The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women

The Recovering Heart: Emotional Sobriety for Women

by Beverly Conyers

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781616494971
Publisher: Hazelden Publishing
Publication date: 06/01/2013
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 200
Sales rank: 346,797
File size: 530 KB

About the Author

Beverly Conyers, MA, is an editor and freelance writer who lives in New England. She is the author of Addict in the Family: Stories of Loss, Hope, and Recovery and Everything Changes: Help for Families of Newly Recovering Addicts. Conyers lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches in a community college.

Read an Excerpt


Loneliness. Fear. Self-doubt. Self-criticism. These feelings lie at the heart of the shadowy inner world of many women today--even women who seem to have it all. Regardless of how successful we may appear to others or how much we've accomplished in our lives, we're often our most determined detractor, our most unforgiving critic.

We might catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror and think, "I look old and tired. I look fat." Or we lose a job through no fault of our own and tell ourselves, "I'm a failure. I can't do anything right." Perhaps our marriage ends or we yell at our children and we conclude, "I'm a terrible person. I don't deserve to be loved."

For women in recovery from addictions to alcohol, drugs, food, and compulsive behaviors, this painful self-criticism goes even deeper. Our life experiences have led us to question our own value, to deny our fundamental worth as a human being. Many of us were subjected to some sort of trauma at a critical point in our development, often at the hands of someone we trusted. Trauma damages our core sense of self and fills us with shame.

Our addictions inflicted new traumas: fractured relationships, public and private humiliations, and lost opportunities. On top of all that, we bear the stigma of being a woman with addictions.

All addictions carry some degree of stigma, whether the addict is male or female. But a greater stigma is attached to women. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, there are about 18 million alcoholics or problem drinkers in the United States. By some estimates, about a third of them are women. Yet Al-Anon membership is overwhelmingly female. (Al-Anon is a mutual support group for friends and families of problem drinkers.) Shame surely plays a role in men's reluctance to publicly acknowledge and seek help for the problem of an alcoholic partner.

We can also see the stigma of female addiction in the public's response to celebrities with substance abuse problems. Consider the well-publicized struggles of actors Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan. Many people seemed to regard Sheen's antics as nothing worse than the hijinks of a notorious "bad boy." Lohan, on the other hand, garnered widespread ridicule for her many failed attempts to get clean.

As one alcoholism counselor put it, "A man who falls down drunk is still a man, but a woman who falls down drunk is a tramp." The double standard was also observed by the late Carolyn Knapp, who wrote in her memoir Drinking: A Love Story, "A messy drunk's an ugly thing, especially when it's a woman."

For women with addictions, the stigma becomes part of our self-identity, further damaging our already shaky emotional inner world. Our fear and our pain and our shame saturate the very core of our being, shaping our decisions, coloring our relationships, and defining who we think we are--sometimes even after years of living clean and sober. But that's hardly surprising, especially when we think about women in recovery within the broader context of womanhood today. "Traditional" and "modern" interpretations of femininity have been at odds for generations. In the mid-1800s, women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony wrote, "Modern invention has banished the spinning wheel, and the same law of progress makes the woman of today a different woman from her grandmother." A century later, First Lady Bess Truman observed, "A woman's place in public is to sit beside her husband, be silent, and be sure her hat is on straight."

Since then, the emergence of feminism and the entry of millions of women into the workforce have given us a sense of empowerment that our grandmothers probably never had. Still, like generations of women before us, we are bombarded with confusing and contradictory messages about our value to society. It can sometimes feel as though womanhood itself is under attack.

On one hand, we are expected to be nurturing, pleasant, and wholesome (hence the stigma for female addicts). On the other hand, pornography permeates our culture and degrades the value of women. We are expected to be chaste and at the same time sexually proficient. We are told it's our minds, not our bodies, that matter, yet we are judged by our physical attractiveness. We are taught that we are men's equal, yet violence against women remains an ugly fact of life for millions of us. We are the breadwinner or partial breadwinner in our families, but women still are not equally compensated for doing the same work as men. Arguably, our central role in mainstream society remains that of homemaker and mother.

