For years I had waited and searched for my story--the story of a woman alcoholic that didn't sound like a retold version of the men's stories. I never heard my story. Where were the women's stories? Where was my story? I knew something was missing, but I wasn't sure what it was. My study of A.A. turned into an attempt to find out what was missing for me and to answer these questions. As a result of my confusion and anger, I quit going to A.A. meetings. A few weeks later, I 25


received a call from a woman friend in the program. She asked why I hadn't been to any A.A. meetings lately. I told her the questions I had been asking myself about A.A. Reluctantly, I also told her that I wasn't getting my needs met in A.A. To my surprise, she validated my feelings and said there was something missing for her in A.A. too. Feeling safe to share what I was hearing, I told her how I couldn't connect with the stories that were told in A.A. They seemed too abstract, rehearsed, and replicated after the stories of "old-timers" in the group (who were mostly men). We both talked about new issues that were surfacing in our lives, issues that could be traced back to our early childhoods. The need to talk was great, but we both knew that A.A. was not the place to talk about topics other than alcoholism. We decided to form a small auxiliary group outside of A.A.--a place where women could meet in safety to talk about "what was going on" in their lives now that the alcohol was gone. 26


Purpose of the Study Originally, my plan for this thesis was only to focus on the language of Alcoholics Anonymous. But out of my personal experience in A.A. and my study of an A.A. group came the formation and study of a women's group. My experience had already taught me that the prescriptive language of A.A. was followed closely at meetings when telling one's story, but I wondered if men followed this prescription more than women. If men and women did tell the same stories at A.A. meetings, using the same language, then the women's meeting would provide a place to study language that was free of rhetorical rules and controlled topics, a place where women could share their original stories, the (m)other stories that led them to A.A. in the first place. (The term (m)other story is borrowed from Garner, Kahane, and Sprengnether's text by the same name, 1984.) These (m)other stories, as they are referred to in this study, are stories told by women that could not be told in the open A.A. meetings. Instead, women needed a separate place to talk, listen, and 27


discover the origins of their pain and addictions. These women needed a female society that was closed to men. I wondered what stories the women would tell. What were their (m)other stories? What language would they use to tell them? Would the women find the group a safe place to tell their (m)other stories? These questions framed my observations of the women's group. In the process of answering them, I hoped to paint a self portrait by discovering more about my own (m)other story. Methods This is a naturalistic study of language as it occurs in the context of day to day activities in an A.A. meeting and a women's meeting. I have observed the communities as the central texts, and its members as the main characters. My goal is to read the texts and get to know the characters. The shape and characteristics of the narratives will eventually unfold. I will describe what I hear and see in the meetings, looking for language patterns, explaining why these patterns occur, paying 28


particular attention to the differences between men's and women's stories and the use of language in these very different settings. This study is not meant to be a classic A.A. ethnography; it does not attempt to outline the full complexity of A. A. language and structure. My purpose was to observe the storytelling and to see if men tell the majority of stories, and, if so, whether or not their stories were different from the women's stories. While it was difficult to play two different roles, that of the participant and that of the observer, my hope was to develop the ability to maintain a dual identity, insider and outsider, and to represent authentically the experiences of the people being studied (Wax, 1971). It may be important to note that while participating in both groups, the observations of the A.A. meetings took place prior to the observations of the women's meeting. At the time I observed the A.A. meetings, the women's group had not yet formed. Employing what Dueli-Klien calls the conscious partiality of feminist methodology, (1979) I have 29


tried to make it clear that my interests are in answering the questions I have raised about the storytelling in A.A., and to discover if the stories of women are different than those of men. Furthermore, I was looking to see if women's stories would be different if told outside of A.A. meetings. Context is important to understanding most stories. For these women, context is particularly important because it has provided the rituals and the rhetoric to shape the stories of their lives. Now, with the evolution of the women's group, that context was changing and they were facing a new environment in which to tell their stories. These women were no longer restricted to using A.A. diction. Instead, they were free to seek their own language rituals and histories. I tried to visualize the women's stories free of our traditional western culture. In Paula Gunn Allen's introduction to Spider Women's Granddaughters, she compares the Native American stories to those of the Western canon. "Western critical standards have been shaped by the 'three 30


unities'--unity of time, place and action--that were described by Aristotle" (p. 5). There is an ideal hero, who engages in conflict, then finds resolution in such a way that individualistic values are affirmed. The three unities are similar to the story lines in most A.A. meetings. The alcoholic is the hero who engages in conflict (alcoholism) then finds resolution in A.A. and then establishes his or her values (the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions). But, as Allen states, "Indian ethos is neither individualistic nor conflict-centered, and the unifying structures that make the oral tradition coherent are less a matter of character, time, and setting than the coherence of common understanding derived from the ritual tradition that members of the tribe unit share" (p.G). I wondered what ethos would evolve from the women's group. What common understanding would these women have? What topics would they discuss? What rituals would they follow? What languages would they use? These questions shaped my observations every time I sat down to share stories in the women's group. 31


The women's group was more conscious of my observations than the men and women in the A.A. group. Although some A.A. members knew of my research, the women's group knew the questions that I was trying to answer. The women's group was also more aware of my sensitivity to the sexist language in A.A. and the dominance of male rhetoric at the meetings. As the women's group grew and changed, it became obvious that not every woman had similar opinions of or experiences in A.A.; however, we all shared a common desire to tell our stories outside of an A.A. meeting. As both a participant and an observer, in order to answer my questions, I had to identify my own experience with the men and women who were the subjects of my research without the requirement of objectivity (Mies, 1983). I knew such objectivity would be difficult because of my feelings towards A.A. and its rhetoric, and my personal commitment to the women's group. Instead, I began this study from what I felt was my own grounded position of "subjective oppression." 32


As a member of A.A., I felt my recovery was being influenced by the ideas and values of a maledominated, male-defined society. I often felt lost and alienated by the male rhetoric. Yet, I became subordinate to it. As a feminist researcher, I placed the emphasis of this study on lived experience and the significance of everyday life. Life experiences are expressed in several different ways: by an assertion that the personal is political; by a rejection of positivism, and an interest in phenomenological or social interactionist approaches; by a new definition of the relationship between woman researcher and woman subject (Weiler, 1988, pp. 58-59). Feminist research is politically committed. It rejects value-free research and asserts a commitment to changing the position of women and society. This overt commitment to women's rights, which is shared by women of widely ranging political views, reflects women's own personal experiences of subjugation within a male-dominated society (Weiler, 1988). 33


A.A. is a male-dominated society. Because my feminist views were alienating me from the community, my motive was to expose the minority position of women in A.A., and the limits of a discourse based on male language. As mentioned earlier, my approach is not traditionally ethnographic, and is far from being positivist. Instead, a feminist methodology replaces the "mystification" of the researcher and the researched as objective instruments of data production by the recognition that personal involvement is more than a dangerous bias--it is the condition under which people come to know each other and to admit others into their lives (Oakley, 1981). Therefore, it is through my own personal involvement that this study took place and leads to the personal stories of women never told in an A.A. meeting. The emphasis on the stories of women, both in and out of A.A., and my need as a researcher to locate myself in terms of my own subjectivity are fundamental to my feminist approach to methodology. 34


Settings Anonymity is always important when conducting a qualitative study in order to protect the subjects of the research. In A.A., however, anonymity is especially revered. The twelfth tradition of A.A.'s Twelve Traditions (see Appendix B) states: "Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions." Therefore, in order to learn from the rich storytelling environment of A.A., and the untapped stories in the women's group, but to avoid involving individuals from both communities in any outside controversy, as well as to maintain their personal anonymity, the names of individuals mentioned in this study have been replaced with pseudonyms. The research for this study took place over an eighteen-month period. As a member of the A.A. community since 1984, and a member of the women's group since its inception (November 1991), I was already familiar with the language and the rituals of A.A. and with some of the personal stories told by the members of each group. The influence of 35


context on storytelling plays a major role in this study; therefore, the importance of context will be emphasized when comparing the A.A. stories to the women's stories. With an emphasis placed on context, the contrast between the two groups will serve as a resource for understanding rather than an enemy of understanding (Mishler, 1979). The settings for the A.A. meetings and the women's meetings were very different. The A.A. meetings were public gatherings, whereas the women's meetings were private. The A.A. meetings were held in a public building; the women's meetings in my home. What follows is a brief description of each setting. Alcoholics Anonymous I chose only "open" A.A. meetings to observe. These meetings met daily from noon to one o'clock at a twelve-step (see Appendix A} club in a suburb of Denver. A.A. meetings are called "open discussion/open attendance" meetings when any topic related to alcoholism is appropriate, and those who are not alcoholic are also invited to attend. Those 36


attending may be spouses, fathers, mothers, children, friends, or employers of alcoholics. They are people interested in learning more about alcoholism and the A.A. program. I did not tape the A.A. meetings I observed because I did not want to disrupt the meeting setting. Instead, I took some notes during the meetings; however, most of my observations were recorded immediately afterwards. The Women's Group The women's group took place in my home. We met every week, depending on members' work schedules, with each meeting lasting at least one and one half hours. The women's group allowed for more freedom to record observations. The group was smaller, no more than four women; and the attendance fluctuated but remained a closed group. With each change in participants, I made it known that I was conducting a study to see if women told their stories differently outside of the A.A. meetings. Each women also knew that my results would be published in this thesis with their names 37


substituted by pseudonyms. The women in the group also allowed me the freedom to take notes and to tape record our conversations, but I didn't want my observations to cause any anxiety, fear, or apprehension. Spontaneity was vital when participating in dialogue. Furthermore, I wanted the freedom to tell my own story to the group and to listen without monitoring a tape recorder or writing notes. Consequently, I chose to tape record only one meeting and most of my observations were notes transcribed immediately following each meeting or during one-on-one interviews with participants. Background Setting the stage for the A.A. and women's meetings is important because this study is based on context as well as storytelling. Women from A.A. were seeking a different setting in which to share the stories they would not share in A.A. Therefore, in order to understand the role context plays when storytelling, some background information is 38


necessary. What follows is a brief history of the formation of A.A. and the women's group. Alcoholics Anonymous In 1935 A.A. held its first meeting in Akron, Ohio. The creed for the program is The TWelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions (see Appendix A and B). Many of these twelve steps, which are suggested "as a program of recovery," originated in the Oxford Groups. The Oxford Groups, headed by Episcopal clergyman sam Shoemaker, had a profound influence on A.A.'s co-founders, Bill Wilson, a stockbroker, and Robert Holbrook, a physician. "Early A.A. got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character deficits, restitution for harm done, and working with others straight from the Oxford Groups" (A.A. Comes of Age, 1957, p.39). These were to be the spiritual keys of Alcoholics Anonymous. A.A. founder, Bill Wilson, and other members of the Oxford Groups were also influenced by Zurich psychiatrist Carl Jung, and by the writings of William James. An Oxford Group member, Ebby T., was 39


the indirect link in correspondence between Bill Wilson and Carl Jung. Wilson and other members of the Oxford Groups had also read and were influenced by William James' The Varieties of Religious Experiences, (1936). It is from these influences that the notion of "hitting bottom" leads to an admittance of powerlessness (step one), and to a spiritual experience that will enable the alcoholic to be "restored to sanity" (step 2). Bill Wilson describes his own spiritual experience this way: All at once I found myself crying out, If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything! Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe (A.A. comes of Age, 1957, p. 63) The Twelve Steps and TWelve Traditions are posted on the walls of every A.A. meeting place and are read at the beginning of most A.A. meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous, the basic text of A.A., lists the twelve steps in Chapter Five, "How it Works." This chapter is also read at the beginning of most A.A. meetings. Some A.A. members view Chapter Five 40


as the most important chapter in "The Big Book" (see Alcoholics Anonymous in WORKS CITED). 41


The Women's Group The women's group officially began with a telephone call. I received the call after I quit going to A.A. meetings. I remember when I reached my breaking point. I always objected to the sexist language in the basic text, commonly called "The Big Book," (references to alcoholics as "men" and to God as "He") and often struggled with the notions of powerlessness and a male God as stated in the Twelve Steps, but new situations were making my attendance at A.A. meetings even more intolerable. Specifically, on several occasions at this one particular meeting I was observing, I heard some of the men refer to women as "broads," and as if that wasn't bad enough, I heard another man refer to his obsessive attraction to women as a "tit" addiction. I decided if I wanted to hear talk like that I could go to the sleazy bar down the street. I got up and walked out. The anxiety I felt over these references to women was unbearable. Even the atmosphere in the club before and after the meetings took on the aura of a bar scene. I was angry, hurt, 42


and confused. I decided to step back from A.A. for a while so I could reevaluate whether or not this was a healthy environment for a woman struggling with recovery, not only from alcohol, but also from a past with alcoholic men. My absence prompted Sharon to call. Sharon, also a member of A.A., listened to my story, and, contrary to my fears of rejection for criticizing A.A., its rhetoric, and its respected members, she validated my feelings. She too had experienced similar conflicts in A.A., and experienced that many of her own needs were not being met in the A.A. community. She had reached a point in her recovery where she needed to talk about childhood issues, but she didn't feel safe talking about them in A.A. meetings. I asked her if she would like to meet at my house and talk. She said she would. I also mentioned two other women. who might want to join us. One was from the A.A. community and the other was somewhat associated with A.A. but seldom went to meetings. I telephoned the women I thought may be interested in joining our group and the first 43


women's meeting was held the following week. Four women attended. The women's meeting was not organized to follow the rituals of A.A. Instead, the women's meeting chose to have as little organization as possible. "No rules," was the unanimous response from those attending the first meeting. There would be no central text, no particular structure, no chairperson, and often no established topic. The dialogue would be free-flowing. 44


