Mann-splaining in the Addiction Recovery Space: Why We Need to Elevate All Perspectives

By Caroline Miller... 01/24/20

Marty Mann was one of the first women of Alcoholics Anonymous. After entering recovery around 1940, she began telling her story. She was tireless in her efforts to bring light to the realities of addiction and recovery; and passionate about helping those “afflicted” with a medical condition that was at that time shunned by society. Because of her advocacy in the United States, the stigma surrounding alcoholism began to shift and more people came to see it as a health issue instead of a moral one. Importantly, she also went on to found the National Council on Alcoholism (now the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence or NCAAD) and for decades was a respected speaker and expert in the field of alcoholism and addiction.

We live in a very different world today. Over 22 million Americans consider themselves in recovery from addiction, with likely over half of those women. There are services that exist specifically for women and mothers like recovery housing, trauma-sensitive programs, and 1:1 female recovery coaching and sponsorship. Marty Mann was considered one of the first women of AA, but today she is just one of many.

Even though times have clearly changed, today only a select few are often the ones who are speaking for all of us. They have the ears of policy makers and politicians and those in power; they have the social media reach and following to endorse political candidates and legislation and where funding that addresses things like the opioid epidemic should go. My friends and I – women from all over the country who are connected by a shared experience of struggle and transformation – are wondering why it is that our voices are often not a part of these important conversations.

The conversations being had today can have far reaching impact, not just tackling the issue of the hour, or with a brief rant on Facebook or Instagram, but impacting how programs will be built, recovery support services structured, and how people in recovery and their families might be supported for years to come. Important to consider is not just what is being left out of the conversation, but who. While there are services specific for women, there are not enough services available for the demand that exists today; and often times, the services have not been created with input from women in recovery or evaluated at all to see if they are even working.

I have no interest in causing further division in the recovery movement. I’ve seen this occurring too often and believe that this sets the movement back every time it happens. Every voice matters. There is so much good being done all over the country by people with privilege who are using that privilege well. That being said, what I and countless others are interested in is helping to increase the visibility of women’s stories in recovery because women who are seeking a new way to live need this. I need this. I need to know that recovery works and that recovery is possible for all of us. I need to know that when decisions are being made about how to support women in or seeking recovery that women are there to shed some light about what works for them. Mothers are there with their children to talk about their experience accessing treatment and recovery support services—or not being able to access them. Issues specific to women are brought to the light so that new and innovative ways to address women’s recoveries are created with the support of people who have been there and are living proof of what works.

It is, of course, not just women who are left out of public discourse on this and other important topics. It is equally if not more important for others to step into the light and share what works for their recoveries. Talk about identity and how this impacts or should impact addiction policy. Talk about race and faith and socioeconomic status. Talk about sexuality and gender. Talk about a rainbow of issues and perspectives because ultimately what is really going to solve the addiction crisis in our country is not one but a myriad of solutions.

In recovery as in life, no one human voice should be raised above others. After all, is not sharing our collective experience, strength, and hope what really matters? Is it not listening to and learning from each other?


Caroline Beidler, MSW, is a mother in recovery and writer who has worked in social services for over 18 years. She works as a consultant with Creative Consultation Services to develop programs and recovery support services around the country. She lives with her family in Tennessee.



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