DAUGHTERS OF SARAH, Vol. 18: 21, Jan., Feb., 1990
“DO YOU WANT TO GET WELL?”
by Mary Snow
“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the long-term invalid by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:6). Newcomers to Alcoholics Anonymous are often asked, “Are you serious about stopping drinking? Are you willing to go to any lengths to stay sober?” Strange questions. Wouldn’t a paralyzed person want to be healed? Doesn’t an alcoholic long to be free of addiction?
Yet only about half of the alcoholics introduced to A.A. sober up at once, and hundreds of thousands leave A.A. and die drunk. Further, though it is estimated that 20 percent of American alcoholics are female, only a small fraction of them seek help.
Why is it so difficult for women to recover from alcohol addiction (or food or relationship addictions for that matter)? Studies have identified some barriers to entry and completion of alcohol treatment programs for women: inability to find child care, financial limitations, lack of family support, among others. Yet thousands who have received treatment, even with the support of A.A., fail to sustain sobriety. What is wrong? Doesn’t the female addict want to get well?
I propose that one problem for women is their lack of self esteem. Men generally tend to have better self-images than women. Therefore women addicts generally have even less self-respect than male addicts.
The second step in the Twelve Step program is, “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” However, in light of a woman’s low self-esteem, the problem may not be in accepting a power greater than herself. There are many! Instead it may lie in her sense of unworthiness to be healed at all. Would an alcoholic woman have been among those with enough faith to “impose” upon Jesus to be healed? Not likely!
After five years free of my addiction in a Twelve Step program, I was overwhelmed by guilt and self-loathing. I thought I needed to go back again to the Fifth Step, “admitting to God, to myself, and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.” so I confessed what I believed were the worst of my sins to an Episcopalian priest who was knowledgeable about the program.
After I bared my soul to her, she asked, “Do you believe you are lovable?” In all honesty, I replied, “no.”
“That,” she said, “is the first sin you have told me.” She talked to me about my system and God’s system. My system was one of continual self-hate and self-punishment, placing myself in negative situations. God’s system on the other hand, is one of continual love and forgiveness. My system obviously wasn’t working, maybe God’s system would.
Today, four years later, I am totally convinced that the sin that threatens to stand between me and the full healing benefits of God’s love is to believe that I am unlovable. I pray daily for dignity, self-respect, and self-confidence. There are times when I must make a conscious effort to love myself as God loves me, but I do it. I do it because I want to be whole.