CHAPTER 2 OBSERVATIONS Observations of A.A. meetings and the women's meetings proved to be difficult to conduct. As a participant, I wanted to interact in a natural manner. As an observer, I wanted to watch and listen closely to the stories of each participant. Unfortunately, I could not engage fully in the dialogue and maintain the watchful eye of an observer. It was necessary to take some notes during meetings because it was the only way to capture the essence of each story as it was told. But, as I mentioned earlier, most of my notes were reconstructed immediately after the meetings. This gave me more freedom to participate in the meetings and to share my own story with the group. Alcoholics Anonymous A.A. meetings are oral exchanges of stories where one person speaks at a time sharing his or her "experience, strength, and hope." The stories revolve around issues of alcoholism. The format 45


varies from meeting to meeting. Some meetings are "open" discussion where anyone interested in finding out more about alcoholism and A.A. is invited to attend. Others are "closed" meetings where only alcoholics can attend. Still others are "beginners" meetings. There are "study" meetings where "The Big Book" and The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions (see Appendix A and B) are read. There are also "speakers" meetings and "birthday" meetings. Some A.A. groups are segregated according to gender, race, and sexual preference, (i.e., Woman, Hispanic, Black, Native American, and Gay meetings). The meeting rituals are fairly constant from state to state. A chairperson directs the meeting. The chairperson is either appointed or volunteers. There is also a topic for discussion, either chosen by the group or by the chairperson. The meetings traditionally open with the chair introducing himself or herself by first name only, followed by "and I'm an alcoholic." There is also an opening prayer. The chairperson then directs the flow of conversation. 46


The rituals that govern discussions at A.A. meetings are very structured. one person speaks at a time. The language is not dialogic. Instead, "cross talk" is discouraged if not outwardly forbidden by the chair of the meeting. If you are at an A.A. meeting and wish to respond to something someone has said, you either wait to be called on, or wait your turn. The passing of conversation from one person to the next depends on the format of the meeting. The meeting formats vary. For example, an "open" format is when whoever happens to be talking at the time closes with a cue for the next speaker to "jump in" and take the floor. This cue is usually: "That's all I've got [to say]." If two people jump in at once, they negotiate who will speak between them. Another format is the "tag" meeting. This is when one person speaks first then picks the next speaker. There is also the "go around the room" format. One person speaks, then the person next to him or her speaks. The 47


*conversation is passed around the room according to seating order. When you enter a room where an A.A. meeting is about to take place, you will probably see The Twelve Steps and The Twelve Traditions posted on one wall, displayed in large print so to be visible by everyone in the room. There may also be A.A. slogans on the walls: "Live and Let Live," "Think, Think, Think," "But for the Grace of God," "Keep it Simple," and "Let Go, Let God." It's also common to see the A.A. statement of purpose: I am responsible. When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, I want the hand of A.A. always to be there. And for this: I am responsible." The center of the room holds a table, surrounded by many chairs. There may also be chairs lined up along the walls. Somewhere in the room will be a large coffee pot, lots of cups, and condiments. On the table will be "The Big Book." Perhaps the group has drafted an introduction. If so, it may be typed and placed on a clipboard next to "The Big Book." There are usually several ashtrays placed throughout 48


the room. Although there are "nonsmokers" meetings, the majority of A.A. meetings remain "smoking" meetings. I have provided a brief summary of a meeting I observed prior to the meetings I've recorded in my later observations. It is important to understand some of the rituals in an A.A. meeting because they are part of the context for storytelling. My purpose here is to provide only a brief summary of a meeting; therefore, I only focused on recording the order of events as they occurred and not the actual storytelling. More detailed descriptions and stories are told later in this section. The meeting begins when the chairperson introduces himself to the group. "My name is John, and I'm an alcoholic." The group responds: "Hi John." John then asks for a moment of silence followed by The Serenity Prayer. After the prayer, John asks if there is anyone present for their first meeting since their last drink, or if there are any visitors from outside of the Denver/metro area--a customary request in an A.A. meeting. A man sitting along the wall raises his hand. John gives him the floor: My name is Steve. I'm an alcoholic, and I'm visiting from California." 49


The group claps in a welcoming gesture. A woman on the other side of the room raises her hand. "My name is Alice and I'm an alcoholic." Again there is applause welcoming the newcomers. John asks if anyone has a request from "The Big Book." A voice from the corner of the room asks: "How about Chapter Five?" John reads from Chapter Five, "How it Works." After reading the first three pages of Chapter Five, John asks if anyone has a topic. A woman raises her hand. "My name is Sue, and I'm an alcoholic." The group responds to her introduction by saying: "Hello Sue." Sue replies. "I would like to talk about step one for the benefit of the newcomer." She then starts the discussion. She tells her story about attending her first A.A. meeting. When Sue has finished talking, John asks her to "pick on somebody" to talk next. The talk is passed from person to person in this manner. The members call this format a "tag meeting." At the end of one hour, six women and four men have "shared their experiences" pertaining to step one (see Appendix A). They close the meeting by standing, joining hands, and reciting The Lord's Prayer. They remain holding hands and chant: "Keep coming back. It works!" The meeting ended with the customary closing statement, "Keep Coming Back. It works!" Thirty people attended the meeting on this day. Two thirds were men. At this particular meeting, men out50


numbered the women two-to-one. One person talked first, a woman, who then introduced the topic, "step one." She explained why she chose the topic, shared part of her story, then called on another speaker, who, in turn, called on another speaker. This was a tag meeting, and these are some of the rituals at an A.A. meeting. The four meetings that follow were recorded to capture the storytelling of the men and women in the group. A chart is provided that lists the dynamics of the A.A.language: attendance, chairpersons, topics, formats, speakers, and lengths of time per speaker, and how the conversation was passed from one person to another. Particular attention is paid to gender. For example, a man may pass the conversation to another man and a women may also pass the conversation to a man. Following the chart, the stories are told. Although I have not provided a complete narrative of every story I heard on these particular days, I have picked stories I felt were "typical" of most stories told in A.A. What makes a story typical is repetition. They are 51


stories I've heard over and over again during my seven-year history in A.A. 52


12-STEP MEETINGS Open Attendance Noon Daily ---------------------------------------------------------------------Meetings 1 2 3 4 !)Attendance 23 m/14 w 22m/9W 20m/8W 20m/3W 2)Chairperson man woman man woman 3)Person Choosing man woman man man Topic 4)Topic "getting well" prayer step one anger S)Format tag seating order tag open 6)Passingof conversation 2m to m om to m sm to m sm to m 4m to w lm to w lm to w lm to w 3W to m 2W to m lw to m 2W to m lw to w 4W to w lw to w 2w to open lm to open (lm/lw spoke) (Sm spoke) 4m to open (3m/1W spoke) Totals llm/6w Sm/Sw 6m/lw 7m/3W 7)Average Time per/speaker 3.53 4.62 8.57 6.0 by gender 2.8m/5W 4m/5w a.3m/7W 5m/7W 8)% Speakers by Gender 48%m/43%w 36%m/67%w 30%m/13%w 35%m/lOO%w 53


It is important to note that each group in A.A. is autonomous and individually named by the members of the group. I cannot mention this particular group's name, but I can say that they met daily, at the same time, in the same place, each meeting was mixed (men and women}, and open to the public. My purpose for studying the A.A. meetings was to answer questions I had about how men and women told their stories. My assumptions were that men controlled the meetings, thereby telling more stories than women. I also believed that women told their stories differently than men. My assumptions were that men spoke in more abstract language, telling their stories without mentioning their feelings (i.e, "I felt sad, scared, lonely," etc.), and that women spoke in more concrete language, telling their stories by sharing their personal feelings. Charting the different variables that exist in meetings helps to create a clear picture of the context in which the stories are told. In understanding context, one can better determine the effect that context has on storytelling. 54


The chart of the four A.A. meetings observed reveals some interesting dynamics. First, the attendance section shows the total number of men and women present at each meeting. Men clearly outnumbered women, and in some meetings, by as much as a seven-to-one ratio (meeting four). The chairperson is also listed by gender. Choosing a chairperson is often done by someone asking, "Hey Dave, why don't you chair today." Dave can then accept or decline. Many people resist chairing a meeting. It requires taking a more active role and is often considered a part of "service work." Those who come to meetings and decline the role of chair are more prone to sitting back and listening, or only wishing to participate by telling their own stories. For this reason I would not say the role of chairperson is an esteemed one, but rather a more subservient role. Although women were the minority at all of these meetings, they volunteered to chair equally with the men. However, when it came to picking a topic for discussion, the women were more silent. Choosing a topic is done when the chair asks the group, "Does anyone have a topic?" If no one responds, then the chair picks the topic. On occasions where there are newcomers in the group, the chair may request a "first-step meeting." The 55


chair is also the person who picks the format for the meeting. The section that lists "passing the conversation" reveals how men and women share the floor in A.A. meetings. These conversation patterns show men taking the floor (meeting one and two) when the conversation is "opened up" by the previous speaker. A conversation is "opened up" when someone asks: "Does anyone want to talk?" In meetings three and four, the men show a tendency to pass the conversation to other men; however, in meeting one more men passed to women. Men controlling the conversation at meetings could be the result of many factors: topics, personalities in the group, ratios of men to women, or the meeting format. The format in meeting two would account for a larger number of women passing to women. The conversation was passed according to seating order. Men sat next to men and women sat next to women. In meeting one the conversation shifted from a tag format (where one person calls on another to talk) to an open format (where anyone can take the floor). Just as in 56


meetings two and four, when the floor was left open, more men took control of the conversation. In meeting three where the format was tag, only one woman was called on to speak. I was not surprised to discover that men talked more than women because men were clearly the majority at meetings. What was surprising was that women talked longer per speaker than men with the exception of meeting three. In this meeting the times were very close with only one woman speaking, but she spoke longer than the other speakers. The percentage of men and women speakers compared to the total number of men and women present at the meetings creates some mixed messages. A fairly even percentage of men and women spoke in meeting one, but the percentage of women who spoke in meeting two almost doubled that of men. Again, this may be due to the seating order of participants and not because women took or were given the floor by men. Men have the floor in meeting three, and although there were only a small number of women present in meeting four, each had an opportunity to speak. The numbers 57


tend to jump back and forth for women speaking at the meetings, making it difficult to identify a pattern of behavior. I am led to believe, however, that if the format for a meeting is to call on speakers according to seating order and a woman happens to start the conversation, chances are that more women will be able to speak because they tend to sit together at meetings. Also, one possible reason for women talking longer than men when they do get the floor is to make up for lost time when men are telling most of the stories. A.A. Storytelling The five elements of a story are plot, setting, time, characters, and point of view. We already know the plot based on the common theme of every story in A.A.--alcoholism. The setting for each story, however, may vary from speaker to speaker. The time sequence is determined on the basis of "what it was like (when drinking), what happened (to stop drinking), and what it's like now (not drinking)." The main character is the alcoholic. 58


The addition of supporting characters is totally up to the storyteller. The point of view is either the first person (depending on how concrete the story is), or the third person (depending on how abstract the story is). For example, a concrete story would include specific references to incidents in the person's life, i.e., "I lost my job today and I feel angry about it." An abstract story, on the other hand, would be told in more general terms, i.e., "Things sometimes just don't go my way." The concrete story is more specific and emotions are expressed, whereas the abstract story is more general leaving the listener to wonder what the storyteller is actually referring to and how he/she feels. Established rituals are ingrained and followed when telling stories. There's also a common language, a rhetoric that is first recited from its written text (Alcoholics Anonymous), and often repeated throughout the storytelling process. The stories themselves vary in content and style, but some common patterns emerge. The most common types 59


of stories in A.A. are the "talking the talk," the "Big Book Thumper," and the "cries-for-help" stories. "Talking the talk" is an expression common in A.A. to describe a story that is solely based on A.A. rhetoric. The term "Big Book Thumpers" is also a common expression in A.A. and is used to describe those storytellers who quote more from the basic text of the program than from their personal experiences. The "cries-for-help" stories are also common in A.A. These storytellers come to meetings with specific problems and share those problems during a meeting in an effort to get support from the group. The difference between "Big Book Thumpers" and those who "talk the talk" has to do with the amount of time a speaker has in the program. "Big Book Thumpers" talk with an authority they acquire from having spent a number of years in A.A. Storytellers who "talk the talk" are often those who learn the A.A. rhetoric quickly and use it to gain acceptance by the group. Unfortunately, "talkers" don't always follow through with action. On the other hand, "Big Book Thumpers" claim to walk 60


the way they talk. Those who tell cry-for-help stories may do so by using the same rhetoric as those who are talking the talk, but cries-for-help storytellers also have a need to share their feelings as well as the rhetoric. A Big Book Thumper, on the other hand, is seldom heard crying for help. They represent the fruits of living the program by the rules suggested in the Big Book. Therefore, they project an image of "having their acts together." By presenting the A.A. stories according to these categories, I hope to be able to investigate my questions about whether or not men's stories are the only stories being heard at these particular A.A. meetings, and if women's stories are being told, whether or not they are told differently from the men's stories. The rituals and rhetoric of A.A. may remain constant, but the storytelling styles vary from speaker to speaker. The four A.A. meetings I observed are presented separately. The presentation includes the introductory dialogues and rituals: the opening 61


story by the chairperson, the selected reading(s) from "The Big Book," the choice of topic, establishing the meeting format, and, in some meetings, the stories of the first and second speakers. The context for each meeting is presented, followed by examples of one or more of the three categories of stories commonly told in A.A. meetings. In the first meeting, however, I present stories that may or may not necessarily fall into any one category. By showing these stories, I hope to represent the contrasting styles of storytelling that do exist at some A.A. meetings along with the "typical." My efforts are to connect these stories to the questions I have raised about storytelling in A.A. Meeting one. This first meeting cites those stories from A.A. members who "talk the talk." Some stories are noted as being more abstract than others. On the other hand, there were other stories told in this meeting that were very concrete in their use of details and sharing of emotions. These stories represent examples of the extraordinary. 62


