Everyday i’m supposed to pray and meditate. That’s what i’m directed to do by the program i’m in. a program of recovery. recovery from alcoholism. sigh. now, the thing about this here program is, it’s at once a social movement and an individual answer to a broad political problem. this is kinda off the top of my head here–see, i reject the notion that addiction is a disease. It’s not really, it’s fundamentally about power.
Of course, the drug, in this case alcohol, has a powerful effect on the body and brain–EVERY organ–and certainly causes disease. But the addiction itself, the compulsion to drink, the planning and scheming and rationalizing, I think that’s more about managing to be ‘okay’ with your place in the world. that is not an illness. Though it is “dis-ease”.
In capitalism and patriarchy, those at the top are lonely (and frightened, if they’re paying attention). Those at the bottom are angry (also frightened). this is generalizing, and we can all find examples of exceptions. Capitalism demands a hierarchy. So does Patriarchy. Big Daddy has to be on top, in control, omnipotent. But Mama has to be the ‘power behind the throne’ and make sure he’s fed and clothed and housed. Big Daddy doesn’t have to be responsible for anyone’s well-being, and Mama has to be responsible for everyone’s — except for her own. both are out of balance. Both are dissatisfied. both eventually, (potentially, anyhow) topple into addiction to fill the hole.
This is what i mean–men drink because the pressure is too great to “succeed” and this world seems to be at the limit of unsustainable “progress”. Those fellas that started out with nothing, they drink because they can’t get to the top, they can’t see it, they just know it’s there, and they’re not–so being drunk gives ’em a way to forget that this is not the top. they can feel powerful if they’re pissed up. no inhibitions, no fear, no worries about the future. but no wonder, either. no imagining.
For women…I know better what the sneaking up of addiction is like. for me it started with dread. And rebellion. I always resented being a girl. And i always resented being asthmatic. this is putting it too simply, really. I was asthmatic, and I was a tomboy, and being both sick and female hampered me in the activities i really wanted to do. Of course, I pelted down the street on my bike with the other kids, and roared around the neighbourhood playing tag and hide n seek and all that–but sometimes i spent too much time hiding in the tall grasses behind our back lane– or could not catch up to the other kids — or pet a cat or a dog for a bit too long…
and at midnight i’d be wheezing at the kitchen table, sipping hot honey and lemon with my mom. or i’d be wheezing in the front seat of the car, Mom driving the car like she stole it, headed for the hospital. Sometimes i’d be in the hospital for a couple of hours, with my tired mom at my side, sometimes I’d have to go in for a few days or a couple of weeks. some of those times, I’m sure I was close to death, other times i was just wheezy.
One of those wheezy mid-nights, when I was again suddenly awake and there was no air, just the dry rattle of closing bronchi–I was really mad, and that rage turned into panic, because there was absolutely nothing I could do on my own. Mom was by my side–as she always was–she was beside me and telling me, all calm and ‘mom-ish’ to “Breathe deep and relax, honey” before I knew that I was doing neither. But I was fucking tired of not being in control of this most basic thing. Not that we can really control our breath, but I also could not predict when it would go wonky, either. pissed me off. and I just started yelling and clutching my throat and saying that I was gonna die, and I couldn’t breathe and…
That was kinda embarrassing. I’d never done that before.
N. E. Way–i started drinking because then it didn’t matter if i was breathing or not, i was DRUNK. and that was more fun, plus it made cigarettes taste GREAT. right where THE MAN wanted me to be. drunk, breathless, hiding from my power, shirking my responsibility.
this weird kind of rebellion i had hitched onto kept me away from being an effective feminist for a really long time. Even though i was a feminist. i was even an active feminist, and an organizer and a radical and a lesbian and I did my level best to agitate and organize and “stick it to the man” (which, i just noticed, is a phrase describing sexual assault–dammit)–I was the one “stuck by the man”. Utterly fucked, I was, because I could not manage to figure out my way out and i could not stand myself and i was a ball of inarticulate rage and sorrow and I drank and I smoked to just numb that rage and sorrow.
I hated these twelve step programs, i thought they were stupid and cultish and constraining. I hated the idea of praying to a god i did not believe in. I hated the idea that it was made by and for middle-class men and that its focus and function was to make all of us middle class. i hated the idea of following rules and admitting I was powerless. fuck that! I am a woman in a world that hates women, i am already powerless there, i’m checking out, people. Nurse! Make me a double!
but alcohol will rule you and make it so you cannot discover your power no matter what. if you’re drunk, you are lost to the movement. we need women who can think and breathe and stand shoulder to shoulder with her peers and allies and lead and follow. you can’t do that if you’re a slave to alcohol. and if you drank like i did, you are a slave to alcohol. and by extension, you are a slave to the patriarchy. Even if you reject patriarchal norms and spit in the eye of the male gaze, even if you say “fuck you, Big Daddy”–if you are drunk you are ineffective and not a threat to Him, and He could give a shit if you’re going along or not, you are certainly out of the way of “progress”, and therefore, you are right where The Man wants you to be. screwed. up.
Eventually, I gave up. I surrendered. That’s right. I went to one of those fucking god-talk-spewing-lock-step-twelve-step meetings.
And I felt right at home.
I thought that was weird. But I went back again. and again. and day followed day and I did not drink. And i joined a radical feminist collective devoted to ending male violence against women, and so then i had BOTH. and between them, i got saved.
I still don’t pray to a god in which i do not believe. But I try to stay open to the power that all of us share–when we are open to it. sometimes that means just muttering “Help” in the morning. And “thank you” at night. most times, in fact. that’s the beginning. Open every day with a moment of stillness and a heartfelt plea for help. And look for the good. it’s all around. and note the wee miracles that come your way. today, for instance, I walked along the beach with a dyke and a dog and we met many other dogs with their people and everyone, here in this big city where people don’t see one another very much, right here, everyone we saw said “hello” and sometimes we talked a bit about dogs and the weather. Those were miracles. Those moments wove us all together and made us all a bit stronger, cause there was love there. just a bit of yummy human-ness we all shared.
Even though all of us were raised in a world that hates women–we still somehow know that we need one another. and now when women call the rape crisis line and i’m working, I can talk to them about male violence and patriarchy and how drinking is a tool of the patriarchy and sobriety is a feminist action, an act of resistance–(but not right away-don’t want to scare women off–our public relations policy is attraction not promotion). for both radical feminism AND those twelve-step things. women see other women doing this work and how we are in the world and how we are with other women, and they might say, “that woman looks free–she’s so interesting–how can i get some of that?” and the same for alcoholics, eh…”if you want what we have, and are willing to go to any lengths to get it…” Both radical feminism and that program of recovery are very simple. Not easy. but simple. all ya gotta do is look up, take responsibility for the well-being of others, pray for help, be grateful, and tell the truth. Believe that you are worth it, believe that women will save your ass, believe that the miracle will happen and that you deserve it.
Because you do. I do, and you do. The Glorious Revolution of the Superior Sisterhood depends on our faith in each other.