When I first got sober, I was resistant to a lot of the things I was hearing in 12-step communities and recovery circles. I’ve always been a feminist, and much of the rhetoric I was hearing seemed to go against everything I stood for. But it turns out that I can use the tools I’ve learned from recovery to make the world a little bit better, and that is an explicitly feminist thing.
Here are some things I’ve found to be far more feminist than they may initially seem.
Alcoholics don’t have the “dubious luxury” of being angry about things, even if that anger is valid. I often hear this thrown around when I’m posting things about racism, sexism, or another injustice in the world. I’m told that resentment and anger are lethal for alcoholics. And maybe that’s true. But so often, we label the person bringing attention to injustice as “negative” instead of labeling the injustice itself as “negative.” Part of my program of recovery involves doing good in the world. And that requires me to believe that people are essentially good and capable of change, which is an inherently positive outlook.
You must accept all the things you cannot change. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. When that comes alongside “when we're disturbed, the problem is always within us,” it can be a recipe for disaster. Thinking positive thoughts doesn’t make depression melt away, nor does it pull people out of systemic oppression.
The key for me is the wisdom to know the difference. I can’t change my situation in this exact moment, but I can accept my situation for what it is right now while also working to dismantle systems that create shitty situations in the first place. Acceptance of my current situation can coexist with taking action to create a better future for myself (and everyone else).
Taking responsibility for your actions means that you are responsible for everything bad that’s ever happened to you. I remember finding out that part of my journey to recovery would involve looking at how my resentments were a result of my own actions. I marched into my counselor’s office and told her that after working really hard to stop blaming myself for my abuse, there was no way I was going to start again.
But I can concede that I made shitty decisions leading up to my assault without saying that anyone besides my rapist was responsible for violating me. I can acknowledge that justifying my drinking with my trauma was self-destructive but that doesn’t mean my drinking wasn’t also a valid coping mechanism. It’s possible to examine our unhealthy behaviors without falling into victim-blaming. Taking responsibility for our own actions can actually be really empowering, because it gives us the ability to be different in the future.
Being selfless should come above everything else. When we’re actively using, we manipulate and take advantage of people. In recovery, the goal is to do the opposite — to go out of your way to be there for people. And while I aim to do that, it doesn’t mean that I can’t also set boundaries. This is especially true when it comes to our families.
Many of us come from homes that have been ravaged by our addiction. There’s a way to be a present and loving member of your family while also setting boundaries that are healthy for you. Failing to do that could actually hurt your recovery and drive you back into the very same dynamics that helped make you sick in the first place. Sometimes it has to be on us to demonstrate what healthy dynamics look like, and in doing so, we can actually make positive changes for our entire family.
You should always be there when someone else needs you.
You can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself. There is actually something called “compassion fatigue!” There’s only so much of ourselves that we can give before we’re depleted. It’s OK to sometimes say “no” and suggest they call someone else, even if you don’t have any prior commitments. Listen to yourself and your needs. And never forget that self-care is a radical feminist act.