The meeting began with the chair reading from The Big Book," When, therefore, we were approached by those in whom the problem had been solved, there was nothing left for us but to pick up the simple kit of spiritual tools laid at our feet. We have found much of heaven and we have been rocketed into the fourth dimension of existence of which we had not even dreamed The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do for ourselves (p. 25) The chair asked if anyone had a topic. A greyhaired man sitting in the corner began the discussion by telling his story: "I want to talk about getting well." He told the group about an experience he had earlier in the day. It seemed he had knocked on someone's door to tell them they had left their lights on in their car. When the door opened he did not receive a friendly response. As Ed told it, "They must of 63


thought I was a salesman or something because they sure did snap at me!" Ed said it was "no big deal" having someone snap at him, but "at one time it was a big deal." He concluded, "Maybe there's a topic in that." The conversation went back to the chair who called on Nellie to begin the discussion. The chair also dictated the format for the meeting by asking her to "pick someone else to talk" when she's done. Nellie began with the customary introduction: "Hi, I'm Nellie and I'm an alcoholic." The group responded with a traditional greeting, "Hello Nellie." Nellie related to what Ed had said: "I have lost the ability to see the forest for the trees. The trees have become so big and my pattern is to strive for misery." She continued, "Today I try to see my cup as half full instead of half empty. I must keep a positive attitude. I can wallow in the goo and the stink, and when I do I block out the 'sunlight of the spirit."' Nellie's story was very abstract, "talking the talk." Cliched language was the substance for what 64


she had to say, "I've lost the ability to see the forest for the trees." She ended her story with another cliche, "Today I see my cup is half full instead of half empty." The story lacked any references to personal experience or feeling. She talked about what it was she had to do, "think positive," .but she was not specific as to why. Listening to both Ed's and Nellie's stories, I found it difficult to identify their experiences with my own. I was not sure what either speaker was talking about. Ed never really said how he felt about the incident he described. I found myself second guessing what the message in his story was supposed to be. I found it even more difficult trying to understand Nellie's story. I did hear a philosophical message about the need to think positive and not become overwhelmed by our problems; yet, I found myself wondering what problems she was talking about. It appeared as if she consciously chose to be more abstract, not wanting to share any intimacies with the group. 65


Later on in this meeting, some extraordinary stories were told that I was able to connect to my own experiences. Barbara told her story with urgency. She used spontaneous language that was full of rich detail and pure emotions, contrasting the stories told earlier by Ed and Nellie. She included A.A. rhetoric as if to conform to the language of the group. Barbara's story is an example of storytelling that moves back and forth, from abstractions to more concrete language. She told her story as follows: "It's so good to be here and reinforced as to what I need to do." She told the group how her daughter called her that morning, and how she knew she was not talking to her daughter, but "to a chemical." She continued to say that the only thing that kept her going was that "God will handle it." She added, "when you have a lot of kids you have to let go and take care of yourself sometimes." She agreed with Nancy--"it's being positive." She added that her "priorities" are "peace and serenity." She had to come to meetings to listen and hear how other 66


people handle their problems. "I also have to be humble and cry." She recalled how once she was a "dry drunk." A dry drunk is when alcoholics behave as they did while drinking, except without the benefit of a drink and the excuse of being drunk. It's more of an emotional drunk. Barbara was six years sober at the time, and she hated "this guy at the meeting." She almost stopped coming to meetings because she knew that this guy would be there. She wished he would just leave so she could feel less anxious about the group. She would ask herself, "why the hell does he have to be here?" She told the group she had to keep coming to meetings even though she didn't like this one particular man. She believed that coming to meetings helped her, even when she didn't want to be there. According to Barbara, "this saved my life." She closed by quoting the Twelfth Tradition, "it's principles before personalities." She reminded the group that they were all there because of alcoholism and that she saw the group as people who were "very close." 67


Barbara has been telling her stories in A.A. for over ten years. She's not a Big Book Thumper because her story does not quote the basic text. She does tend to talk the talk, however, but not with the same level of abstract language as Nellie in the earlier story. Barbara was able to talk about her feelings in more detail by making references to specific incidents in her life. She kept with the A.A. ritual of telling "what it used to be like, what happened, and what it's like now." Listening to Barbara, I heard a women's emotions and experiences told with honesty and I was able to identify with her story. I could relate to her feelings as a mother trying to deal with a daughter who may be under the influence of a chemical; I could relate to being a mother mys.elf and at times having to "let go" of my children; and I could relate to the need to be humble and to cry. I particularly appreciated her honesty about having hostile feelings toward someone in the A.A. group. Her closing reminder to "place principles before personalities" seemed to be a quick insertion of 68


A.A. doctrine as not to break a basic belief in A.A. that A.A. must remain a "fellowship based on unity." Meeting two. In this meeting two cry-for-help stories were heard among the others. Diane was the chairperson. She began the meeting by stating, "I'm dealing with closure today." The treatment center she was working for closed and she was in a lot of pain over it, "but I know I don't have to drink over my pain today." She then read from "The Big Book," When we retire at night, we constructively review our day. Were we resentful, selfish, dishonest or afraid? Do we owe an apology? Have we kept something to ourselves which should be discussed with another person at once? Were we kind and loving toward all? What could we have done better? Were we thinking of ourselves most of the time? Or were we thinking of what we could do for others, of what we could pack into the stream of life? But we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse, or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others. After making our review we 69


ask God's forgiveness and inquire what corrective measures should be taken (pp. 85-87). Donna asked if anyone had a topic. Rose answered by saying she would like to talk about what was read and the topic of prayer. Diane responded "We can talk about that, but if someone is in pain we don't have to limit the topic to that." She then told the group, "We'll just go around the room," indicating the conversation would rotate according to seating order. Emotions were running high for one particular speaker. Steve got to the point quickly when telling his story: "I'm having a fucked day. I was doing good then a few phone calls about not getting a job came in and I felt fucked. I don't like the world today. I get along with God as long as I don't ask him for anything. But when I ask for something, I get expectations, and then I get disappointed. I beat my head against the wall. The whole world can kiss my ass. I don't like it when I get like this because I can't see. I don't have these days often, 70


but I still get them. I guess it all builds up and hits in one day. I'm thinking about drinking. That's where I'm at.'' steve's story was a cry for help. Using honesty and humility, he was able to talk about his day in specific terms, using his own language, sharing his intense feelings. He never lost sight of the topic even though his emotions were running hot. He told his story as it related to prayer. His story first appeared to be a recap of his day, but developed into a narrative that was a cry for help. Diane also seemed to be asking for help but in an indirect way. Often the underlying message at A.A. meetings is to only share your "experience, strength, and hope." This may be interpreted as feeling the need to always be positive at meetings. There is also pressure not to be in "self-pity" which may account for why Steve and Diane did not openly express the full extent of their sadness and pain, nor did they directly ask for help from the group. I have had similar experiences where I often 71


felt prohibited from sharing my true feelings for fear I would be judged as "feeling sorry for myself" or "too negative." The last woman sponsor I had in A.A. once told me, "If you don't have anything positive to say, keep your mouth shut at meetings; otherwise, all that you're doing is spreading your disease around the room when you talk." Unfortunately, many people get this advice and end up talking rhetoric at meetings and never getting down to "causes and conditions." Meeting three. This meeting was made up of dominate, male voices in A.A.--men who are senior members and know the rhetoric. Consequently, a lot of "talking the talk" and "Big Book Thumper" stories were told. Also, in this meeting, only one woman was asked to speak. The rest of the speakers were men. The meeting was chaired by Tim. He opened with a reading from Chapter Five, How it Works, from "The Big Book." Tim also read the Twelve Steps. Then he added another reading from "The Big Book:" Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect 72


produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one. They are restless, irritable, and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks--drinks which they see others taking with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the wellknown stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire physic change there is very little hope of his recovery" (pp. xxvi-xxvii). Tim told part of his story: "That's how I felt when I drank alcohol. We need people with some sobriety to share how they got sober." He then called on Jim to talk. Jim was very good at "talking the talk." 73


"It wasn't the alcohol, it was the people, places and things that upset me. It was later I realized that alcohol was my problem. My obnoxious behavior was the result of my drinking. Drinking gave me courage--false courage. Just because I stopped drinking doesn't mean my attitudes changed. I still steal, cheat, and lie. I had peace of mind but the pieces were scattered all over the place. I couldn't focus." Jim finished his story by saying he had to go to A.A. meetings and "shut up and listen" before he got welL "I had to empty ashtrays and help out before and after meetings." The chair then asked Jim to "call on somebody." Jim decided to change the format to an open meeting by asking "Is there anyone who wants to talk?" Jim's story was abstract and laced with A.A. talk. For example, often alcoholics refer to their "powerlessness" (see step one) as not only over alcohol but over everything: "people, places and things." Also, newcomers to A.A. are sometimes advised to "shut up and listen" until they've heard 74


the stories of those who have been sober for awhile, and until they've worked the steps and read "The Big Book." In addition, it is common practice to empty ashtrays and pour coffee as part of service work in A.A. Jim's story was a recitation of the rhetoric and rules of A.A., making it a good example of "talking the talk." .There were also two "Big Book Thumpers" at this meeting who spoke. These speakers are usually male and their stories come straight out of "The Big Book." Here's an example. This was Lanny's story: "Keep coming back. I had to change everything. I wanted to quit drinking but I didn't know how. If you don't want to quit, this program won't work for you very good. You have to work the first step. How do you keep from shaking apart? That's what the other eleven steps are for. Once you break the drinking cycle, it is a matter of whether you want to drink or not. But once you have that first one, the obsession starts again. Get a 'Big Book.' It's a text book on living. It's not a novel. I believe everything in that book. I hope I never find that 75


The Book is a lie. I know it's not. The Book says, 'to drink is to die.' Hell, people are dying everyday. If you can quit drinking and learn how to live, it will get better. If you don't, things will only get worse." Lanny has over twenty years in A.A. He is what A.A. calls "an old-timer." Old-timers are respected for their years of sobriety, their knowledge of "The Big Book," the sponsorship they have given to others in A.A., and their mastery of speech at A.A. meetings. I would call Lanny's story a "preaching" story because like a preacher at the pulpit, he talked straight out of the sacred text with a dogmatic style, but never really told his story. There were twenty men at this meeting and many were strong A.A. speakers like Lanny. out of the eight women present, only one was chosen to speak. Perhaps Rose was chosen because she was one of the few women in the room that day with fairly long-term sobriety (seven years). Perhaps it was because she could "talk the talk." This was Rose's story: 76


"Welcome to the newcomers. I drank because I had a problem with living. I remember how I was hurting when I came here--how confused I was. I couldn't function. I'm a high energy person and I remember my compulsive behaviors--compulsive cleaning was one. I couldn't sit still. I'd clean all the time. Towards the end I couldn't handle the simplest tasks. I couldn't function. I shut down. I was out of touch with reality. I didn't know how far out I was until I came here. I was so full of fear. I was scared to come here. If anyone were to hand "The Big Book" to me and ask me to chair a meeting, I'd freak out. I'd turn white as a sheet and bolt out of the room. I was especially afraid of men alcoholics. When they told me I had to learn to trust and that I could feel safe here, I couldn't believe them. I had to go to a lot of women's meetings first. But I discovered I didn't feel comfortable with women either. Women, especially women alcoholics, were the opposition. I competed with them for the men. We weren't sisters, yet I needed to feel that sisterhood. I needed to 77


understand women alcoholics in order to understand me." Rose's story was similar to Barbara's story in meeting one. She, like Barbara, expressed her feelings openly and gave specific examples about her life. She talked about her early days in A.A. and about her fear. Rose knew there was a newcomer in the room. The newcomer was a woman. Rose wanted to tell her to "stick with the women," while at the same time trying to keep her language in line with the rhetoric of A.A. Her message implied the acceptable "keep coming back" but it also sent a message to the newcomer to "try some women's meetings." I can assume Rose was issuing a silent warning for the new woman to watch out for the men, or to watch out for herself around men in A.A. meetings. I can safely make this assumption: I'm Rose. Meeting four. In the fourth meeting there was another example of a cry-for-help story. Natalie, who chaired the meeting, talked about her anger and admitted she was unable to cope with her feelings 78


towards her husband's exwife. After opening the meeting in the customary way, she called on several speakers to share their stories. Gordon was one of those speakers. His response to her cry for help was a combination of a "talking the talk" and "Big Book Thumper" story. The me_eting went as follows: Natalie asked if anyone wanted to read from "The Big Book." Rose read about step ten: "This brings us to step Ten, which suggests we continue to take personal inventory and continue to set right any new mistakes as we go along. We vigorously commenced this way of living as we cleaned up the past. We have entered the world of the Spirit. Our next function is to grow in understanding and effectiveness. This is not an overnight matter. It should continue for our lifetime. Continue to watch for selfishness, dishonesty, resentment, and fear. When these crop up, we ask God at once to remove them. We discuss them with someone immediately and make amends quickly if we have harmed anyone. Then we resolutely turn our thoughts to someone we can help. Love and tolerance of others is our code 79


we keep in fit spiritual condition" (pp. 84-85). Natalie appeared to be affected by the reading. She responded to the text by talking about her anger: "Whenever it comes to my husband's exwife, I lose it. I feel rage and anger I need to get in fit spiritual condition." Her brief but emotional comments were a cry for help. She opened the meeting up by asking if anyone wanted to talk. No one responded, so Natalie called on speakers to tell their stories. Three men talked, then a fourth--Gordon. Gordon began by saying, "I don't have a clue how to deal with a spouse's exwife. The definition of frustration is to have no one to blame but yourself. We all have problems ... but I don't have to focus on the world's problems, I need to focus on my own. The root of my problem is selfishness and self-centeredness. If I don't get what I want or fear losing what I have I get into trouble. The spirituality of the program allows me to escape from reality and benefit from it. The 80


