As a Michigan driver’s license restoration lawyer with over 23 years’ experience, it has long been the case that women are a significant part of my client base. In a recent conversation, however, I was reminded of some of the special concerns that can and often do affect women across the continuum of an alcohol problem, from its development through an eventual recovery from it. There are issues than impact the drinking patterns and recoveries of people from different cultures, races, and genders. In other words, the path to sobriety can be different for a woman, just because she is a woman
This topic comes up rather frequently in classroom lectures and textbooks, but no one really lives in a classroom or in a textbook. In my current post-graduate curriculum in addiction studies, faculty members take special care to illustrate that, as an example, behavior considered normal, and even “cool” for a man is often viewed in the opposite manner for a woman. Thus, after a divorce, a male who spends several evenings a week at various nightclubs and who boast of 7 or 8 sexual conquests in the preceding several months may be considered “lucky,” or even “worldly.” Ascribe that same behavior to a woman, however, and the prevailing societal assessment is invariably and overwhelmingly negative.
The point I’m making is that the very same behavior undertaken by one gender can be seen as somehow “wrong,” or “worse” when done by the other. Perception, then, in every sense of the word, has implications. In the context of troubled drinking, a woman may feel self-conscious, or fear being perceived as “un-ladylike” if she reaches out for help, or otherwise admits her problem. To be sure, men can also be ashamed of their drinking, and have this “private shame,” but the mere presence of the gender consideration can posit an additional obstacle in a woman’s path to recovery. This is something that, whatever else, should not be ignored in the context of a Michigan driver’s license restoration appeal.
Alcohol is no respecter of age, race, income status, education or gender. While it is true that majority of people who drink don’t develop a drinking problem, there is nothing special or unique (beyond having the problem) about those who do. Rich and poor, tall and short, male and female, the reach of alcoholism knows no boundaries. Even so, there can sometimes be special considerations that women face when dealing with an alcohol problem.
It is entirely possible that a woman may fear a certain “stigma” for admitting and/or getting help for an alcohol problem. In an ideal world, this would be nothing more than a left-over misconception, but even if the “stigma” is a matter of her own perception rather that a reality, it does nothing to help her feel at east about reaching out for help. This can result in a woman trying longer, on her own (without appropriate help), to control, or moderate or stop her drinking. Of course, that doesn’t work, so the inevitable result is that it just takes longer for her to get the help she needs.
Of course, help is there, in numerous forms, from counseling to support groups. Practically everyone in the world knows about AA, for example. AA is a great program, but it still hasn’t completely shaken off its roots as having been founded by and for primarily white, Christian males. Indeed, when famed researcher E.M. Jellinek began categorizing alcoholics by type (alpha, beta, gamma, delta and epsilon) for his 1960 book about the disease theory of alcoholism, he chose his subjects from AA meetings, and didn’t even count or use women amongst them. In the intervening decades, “specialty” meetings for women, young people, and gay and lesbian people, just to name a few, have grown to be common. Even so, to a female newcomer walking into her first AA meeting, a room full of middle aged white guys may not seem like the most inviting setting in which to pour out one’s heart, and look for acceptance, help and understanding. That’s not to say it couldn’t be found there, but that first impression can be rather intimidating and powerful. By contrast, a white guy walking to a room full of other white guys at least won’t have those feelings…
I make no pretense at being any kind of expert about these issues other than that I understand they exist, and that they can play a role in the development and maintenance of a drinking problem, as well as the onset and course of recovery. In other words, the very existence of these issues can sometimes forestall any attempt at recovery, or make such attempts more difficult. Additionally, being female can simply influence the course of a woman’s recovery in myriad ways. As I hinted before, this does not have to manifest itself in some kind of overt act of gender discrimination; it can be enough that a woman feels like her maternal abilities might be questioned by admitting that she has had a drinking problem while raising children. Here, it matters every bit as much (if not more) how the woman with the problem perceives things, rather than how those on the outside do.
Ultimately, in my driver’s license restoration practice, I deal exclusively with both men and women who’ve “made it,” and managed to get sober. Everyone who gets sober has a “recovery story.” The point I’m driving at is that in the case of some women, gender issues can be part of that narrative. Nor does it seem beyond the realm of possibility that a woman may not even be consciously aware of how her gender played a role in her problem, and ultimate recovery, until that story is analyzed in retrospect. It is not uncommon for e to meet with a client, regardless of gender, who needs some help putting together his or her “recovery story.”
To be sure, I’m not suggesting that we play Sigmund Freud and over-analyze things. Still in a driver’s license restoration case, it becomes central to examine a person’s journey from drinking to becoming alcohol-free. This is often easier, to the point of almost being second nature, for those involved in AA, because telling one’s story is central to the sharing that takes place in closed meetings. Those not involved in AA, however, don’t go to meetings every week and re-tell their stories. Moreover, that “private shame” or other self-consciousness from earlier can still play a role in a person’s recovery (this applies about equally to men and women) inasmuch as, having moved beyond a drinking problem, he or she doesn’t really want anyone to know about the past. In a way, to many people, talking about the past seems like dwelling on the past, and that seems like living in the past.
This can very often be most prominent in a workplace setting, particularly if a person’s recovery came before the job. Amongst the list of qualifications a person hopes to give to a prospective employer, recovering from a drinking problem usually isn’t one of them. I’ve had plenty of clients who feel like sobriety has allowed them to move on to a new, and better alcohol-free life. It is not wrong to want your recovery to be a part of your past, particularly when you know that your drinking days are long over.
Some people in AA find that they need the meetings to stay grounded, or that working the program helps them improve in other areas of life. Some have just “moved on.” Both views are right; my point is that whichever path a person chooses to follow, this is the story of his or her recover journey, and it’s this that we need to translate within the context of a license appeal in order to win. For some women, part of this story may very well have to do with being a woman. For others, it may not. Again, this is not about “over-analyzing,” but rather just making sure we are aware. Whether a woman’s gender played any role in her drinking problem or recovery doesn’t mean that these issues must be central to, or even important in her license appeal. The point is that they may be relevant to her recovery story, and it’s important to at least understand that.
A critical part of my role as the driver’s license restoration lawyer is to distill the legally essential aspects of a person’s recovery story into the template of a license appeal. I have to work within the “million little rules” governing how the Michigan Secretary of State, through its Driver Assessment and Appeal Division (DAAD), decides to grant or deny license reinstatements. For AA people, this can mean streamlining the story. For those not active in AA, this can mean developing the story. For a woman (whether active in AA or not), it means at least being aware that, within the details of her recovery story, gender may be important. Therefore, it is critical at least be mindful of the potential impact that gender may play in a successful license appeal.