The Role of Gender in Recovery Meetings

Should Women Only Go to Women’s Meetings?


The Role of Gender in Recovery MeetingsEarly sobriety is a total recall of habits, places, people, things and patterns. I had to reset my life, and doing so at times felt like saying, “Let me just go tidy up my room first,” while sinking on the Titanic.

I was a wreck. Pun intended.

The good news is that this wreck is now restored. Liquor is no longer the captain of my ship, I am. And now, I promise I will stop with the maritime metaphors.

Those first weeks of sobriety were a gauntlet of all sorts of healthy behaviors: I read, journaled, went on long, vigorous walks with my dog and ugly-cried into nature. I meditated and went to bed at 7:30 pm. And, I started going to a lot of recovery meetings.

If you had told me a few months prior that my Friday and Saturday nights would now be spent in church basements with posters that yelled at me to “KEEP IT SIMPLE,” I would have laughed. Or cried. It seemed impossible. But as the sober days turned into a week, then two, I found sobriety to be possible—and it was largely due to those meetings with their bad coffee and weird slogans.

That being said, none of it was easy (good things rarely are). When I think of all those early meetings that I attended, trying to find the one that fit just right, I had despair on par with my uneasy attempts at swimsuit shopping. Only this time, the swimsuit was free—and it might actually save my life. At first though, in the midst of my meeting shopping, there was a fickle wish for good lighting, soft music and an INSTANT fit. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking, I just wanted to find the one, and never part with it.

Also, I wanted all of this to be with women—just women. The analogy sort of stands, I guess, because the last time I tried on swimsuits, I didn’t want a lot of dudes as an audience.

All the sharing at those meetings made me feel raw, tired and sad, and I figured women would be the best listeners for that. At home, I had my own posse of girlfriends who offered tea (formerly wine), hugs and tissues for me, so wouldn’t a women’s meeting thing be more of the same?

Not quite.

My women’s group had no great flaws, but it simply did not work for me. I tried—I really did. But as much as I tugged, pulled and shifted in my seat, I couldn’t breathe right in that meeting. My main complaint was that of outside issues. It seemed that their shares always led us into other people’s lives—their children, their husbands and their “others” who affected their recovery.

One woman stared at her lap and shared, “Well, I packed my suitcase today.” She took a deep breath and then gave a list of reasons why she needed to leave her husband. (Her list, by the way, sounded completely justifiable. He was a total douche.) We all nodded, and I think someone handed her a tissue. It was helpful and she needed to share it, but I always found myself leaving those meetings with a feeling of looking outward—at all the humans, big and small, who daily surrounded and confounded me and my recovery. If I kept looking at them, my own issues seemed smaller. It got me a little confused—I kept swiveling my thinking around, peering outside myself anxiously, as if any minute some small child was going to run by and swipe my sobriety out from under me.

Certainly, this type of sharing could happen in any meeting, not just in a room full of women. But whatever expectations I had were not being met. “I need to give it more time,” I fretted. “I am sure this is all my fault. I just need to relax. Maybe I should offer to make coffee—maybe I need to open up more. Maybe…” Maybe I just needed to try another meeting.

The thing is, once we decide recovery is supposed to look a certain way, it doesn’t.

I now know that my expectations of groups was just a way to exert control and keep the fear factor down, which made sense (especially at the beginning). I thought my meetings needed to be all about that estrogen release that a good chick flick and girl time provided. They weren’t for that at all. Once we put recovery in a box, the box might topple over, and if we’re not careful, our recovery will escape our grip altogether if we keep trying to make it sit still within our perimeters.

Gender-based meetings can be wonderful because sometimes we need a certain set of ears to listen to us. In fact, I occasionally still attend a women’s group. It’s an awesome meeting, but I’m not sure that if I had found this one when I first got sober that it would have “stuck.” I think that especially back then I needed to hear from both genders about how they were doing with this sober thing.

In those early weeks of sobriety, I also asked my husband if he wanted to go to Alanon. “It would help you with…all of this,” gesturing at myself in wide circles. The husband smiled and gestured at me in wide circles too and said, oh so sweetly, “Sure. But it’s gonna take a lot more than Alanon to deal with…all of this.” Yes, his recovery humor needed work.

He did go, though, and I was grateful but nervous because I wanted it all to be perfect, of course. We headed to our respective church basements with our coffee cups, and I gave him a thumbs-up, like he was attending some sort of sports tryout. An hour later, I nervously watched as Brian came out of the meeting, looking for any signs of shock. He didn’t sprint for the car when he saw me, which is a good start.

“So?” I asked, as we walked out together.

“It was good.”

“What’s that mean? GOOD, good? Or just…good?” Brian had found himself in that wonderful relationship quicksand called “What Does She Want Me To Say?”

He shrugged. “It was good to hear. I liked them. They were nice. It was all women. Mostly older. You know…kind of the grandma contingent.” I squirmed.

“They talked about their husbands. Me? I’m a husband. So, it felt a little weird at first.” I waited for him to tell me that it was awful and that he would never return.

“But you know? It didn’t matter. It was good. Really good. I needed to hear it, and it didn’t matter who it came from.”

There is no one way to get sober or magic answer. I think if a recovery meeting full of kangaroos worked for me, I would fully commit to that room of kangaroos. We all need each other, and in recovery there are a lot of ways to commit, but do so. Just do so.


About Author

Dana speaks and writes about recovery, momhood, and beating the perfection myth. An English teacher for over twenty years, she decided to take up a writing at, while mothering two babies, because she had so much free time. Her first book, Bottled was selected as a Kansas Notable book in 2016. Her second book, How to Be Perfect Like Me is out August 2018. She had a horrible time with edits on this book and fully appreciates the irony.