tenth and especially the eleventh step helps me. I love the tenth step. When I get up in the morning, I don't have yesterday to regret. Before the meeting, I was talking to Carrie about procrastination. I do the things I want first, then put off the things I need to do. But if I talk about these things too long I get confused, so I'll shut up now." Gordon's story was full of A.A. rhetoric. He was definitely talking the talk. He said he could not relate to Natalie's problem of a spouse's exwife, and seemed to imply by his definition of frustration that she had no one to blame but herself. The abstractions increased as he drifted into the language of the program, reciting the steps. When Gordon finally did start to get more specific, talking about his own problem of procrastination, he quickly ended his story. Listening to Gordon at other meetings, I would say that his stories are usually in the category of those told by those who talk the talk. As with many 81


storytellers who talk the talk, Gordon was also a good "Big Book Thumper." Unfortunately, Natalie never heard anyone validate her experiences or her feelings of anger. Anger is one emotion that is particularly feared in A.A. To quote The Big Book, "It's the dubious luxury of normal men" (p. 66). The contrast between the personal story of Natalie and the abstract story of Gordon is part of the dialogue that goes on in an A.A. meeting when someone cries for help. The conversation must remain focused on the A.A. rhetoric and not on personal feelings and incidents that take on the tone of negative thinking. Comments on A.A. Storytelling If I had to choose which stories were most real to me in A.A., I would choose the cry-for-help stories. In my opinion, what makes personal stories 11real" are references to actual life experiences and the sharing of one's emotions. Unfortunately, the cry-for-help stories are the least told and the majority are "talking the talk" or recitations by 82


men in A.A. who are known as "Big Book Thumpers." Contrary to my own desire to hear "real" stories, there is almost a silent fear of being too "real" in an A.A. meeting. If a woman, for example, were to go into an A.A. meeting and talk about her pain, sadness, or loss, she would run the risk of being labeled as someone in "self-pity," someone who is prone to "negative thinking." On the other hand, stories that are less personal, more upbeat, and reflective of A.A. rhetoric are common and acceptable in an A.A. meeting. In spite of these unspoken rules for storytelling in A.A., I was not surprised to hear more women than men talking about their feelings, their relationships, and their personal experiences. I was surprised, however, that the number of talking-the-talk stories women were close to the number told by men. Looking at the thirty men's stories and sixteen women's stories told during these four A.A. meetings, forty percent of the men "talked the talk" and thirty-three percent of the women did the same. Of the sixteen women called on 83


to speak, one passed, leaving a total of fifteen women speakers. Of the fifteen women speakers, five told talking-the-talk stories. Of the thirty-two men speakers, one spoke twice and one passed, leaving a total of thirty stories told by men. Of these thirty stories, twelve were talking-the-talk stories. This indicates that many of the women who were chosen to speak may have been indoctrinated into the A.A. language, "talking the talk" in order to be accepted by the majority of men in the group. Once women were accepted by the group, they were called on to speak by the men. For many women in A.A., there exists a dependence on men and male values that may explain why women are not telling their "real" stories in an A.A. meeting. Many women are uncomfortable talking openly in front of men. Men are at the heart of many women's issues around drinking. It is these past relationships with men, mostly alcoholic men, that cause women to feel uncomfortable and afraid of appearing too vulnerable in an A.A. meeting. This point is proven later when 84


examining the stories told by women in the women's group. Searching for patterns that might help to answer my original questions as to whether or not men's stories were the majority told in A.A., and trying to identify the women's stories that I could personally relate to my own story, I am able to draw some conclusions. First, due to the overwhelming majority of men at A.A. meetings and the common use of male rhetoric, men's stories are definitely the majority. Not only did more men than women speak at A.A. meetings; but even when women did speak, many of their stories were told in A.A.language--a language written by and for men As to whether or not all the stories were the same regardless of gender, again I would say yes. Some women did move away from the rhetoric to share more details of their lives, but they quickly moved back to the language of A.A. as if to comply with the rules of discourse. The reason for not seeing any recognizable differences between men's and women's 85


stories may be due to these unspoken rules of male language. Tracing western male language back to its roots, classical rhetoric can be used as a base. Aristotle's system of persuasion, for example, consists of five stages: invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. A.A.'s language system is similar and also prescriptive, adhering to the philosophy of "Keep it Simple Stupid (K.I.S.S.)." Stories in A.A. should be specific, avoiding emotionalism, never to sound negative or prone to self-pity, setting an example of a storyteller who has conformed to the society, its rules, and its God (who, by the way, is also male). Women coming into A.A. want acceptance, a sense of community, friendships with men, and long for identity; therefore, women quickly learn how to speak the language of male rhetoric used in A.A. I was able to find pieces of my own story here and there while listening to the storytelling at these meetings. But, for the most part, I never heard my whole story--a story that would be pivotal 86


in redefining my own identity within the male world of A.A. Perhaps a woman friend of mine said it best as we were driving to an A.A. meeting one night: "What do I have to do to hear my story in A.A., tell it myself?" It seems we're all searching for our own story, something that will help us to feel attached to the world. For myself and the women from A.A. who helped me to form a separate group, the search was for our whole stories, our (m)other stories. The newly-formed women's group did not want the outlines of their stories prescribed by men, nor did they want their topics dictated by and limited to alcoholism. Stories of drinking only make up the later chapters of their lives and not the origins of their experiences, thoughts, and feelings as women. So it is the (m)other stories that need to be told in order to continue to grow and heal. It is the (m)other stories that mark the origins of our experiences as women. Told in a language that is free of the patriarchal discourse of A.A., the women's group was free to voice what had been silenced in a culture that chooses to 87


obscure, to deny, or to render mute in its hegemonic fictions the movements, conflicts, and figures of the mother (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986). I will begin with my own (m)other story, and the formation of the women's group. The Women's Group I was starting to feel a growing need to leave the A.A. community. I was angry and confused. I thought perhaps it was the language, the men, my own denial over being an alcoholic, and my desire for change. I was angry with A.A. over the same issues I was angry with society in general: male rhetoric, male dominance, male dependency, and male superiority. I felt disempowered by the label "alcoholic" as well as the other labels in twelvestep programs: codependent, addict, foodaholic, sexaholic, etc. I felt defeated by a terminal diagnosis, just as I felt defeated by life before entering A.A. I was told by a friend not to expect too much from the program, to quit idealizing A.A. She would say to me (in a defensive and impatient 88


voice), "Remember, there are sick people in A.A." If that is true, I couldn't help but think I must be sick, too. I didn't find this thought very selfaffirming. Furthermore, if A.A. is full of sick people, how does one get well? I quit going to meetings. My anger was met by the pain of loss. My biggest loss was the loss of community. I no longer had a sense of belonging. I grieved for months. My research came to a halt as did other aspects of my life. I realized that A.A. had become my life and now that it was gone I couldn't focus. It was as if my language had been stripped away. I knew I needed community; I needed to talk, but where was I to go? Whom could I talk to? It was then a woman from A.A. called to ask why she hadn't seen me at any A.A. meetings lately. I told her how I was feeling and she said she understood. She too had needs that were not being met in A.A. Our mutual need was to tell our stories--the (m)other stories we couldn't share in A.A. We agreed to meet and talk. We both knew of 89


other women who might be interested in joining us. The women's meeting was beginning to form. organizing our first meeting was difficult due to the differences in all of our work schedules, but we did agree to meet at my house. I only had one child in the home and no other roommates. Everyone else's house had too many children, boyfriends, mothers, and interruptions to hold a meeting. Privacy was very important. Saturday morning seemed to work best, so our first meeting was held then. What follows are brief histories on the first women to attend the group. What I hoped to discover was not only my own story but why these other women felt a need to tell their stories outside of A.A. I knew the answer for me was because I always felt the story I told in A.A. was only an abridged version, edited to conform to the rules of rhetoric in A.A. Now I wanted to retell my story by adding detail: listing the characters, the settings, the conflicts, the themes, through the use of my senses and emotions. I wondered how much I would tell or need to tell, what possible topics would be discussed. 90


My hope was that there would be a trust among us that would foster the kind of sharing of experiences that I was looking for in trying to come to terms with my own history. I wondered if the group would want to read any outside texts, then I realized that perhaps these women would want to focus on the texts of their own lives which had been ignored long enough. My search for answers began with the first meeting. Each meeting was a story within a story, and each participant represented another story within the story of the meeting. Like Chinese boxes, each tale opened another box that lead to another story and then another. To begin the storytelling process, I've included a brief life history on each participant. These narratives evolved over a series of conversations that took place before, during, and after meetings. I already knew parts of each women's life from our acquaintance in A.A., so our talks were more for clarification, providing details and a closer sense of communion with each woman. For general 91


background, the women in this group were all white. Their economic status was lower to middle class. Education levels ranged from my own graduate work, to Sandy who graduated from high school, to Sharon who has a G.E.D., and Jackie who never finished the ninth grade. Sharon Sharon is thirty-seven and originally from Spokane. She was the first to participate with me in the group. Sharon has been divorced twice and has three children from her first marriage: twin girls twelve years old, and a son fourteen. Her mother was an alcoholic and died from her disease. Her parents divorced when she was a teenager. She doesn't get along with her father very well. Sharon has a nontraditional job as a maintenance worker for the federal government. At the present time, Sharon is living with her boyfriend of two years. They became engaged after meeting in A.A. Sharon needed a women's group outside of A.A. because she wanted to deal with some of the issues that were coming up 92


for her around her childhood. She was feeling a lot of anger. She felt her needs were not being met in A.A. even though she had worked the program to the best of her ability over the past three years. When I asked her what format she wanted the group to take, she said, "Let's just not set up any rules; let's just get together and talk. Let's have some fun!" Sandy Sandy is about thirty-five and originally from Colorado. Twice divorced, Sandy lives with. her mother and her two teenage sons, ages eighteen and ten. Sandy holds a public relations position with a telephone company. She's been dating a man in A.A., Chris, for three years. Chris, has five years of sobriety. Sandy has a history of drugs and alcohol but has not attended A.A. meetings on a regular basis. During my conversations with Sandy, she has expressed her difficulty maintaining relationships with She also has few women friends. Her current relationship with Chris is "on again, off 93


again." She did seek counseling and had begun to establish some boundaries for herself. At one time she talked with confidence about discovering what was acceptable for her and what was not. Then she found herself going back to what was not making her happy--her relationship with Chris. She admits that her recent loss of boundaries resulted from not staying connected to her support group. The group, she said, reenforced her worthiness and enabled her to say "no" in abusive situations. Although Chris isn't using alcohol, his "alcoholic" behavior continues. He has intense mood swings, sometimes becoming physically ill, and twice having to be rushed to an emergency room because of chest pains that were diagnosed as anxiety attacks. She sees herself as the forever "nurturer" trying to mother Chris back to health. In the process, she fails to mother herself or her own children. Sandy's first and second marriages were also "draining." Both husbands were emotionally unavailable, angry, and physically abusive. With Chris there's no physical abuse, but she feels 94


"emotionally drained." They have broken off their relationship several times only to get together again and continue the cycle. She began calling me to share her feelings--mostly her frustrations over her relationship with Chris. When I suggested she join Sharon and I, she agreed with some hesitation. Her main issue was trust. "I'm not going to go in there and talk about my past if I can't trust anyone." Jackie Jackie is a woman I've known since I first moved to this area. Jackie works as a counselor in a group home for the physically handicapped. She is thirty-eight years old and is also a native of Colorado. She has three children, ages eight, fifteen, and nineteen: two boys and one girl. Jackie ran away from home at fifteen. She's lived on the streets and worked as a prostitute before meeting and marrying her husband. She divorced after accusing him of sexually abusing her daughter. In spite of her fears about her exhusband, her 95


children are now living with him in Texas. She is seven and one half years sober in A.A. While staying sober she has gained seventy-five pounds. She now weighs approximately two hundred pounds. Jackie has never liked women's groups but she agreed to try this one. She recently told me she never finished the ninth grade and she feels "a lot of shame," forcing her to tell lies about her education. She's very bright and articulates her point of view quite assertively in A.A. meetings, but was apprehensive about the women's group. "I have my reservations about coming to this meeting," she said. "But I have no expectations at this point." The Women's Meetings The language in the women's meetings was different from the language in A.A. meetings. There were no set rituals, nor was there a common rhetoric based on any particular texts, steps, or topics. There was never a chairperson. Instead there was free-flowing dialogue based on multiple topics that 96


were introduced by whomever was talking at that time. Moreover, there was no format for the meetings. The talk was spontaneous with some women talking more than others, depending on the willingness of each speaker to share the floor or the willingness of each woman to speak. Additionally, the women's meetings were not timed according to a sixty minute schedule as were the meetings in A.A. Instead, the meetings began after everyone arrived and ended after everyone left. At times someone would arrive early and we'd talk before the meetings, but usually our conversations were not carried over into the meetings. Sharon would always be the last to leave and we would talk about topics that either began in the women's meeting or topics we began after the meeting was over. What you are about to hear are women talking about their feelings of distrust, anger, shame, and hurt. Many of these feelings resulted from their relationships, specifically their relationships with fathers, mothers, men, and children. Other topics 97


included eating disorders, body images, sex, gossip, and feminism. No one talked about alcoholism. Some of the stories that emerged had never been told by the speaker before that meeting. Many secrets were shared. In presenting these stories, each meeting is listed separately and highlights the topics mentioned above. Meeting one. sandy showed up first. She had to be at work by one o'clock so she left at twelve thirty. She was quieter in the group than the other women, perhaps because she was not a regular in A.A. and as accustomed to group interaction. Instead she had lived on the margins of A.A. for over five years through her relationship with a man in the program. She has had only one other experience with groups. This was about a year ago when she and her boyfriend, Chris, broke up. She told the group how she went through group therapy for alcohol and codependency. But she added that she was not comfortable talking in a group: "My biggest issue is trust," she said. "Sure, they say [in A.A.] 'what you say here stays here' but I don't believe 98


that!" Sandy talked about the A.A. and Alanon meetings held during the lunch hours where she works, "I'm not about to talk about my private life with people I work with, even if it is an A.A. or Alanon meeting." sandy's lack of trust was also expressed privately to me before the meeting. She said she had problems being in a group with Sharon. She told me a story about seeing her at an A.A. social gathering, and said that she acted like a "raging bitch." Her boyfriend, Chris, had arranged the event, a midnight bowling party. Sharon came to the party, but, according to Sandy, "she made it obvious that she didn't want to be there." My response was to tell her that Sharon was going through some anger right now over painful childhood issues. I wanted Sandy to try and understand that Sharon was another women, like herself, dealing with some pain in her life. Sandy's response was, "Sharon may be angry but I don't have to be around it." Sandy has very little contact with other women; therefore, she has few women friends. My personal 99