In this minefield of conflicting messages, is it any wonder why so many women struggle to develop a healthy sense of their own worth? For women in recovery, who have spent years numbing and running away from difficult emotions, the task is even harder. We have used alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, sex, codependence, and other substances and behaviors to avoid and distract ourselves from the wounds at our core. We have little or no practice with confronting painful feelings in ways that contribute to our personal growth.

Our early days of recovery provided yet another avenue of escape from upsetting emotions. We were physically and mentally stressed, and we focused all our energy on staying clean and sober, one day at a time. And rightly so. Abstinence is the goal of early recovery. Little else can be achieved without it.

But as time passes and we become more secure in our recovery, long-buried feelings inevitably emerge. Wounds from the past are still deep inside us, unexamined, untended, and unhealed. The harm we have done to ourselves and to others is waiting to be acknowledged, understood, and mended.

At this point some of us are tempted to relapse, to retreat to the familiar numbing comfort of substances or compulsive behaviors. This is understandable. Nothing has prepared us for the difficulty of confronting painful memories head-on. We never learned how to face the source of our anger and grief and remorse or to fully feel our emotions. We are frightened by what has hurt us in the past and uncertain of our ability to cope with it.

Yet personal growth requires us to stop running and start engaging in the process of facing our emotions--not so we can wallow in pain or relive the trauma, but so we can move beyond it and become our healthy, authentic self.

Most of our ideas about who we are--whether we call ourselves good or bad, strong or weak, worthy or unworthy--come from our feelings about ourselves. These feelings, which begin in infancy and develop throughout our lives, determine our understanding of who we are. And who we think we are--how we see ourselves--influences every choice we make, from our choice of education and career to our decisions about relationships and self-care.

That's why emotional healing is so powerful. Personal growth cannot happen without it. Until we untangle the web of hurtful and damaging emotions that prevent us from seeing ourselves clearly, we will continue to suffer from our secret belief that something is wrong with us. And that belief will prevent us from achieving our full potential or recognizing our true value as a unique, worthwhile person.

The Twelve Steps are not only a path to freedom from our addictions, they also offer guideposts to emotional healing, gently leading us to higher levels of understanding and self-awareness. Professional therapists also offer support and guidance. Good therapists let us explore our emotions at our own pace and in our own way, understanding that emotional healing cannot be rushed. It unfolds differently for every woman.

This book is offered as a companion for your journey, not to provide answers--those you will discover for yourself--but to suggest avenues of exploration and to share the experiences of others on the same path. At the end of each chapter you'll find several journal questions. These are meant to stimulate ideas to write about or discuss with a trusted mentor or therapist. Use them only to the extent that you find them helpful.

Ultimately, the journey of emotional healing is deeply personal--and it is the work of a lifetime. Our search for our own truths and our own meaning, once begun, never really ends, because the accumulation of experience and knowledge cannot help but affect our understanding of ourselves and others. The way we think about something at the age of thirty is likely to be different by the time we reach sixty.

Nevertheless, as we acknowledge, examine, and come to terms with the feelings we have tried so hard to run away from, we can begin to free ourselves of old, negative misperceptions about ourselves. We start to see ourselves more clearly and to recognize our own strengths, values, and virtues.

As our wounded heart begins to heal, we take our first small, courageous, wonderfully liberating steps towards self-acceptance, personal fulfillment, and spiritual wholeness.

Table of Contents

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.
- - Anaïs Nin


Chapter One : The Heart of the Matter

Chapter Two: Trauma and the Damaged Self

Chapter Three: Addiction and the Loss of Self

Chapter Four: Intimacy and the Damaged Self

Chapter Five: Healing the Damaged Self

Chapter Six: Building Healthy Relationships

Chapter Seven: Nurturing the Healthy Self

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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a straight-to-the-heart truth in every word of this book. Thank you, Beverly, for putting into words those things that I could somehow sense but never quite understand. Anyone who is in recovery, real recovery where you are trying to put your whole being back together, heart and mind, should read this book. Anyone who loves somebody in recovery should read this book.