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hope for Sandy is that she will learn to view women as allies and not as threats. I suspected that she was jealous of Sharon due to her boyfriend, Chris, and his pursuit of Sharon while they were broken up. This was only an intuitive thought, but it was based on my knowledge of her relationship with Chris, what transpired between Chris and Sharon during their separation, and my awareness of Sandy's alienation from other women. Unfortunately, this alienation grew as her distrust of women expanded onto other women in the group, including her trust in me. While Sandy approached the meeting with apprehension, Jackie arrived with flowers, a beautiful bouquet of yellow azaleas and blue irises mixed with tiny white baby's breath. We all sat around my dining room table. I had prepared coffee and hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks. I also had bran muffins with cream cheese, light popcorn, and grapes. I joked: "With all our issues around food and eating disorders, I thought it would be best tostay with healthier foods." 100

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I asked the group what they wanted from our meetings. I began by saying that I needed a place where I could talk about my anger. I had experienced anger and confusion when I first came into A.A., but now those feelings were resurfacing again. "I j-q,st don't trust the men in A.A." I talked briefly about my childhood and about my older brother. He used to get drunk a lot. "I think of him when I talk to men in A.A." I shared with the group that he used to fondle me when I was child. "I had to go and talk to a therapist to process all that after I came into A.A." I also told the group how these childhood events affected my relationships and the choices I made with men. "At first my brother was my hero. He was the star athlete in high school, the football quarterback, and everyone knew his name. It gave me self-esteem to be his sister. Unfortunately, he also caused a lot of trouble in our family because of his drinking it's difficult for me to be around men alcoholics, especially when I'm trying to work on my issues around my brother." I told the women that I knew I 101

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needed a women's group to talk to about what was going on with me. My anger at men was returning, and each time these emotions were being felt, they were intensifying and moving from anger to rage. I wanted to belong to a community of women so I could feel safe to talk about my rage and fear of men. I wanted to talk with women but not in an A.A. group-not even women's A.A. Looking back, I could see how being around men in A.A. triggered my feelings about my childhood and what had happened to me with my brother. What I couldn't understand was how I could attend A.A. meetings for months and then years without understanding where my discomfort was coming from. I found myself full of rage and in pain over my relationships with men--particularly men alcoholics. I wasn't sure if it was the men or the A.A. meetings that upset me the most, or if they were one and the same. Jackie talked about her feelings toward A.A. "I have no expectations of A.A. I've always felt safe there. It's outside of A.A. that I feel fear. 102

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I say whatever I want to at meetings. I feel comfortable there, but I need to learn to be comfortable outside of A.A. I can talk to women one-to-one, but I'm more afraid of women's groups." Sharon response was that she needed something outside of A.A. "Whenever I'm at an A.A. meeting and the men outnumber the women, you know how the conversation is going to go--it's their meeting and I end up talking like they talk." She did not say exactly what "men talk" was, but she did say, "I end up cussing more and talking the drunkalogue.11 Here we see some very different views of A.A. Jackie "feels safe" in A.A., unlike myself who doesn't trust the men in the group. Jackie adds that she "says whatever she wants" at meetings, as if in defiance of the men that control the rhetoric. Jackie's distrust is of women--she's "afraid of women's groups." She didn't say what it was she was afraid of, but based on my knowledge of Jackie's history, she felt she had power in her relationships with men. She felt she gained this power through sex. She didn't have that same power with women. 103

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Sharon, on the other hand, is very aware of the language games played in A.A. She's conscious of "talking like they talk," meaning she is aware of how men talk differently than women and how women adapt to men's language--including herself. She doesn't like talking like men, "cussing and talking the drunkalogue," but she does it anyway and then feels angry. Reminding the group of how A.A. meetings are conducted, I asked the women what format they thought we should follow. "None," was the response. "Let's just talk about what's going on with us." The group wanted an alternative to A.A., and that alternative included the meeting structure. They viewed our group as a "free" place in which to talk. In an almost defiance of A.A. rules, the group chose to go the opposite of A.A. in terms of topic, format, setting, and language, expressing their need for freedom from the dominance of men in the A.A. community. Later, the group will go even further and question some of the basic tenets of the A.A. program. 104

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The meeting came to a close. Sandy left after one hour so she could get to work; Jackie left after two hours; and Sharon after three. Jackie spoke to Sharon before she left: "I really thought you didn't like me. I know Nellie [Sharon's sponsor] doesn't like me." Sharon replied, "I'm not Nellie!" Jackie responded, "I'm afraid of Nellie." Sharon answered, "So am I." To provide some background to this conversation it is helpful to understand the relationship between A.A. members and sponsors. Nellie, the woman Jackie referred to, is Sharon's sponsor. Participants in A.A. are encouraged to have sponsors. Sponsors are people with a year or more sobriety who offer guidance to newcomers on working the twelve steps. Unfortunately, sometimes sponsorship creates power positions for those who are sponsors. Sharon had chosen Nellie for a sponsor. Nellie is a women who tries to live her life by "The Book" of A.A. My personal observations were that Nellie is not a women who is comfortable in the company of other 105

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women. She displayed an angry "mean" disposition that was void of any expression of compassion or sensitivity. (Nellie was quoted in my observations of the first A.A. meeting.) Consequently, Nellie often intimidated other women in A.A., particularly Jackie. Jackie thought that because of her strained relationship with Nellie, that Sharon didn't like her either. Sharon, on the other hand, was becoming more conscious of Nellie's control and intimidation over her and was beginning to rebel against that control by pulling away from her. Therefore, Sharon doesn't want to be identified with Nellie but admitted that Nellie was intimidating. This may be why when Jackie said that she was "afraid" of Nellie. Sharon responded, "So am I." After everyone left, Sharon made some interesting comments that seemed to come from my story about my brother. She said that she gets angry when she sometimes hears people talk about incest issues at A.A. meetings. She wondered why. "Is it because I have something in my past I need to deal with?" Then she opened up, "It's not my father 106

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I wonder about, it's my mother. This brings up all kinds of issues for me about my sexuality and stuff." She talked about childhood memories, "dark places and bad smells." She even wondered if she had sexually abused her brother and sister. She told me about her younger brother. "He's not alcoholic but he married a caretaker--a nurse." She then talked about her younger sister, "She's crazy-she goes into fits of rage." Sharon chose to share this part of her story with me privately. Maybe because she feared the response from the other women. She was ashamed and fearful of the possibility that she may have been abused by another woman. She also feared the possibility that she may have abused her siblings. Although the women's group did bring a feeling of safety to some, and a feeling of fear to others, there existed a definite need to talk privately. The one-to-one storytelling that took place between me and the women in the group was not meant for public discourse, even in a small women's group. 107

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Sharon and I shifted our conversation to another auxiliary group of A.A., "Women in Sobriety." I was surprised she knew of this group. I had done some research to find out more about Women in Sobriety and wanted to go to one of their meetings but never got around to it. I did, however, have some of their literature. Sharon said, "Women talk about their feelings. I need a place to talk about women's issues: child care, P.M.S., men, divorce, sex, etc." Meeting two. The second meeting was a gathering of Sandy, Sharon and me. Jackie called to say she couldn't make it. sandy arrived first, then Sharon. We talked about varicose veins, P.M.S., food, exercise, caffeine, and cures. Sharon and I talked about our compulsive eating habits. Sharon shared her story. She began her compulsive eating at age sixteen when her parents said they were getting a divorce. She gained thirty pounds. Her father called her "fat and ugly." He took her to a diet doctor where 108

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they prescribed her diet pills. 11I lived on speed for years after that,11 she said. I responded by saying that I felt my own compulsive eating was caused by the sexual abuse I experienced from my brother. My eating patterns weren't really about food; I ate to kill the pain and to hide behind the body fat I had put on. I was about eight years old. I remembered looking at photographs of myself as a child and wondering when the incest began. I could never remember when the incidents occurred, only the confusion and emotional pain they caused. The photographs helped me to remember. I was able to guess by the photographs that showed when I first gained weight. My face was always very rounded, but my cheeks had become fuller and my body quite plump by the time I was in the third grade. The fat replaced the smiles I once had on my face. Looking at the pictures, I could see my saddened eyes and rigid jaw. They expressed my hurt and anger. I told Sharon how I still felt many of those same feelings today and how it has jaded my hopes of trusting men again. 109

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We began to talk about families, the roles we acted out when we tried to relate to each other, and how those roles changed. Many of us had learned about family. roles through alcohol treatment programs or from our therapists. Other twelve-step groups, like Adult Children of Alcoholics, also talked about family roles. Sharon said she was the "mascot" of her family--the "caretaker and joke teller." I said I was the "scapegoat--the bad one." The conversation then switched to marriage. Sandy entered the discussion. She talked about her first marriage. "I married him to get out of the house, away from my father." I wanted to ask her about her father, but was sensitive to her reluctance to share too much of her story with the group. She did say that she was seventeen years old when she first got married. "I ended up with the same thing," she added, then she talked more about her first marriage: "He'd have me followed after work. He accused me of seeing other men. He hit me so hard one time I ended up in the hospital." Sandy's two boys are from this first marriage. Her 110

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sons were three and five years old when she divorced. Sandy said that her husband "never touched the boys," and added, "Healways pays his child support. But I don't like to deal with him if I can avoid it." Sharon then talked about her marriage. She also married to get out of the house. Her mother was a "lush" and her father was seldom around. She was the oldest child and became the principal caretaker for her younger brother and sister. For these reasons, she left home when she was seventeen. She was married for sixteen years and had three children. Her husband was also jealous, like Sandy's, and accused her of having affairs. Although Sandy said she was too scared to have an affair, "even if I wanted to," Sharon had affairs "out of spite." After Sandy left, Sharon and I talked. References were made to the program (A.A.). Sharon mentioned Nellie, her sponsor. "I'm not telling Nellie about being in counseling or about coming to this group. I don't want Nellie to feel she's 111

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failed as a sponsor or anything." Sharon and I talked about A.A. sponsorship. I mentioned how Jackie and I have discussed the subject before and we both agreed that "it sets up an unequal power relationship." I mentioned to Sharon that she may be giving up a lot of her power to Nellie. Sharon then shared some of her own experiences since becoming a sponsor. She got involved with a woman, Diane, whose boyfriend would come a.fter her with a gun whenever he was angry. "I don't need to put myself in the middle of that stuff," she said. Sharon is confused about what her responsibility is as a sponsor. Her own sponsor has ruled over her with "The Big Book" and the twelve-steps to the point where Sharon is afraid to tell her that she's seeking other, outside help. Sharon is so concerned about pleasing Nellie instead ofherself that she's not telling Nellie about her participation in the women's group for fear Nellie may feel that "she's failed as a sponsor." The truth may be that Nellie has failed, and if so, Sharon is more concerned about Nellie's feelings than her own. Now Sharon is 112

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working with another women, playing the role of sponsor. She says: "I don't like being a sponsor and I don't want the label of sponsor." When talking about the A.A. notion of sponsorship, I was reminded of an article I read by Charlotte Kasl (MS Magazine, Nov/Dec, 1990) on twelve-step programs. I quote a passage to Sharon: Women who question "the program," as it is often called, have been shamed, called resistant, and threatened with abandonment. They have been trained to believe that male models of nearly anything are better than whatever they might create for themselves. (pp. 30-31). I then mentioned the first step and the notion of powerlessness. I asked Sharon, "How can we let go of power we never had as women?" She answered, "Hell if I know!" She asked me for a copy of the article. I agreed to bring a copy for everyone to our next meeting. Sharon added her comments about "making amends" as suggested in the eighth step of A.A. She then asked me, "How can I practice forgiveness when I haven't 113

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even gotten angry yet." I answered, "Hell if I know!" Meeting three. This was the only meeting I taped. There were many stories shared with topics that ranged from mothers and daughters, to men, sex, love, body image, gossip and shame. I also introduced the topic of feminism. Sharon showed up first and then Jackie. Sandy called and said her schedule at work wouldn't allow her to come. Maybe she would join us after the Christmas rush (she was working part-time in retail). I asked her if she really felt comfortable coming to the group. She confessed that she didn't. Her earlier criticism was about Sharon, but this time she spoke negatively about Jackie. She didn't trust her. I knew Sandy wouldn't be coming to any more of our meetings. The pattern was becoming obvious to me that women didn't trust other women in A.A. I wasn't sure why this was, but I suspect it had to do with women in A.A. and their relationships with men. Women's relationships with men were more valued than their relationships with other women. Although this 114

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women's group, women's A.A. meetings, and organizations like Women in Sobriety were all attempts to shift this loyalty women had to men toward a loyalty that was balanced between men and women, it has proven to be a slow process, and for some women, it may never happen. They will continue to choose their relationships with men over their relationships with women. Unfortunately, these women will then seek to have all of their needs met by men. Sharon and I talked privately before Jackie arrived. I asked Sharon if she felt her perceptions were changing towards our roles as wives and mothers, our relationships with men and women, etc. For me, what used to be acceptable was no longer acceptable. I asked her, "What triggers all this change--pain? Is it pain?" She answered by saying that it may have something to do with getting in touch with our shame: "My therapist pointed out all these shaming things. She said to me, 'You feel ashamed a lot don't you?' And I said, 'Yeah!' A year ago I wouldn't have known that; I wouldn't have 115

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known how ashamed I felt. I knew I was ashamed about some things, but those were recent events. Now I was starting to realize things I was ashamed about when I was a little girl and how that shame affected my choices. It's eye opening, It's scary." We then talked about how we get in touch with our shame. I suggested that joining a women's group helps to reveal a lot about what's going on inside of us. "When women start getting together in a women's group, it's not that we're here to talk against men, it's just that we need to get together and talk about what's going on. Then what usually happens is we start asking each other questions and hearing similar answers. We realize our stories are not isolated sets of circumstances and that we have something to share with each other. This brings us together. When women form a community it's empowering." Sharon responded that it was also "threatening" to men for women to form groups. She talked about her boyfriend, Jim, and his feelings about her 116

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joining a women's group outside of A.A.: "Jim will be ok, I know that. If I had done this with Sam (husband one) or with Jacob (husband two), I mean it would have been an instant fight. 'How could you spend so much time over there!' And on, and on. Then I'd be angry. It feels good not to have to do that anymore with a man." Sharon then told me a story about her daughter, Cathy: "You know I had an interesting thing happen to me last night. Cathy has this friend, a boy, who was having a birthday party last night. Up till this time, he would ask her to spend the night. I'd get uptight. Then I'd say, 'they're only ten years old,' then I'd have to realize where that was coming from with me. I had this fear he'd molest her. She's starting to bud, ever so slightly. Jim helped me on this. He said: 'Sharon, little boys are curious at that age and Cathy's budding,' There was a group of six boys and cathy was the only girl. I said to her, 'No, you can't spend the night.' I had told her this two days ago; I told her, 'You can stay until ten thirty and party and play and all 117

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that, but you have to come home at ten thirty.' She says, 'that's Ok, that's fine Mom.' I called her at ten thirty to tell her that Jim was going to pick her up, so he goes to pick her up and all these little boys come running out to the car begging, 'can Cathy stay?' They all looked innocent and it all seemed ok, but she was still the only girl there. So she comes home and I try to tell her how I feel, she's crying and I'm telling her that she's becoming a young women and all these little friends who are boys will be getting curious. Then she goes, 'They're not that way!' and she cried. 'But mom, they're nice.' I told her, 'I'm sure that they are. But I have to protect you because I love you and until you're able to make good decisions by yourself.' She was mad, she cried, and I talked to her for an hour. I told her it was ok to cry. I got her teddy bear. She couldn't understand why I didn't trust these boys. I didn't want to get too explicit with her." Sharon's story of dealing with her daughter is indicative of how we, as women, are continually held 118

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hostage by our past. We pass on to our daughters whatever experiences, attitudes, or fears we learned as children. I have had similar experiences raising my own two daughters. I was constantly afraid for them--particularly their relationships with men. I didn't trust any man with my daughters, not teachers, not neighbors, not uncles, not even their own father. It was difficult to raise my daughters, to nurture and cherish their femininity, their sexuality, their sensuality when I didn't cherish the same things about myself. I made a conscious effort not to pass on to my daughters what had been passed on to me. Unfortunately, I fear I may have fallen short of my own goals. It's difficult to change generations of dysfunction in one generation, but I wanted to try. We talked a little bit longer, then Jackie arrived. She took off her coat and spun around in a circle. Sharon and I noticed that she had lost some weight. We complimented her and asked how she did it. "Once I'm motivated, I'm ok. Then when men start looking at me again it's 'yes, and you can't 119

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have it!' I can remember being a size five, and all this weight gain came after I got sober and after I stopped smoking. I hope I can maintain it. It allowed me, while I was fat, to get in touch with who I am. Being fat kept me from wanting to have sex with men. I'm sure there are men who would have had sex with me anyway, but I wouldn't want to do it. I feel vulnerable enough having sex yet being judged while you're doing it." Jackie then looked over at me. "I've told Carol about the kind of sex I've had since I've gained weight. I've given oral sex without taking my clothes off," she said without emotion. Sharon validated her, "Or a long nightgown to cover you up but tight on top!" Sharon brought the conversation back to shame. "I remember getting up for work last week and not fitting in my clothes and wanting to call in sick. I felt such shame." Jackie told more of her story: "I remember going to the store and buying food and feeling ashamed. But I had no trouble going to the liquor store and getting another bottle." 120

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Sharon responded: "I went to a meeting once, the meeting didn't do anything for me, talking to my sponsor didn't do anything for me, but God damn Dairy Queen was talking to me for two miles. I pulled in there, got a large hot fudge sundae, and they put the tricking lid on there so tight I couldn't get it off. I'm sitting there in my car, my favorite place to hide and eat, and I rip that lid off and the hot fudge goes all over me, the windows, the seats. This just figures!" Jackie understood and told the group: "My compulsion for food is as strong as my compulsion for alcohol but it is more socially acceptable to eat food. Already, just in these two weeks of losing weight, after being everybody's buddy and everybody's pal, and now men are treating me differently." Jackie said it was socially acceptable for her to eat, but it was not socially acceptable for her to be fat. Since she has lost some weight; however, she had been receiving more acceptance--specifically from men. While she was heavy, the role she played 121

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with men was that of a "pal." I can relate to the "pal" role, it was safer for me to be a pal because I feared my own sexuality and was equally uncomfortable about allowing myself to be a sensual person. Fat then becomes a safety net that shields women from dealing with these issues around sex. Fat prevents some women from having to take a risk and becoming involved with a man. Jackie shared her story about a man she thought she loved. She met him in A.A. "I told him that I loved him and he looked coldly at me in a condescending hard look, as if to say, 'who would love you.' So I said to myself, 'ok, I'm going to the liquor store.' I didn't have any money but I still wanted to get drunk, so I called A.A. They said, 'get your Big Book out.' Right! I can't even think. I called my therapist and she told me to check into the nearest hospital. I was put on a seventy-two hour hold. I was very disagreeable. The pain came in contractions, crashing against me. The psychiatrist came in and talked to me. I told him about the emptiness I was feeling. He said that 122

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I had to find a way to give out of what I didn't have: "When you feel you have to be validated, it resonates out of that emptiness." This was a "moment of clarity" for Jackie. The doctor had given her a picture for her pain, a metaphor to help her understand what was going on with her. This image made her situation seem more tolerable. Jackie responded by saying that she still felt "empty but it's gotten better." She has since run into this man she thought she loved. He was with his new girlfriend. Jackie said she was "pretty, skinny, and stupid." Again, I see a womenagainst-women attitude in Jackie's reaction to the new girlfriend. Jealousy is a common emotion among both sexes, but for Jackie, instead of re-evaluating her choices in men, she ended her story by criticizing another woman. We then talked about our confusion over sex and love. We shared our feelings of hurt, shame, and longing. We talked about how we were taught that sex was all we had to give. I told the group, "I can remember when I learned that my value as person 123

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was directly related to the amount of sex I was willing to give. It was when I was a child. I didn't even know what sex was. All I knew was that the only touching I ever experienced as a child had to be kept a secret. There were no hugs when I came in from school; no kisses good night before I went to bed. I don't even remember sitting on anyone's lap and being read to. The only attention I remember was unfamiliar touches. I thought to myself, 'maybe this is love, this is affection.' My brother, after all, was my hero. It was difficult to see how deeply he had hurt me. I felt so much shame. I thought it must be all my fault, although I wasn't sure why. Then, to make matters worse, my body matured at a very young age. I tried everything to hide my breasts. I even wrapped my grandmother's bandages around me to hide what I thought were "wounds." I felt more shame. I was so confused, first because I was having the sexual experiences of a women when I was still a child, then because I began to develop the body of a woman 124

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when I was still a child. I learned to hate my body." Jackie said she felt as I did when she developed as a young girl. "I was the same way. As soon as I started getting breasts, everyone in my life started treating me differently." Sharon added, "Yeah boys would start grabbing you and hurting you. They want to hurt you." I could not help but wonder how it is we come to trust men at all, specifically alcoholic men, when so many of our experiences as young girls and women have been traumatic at the hands of men. I was reminded of my fear of men when I was first asked to go to A.A. meetings. I was told I had to be open, honest, and vulnerable in front of this group if I was to get well. It's no wonder that I never felt safe. We pass these fears onto our daughters. Sharon related her feelings about body image onto her daughter, Cathy. "She's already budding and she's only ten. She loves to wear t-shirts and I tell her, 'Honey, maybe we ought to go and get you a bra.' Then she asks 125

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why, and I tell her that she's budding, and she says she hates it." I asked Sharon how she's handling it with her other daughter growing up. Sharon responds, "Mary has a different body than Colleen. She wears little cotton blouses and sweaters, but not these t-shirts. If I want to turn someone on, I wear a t-shirt. HA!" In Sharon's comments I hear my own experience: our bodies are to be hidden and shamed, or our bodies are to be used to get love, only to experience more shame. We continued to talk about body images and our sexual behavior with men. I mentioned that I was confused over enjoying my own sexuality and not wanting to be perceived as a sexual object: "It's a complex issue because we've been taught to be sexual objects. If a guy does something inappropriate he can say, 'well, look how she's dressed and look at how she acted.' God damn it, we were taught to act that way! If you want attention, act sexual, but then you feel shame over the attention you get. It's crazy! So, I guess I don't know how I feel about the responsible part when it comes to issues of sexual harassment. 126

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Sometimes I'm not sure how I'm supposed to act or how I feel about my sexuality ... Sharon responded, 11Yeah, I don't like what these guys are doing, but I participated for fifteen years in the same work place. And they're going to go, 'Get a life, Sharon. Look at the jokes you've told. Look at some of the stuff you've done in the past.' And I have quite a history. I don't want my history brought up.11 Jackie's response was: 11You know what I've noticed when I joke with the guys at the [A.A.] club? Dean can say anything and I'll laugh like hell because I know it isn't mean spirited. But then some other guys in the club will open their mouths and I want to knock them out of their fucking chairs. It's that anger towards men, that hate that is coming out. Chris can say anything, and I'll laugh too." By talking about our confusion about our sexuality we didn't come to any concrete answers. I don't think we were looking for answers. Instead, what we were looking for in talking about our sexuality was to be validated for our experiences 127

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and feelings. I, personally, didn't want to feel as if I was the only one struggling with my sexuality and shame. Each woman was struggling with this subject, just as each woman had her own experiences around being sexual. Where some had been more permissive with men, others had been more withdrawn. What was especially interesting was the fact that although each women may have acted out differently with regards to their sexuality, inside the feelings were the same--shame was the controlling emotion. The conversation eventually switched from sexual behavior to gossip. Sex is often a "hot" topic of gossip. Sharon shared a story she told in therapy: "You know, I was talking with my therapist about it and I told her I had a problem with gossip and she tells me it's because it's so easy to point out what everyone else is doing, then I don't have to look at me. But I still do it! I still gossip." I was curious why it was that women were always accused of gossip. I mentioned that both Jim (Sharon's boyfriend) and Chris (Sandy's boyfriend) had warned both women not to gossip when they joined 128

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this women's group. Here's what Jackie had to say: 11I stay out of the general conversations down at the [A.A.] club, but I've got to talk to other people. I've got to get this stuff out. I have to tell someone how I feel about other people. I responded by saying that someone had called me on the telephone last night and this is what they had to say: 11I was down at the club last night and I watched (so and so) doing this with (so and so) and I got so angry." I then asked the group, "Is that gossip or did this lady need to talk about it?" Jackie answered, "If anyone ever says to you, 'Can I tell you a secret?' then that means someone told it to them and that's gossip." Sharon added her comments, "A lot of times people have told me something about themselves and they are people I have grown very attached to. I don't want to repeat what they've said to me. Then I think, if I told someone something about me that I didn't want repeated and they went ahead and told someone else, I sure wouldn't like it.11 129

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I restate what I hear society saying, that only women gossip. Sharon jumps in, "That's bullshit! I've worked with men for fifteen years and they gossip." I picked up a book on my end table. I remembered there was something in it about gossip. I read from the text: "The impression that women talk too freely and too much is summed up in a word-gossip. Although gossip can be destructive it isn't always. It can serve a crucial function in establishing intimacy, especially if it is not talking but simply talking about" (Tannen, 1990, p. 97). Jackie laughed, "Yeah, we can do it!" We all laughed. But I still wanted to pursue the topic. I asked the group, "Well, what about it? Is this how women bond?" Jackie responded, "I think men are afraid of that bonding. If they all get together, hell, we're in trouble. Historically, women have been together, sewing, caring for children. Men have been isolated, hunting, whatever, being independent and strong, and the 130

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women are home being nurturing and talking about what's going on in their lives. I'll have to bring this book next week. This guy talks about how afraid men are, especially of the birth cycle. No man has any idea of the radical changes women go through each month. We're tuned into nature, like the seasons, we go in circles where men are linear. Men climb ladders, compete. Men don't have that kind of balance of center." Now that I had some idea what these women felt about the sexist label of being called "gossips," I was curious to find out what they had to say about the label "feminist," so I asked, "What do you think when you hear the word feminist?" Jackie responded, "My body just tightens up. I don't like it. Sharon added, "I don't like the term feminist because that's someone who is angry, militant." Jackie agreed, "It's like I told Carol yesterday, I believe in the issues but I'm not out there being angry and militant. I live them in my life. I'm taking care of things and doing the things feminists talk about, and I'm demanding now 131

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that men treat me a certain way. But, that word comes up and I go yuk! I added my opinion, "I have a personal opinion. You may think this is pretty far-fetched, but I think it's a part of men's fear of women. Feminists are women who want choices, and who are questioning their roles. In addition to men's fears, and possibly those of women, I think there has been a negative campaign against the women's movement. I worry about these hostile reactions to the word "feminist."' Jackie added, "When I think of feminist, I think of Sharon finished the sentence, "Bull-dyke!" I was put off by their response. I responded, "But can't you see how that is just a way to keep women from coming together. So if we sit here and say, 'Oh God, she's one of those God damn feminists!' then we become afraid to identify ourselves with that word. There are so many negative connotations. But yet we believe in the principles that feminists are fighting for--we want the benefits but not the label." 132

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Jackie responded, "I have the heart of a feminist, it's the rhetoric." "We need a new word then," I replied. "After all, we communicate with language. I want to be a part of the movement, but I don't want to be judged and called a 'bull-dyke,' especially by other women." "But what are we right now? We're not alcoholics. This is not an A.A. meeting. We're women getting together to talk about what's going on with us. It's nothing else. Maybe we don't need labels," said Jackie. I listened to her point about the notion of labels. I commented that I didn't like to call myself an alcoholic, "as if this is all that I am!" But I wanted to call myself a feminist without being labeled a bull-dyke. I told another story about labeling: "I've been called a lot of names. The worst was when I tried to help a women in A.A. who was being abused by her husband. She called me one night and asked me to come over. She was 133

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hysterical. It seems she got in another fight with her husband and he hit her. She was afraid he was going to hurt her new-born twin girls. I panicked. I feared for those little girls as much as I feared for her. I drove over to.her apartment and there she was, trembling on the couch, cradling one of her babies and looking like a baby herself. I asked where the other twin was and she said she was next door at her neighbor's apartment. Her husband wasn't there. She said he had just left after throwing his plate of food at her. The vegetables were splattered all over the wall and there was broken glass on the floor. Suddenly, her husband returned. I asked my friend if she wanted to get her kids and come home with me. She didn't come. She chose to stay with him. Her husband later reported to various men in the A.A. club I had been attending that I had tried to break up his marriage. He called me 'a man-hating cunt!'" I told the group that I felt hurt and confused. I tried to respond to a friend's cry for help and I was labeled a "man hating cunt." Needless to say, I'm sensitive to 134

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criticisms of the women's movement. It's as if we don't have the right to protect ourselves. Then to be called names like "cunt" or "bull-dyke" when we do try to defend our rights. Sharon jumped in, "I want to do everything that I do well and not be ashamed about it. I want to do the work I do, being a mechanic, and not feel shame. I was afraid women would call me a dyke. I always wore earrings, perfume, makeup--mechanics don't wear this stuff." My response was to ask why it was we were afraid to lose our femininity by identifying ourselves as feminists Jackie responded, "There's a part of me that's afraid--I don't want to be a man. I'm smarter than most men I know." "I'm smarter than all the men I know. Hell, look at George Bush. Do you think you're smarter than him? I do!" laughed Sharon. "God didn't discriminate with intellect. Men just don't have this--a place to talk and the freedom to feel. Men are cut off from that," said Jackie. 135

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11A guy I know once told me that men are afraid of women because women know creativity--women are the life givers. He said all that men can do is go to temple, pray, and use metaphor,11 I commented. Then I asked Jackie if she felt she was smarter than most men, how does she feel when she walks into a room full of alcoholic men at an A.A. meeting. She responded, 11It makes me feel like I've got something to share and they better darn-well listen.11 Sharon added, 11I do so much better when I come into A.A. meetings and say what I want to say-they can't kick me out.11 I question, however, whether or not these women are typical of other women's attitudes in A.A. The fact that they chose to come to this alternative group to talk indicates to me that they are not typical and they are not saying all they need to say in A.A. meetings. Most women don't go into an A.A. meeting thinking 11these men had better darn-well listen!" As Sharon stated, she does "much better" when she feels free to use her own voice, but those 136

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times are not frequent. This is why she joined the women's group. I talked about my impatience with women who don't like other women, who caution us when we talk about our feelings at meetings. Jackie added, "I used to think women weren't useful, but now I appreciate my women friends. When women talk to each other at meetings, men get crazy. They can't deal with it." Jackie then told a horrifying story: "I remember a time a man walked into our women's meeting at the A.A. club. He wouldn't leave. Then he walked out into the coffee bar area and said, 'Those damn cunts!' Sharon responded by saying that the club is not a safe place for a women's meeting. "We need a separate place." Jackie added that she heard a man at the club say, "What happened to the good old days when you could beat your wife and kids and it's nobody's business?" Sharon and I gasped. Jackie talked about how angry these men had made her: "When I'm mad at men I refer to them (in a sarcastic tone) as 'boys.' Sharon used laughter 137

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instead of sarcasm in her response: I call them 'turtle dicks.'" What I saw at this meeting was some of the anger, distrust, shame and hurt women feel around men. The women's group was a place to express these feelings. Although some may view our conversation as "man bashing" what I experienced was a mutual confusion over women's feelings toward men. The topics began with body image and references were made to men. We talked about our daughters and references were made to men. We talked about our sexuality, our shame, and our relationships. References were made to men. We talked about the labels against women, the "gossips" as we were referred to by men who were close to women in the group. And we talked about labels for women and the term "feminist." We talked about our individual perceptions of these words and how those perceptions were shaped by our feelings toward men. We talked about the other labels that men had given us"cunts," broads," etc. Finally, we talked about our rights as women: the right to say what we want 138

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at meetings and the right to have our own women's meeting. The women's stories showed some of the attitudes and behaviors these women displayed towards men. When the women recognized their patterns with men, they reacted. Emotions arose that ranged from anger to shame, with a lot of hurt and fear in between. once the emotions were expressed, the women began to reaffirm their rights by saying how they speak about themselves in front of men during an A.A. meeting. The contexts for our discussions were our male-female relationships in A.A.; however, the basis for these relationships and the interactions that followed were rooted in each women's story about their childhood. Meeting four. The attendance changed significantly _by meeting four. Sandy called and said she couldn't join us because she had to work. Jackie called and said she couldn't come because she had been in a car accident. She was shaken up but she was ok. Another woman from A.A., Rita, had also called me earlier in the week and asked if she could 139

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join the group. She wanted to bring a "newcomer." I said it was up to the group, but since Sharon was the only one coming to our next meeting, I'd ask Sharon. Sharon said that it would be ok with her, so Rita and Tanya joined the group. What follows are brief biographies on both women. Rita is thirty years old, in her second marriage, and has two sons. Her oldest son is fourteen, from her first marriage, and lives with his father. Her youngest son was born six months ago. Rita is from an alcoholic home. Her father is a brutal man who used to beat her brother and sexually abused her oldest sister. While this abuse was going on, her mother kept her "head in the sand;" a behavior typical of spouses of alcoholics. As a result of her traumatic childhood, Rita had become a very closed person. I was happy to see her join the group. Tanya was unknown to me prior to this meeting. All I knew about Tanya was what she shared in the women's group. She's about five-months sober and from an alcoholic home. Her father drank and left 140

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the family when she was very young. Tanya was the youngest member in our group, approximately twentyeight years old. Both Tanya and Rita came from lower to middle class backgrounds with Rita dropping out of high school and Tanya presently attending a local community college. During the meeting, I passed around copies of the Kasl article about 12-step programs. We attempted to read the article as we read texts in A.A. one person reads a paragraph aloud, then another. The following dialogues occurred during the reading. Consequently, we ended up talking more than reading. I felt a resistance--not to the text, but to the format. The women just wanted to talk. My role as researcher/teacher began to take over my role as participant. Looking back, I can see now how I was digging for data and imposed a structure on the group. They didn't like it. I don't think they were even conscious of what my shift in agenda was, nor did they care, but what they did notice was that our meeting was starting to feel like an A.A. meeting and they didn't want that. My sense was 141

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that they were excited about what they were reading, but they didn't want to have to wait their turn to talk. That was something they had to adhere to in A.A., and as I had observed. in A.A., women were seldom called on to speak. The article we were reading was a critique of the A.A. steps from a feminist perspective. Sharon was anxious to respond. She had been upset since she arrived. She had gone to the women's A.A. meeting at the club the night before and the topic for that meeting was step one. She told the group she was having trouble admitting she was powerless: "I know I'm powerless over alcohol and drugs but I have power to make choices!" Her sponsor, Nellie, who was a regular at this meeting, called her a "defiant bitch." Sharon was crushed. Nellie had whispered this under her breath but loud enough for Sharon to hear. Then Nellie spoke to the group, "All I know is that I'm powerless and I have a God in my life." Sharon did say some of the women at the meeting could relate to what she had said, "but the comment from Nellie really hurt." Sharon said 142

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she went home that night, went to bed, and found herself getting back up, in the middle of the night, eating cupcakes. Then she went back to bed again. When she woke up the next morning she told her partner, Jim, what she had done during the night, then she started to cry. We talked about grieving and how she may have to grieve the end of her relationship with Nellie (as it is now) if that is what she decides is best for her. Sharon said how much she enjoyed talking to her therapist and found it very helpful. Unfortunately, talking to Nellie was always a struggle. To make things worse, Nellie's husband would make sexual advances toward Sharon and then Nellie would get angry and say things to Sharon about her "fucking around with men." I was left wondering if this pain would ever end for women if we couldn't even trust each other because of our troubled choices in men. Sharon talked some more about issues she was also discussing with her therapist. She was having dreams about her mother sexually abusing her. She then associated these dreams to her physical health. 143

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She had constant bouts of bladder infections as a child and as an adult. She wondered why. Her one daughter also had a bladder infection and she was afraid, "Little girls don't get bladder infections unless it's from baths or sex," she said. Sharon also talked about a baby sitter she had as a child and how that sitter's house was dark and how it smelled "like piss." She knew "something happened there." Tanya listened closely to Sharon's story. This was her first time visiting the women's group. I couldn't help but wonder how she was responding to the open way in which we talked about very sensitive subjects. She responded with equal openness by telling her story. She shared a memory she had of a childhood experience, "I remember my dad leaving," she said, "I was the youngest in my family. The only girl. My grandfather used to come into my room and fondle me, but he never penetrated me." When she was "older," maybe eight, nine, or ten, she recalled her grandfather following her up the stairs 144

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to her room. the stairs. 11I turned around and pushed him down The touching stopped after that." I was surprised by Tanya's openness and also concerned about her reaction to the Kasl article on A.A. I didn't want to feel responsible if she were to alienate herself from A.A., especially with only five-months of sobriety. I told her how I felt about A.A. "A.A. helped me to quit drinking and drugging, but those problems were just the tip of the iceberg for me.11 I told her I needed to explore the reasons I used drugs and alcohol in the first place. I needed to heal in the places where the hurt began. Those places were back in my early childhood experiences. Whether I chose to continue in A.A. or not, my decision was based on seven years of sobriety. For Sharon it was three years, and for Rita three. Time does make a difference. Tanya understood the point I was making. She then talked about the Kasl article. After I had read Kasl's comments on step two, Tanya jumped right in and said, "Yes, this is exactly where I'm coming from." Kasl says of step 2: I believe that 145

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spiritual power is neither higher nor lower but all pervasive. I would replace the passivity implied in this step--that something external will magically restore us to sanity--with "affirmative action." I asked the group how they felt about the Lord's Prayer. Sharon said, "It's ok except for the father part." Rita said, 11I like the father part because I had such a bad father. I need a positive image of a father." Rita then told her story. Like Tanya, Rita shared pieces of her life that she never told anyone: 11I remember my father going up the stairs to my sister's room. I used to sit on the stairs and play. I knew what he was doing. Then one day I walked up the stairs and my father looked at me in that 'lustful' way. It made me feel awful," she said. She doesn't remember if anything happened between her and her father. There were uncles too. "I'm not sure what happened there either. But they were all alcoholics." Then she talked about her new husband, Mel. 11I don't trust him," she said. I asked her why. She said, "Because he's a man.11 I 146

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responded, "Don't you trust any men?" She replied, "No!" Rita shared more of her story: "I have to share something with the group and this cannot go any further than this room. (I've deleted this part of her story.) She closed by saying, "I don't enjoy sex. I just don't want it." When Rita finished, she asked for reassurance from the group that nothing would be repeated. The group reaffirmed their commitment to confidentiality. The meeting closed. Before everyone left, I showed them some books I had in my library. There were several on sexual abuse. Both Rita and Sharon borrowed books. Tanya thanked me for showing her the Kasl article. 147

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CHAPTER 3 COMPARING THE A.A. STORIES WITH THE WOMEN'S STORIES My introduction to storytelling in A.A. began with the five elements of a story: plot, setting, time, characters, and point of view. The plot of each story told in A.A. is predetermined. Stories must focus on alcoholism. The setting for each story, however, may vary from speaker to speaker. The same is true for the element of time with most speakers preferring to talk about the present. The main characters in A.A. stories are predetermined, as is the plot. The main character, being the alcoholic, is seldom supported by any other character; therefore, the point of view is first person narration. When the same elements of storytelling are applied to the stories told in the women's meeting, some variations occur. First, the plot does not have to be restricted to alcoholism. In fact, most of the women failed to discuss their drinking at all. Instead, the women talked about their feelings (distrust, anger, shame, hurt), and about their 148

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relationships (with men, parents, children, and other women). These women also talked about labels that are indicative of women, i.e., gossips, feminists, cunts, man-haters. Just as topics varied between the women's meeting and the A.A. meeting, so did the setting and time elements of women's stories. A.A. settings and times focus on alcohol and "what is used to, what happened, and what it's like now." The women talked about their lives in early childhood settings, in their homes as wives and mothers, and in their work places. No one talked about their lives in the bars or other places where they drank. But the women's group did talk about the A.A. meetings they've attended. They voiced their resistance to the male language, the twelve steps, the men alcoholics, and the notion of sponsorship. A.A.'s established rituals are always followed when telling stories in an A.A, meeting. The rigidity of A.A.'s common language is based on a central text, Alcoholics Anonymous. With A.A. rituals and the language firmly in place, many of 149

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the stories that are told sound the same, regardless of individual experience and gender differences. A.A. stories followed three basic patterns: the "talking the talk," "Big Book Thumpers," and the cries-for-help stories. The majority of those who were "talking the talk" were men; however, women also assimilated the language of A.A. and spoke the A.A. "talk." The"Big Book Thumpers" were also mostly men. One is usually an "old-timer" before becoming a master of "The Big Book" and most oldtimers are men. On the other hand, there are those women who quickly master the language of the basic text and can quote from "The Big Book" just as readily as any old-timer. Women know that they've gained the acceptance and approval of men when they are called on to speak, having adopted the A.A. language. Although men told the majority of "Big Book Thumper" and "talking the talk" stories, a mix of men and women told cries-for-help stories. The storytelling that took place at the women's meeting was not categorized in the same way as the stories told in the A.A. meetings. First of all, 150

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the women's stories were not based on a central topic. Instead, the stories told bounced around from topic to topic. At an A.A. meeting this would not be acceptable, but the women had no problem flowing from one subject into another. In all of the women's meetings, women shared their personal experiences with detail and emotion. Unlike the A.A. meetings where only some stories were cries for help, the women's stories were all told out of a need for help. Help never came in the form of advice, a suggestion to work a step, or a necessity to "shut up and listen." Instead, help came from having a safe place in which to talk and receive validation from the other group members. A feeling of community was born from the realization that your pain was shared by others. Attendance for both meetings was based on different things for different people. In A.A., some people show up for meetings out of a sense of service, the need to "give freely of what they have found." In the women's meeting, everyone seemed to be searching, continuing whatever journey they may 151

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have started in A.A. but for their own reasons felt they could not finish in A.A. These women reflected on their experiences and shared their emotions around past relationships and their attitudes toward feminism, gossip, and sexuality. Also, unlike the A.A. meetings, no one had to wait their turn to have the floor. No one woman monopolized the conversation. Although there may have been differences of opinion (on feminism or talking in A.A.} there was no open display of conflict--only dialogue. If a woman felt uneasy, she simply quit coming to the meeting. Common to both A.A. and the women's group was the dropping out of members. In A.A. it is common to see someone come in for their first meeting and then not see that person again. It's also common for those who have attended A.A. for long periods of time to stop coming to meetings. Reasons may vary. For the newcomers, it may be that they still have some drinking left to do. For others, it may be a resistance to the language, particularly the talk about God. As for those who drop out after long 152

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attendance, it may be for the same reasons as the newcomers. For others, it may be that they have more successfully integrated themselves back into the mainstream of society. Many may also feel that they can no longer get their needs met in A.A. once the drinking problem has been eradicated. As for the women's group, we started with four in attendance. Sandy was the first to drop out; then Jackie quit coming. For sandy, the reason she quit was a lack of trust. She didn't trust many people, especially women. Jackie quit coming because she felt threatened by the critiques of A.A. She mentioned to me from the start that she was not comfortable with women's meetings in general. She also mentioned to Sharon that she felt safer in A.A. My personal observations, knowing both Sandy and Jackie, are that Sandy resisted all groups. She never participated in A.A., nor did she continue with her support group following her recent experience with therapy. She particularly distrusted women, and her feelings towards the women in this group were no exception. Any healing done 153

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by Sandy would be done privately. The intimacy at the women's group was overwhelming for her and very frightening. Jackie, on the other hand, admitted preferring the company of men to that of women. Knowing Jackie, I can say that a day doesn't go by that she is not at the A.A. club or in an A.A. meeting. Unfortunately, Jackie continues to act out her pre-sobriety behavior by "picking up on men" in the A.A. community. She laughingly told the women's group: "If you ever hear that I give the best blow jobs around A.A., the stories are true!" While Jackie left the group to return to A.A., and Sandy left the group to return to her isolation, two new women joined the group--Rita and Tanya. Both women were extremely straightforward from the start, sharing very personal "secrets" with the group. In A.A. newcomers are often urged to "take the cotton out of their ears and put it in their mouths." In other words, newcomers in A.A. are told to "shut up and listen." The standard advice for newcomers to A.A. also includes "read the 'Big Book,' get a sponsor, go to meetings, and don't 154

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drink!" In the women's meeting there was no advice given. I was particularly careful not to suggest to any women not to go to A.A. meetings just because I chose not to go. The sole purpose of our getting together as women was to talk about whatever it was we couldn't talk about in A.A. and not to bash A.A. Although we each had our own story to tell and our own brand of recovery, we tried not to judge each other. To borrow a slogan from A.A., we tried to "Live and Let Live." 155

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CHAPTER FOUR CLOSING COMMENTS As a seven-year member of A.A. and as a woman who was looking for more dialogue on issues of gender, feelings, and relationships, this study has been a roller-coaster ride. I never thought by discussing the topic of storytelling in A.A. that I would come away no longer wanting to participate in the group. I always had a feeling of alienation while in the A.A. community, but I never thought I would stop going to meetings. For years I had fought my negative feelings about the A.A. language and whether or not I was a "real" alcoholic. Some men told me that I wasn't an alcoholic because I didn't drink like them. Even my exhusband said I wasn't an alcoholic. A woman sponsor told me the same thing: "you just didn't drink like I drank." She, on the other hand, "drank like a man." The closer I examined the language in A.A., the more distant and angry I felt. As I mentioned earlier, some men in A.A. meetings I observed used particularly offensive language when talking about 156

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women, calling females "broads" among other things. I personally was called a "man-hating cunt" because of my objections to men's references to women and one man's abuse of his wife. I finally walked out of a meeting when I heard a man refer to his attraction to the opposite sex as a "tit addiction." As if this wasn't bad enough, there's still one more episode that happened which ended my participation in A.A. I had gone to the A.A. club to interview Joe. Joe is an "old-timer" in A.A., and an original founder of A.A. in this community. He has over thirty years in the program. Joe is very highly respected in A.A. and is often referred to as "Mr. Serenity." I was hoping to gather some interesting stories by talking to him. He began telling me about his early days in A.A. He told me about the "sobering up" room in his basement where he used to bring drunks to help them detox. "What could I do with them--it was my house or jail." He commented about the people in A.A., "Everyone wants to be a teacher but we can't all be teachers." His joked 157

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about his definition of alcoholics: "Alcoholics are like Texans. You can always tell one but you can't tell them much." I asked him about his family. He said his dad was a "drunk" and his mom was "passive." His wife was an early member of Alanon. He didn't feel his family was dysfunctional because "there are no functional families." He talked about some of his behavior while drinking: "A lot of people blame their actions on drinking. But let me put it this way. A lot of us had bad thoughts before we drank, but we needed the drink to do what we were thinking." I thanked Joe for the talk and got up to leave. Before I left I reached over to give him a hug. It is customary in A.A. to hug one another. It's a token of our common problem and common solution--a sign of our "fellowship" with one another. Joe, unfortunately for me, took advantage of the hug to catch a cheap thrill for himself. Instead of returning my hug, he placed his hands on my breasts. I quickly pulled away and walked out of the club. If Joe had needed a drink in the past to 158

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11do what he was thinking,11 he didn't need one that day. When I turned and walked away, I didn't say a word. I drifted out to my car in a fog. I felt as if someone had driven a dagger into my gut. I was in that much pain. I was so confused. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I blamed myself. Like the little girl inside of me who wrapped her body in her grandmother's bandages to hide her breasts, I thought it was my fault. Just like my brother, someone I looked up to and respected had violated my trust. It had been over thirty years since the incidents with my brother, but my reaction was the same. I felt dirty and ashamed. My mind played tricks on me. 11I must have been imagining things,11 I said to myself. 11Joe wouldn't do this to me, not 'Mr. Serenity.' It was my own sick mind at work.11 I've since spoken with other women in A.A. about this experience. Many have said they have had the same thing happen to them, usually with 11oldtimers" they trusted and looked up to as father 159

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figures. All the women felt as ashamed as I did. It takes time before the anger comes. When it does, I've learned that it's part of the healing process. Right now I'm healing from my experiences in A.A. It's hard to say whether I'll ever go back. My hope is that someday A.A. will change, not only to protect the rights of women, but to reflect the new population entering the program--the dually addicted (those who used drugs and alcohol), people coming out of treatment centers (most old-timers can't relate to the treatment center experience), the young people (I've seen children as young as nine years old in A.A.), the gays (A.A. has been mostly straights), the different ethnic groups (A.A. has been mostly white), and more and more women (alcoholism does not discriminate against women). For now, however, A.A. remains entrenched by "old timers," and old-timers cling to the male language in "The Big Book" and feel secure in the male dominance they have over the meetings. They don't want change. Fortunately, alternative groups do exist and change is possible. But many of the new 160

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groups continue to use the A.A. rhetoric and rituals for recovery instead of looking for new alternatives, "taking what works and leaving the rest." our women's group, however, did seek alternatives. There's now talk about starting another women's group. Spin-off groups are starting all the time. Some of them use the twelve steps and some do not. In the meantime, it is necessary that we listen to the messages sent by the women who attended this particular alternative group. Their stories shed light on women alcoholics and their histories with men, leaving me to ask a very important question: How can women with a history of abuse at the hands of alcoholic men be expected to enter an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, become open, honest, and vulnerable, and get well? I can only share from my own experience and the experiences of the women I have come in contact with during this study and my seven-year participation in A.A. My conclusions are that women will not get well in A.A., if getting well means healing beyond the drinking problem. On the contrary, women may run 161

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the risk of further abuse. That abuse may not be as extreme as my experience with long-timer Joe, but more subtle abuse is already taking place: the abuse of not being heard, the abuse of being treated as invisible, and the abuse of being subordinate to the control of a society run by men. Language has the power to heal or to hurt. This study has looked at both of these aspects of language making and at the roles that context and gender play when telling our stories. William Coles comments about language quoted at the beginning of this paper are relative to the storytelling that took place among the men and women in this study. To restate, Coles says: "the effective use of language is its means of thwarting powerlessness, victimization, and illiteracy--it's an alternative to losing" (The Plural I--and After, 1988, p. 278). Unfortunately, the language of A.A. may do the opposite for women by rendering them powerless beyond the powerlessness they already experience outside of A.A. The rhetoric and rituals of A.A. may even add to the victimization of women by 162

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stripping them of their own language and experiences. The result is an A.A. community that is illiterate--illiterate to the stories of women, stories that contain the hidden secrets of men. Women's need for a separate place is so they may tell their stories in their own language and without fear. Maybe someday men and women will be able to come together and talk as people. If so, then Coles' "effectiveness" for language will be realized and the battle of the sexes will end and dialogue will begin. In the meantime, some women in A.A. may choose not to "keep coming back." 163

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APPENDIX A THE TWELVE STEPS 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol-that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater that ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for His will for us and the power to carry that out. 164

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12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we. tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our --Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York City. Copyright 1939, 1955, and 1976. 165

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APPENDIX B THE TWELVE TRADITIONS 1. our common welfare should come first; personal recovery depends upon A.A. unity. 2. For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority--a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern. 3. The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking. 4. Each group should be autonomous except in matters affecting other groups or A.A. as a whole. 5. Each group has but one primary purpose--to carry its message to the alcoholic who still suffers. 6. An A.A. group ought never endorse, finance, or lend the A.A. name to any related facility or outside enterprise, lest problems of money, property, and prestige divert us from our primary purpose. 7. Every A.A. group ought to be fully selfsupporting, declining outside contributions. a. Alcoholics Anonymous should remain forever nonprofessional, but our service centers may employ special workers. 9. A.A., as such, ought never be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve. 10. Alcoholics Anonymous has no opinion on outside issues; hence the A.A. name ought never be drawn into public controversy. 166

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11. Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. 12. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of all our traditions, ever reminding us to place principles before personalities. --Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. New York City. Copyright 1939, 1955, and 1976. 167

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WORKS CITED A.A. comes of age: a brief history of A.A. (1957). New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Allen, P. G. (1989). Spider women's granddaughters: Traditional tales and contemporary writing by native american women. New York: Fawcett Columbine. Belenky, M. F., Clinchy, B. M., Goldberger, N. R., & Tarule, J. M. (1986). Women's ways of knowing. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. Coles, W. E., Jr. (1988). The plural I--and after. Portsmouth: Boynton-Cook. Dueli-Klien, R. (1979). How to do what we want to do: Thoughts about feminist methodology. In G. Bowles and R. Dueli-Klien, (Eds.), Theories of women's studies. London and Boston: Routledge and Kagan Paul. Garner, s. N., Kahane, c., & Sprengnether, M. (Eds.). (1984). The mother tongue: Essavs in feminist psychoanalytic interpretation. New York: cornell University Press. Kasl, c. o. (1990). The twelve-step controversy. Ms. Magazine. Nov/Dec., 30-31. Mies, M. (1983). Toward a methodology for feminist research. In G. Bowles & R. DueliKlien, (Eds.), Theories of women's studies. London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Mishler, E. G. (1979). Meaning in context: Is there any other kind? Harvard Education Review, 49, 1-19.

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Oakley, A. (1981). Interviewing women: A contradiction in terms. In Helen Rob.erts, (Ed.), Doing feminist research. London & Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Sigel, I. E. & Cocking, R. R. (1977). Cognitive development from childhood to adolescence: A constructionist perspective. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Tannen, D. (1990). You just don't understand: Women and men in conversation. New York: William Morrow & company, Inc. Wax, R. H. (1971). Doing field work: Warnings and advise. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Weiler, K. (1988). Women teaching for change: Gender, class & power. New York: Bergin & Garvey Publishers. 169